8. Scarlett Johansson in Her
Voice acting is often forgotten and treated as the redheaded stepsister of the industry and those who perform in this art form deserve much respect. Many believe that voice acting should have its own category. Much of a case for the creation of said category could be made after seeing Scarlett Johansson’s performance as Samantha in Spike Jonze’s film, “Her”.
In the film she portrays an operating system that simulates a person that can be used for companionship. Joaquin Phoenix’s character Theo becomes enamored immediately with Samantha and so begins their often sweet but odd relationship.
Each scene involving these two invokes so much emotion and sweetness. Her questions of life, love, sex, relationships, and quest for knowledge is quite amazing. The scene that really solidifies her place on this list is one that involves Samantha and Theo off vacationing together.
7. Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips
Tom Hanks is not only regarded as one of the finest actors of this generation, but of all time. Often referred to as the James Stewart of today. Here Hanks plays real life Captain Richard Phillips whose ship was the first US cargo shipped to be hijacked in nearly two hundred years.
The 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama and what exactly went down has caused quite a stir since the film has come out. Many of the men who were on board with Captain Phillips stated that possibly the actions portrayed on film by the Captain may have been exaggerated for cinematic purposes.
Whether that is true or not, here is a performance that is so emotionally draining that the audience cannot help be feel for the man involved in these horrific experience of sacrificing himself as a hostage to save his men. What follows is an intense latter half of the film that showcases one of Tom Hank’s finer turns. The final scene, obvious spoilers, is so emotional that it had me in tears along with him.
6. Hugh Jackman in Prisoners
Known mainly by most for his wonderful turn as hot headed and conflicted Wolverine in the X-Men franchise. Hugh Jackman has made a career out of doing some interesting films when he is not donning the metallic claws, mutton chops, and chewing on cigars while slicing through everything and anyone. He is one of those actors who has been unfairly recognized for mainly just the role as Wolverine.
Which do not get me wrong, those are fun films and he is great, but, most of us cinema fans would say that he has really given so much more outside of that series. In this film, it is Thanksgiving and two families have gotten together for the annual meal only to find that each of their young daughters have gone missing after investigating a RV sitting outside the house.
Jackman plays one of the fathers of the two girls whom have gone missing, the other being played by Terrance Howard. What follows is a grueling gruesome affair that shows Jackman’s character going to great and violent lengths to find out what has happened to his daughter. There is a seething sense of raw emotion being held within by Jackman on display in this scene.
5. Albert Brooks in Drive
When we think of scary intimidating actors we normally don’t find ourselves going directly to comedian Albert Brooks as a frame of reference. So when you go into the Nicolas Winding Refn’s film, “Drive” for the first it is a surprise to find not only the best performance in the film to be Brooks, but also that he plays just a frightening person.
All at once within seconds this guy goes from warm to menacing. There is something about the first time we actually see this character that you just know that below the surface is a man who is capable of doing unspeakable things if necessary. And he does just that in fact. His character is cold, calm, collective, and exudes pure charm and evil at times. Brooks delivers one of the more underrated onscreen villain performances in recent memory.
4. Michael Fassbender in Shame
In Steve McQueen’s film “Shame”, Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon a successful business man who suffers from sex addiction. Living in New York City, he has niched himself out a place where he can indulge all of his fantasies. When his sister comes to visit unexpectedly, everything about his solitary lifestyle begins to unravel.
This is a film that really requires a person to indulge the director and his material. If the viewer has ever encountered people whom jokingly refer to sex addiction as the “best addiction” to have, then it would lead you the viewer to believe that those people do not seem to generally understand addiction.
A piece of a film like this that showcases an addiction that is oddly ignored by most in the medical community can only help bring new light to a disease that surely afflicts many in the world. And a performance that evokes such despair and inner turmoil given by Fassbender that it leaves the viewer feeling completely exhausted and drained emotionally.
Fassbender’s clear uncontrollably urges lead him to places in this film that most of us would never even think or dream of going. It is a man’s own personal nightmare being laid out right before our eyes.
3. Michael Shannon in Take Shelter
Powerhouse performance artist is all I can say about Michael Shannon and his art. This is a man who takes acting to whole other level in all of his roles. None more evident than the role of Curtis in Jeff Nichol’s “Take Shelter”. This film finds Shannon’s Curtis plagued with visions of an impending apocalyptic event. We the audience finding out along the way the history of mental illness that has plagued the people in Curtis’ family and even his own mother who lives in a home because of it.
He question his own sanity as do others when he begins to pour the family’s money into a storm shelter to save them from the impending doom. As the film goes on Shannon brings so much unrequited tension and moodiness to each scene that we cannot help weaving back and forth between whether he is crazy or possibly right. This is a tour de force performance.
2. Joaquin Phoenix in Her
Joaquin Phoenix has built a career around playing zany, weird, and quirky characters. He is a character actor who is a leading man. Which is really hard to imagine in today’s world of film.
In Spike Jonze’s film “Her” he plays Theodore. A man who works for a greeting card company that creates cards for people who do not have the words to deliver. The time all this takes place in is the near future and is to be believed simply for the dependence on apps, programs, and others for our “own” words and feelings being conveyed.
Emotions are something that Theodore can express for others, but hardly for himself. Phoenix has Theo so introverted that he cannot even see the person that may be interested him romantically. Yearning for some sort of a connection he finds himself drawn to a new operating system that allows for a person to date basically a program that can feign human qualities, but lacking the physical intimacy that is ultimately needed for a loving romantic relationship.
He needs this solely because of the recent end of his marriage and with no desire to be hurt in the real world again. Soon we find Theo lost in this program and in love. The great thing about this performance is that with anyone else I honestly do not think it would have worked.
It could have come off weird and uncomfortable. Instead, the performance allows the viewer to witness a developing warm relationship that really is helping Theo come back to reality once again and has him finding love he never thought was possible to find again. Phoenix displays so much range here that it is almost unforgivable that he was not given a nod by the academy.
1. Charlize Theron in Young Adult
There are few characters that can incite such a wide range of reactions from a viewer like Mavis Gary. Charlize Theron inhabits the aforementioned Mavis in Jason Reitman’s “Young Adult”.
Mavis is the ghost writer of a semi-popular failing young adult series of books. Years prior she had dreams of being successful and always having her high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (played by the always welcome Patrick Wilson), since their break up and her leaving town some years back both have made lives for themselves.
In Buddy’s case he is married and has a child on the way. Mavis, well, her life involves drinking, her dog, screwing random strangers, drinking, her dog, and well, drinking. She is an unhappy person who wants what she so desperately can probably never have, a real life. After receiving an email from Buddy about the upcoming birth. She decides to go back home and break up their marriage. Taking the email as some sort of cry for help from Buddy. What transpires next is painstakingly awkward to witness.
Theron received the Oscar for “Monster”, and deservedly so. But, here as Mavis she creates a person so despicably awful that you cannot help but hang on every gesture and word that comes out of her filthy mouth. She goes to great lengths to show how terrible Mavis really is and how she is completely oblivious to her alcoholism and how she treats others. Is this the best performance so far in this decade?
Author Bio: Matt’s love affair with films began when he was a young boy. He use to visit his local video store on a regular basis consuming as many titles as possible. Films are his greatest passion. He is a manager for a large grocery retail chain. Lifetime cinephile who hopes to one day open and operate his own independent theater.