It was clear after her 2009 Oscar nomination for Up in the Air that Kendrick had a way with words, and could even work with a scene that was devoid of them. She continued to prove that in the cancer dramedy 50/50 last year and in the crime drama End of Watch this year. But it wasn't until I saw Pitch Perfect that I realized what untapped comedic talent this young lady has. She's like Emma Stone's criminally under-utilized fraternal twin, complete with great comic timing and snark delivery. She managed to make a movie about a capella singing seem smart and clever.
Ezra Miller as Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin
Director and co-writer Lynne Ramsay's film follows the life of a mother who's excommunicated from society after her teenage son murders and paralyzes many of his classmates. It approaches this tragically popular news trend from the parent's perspective, and questions whether they're to blame. Miller plays Kevin as an emotionally tortured, neglected child who seeks the attention of his mother to a homicidal degree. You can see the desire for acceptance floating beneath his disregard for humanity, separated like oil and water. And, in the end, Miller was challenged to extract pity from the audience, and understanding. And while you may not have felt or done either, you could see the outward hatred turn inward, as he stared back at his unforgiving mother with regret.
Guy Pearce as Charlie Rakes in Lawless
Charlie Rakes was an obnoxious, dapper man who prided himself on his clean-cut appearance, while secretly harboring depraved desires. Pearce held nothing back in portraying him in all his obsessiveness. He made you want to take a shower after all of his scenes. No matter how clean he looked, he just seemed dirty.
Dane DeHaan as Andrew Detmer in Chronicle and Cricket Pate in Lawless
Read The Breakout Actors for 2012 for why.
James D'Arcy as Rufus Sixsmith in Cloud Atlas and Anthony Perkins in Hitchcock
His portrayal of a head-over-heels in love, closeted gay man in Cloud Atlas was both heartbreaking and sweet. Given that he's a heterosexual man, the permanently plastered smitten look that he had when he stared at his lover was quite convincing—like a school-girl staring at her first crush. And his uncanny resemblance to the late Perkins for Hitchcock's reenactment of the making of Psycho was only part of the reason his performance was so good. The other part was his mannerisms and sheepish delivery of dialogue. He was as reserved and gentle as you'd imagine Perkins—and incidentally Norman Bates—to have been.
Jessica Chastain as Maya in Zero Dark Thirty
Director Kathryn Bigelow tapped Chastain to go from a delicate government agent, tasked with interrogating terrorists, to a hardass go-getter, who would do anything to prevent another attack and find Osama Bin Laden, even defy her superiors and question their orders. She was the face of the military efforts to avenge the thousands of people who died on and since 9/11. She needed to seem initially sympathetic and lenient, so that the inevitable hardening that all Americans have endured against the taunting of a terrorizing faction could be properly depicted. She had to speak for both men and women, for wives and mothers, for the armed and unarmed. She had to scream and antagonize and demand on our behalf. And with every step closer to Osama, her intensity increased so that when the final scene of S.E.A.L. Team 6 executing their directive to take out the leader of the Taliban arrived, we'd all breathe a sigh of relief. She was our emotional barometer.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe in Looper
I read that he suggested to director Rian Johnson that he play both the younger and older version of the main character. I imagine that would've been easier than having to mimic the vocal pitch and mannerisms of Bruce Willis, an iconic action star, especially since they look and behave nothing alike. But he needn't have worried, because he nailed it. It wasn't just the prosthetic facial features or the minimal dialogue. He had the cautious walk and invasive gaze down.
Michael Fassbender as David in Prometheus
In a star-studded cast of a Ridley Scott film, you are expected to either take a fraction of the spotlight or a backseat to the sci-fi mythology. But Fassbender peaked the interest of many when he first appeared as the overly friendly and curious android David. He seemed like C-3PO, except with an alluring body. It was pretty jarring to see such a robotic figure express envy, loyalty, and deception. He made you believe the robots will rise against us some day.
Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln
While it's true that Daniel Day-Lewis did a great service to a great man, I left the theater being mostly impressed with Field and Jones. They had this great scene together where the president's wife was greeting everyone as they arrived to the White House and she chewed out Jones, his reluctant supporter, cutting him down to size for disrespecting her husband—and she did this with a cordial smile on her face. Meanwhile, Jones bore the burden of a man who had fought too long for the rights of African Americans to back down or compromise for anyone. His monologues were arresting and inspiring.
Scoot McNairy as Frankie in Killing Them Softly
Read The Breakout Actors for 2012 for why.
Tom Hardy as Forrest Bondurant in Lawless
As an actor who is currently well-known for his large presence, after playing Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and a boxer in Warrior, it was probably harder to play an outlaw who's not only known to be indestructible and a fearless opponent, but is also quiet, respectful, and shy around women. He had to be that gentle giant that's not so easy to pull off when you're gunning men down and beating their faces in. But Hardy succeeds in romancing you one minute and intimidating you the next.