6. Michael Fassbender in Hunger (2008)
Fassbender’s first collaboration with Steve McQueen, and the Oscar-winning director first feature length, Hunger is obsessed with the deterioration of the human body and the last resort for protest and expression it represents for its lead characters, a group of Irish prisoners who famously made a hunger strike in 1981.
Fassbender acts as Bobby Sands, who lead the prisoners down this perilous road, and not only does he get on board with McQueen’s careful and painful exploration of his and his cast mates’ physicality, he also lends depth and purpose to Sands courageous protest.
Memorably in one long dialogue scene between him and Father Moran (Liam Cunningham), the quiet defiance and slow deterioration of this character is made clear by Fassbender’s transparent performance, always so well-matched with McQueen’s visceral storytelling. It’s probably the greatest e less seen performance of an extraordinary actor’s carreer, and deserves to be rediscovered by fans and curious film buffs alike.
7. Rooney Mara in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013)
Mara’s quiet performance opposite Cate Blanchett in Carol got bumped down to the Supporting Actress category merely to increase her chances, because Therese is arguably more of a lead character than Blanchett’s older housewife.
It’s Mara’s second Oscar nomination, four years after her breakout performance in The Girl in the Dagon Tattoo (2012), but it’s safe to say the American actress had some overlooked performances in the last years. Perhaps the most overlooked of them was in David Lowery’s arid love story Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, a beautiful portrait of characters living outside the norm and suffering the consequences.
After her criminal partner and lover played by Casey Affleck gets arrested, Mara’s character gets left behind with their infant daughter – cared for by Keith Carradine’s sheriff, Mara plays Ruth Guthrie with poignancy and understanding of her complicated situation, living under the constant watch of a lawman, depending on men to be near her daughter.
Mara and Affleck’s performances are complementary in a lot of ways, especially in the sense that both of them play their characters as fishes out of water, outsiders looking in, something always missing from them.
8. Christian Bale in Equilibrium (2002)
Only three years removed from his breakout adult role in American Psycho, Equilibrium appears in Christian Bale’s filmography as an anomaly, a genre movie with an independent feel, helmed by a renowned screenwriter making his feature debut as a director.
It’s a total blast, though, especially because Kurt Wimmer’s script and direction balance so well the clear homages and references to some sci-fi classics (especially Brave New World) and the very original aspects of his filmmaking, but also because Bale nails the way his character gets in touch, slowly, with his emotions.
Especially in the scene where his character, John Preston, hears music for the first time, Bale’s trademark intensity lends Equilibrium’s storytelling urgency and novelty, even though we’ve probably seen this on screen and on the page a few times before.
The conflict in this lead character’s psyche is made clear by the actor, wearing his heart on his sleeve so much we sometimes doubt of the obliviousness of everyone around him about what he’s going through. It’s a smart move, that highlights the dystopic future conceived by Wimmer and makes his lead character’s journey more relatable.
9. Saoirse Ronan in Hanna (2011)
The terrific Saoirse Ronan has seldom been less than brilliant in a movie. Even when she made questionable choices (like taking the lead in The Host), she has lent life and an unshakeable will to her characters, and that’s the mark of a truly great actress.
Her role in Brooklyn is a wake-up call to the Academy for having ignored Ronan for so many years after her first nomination for Atonement, and it’s probably worthwhile to take a look back at her career and pinpoint the movies that highlight her talent the best. Hanna is definitely one of them, reuniting her with Atonement’s director Joe Wright for a contemporary action movie with depth and gravitas, anchored in a carefully measured performance by Ronan.
Raised by her father (Eric Bana) in a secluded environment to be the perfect assassin, Hanna (Ronan) is finally set loose and has to dodge the villainous intelligence agent played by Cate Blanchett to complete her mission.
Ronan nails both the more physical action sequences and the overall posture of a girl trained to be an assassin and the more intimate points of her character, like her estrangement with the outside world and the internal conflict she has with her mission and her trust in her father. It’s a complex and beautiful performance by a young actress who always delivers.
10. Brie Larson in Short Term 12 (2013)
Hailed almost unanimously as one of the best performances of 2013, Brie Larson’s turn in Short Term 12 flew under the Academy radar, maybe because it’s such a small indie movie. Here, she portrays Grace, a social worker in a home for at-risk teens who shows leadership, a firm grip on these kids’ problems, affection and likeability.
When she’s out of the workplace, though, Grace is a haunted woman, afraid to stand up for herself or open up to her boyfriend, played by John Gallagher Jr, like she encourages her patients to open up to others. It’s a delicate tale director/writer Destin Daniel Cretton tells here, and Larson’s the one carrying most of the weight of the storytelling.
With the confidence and expressiveness that she would later demonstrate in Room, finally getting her Oscar nomination (and very possible win), Larson revealed herself as one of the most capable, sensible and interesting actresses of her generation in Shor Term 12.
Author Bio: Caio Coletti is a Brazilian-born journalist, a proud poptimist, and has too many opinions to keep them all to himself.