In Retrospect: The Best Performances of 2010

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Short and simple, 2010 showcased some damn good acting work and the following were my favorites:

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1. Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers in Black Swan

Natalie Portman has been an actress whose work I’ve always admired. Being one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood naturally helped her case. Though she’s given excellent performances over the course of her young career (most notably in Closer), nothing could have prepped me for her devastating performance as Nina Sayers in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Her impeccable work is joins the work of Charlize Theron (in Monster) and Marion Cotillard (in La Vie En Rose) as one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to see her win the Best Actress Oscar.

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2. Christian Bale as Dicky Ecklund in The Fighter

Christian Bale has gained the recognition he deserves as one of the biggest stars on the planet thanks to his role as Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” series but it’s only after people got to see his magnetic work in David O. Russell’s wacky boxing drama “The Fighter” that he began to receive the recognition from his peers that he should have received starting more than a decade ago with “American Psycho.” Playing Dicky Ecklund, a once-famous boxer whose career collapsed under the weight of crime and crack-addiction, Bale is funny, charismatic and heart-breaking. At times you want to punch him in the face for being such a hot mess but as played by Bale, you just can’t help but love the guy. Everything about Bale’s transformation – from the intense weight loss, the bug-eyes, the messed up teeth, the receding hairline, including a bizarre bald spot to the way he moves, walks and talks is remarkable.

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3. Colin Firth as Prince Albert/King George VI in The King’s Speech

Colin Firth is arguably, one of the most underrated actors of his generation. There are no ifs or buts about that. For years, or shall we say, decades… the British actor has been delivering master-class performances in everything from Shakespeare in Love and The English Patient to Bridget Jones’ Diary. When you wanted a guy to play the snot-nossed British guy with the thumb up his ass, Firth was your man. It’s hard to get the recognition when you’re stuck playing those characters, no matter how good you are. It was only until last year’s A Single Man that he started to gain the respect he truly deserves. It was good timing because his Oscar-nominated performance in that film was simply a prologue for an even more impressive performance as a stuttering King George VI in The King’s Speech. Firth perfectly conveys the prince’s bitter and heartbreaking struggle with his debilitating condition while also keeping intact, the prince’s stiff royal upbringing. It’s a career-best performance in a career filled with remarkable work.

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4. Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross in True Grit

2010 featured a good number of break-out performances: There was Tom Hardy in Inception; Chloe Moretz in both Kick-Ass and Let Me In; Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone; Tahar Rahim in A Prophet; Emma Stone in Easy A; and Armie Hammer in The Social Network. But Hailee Stienfeld’s debut feature film performance as Mattie Ross in the Coen brothers’ adaptation of True Grit topped them all. Steinfeld played Mattie as a sharp, quick witted and head-strong young woman who, if it weren’t for her age and sex, could have easily been a governor or even a lawman. She commands the screen with such veracity that she even out-performs guys like Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. And this is just her first film. Talk about an extraordinary debut!

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5. Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island and Dom Cobb in Inception

After starring in two box office disappointments in 2008 (Body of Lies, Revolutionary Road), Leonardo DiCaprio bounced back with the two of the most successful movies of his career in Shutter Island and Inception. But better yet, they showcased two of his best performances. I’ve decided to put them together because Teddy and Cobb are both similar in the way that they’re both haunted men trying to get over the memory of their dead wives. Both men also harbor a dangerous secret that is only revealed in the films’ final reel. Despite their similarities, the two characters are vastly different, thanks to DiCaprio’s remarkable work. Cobb, though disturbed, is a smooth and charismatic criminal while Teddy is a man overcome with paranoia and fear to the point of madness. Like Bale before The Fighter, DiCaprio is a guy who has yet to receive the real recognition he deserves. It will come though… soon.

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6. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as Dean & Cindy in Blue Valentine

The crux of the power of Blue Valentine lies within the devastating performances of Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Neither performance can exist without the other because like a marriage, they are one. Gosling, who is probably the best actor of his generation delivers career-best work here as a blue-collared guy who is unwittingly forced into a marriage he wasn’t ready for. Williams, who will surely win an Oscar one day, is as good or even better in a difficult role as the cold career-driven woman who has had it with Dean’s blaze and immature ways. As the film flashes back and forth between the time they met and the last days of their crumbling marriage, we see how time has changed the two. I’m afraid my vocabulary isn’t strong enough to describe how good these two are. You just have to see these performances – Just make sure you keep some Zoloft handy.

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7. Chloe Moretz as Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass

How did little Chloe Moretz go from a relatively obscure child star to the most in-demand child actress in Hollywood? Pure talent, that’s what! 2010 showcased Moretz’s talents in two very different genre pictures – the first was Matt Reeves’ terrific Let Me In which frankly, deserved to make more money than it ended up making. The second was Matthew Vaughn’s hyper-stylized, comic-book action comedy Kick-Ass. As Hit-Girl, the pint-sized, profanity spewing killing machine, Moretz lit up more than a few fanboys dreams (yea, kind of nasty but you should have seen movie forums after this movie came out). She steals every scene she’s in and delivers every dialogue, including the profane ones, with such conviction that you’d think she’s been killing gangsters for years! This one’s got a really long career ahead of her – that is, unless puberty does her in Haley Joel Osment-style.

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8. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as Nic & Jules in The Kids Are All Right

Like Gosling and Williams in Blue Valentine, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are inseparable as a couple in Lisa Choledenko’s charming dramedy The Kids Are All Right. Bening’s performance as the controlling matriarch of the family that also includes two children (played by Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) is another feather in the cap of the veteran’s already long and acclaimed career. It may not rival her turn in American Beauty but it’s still one of her best works. The dinner table sequence alone may be one of the best scenes she’s ever performed. I might be a minority but Moore is even better as Nic’s better half Jules. She’s the film’s most emotionally complex character and the one most in need of attention (and the one more deserving of an Oscar nomination).

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9. The Cast of The Social Network – Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer

David Fincher’s The Social Network was one of the most fascinating films of 2010 and while a lot of praise has justly gone to Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay and David Fincher’s direction, the film wouldn’t have worked quite as well if it weren’t for the film’s talented cast which was in my opinion, the year’s best ensemble. Jesse Eisenberg’s extraordinary performance as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is naturally, the highlight of the ensemble, given the nature of the role and the way Eisenberg nails every word of Sorkin’s wordy script. His Oscar-nominated performance all but guarantees that he’ll never be confused for one-note Michael Cera ever again. As Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s one-time best friend who is betrayed over money and jealousy, Andrew Garfield is equally as good as the film’s sole sympathetic character. But it’s Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer who are the film’s real breakthroughs. Timberlake, a very likeable guy, has never been more unlikeable in a movie and that’s not because he was bad but the opposite. He uses his charisma to create Sean Parker, film’s antagonist and perhaps, one of the year’s slimiest characters. Armie Hammer on the other hand, was tasked with the tough job of playing both Winklevoss twins but the way he played it, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was two actors (“I’m 6’5”, 220 lbs, and there’s two of me!”).

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10. Olivia Williams as Ruth Lang in The Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer was one of my favorite movies of 2010. Sadly, it was also among the least watched. And while the entire cast led by Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan are fantastic, it’s Olivia Williams’ turn as Ruth Lang, the unhinged, alcoholic and “long suffering” wife of the British prime minister that left the greatest impact on me. For most of the film, she lurks in the shadows, sulking at everything and everyone around her like an insane cat-lady. Some may see it as a campy performance but I loved every moment of it. Someone get this woman a better agent!

Honorable Mentions: Tahar Rahim (A Prophet), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), James Franco (127 Hours), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone)

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