2010 in Review: The Performances


2010 has been dubbed in many quarters online as “Year of the Actress” because of the variety and abundance of fantastic female lead performances. I like to think of it as the year of the performance, whether male or female, lead or supporting, there was much to enjoy, savor, admire and love this year. From veterans who always give great performances to newbies breaking new ground and actors you never thought had it in them, this was the year of the performances.

There are the front runners like Natalie Portman in Black Swan. She transforms both physically and emotionally in her performance. She is all skinny hard edges and scrawny shoulders but also believable and affecting in her quest for perfection. Her main rival for best actress; Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right is what I consider my favorite performance of the year. For the most part it’s all subtext and reaction. Her two best scenes are quite introspection. When she discovers her wife’s infidelity and when said wife is explaining her “career” to their sperm donor. You see a lifetime of marriage in Bening’s face. All quiet, no words needed.

Bening’s co-stars Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo belong in the “Always Fantastic” category. Those journeymen actors that always give great performances and sometimes are not heralded for their efforts, because they make it look so easy. Glad Ruffalo is getting some awards traction but where is the love for Moore? How come no one is talking up Aaron Eckhart in Rabbit Hole or Loretta Devine in For Colored Girls. Eckhart gives a performance that knocked me off with its quiet rage and loud grief. And Devine was a breath of fresh air in her highly melodramatic movie, all wit and warmth. Another great performance is Barbara Hershey in Black Swan. No wonder “Where is my sweet girl?” is on loop on that movie’s seemingly endless TV trailers.

Then there are the actors who I never knew had it in them. Or just weren’t given the chance to shine in a good movie. We all knew Mila Kunis was gorgeous and sometimes funny. But look at her in Black Swan. Delivering lines like “She’s a trip” and ‘You really need to relax” with zest and gusto and adding much needed humor and sex appeal to that great horror melodrama. And there’s Justin Timberlake, a superstar and sometimes SNL guest. This year he came into his own as an actor on the big screen. Watch his meltdown on the phone when the police raid his party. Fear, regret, panic and smarminess all shine through in a flash. And his double flick-off is one of the most indelible images of the movie year. His co-star Jesse Eisenberg is another revelation to me. I was vaguely aware of him; I think I only saw him in The Squid and The Whale before The Social Network. But he emerges in that movie as a most vital screen presence. Is there another actor who could have delivered Aaron Sorkin’s rapid fire dialogue better? I think not. Bravo!

James Franco was everywhere in 2010. On a soap opera, publishing a collection of short stories, gazing into the eyes of performance artist Marina Abramovic and announcing a multitude of projects. But he managed to squeez in a fantastic performance in between. He holds the screen, almost single handedly in 127 Hours. It is a mesmerizing, physical and engrossing performance that showcases his talents. I’m most excited to see what he will do next onscreen.

I’ve never cared for Keira Knightley before; always thought she was smug and just not very good. But in Never Let Me Go she finally found a role that suited her talents. She played ignorant and insecure so well.

Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. Enough said. Go see Blue Valentine.

In addition to Valentine, another movie full of magical acting duets is The Fighter. Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams blaze with screen chemistry while delivering gritty beautiful performances. Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are so good as mother and son I actually thought I detected a family resemblance. Not physically but definitely in manner. Watch them sing The Bee Gees’ “I Started a Joke”, and you’ll completely understand the complex relationship between their characters.

As with every year there many stars born. I already wrote about Emma Stone in Easy A. But what about Armie Hammer in Network. Not since Cate Blanchett in The Talented Mr. Ripley has entitlement and casual arrogance been brought so vividly on screen. Also great and new are Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone and Tahar Rahim in A Prophet.

Can an actor who has been working for more than forty years be considered new? Well I’ll try to build the case for Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom. She owns the last half hour of her movie. Her performance is what stayed with me and that’s saying a lot because Kingdom is pretty great. I’ve run out of superlatives but Weaver deserves them all. Hopefully this is the begining of long and varied screen career outside Australia.

And of course one of the best performances of the year was Joan Rivers as herself in Joan Rivers : A Piece of Work. Who else could’ve delivered my favorite movie line of the year “I live like Marie Antoinette…… if she were rich”.

2010 was a great year for movies because of these fantastic performances. What were some of your favorites?

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  • http://qb11.blog.com/ Quinn

    I agree, this was an outstanding year for all kinds of performances. “The Fighter” featured the year’s best performances, without a doubt. All of the performances you named were excellent. Also, I loved Hailee Steinfeld in
    “True Grit”, Jeremy Renner in “The Town”, Rooney Mara in “The Social Network”, Michael Douglas in “Solitary Man”, Rebecca Hall in “The Town”, Chloe Moretz in “Kick Ass”, and Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges in “True Grit” (even though I couldn’t understand much of what Bridges was saying.)

    I was think of doing something like this, only a list, like TIME magazine did.

  • Andrew R.

    Off Topic: They announced the Foreign Film semifinalists. Congratulations to Algeria, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden. (In a shocker, France missed out.)

    I’d say The Fighter was this year’s best acted movie despite not being all that good otherwise.

  • julian

    I think the best actor category tends to be crowded with well-deserved nominees, this year is no exception (even though the field is perhaps lacking that one sparkling diamond? Firth was good, but a tad overrated, in my opinion). The real revelation is the best actress category! Last year was a travesty. Meryl Streep gave a career low performance in a terrible, terrible movie, Sandra Bullock won for a film that deserved no recognition whatsoever, Mulligan was fine (but not much more), Mirren was stale in The Last Station and Sidibe was, frankly, a fat amateur.
    THIS year, though is littered with great female performances on the academy radar: kidman, lawrence, williams, rapace, portman, bening…all are very, very deserving! Portman is a lock for the win, but they all deserve their spot in the limelight. Bravo!

  • Johannes

    John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone.

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