The 10 Best Subtle Movie Performances of The Decade

5. Call Me By Your Name (2017) – Timothee Chalamet

The film that launched Chalamet’s career, here he plays a young man, Elio, dealing with his first love over the summer of 1983 in northern Italy. In Luca Guadagnino’s coming-of-age story and romantic drama, we see the highs and lows of this exploration and discovery in subtle ways, all toward Armie Hammer’s Oliver.

Whether we see Chalamet look hastily at Hammer’s confidence or brush off his shoulders due to his attraction and confusion at the pending romance, it all boils inside of him. Even after we see his slow defense coming down by Elio smelling Oliver’s underwear or flirting with him, Chalamet expresses his newfound love in the smallest details of life as we quietly observe. And obviously once the romance begins, we can do nothing but swoon over this 17-year-old burst of love and eventual loss of his first love.

Maybe the final frame of Chalamet, with all the emotions that we so-called human beings experience, is expressed on his face. Here, we see how much he truly went through over the course of that summer.


4. 45 Years (2015) – Charlotte Rampling

A masterclass of acting with Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtney as long-married couple approaching their 45th wedding anniversary in Andrew Haigh’s drama. Rampling excels as a woman facing her present situation after the past comes to haunt her in unfathomable ways.

After the shocking discovery of her husband’s ex-girlfriend’s body frozen in ice, Rampling deals with the repercussions of long suppressed feelings toward her husband. She slowly begins to discover a chamber of hidden secrets, desires, and former passion in the most subtle ways. She never yells or comforts him in a storm, but calmly and collectively tries to figure out all the human emotions she is experiencing.

After an internal and somewhat calm external conflict and questioning, Rampling’s Kate must come to terms on what her married life was truly representing. She manages to explore the depths of the past, present, and future, all in the most sublime ways.


3. Shame (2011) – Michael Fassbender

A film that explores the depths of sexual addiction and family relationships in Steve McQueen’s haunting piece of work. Throughout the film, we see Fassbender’s Brandon dealing with his addiction, all to himself and his frequent detached affairs. It’s not until his sister comes along, played by Carey Mulligan, that we witness the implosion and explosion of this tormented character.

It’s the simplest stares, long runs, violent outbursts, leg ticking, and not being able to perform sexually, that we see the turmoil boiling up and weighing down on Brandon. Fassbender manages to control these emotions in those subtle ways until he finally overdoses in a nocturnal sexual odyssey. He never once abandons the themes the film explores by his performance.

In the end, Fassbender plays a man dealing with an addiction in the only way he knows how. Everything we see on screen and expressed on his face truly shows the slow downward spiral he is on. It’s only till the final ambiguous moments that we see if he will continue down this path.


2. Amour (2012) – Emmanuelle Riva

Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)

Michael Haneke’s late love testament is a full frontal in this film. We see Jean-Louis Trintignant, who equally deserves to be on this list, as a husband who is put to the test after his wife, Riva, suffers from a stroke.

The film is shot in pure Haneke style with the audience receiving a minimalist approach, but containing large amounts of depth in long takes and scenes. As a retired music teacher who is now slowly dying, she examines her relationship with her husband. In the most transcendent scenes of staring into her husband’s eyes, receiving a slap, or calling her partner a monster, we somehow add images to what could have occurred. She manages to tell story after story in her eyes and face, all while sitting and eventually dying in her bed.

Riva brought so much of her long acclaimed career to this film; we never once not feel something for her and simply marvel at her choices in the last stages of her life.


1. Manchester by the Sea (2016) – Casey Affleck

Casey Affleck - Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck gives one of the best performances of the decade due to his grieving, lost, and protected performance as Lee Chandler. In Kenneth Lonergan’s film, we see how he copes with raising his grieving nephew, Lucas Hedges, while dealing with the consequences of his tragic past.

Affleck might have a few outbursts while drunk in the present day, with his temper with his Hedges, or crying on his friend’s lap, but aside from that, he carries the weight of the world on him. He looks down or away from the villagers, doesn’t confront anything head on, and simply states he has nothing left. It’s a performance that a young Marlon Brando or Montgomery Clift would be proud of due his naked approach of using himself and his instruments to convey so much emotion.

Regardless of the film’s narrative and flashbacks, we truly see him struggling with loss and grief. Perhaps in Affleck’s own words, he tried to hold everything back by stating, “To be there, and not be there.” It’s a subtle performance for the ages.