5. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Best picture winner 12 Years a Slave is an unforgettable look into the eyes of free man turned slave Solomon Northup. The movie is hard to watch due to the relentless nature of the source material, but that shouldn’t be taken as an insult.
12 Years a Slave seeks to show the horrors of slavery and it succeeds due to its unwillingness to soften the tough-to-swallow groundwork laid by the original novel. If we were ranking the list based solely on the quality of the films, 12 Years a Slave would be fighting for the top spot with There Will Be Blood.
Let one thing be perfectly clear – Paul Dano is marvelous as John Tibeats, the assistant of slaveowner William Ford. There just isn’t enough of him. This is a film with a spectacular ensemble made up of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, and Sarah Paulson. Unfortunately, Dano doesn’t get quite as much screentime as his peers. It’s understandable considering his role in the film, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.
Luckily for the audience, his short time on the screen is riveting. His villainous turn as the vile racist will make your stomach turn. The fact that he made it this high on the list despite his fairly brief presence is a testament to his acting abilities. Though he’s not the center of attention in this movie, he’s still able to stick with viewers long after the film concludes.
4. Swiss Army Man (2016)
Maybe the weirdest one of our list, it’s obvious that Swiss Army Man will not carry any weight in a potential Oscar race. It is after all a comic adventure about guy stuck in a desert island whose life gets saved by a flatulent corpse he uses as a utility belt of sort. It starts the always underestimated Paul Dano and the surprisingly efficient Daniel Radcliffe, and it operates in a frequency that Academy voters would never be able to understand.
That just means it’s extra-special, though, and it has a somewhat sweet and beautiful message to convey, especially in the way it develops the relationship between the two leads. It’s an endlessly imaginative little gem, a surprising ride minute after minute, and a really fulfilling experience when it ends. It’s that kind of movie you never really thought of watching, but you’re really glad you did.
3. Love and Mercy (2014)
Paul Dano earned a Golden Globe nomination for his role in Love and Mercy, where he played Beach Boys prodigy Brian Wilson. The heartbreaking film of Wilson’s psychological struggles during the past and present earned acclaim from critics when it was released in the summer of 2015. Unfortunately the film was mostly forgotten by the end of the year aside from a few nominations for Dano.
It makes sense that Dano was the most memorable part of the film. Though he was billed as a supporting actor, this was just as much his film as John Cusack’s. Dano’s performance was heart-wrenching and gripping. He clearly sought to respect Brian Wilson while also putting his own spin on the performance. In every possible way, he succeeding in bring the legendary musician to the big screen.
In reality, Love and Mercy deserved just as much attention as some of the more noteworthy award contenders. While it’s fantastic that Dano got the credit he deserved, the film itself was more than powerful enough to compete with some of the bigger films released toward the end of the year. In another year filled with fantastic biopics, Love and Mercy stood out as one of the strongest.
2. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
It’s no surprise that Little Miss Sunshine nabbed the Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. The phenomenal ensemble was without a doubt the best of 2006.
Made up of major talents like Abigail Breslin, Greg Kinnear, Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin, and of course Paul Dano, this is a movie where acting chops are of the utmost importance. It would be unfair to call Paul Dano the highlight of the film considering the talent on display. If he’s not the absolute shining star, he stands out as one of the film’s greatest strengths.
Dano plays Dwayne Hoover, the older brother of the titular “Little Miss Sunshine.” Dwayne is a complex, stubborn teenage who has taken a vow of silence until he achieves his dream of becoming a pilot. For the majority of the film, Dano’s Dwayne Hoover doesn’t break his vow of silence.
As a result, the audience has to really focus in on the mute character to appreciate Dano’s delightful take on the character. Despite the lack of dialog, Dano is constantly an engaging part of the film. His stubbornness is downright irritating, but he remains a character that we sympathize with. When he finally breaks his vow of silence, we’re gifted with one of the most powerful scenes in the movie. Him, along with the rest of the stellar cast, make up one of the strongest films of 2006.
1. There Will Be Blood (2007)
By numerous publications, There Will Be Blood was voted the greatest film of the 2000’s. Rolling Stone, Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, and plenty of other sources crowned There Will Be Blood the crowning achievement of the first decade of the 21st century.
Paul Thomas Anderson has never been one to disappoint, but with There Will Be Blood, many viewers found what they believe to be his greatest film yet. This dark, poetic tragedy is simply unforgettable for a number of reasons. From a technical standpoint, There Will Be Blood is stunning thanks to its gorgeous cinematography, top-notch editing, and stunning art direction. The script is always engaging and the lengthy runtime flies by thanks to brilliant pacing. Everything about the film clicked.
In terms of performances, it’s hard to focus on anyone except Daniel Day-Lewis, who demands attention in each and every frame. With numerous awards as a result of his performance, it’s safe to say that DDL got the recognition he deserved for the film. Paul Dano, on the other hand, was unfortunately overshadowed by who many regard as one of the greatest actors of all time.
Look past Daniel Day-Lewis and you’ll see that Dano eats the scenery. He’s absolutely despicable as Paul and Eli Sunday. Paul Dano doesn’t want you to care about these characters. In fact, he wants you to hate them. This is his goal and he succeeds every step of the way. Watch the movie and you’ll see that Paul Dano’s stomach turning role in the film is truly unforgettable.
Author Bio: Justin is a paraprofessional teaching assistant and full-time film enthusiast with a degree in English. When he’s not writing about films, he’s probably watching them in his spare time.