This was a year full of memorable performances from a wide range of actors. From the veterans where we expect great work to those who are up and coming and launched their careers in fast forward mode. Especially this year, it was hard to limit to ten performances, especially in some films where there were multiple great performances, and unlike my Top 10 (top 15 this year), there are no ties. So without further ado, here are my top ten performances of 2012.
Denzel Washington – Flight
Denzel Washington’s career has become somewhat of a type cast. Honestly, if you look back at his career, he plays that same role over and over again. The intense and innovative cop is his bread and butter, and unfortunately, he’s gone that route way too many times. But in Flight, he takes on a new role where he widens his acting abilities, pushing his skills away from the usual screaming and yelling to the subtle and inner struggle of a character. As Whip Whitaker, a seasoned commercial pilot, he encounters his inner demons through an extraordinary experience where his initial heroism turns against him. In this film, we see Washington portray a man where his strongest characteristics are not through his verbal and outward personalities, but in the heart and the soul. His problems with drugs and alcohol has ruined almost everything in his life, and this is his final chance to before it all comes to a crashing halt. Washington has never been better, and one may even say his performance in Flight is stronger and more profound than his Oscar winning role in Training Day. Nonetheless, he deserves an Oscar nomination here and brought out his A game in Flight.
Anne Hatheway – Les Miserables
The best thing about Les Miserables is Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine. Though her role is short, her presence is important and strongly felt as the mother of Cosette. Her rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” is by far the most emotionally engaging number in the film, showcasing Hathaway’s ability to act and sing at the same time. Her Fantine is the best I’ve seen in any Les Mis production, and her performance will definitely garner her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting, most likely a win.
Joaquin Phoenix – The Master
It was tough to choose between all the amazing performances in The Master, specifically Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s, who will definitely be in the hunt for Best Supporting Actor, but Joaquin Phoenix’s role as Freddie Quell is mesmerizing, difficult and completely unadulterated as he consumes his character, leaving no trace of Phoenix and all of Quell. This is a extremely challenging individual, and you can see from not by his words, but by his movement, his facial expressions and by his body language that Quell is full of hurt and pain. His relationship with Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) is truly beautiful to watch, and Phoenix pushes this film towards masterpiece status. Though some may disagree considering it’s material and subject matter, we can all agree this film relies on the performances, especially Phoenix’s.
Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook isn’t a perfect movie, or is a great one. But it’s entertaining, and the best thing to watch is Jennifer Lawrence. She plays the personality disorder very well, and I might’ve rather watched her character and her struggles more than the eventual plot. But this film truly relies on Bradley Cooper and Lawrence, and though I disagree with some of the film’s decisions or it’s characters, it’s great to watch Lawrence, a young and upcoming actress, get her second Oscar nomination. Her career has already been very successful, but we haven’t even seen the best of Lawrence. She’s one of few young actors that will be the future of Hollywood, and her role in Silver Linings Playbook is evidence of this.
Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
Just like The Master, it was a tough choice between Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones. Two key supporting roles in Lincoln, but I had to choose Jones (I’m not sexist), mainly basing it off the importance of his character in passing the 13th Amendment. I know, that’s not fair to Field or Mary Todd, but whenever Jones speaks throughout the film, that’s when I’m most engaged. I care for every word he speaks, and his performance is crucial to the success of Lincoln. Just like many other performances throughout this list, Jones is going to get nominated for Supporting, and it’s very possible he’ll win.
Ezra Miller – The Perks of Being A Wallflower
Ezra Miller wasn’t even originally on my list, but I just recently watched The Perks of Being A Wallflower, and I couldn’t help but include him in. Miller, who introduced himself to the film industry through his masterful work in We Need To Talk About Kevin (who was slightly overshadowed by Tilda Swinton’s powerful performance), he revolves himself in a completely new character, who similarly is an outcast in school, but is much more alive and active in his interactions with friends and colleagues. But his performance is so important to the film because it is energy and the lifeblood. Miller’s character is what brings everyone together, as his lively personality and the perky individual he is connects all the major characters through friendship and love. He’s a rebel because he has to be, and that’s the only way to deal with his pain and suffering, and he hides his true self without acknowledging it to the world, until at the right moment, he has nothing else except to show his true self. It’s a wonderful performance that most likely will get overlooked, and what a shame it will be.
Quvenzhane Wallis – Beasts of The Southern Wild
This is a film that I haven’t talked about at all, mainly because I saw this extremely late, and it already passed it’s buzz. But there was a reason why it had such strong potential through the awards circuit this season when it was released at Sundance. This is one powerful film. Set in the slums of New Orleans where the potential of storms threaten their livelihood, we’ve got a seven year-old girl who puts in one of the best performances of the year. Her on screen presence is what makes this film move, and it’s a magical ride. It’s one of the most moving films of the year, and the last 30 minutes is all you need to see to validate her seat at the Academy Awards. This an indie film that needs to be recognized in all categories, but if there’s one that needs to be put on the forefront, it’s Wallis’ defying and transcending portrayal of Hushpuppy.
Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained
I’m, of course, being biased because Christoph Waltz is one of my favorite actors today, and I’ve only seen him in two films. That says a lot about those two performances, but no one can deny the magnitude of his work in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. It’s unfortunate because I only had room to fit one performance from this masterful film, and though I was tempted to go with Leonardo DiCaprio, it was Waltz that eventually won the spot. His Dr. King Schultz is the pulse, and the character is too memorable to ignore this year. He is truly one of the most charismatic and charming actors today, and I truly believe Tarantino has many more roles he wants to write for this gifted German actor. Nomination must be in the book for Christoph Waltz.
Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
Zero Dark Thirty is one of the most controversial films of the year, and it unfortunately took a toll of its potential Oscar run. But what it didn’t take away is Jessica Chastain’s harrowing and powerful performance as Maya, the mother***** who was responsible for finding Osama Bin Laden. You see her progress and growth throughout the film, realizing that her change is necessary not for her own life’s work, but for the satisfaction of this country. Her change resembles the similar change this country went through after 9/11, and from her strongest and most powerful lines to the final tears of completion, this is an important piece of work delivered by an actress who has career path that’s full of potential and success. Even though she’s one of the greats right now, she’s still underrated, and when she gets more dominating work, she’s in line for more nominations and wins. Expect her to win for Best Actress at the Academy Awards.
Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln
It’s clear that there is no other performance that tops Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of our 16th President. Though I have issues when films are purely fulfilled by one actor’s work, in this situation, it’s perfectly fitting, considering that Lincoln is the life and soul of this film, being the main proprietor and motivator for the 13th Amendment. Lewis, easily the best working actor of our generation, knocks it out of the park, and without any hesitation, provides us with one of the great performances of all time. I truly thought he would never top his Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, which is also one of the all time greats, but in the end, this is his career defining role. I can’t think of any other actor who could play Lincoln, and when you have a role where only one actor can play, you know you have an individual who’s been given his own place in Hollywood. From Lincoln’s voice, body language and just his overall persona as a father, husband and leader, we don’t just witness an Oscar-winning performance, we witness true art and masterpiece on screen that will last for ages. Standing ovation indeed.
Sally Field – Lincoln
Phillip Seymour Hoffman & Amy Adams – The Master
Leonardo DiCaprio & Samuel L. Jackson – Django Unchained
Javier Bardem – Skyfall
Ann Dowd – Compliance
Suraj Sharma – Life of Pi