Monday, January 16, 2012

BEST OF FILM 2011: Best Performances

The most convincing and memorable performances of the year (in alphabetical order):
Jennifer Aniston as Dr. Julia Harris, D.D.S. in Horrible Bosses
She's not known for racy roles or for being even remotely funny. But she really shocked me with how vulgar she could be. Not because she's a woman, but because she's one of America's sweethearts. She's the girl you fall for not the girl who drugs you, takes provocative photos of you, and molests you in your sleep. It was a major curveball in her career and I hope producers continue to let her step out of our comfort zone.

Melissa McCarthy as Megan in Bridesmaids
From the beginning of this film's promotion, everyone compared it to The Hangover and McCarthy's character to Zach Galifianakis's. Her performance could've continued to be plagued by that comparison all year long. But because the world is not quite accustomed to women behaving like what is stereotypically referred to as "a man," her willingness to put aside her vanity to portray such an unattractive and inappropriate female character was what dissolved that association. She was no longer playing a carbon copy, but an original character.

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady
It's probably not surprising to anyone that Meryl Streep can deliver an impressive performance. But I swear—I swear—you will completely forget that you are watching Meryl Streep in the first five minutes of this movie. She had the old lady walk, mannerisms, voice, and facial expressions down. Who needs an avatar when you're that good?

Michael Fassbender as Magneto in X-Men
I know. I know. Fassbender has been in far more critically lauded films than this comic book adaptation, but I would venture to state that playing the younger version of a character previously established by another actor isn't an easy feat. Audiences have already accepted one incarnation and might be resistant to a more complex version. Fassbender was presented with the tricky task of making the viewers sympathize with a man they've long perceived as an unforgivable tyrant. He had to show the evolution of a villain, from misunderstood and mistreated to merciless and malevolent. And he had to do it alongside several other origin stories without skimping on emotion. 

Paul Giamatti as Barney Panofsky in Barney's Version
In this romantic drama that runs through roughly 30 years of a man's life, we witness the tragedies and trials of his love life. The film illustrates how easily insecurity, self-loathing, and distrust can deteriorate a marriage and a man, and champions the importance of never taking the ones you love for granted. What made it such an enjoyable film though was Giamatti's performance. He ran the gamut of emotions and took the audience on a ride with him.

The Cast of Harry Potter
For 10 years, the main actors of this children's saga have delivered consistently impressive performances despite their age, inexperience, and the challenge of making a story about magic and fictional doom seem as real and imminent as anything in ordinary life. They brought beloved characters to life, did them justice, and did so honorably, never tainting the series with their extracurricular activities or being selfish enough to rob children of their sanctuary with trumped up demands. Each actor, young and old, welcomed us into a fantastical world we'll never forget.
The Cast of Midnight in Paris
You have no idea how incredibly impressive this cast was. I realize that people give Woody Allen a free pass for just about everything, but I swear I'm not just blindly approving of this. He tapped several actors to portray literary greats and their impressions were so good you could hardly believe it. I loved Alison Pill's 1920s Zelda Fitzgerald accent, Tom Hiddleston's devil-may-care F. Scott Fitzgerald, and especially Adrien Brody's Salvador DalĂ­. He captured the artist's manic and surrealist spirit. I tell you if learning history and literature were this entertaining, no student would miss a class.
The Cast of Super 8
Most child actors skate by on their cuteness, but these characters called for a little mischief, rebellion, and profanity, so that wasn't really an option. The best child actors look like children but behave like adults, and do so without it seeming unnatural. These boys were new to the business but managed to capture adolescent wonder at its best. Elle Fanning, however, was the true highlight. She had to play two characters, the object of Joe's affection and a zombie in his film. There's a scene where she's practicing her zombie stare and movement. She snapped in and out of it so seamlessly, like it was just a switch she flipped in her mind. It was jarring to realize that a 13-year-old could con you so well.
The Cast of The Help
Many have said that Viola Davis is a shoe-in for an Oscar nod, as well as many other award nominations, for this role. I don't disagree that Mrs. Davis delivered a heartbreaking performance of a battered maid, an indentured nanny, and a grieving mother. But she wasn't the only one transforming right before our eyes. This is the first film I actually took notice of Bryce Dallas Howard. The Hollywood legacy has been trying to make a name for herself ever since that 2003 horror dud The Village, but she's surprisingly forgettable. It wasn't until she played this conscienceless racist bitch that she finally stood out. I could say the same about Jessica Chastain, who she's often mistaken for—so many redheads, so little defining roles—because Chastain stepped out of her docile, quiet, background-character comfort zone and played this Marilyn Monroe-esque bombshell besieged by a secret sorrow, and finally took control of the camera. Rounding out the impressive performances in this film is an often overlooked character actor Octavia Spencer. Honestly, I'm not surprised she could pull this off. The only reason I'm mentioning her—well, if you saw the film, you know why I'm mentioning her. Anyone on Earth who has ever been made to feel less than themselves wishes they could be so bold as to deliver such a devastating blow to their enemy as her character did. We thank her simply for the spectacle.

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