Same as my list of the Top 10 Movies of the last 5 years, this list does NOT include movies from 2007. And, as is the case with any list I make, I in no way claim to hold some superior opinion that makes this list even slightly definitive. Even in my mind, I feel the exact order of this list could change at any moment, so try not to place too much value in the exact placing of items on this post. That would be silly.
Are you ready? Because I'm not.
Okay, now I'm ready.
#10 - Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell in 'The Master'
Now, in case you're slightly confused by this, let me first make this known: I did not like this movie. In fact, one could say I actively disliked it. But it would be idiotic of me to ignore the fantastic performance by Joaquin Phoenix, who after this and I'm Still Here, stands as one of the most fearless actors in Hollywood. Portraying a hideous character in a completely unflattering way, Phoenix took his material and went the extra mile with it. I may have left the theater disappointed by the movie, but secretly rooting for Phoenix to take home the Best Actor Oscar this year (though they will probably instead award it to Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln... no complaints there).
#9 - Colin Firth as George Falconer in 'A Single Man'
A performance of quiet emotions and subtle nuances, Firth doesn't go the easy way with this performance, grand-standing his emotions in a way that would have almost assuredly won him an Oscar, but rather keeps the pain internalized. And there isn't a moment in the film that you can't see the deap-seated anguish in his eyes. In The King's Speech, he takes the easier route, with outbursts and externalized emotion, which won him the Oscar. Both are excellent performances worthy of praise, but it's his work in A Single Man that really impressed me. It's a simple performance, but an extremely effective one.
#8 - Michael Shannon as Curtis LaForche in 'Take Shelter'
Michael Shannon may be something of a one-trick pony, but that trick is *really* good. It's hard to look at his face and not question his sanity, and with his physically daunting appearance, he makes for a considerably unstable and often frightening presence. Here, he dials back the insanity... somewhat. The movie is at times almost painfully slow, but Shannon's mesmerizing performance keeps you transfixed every moment he spends onscreen. The constant question "is he crazy, or is he not" wouldn't have worked half as well with any other actor, and not just because of his appearance. The fact that he didn't earn a single major award for this performance (Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, etc.) is one of the biggest crimes in modern movie award history.
#7 - Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa in 'Inglourious Basterds'
Granted, quite a bit of what makes this performance so fantastic is the incredible material written by Tarantino, but picturing anyone else in this role is borderline blasphemy. Every syllable, every line delivered with perfect annunciation, and with such brilliant emotional dissonance and sarcastic wit. Truly one of the best-written characters to appear onscreen since Jules Winnfield (I wish Tarantino were more consistent with creating such brilliant dialogue). Waltz, who has since become something of a caricature in his films, will never be able to top his work here. I remember when I first watched this movie in theaters. As I walked out, the first thing I said was something along the lines of: "well, now we know who's going to win Best Supporting Actor".
#6 - Tom Hardy as Charlie Bronson in 'Bronson'
I always admire fearlessness from an actor. This performance, to put it simply, is one of the most fearless performances I've ever seen from an actor. Luckily for Hardy, he wasn't a big name before this role, and due to his incredible performance, he got the attention of critics and filmmakers alike, who have since fallen head-over-heels for him. If any actor has ever had the ability to point to a single performance and attribute it to their future career, Hardy would be that man pointing to Bronson, and for good reason. If you haven't seen it, watch it. I don't even like the movie, but Hardy delivers such an incredible performance, there is no possible way you could regret having seen it. Being one of the rare few t have seen Hardy before he became popular, I can safely say few actors have, due to their skill, deserved a meteoric rise to fame as much as him.
#5 - Jean Dujardin as George Valentin in 'The Artist'
Anyone who read my year-end countdown of my favorite movies of 2011, and my top 10 movies of the last 5 years list could have probably predicted this being somewhere on this list, but I don't really care. Silent movies, and the acting to go along with it, is a lost art, and to see someone perfect it as Dujardin has done with this film is a rare privilege. Few performances have ever taken me through such emotional highs and lows as this, and without ever needing to speak a single word, he completely won me over, happy when he was joyful and had me in tears when he was down. Truly a magnificent performance, and definitely deserved the Oscar over his main competitor, Georg Clooney, whose performance was nowhere near as layered as Dujardin's. An incredible movie, with an equally fantastic lead performance.
#4 - Mickey Rourke as Randy "The Ram" Robinson in 'The Wrestler'
Here is an example where earning an Oscar nomination was simply not enough. He lost Best Actor to Sean Penn for Milk (one of the most annoyingly preachy and generic performances of all-time), probably solely due to the politics of it all. Rourke, who I never considered to be anything better than a marginal actor, delivered one of the most emotionally raw performances I've ever seen, completely stripping himself bare. The Wrestler is a fantastic movie, but I don't think it would even be worth noting were it not for Rourke's performance. Truly a remarkable performance from an actor I never took too seriously (and has since proven to me why).
#3 - Michael Fassbender as Brandon Sullivan in 'Shame'
While on the subject of raw performances that were snubbed by the Oscars... Fassbender, who is one of the greatest actors working today (and one of my favorites), completely strips himself bare in this film - both emotionally and physically. Easily one of the most daring performances I can recall having seen, and by an actor who, at this point, had already built up a name for himself. This performance not only wins over my respect due to its fearlessness, but also completely had my attention. This movie made me feel sick inside, and it was because of his powerful performance. Fassbender and McQueen are a fantastic actor/director combo, and I can't wait to see if they can possibly top this.
#2 - Heath Ledger as The Joker in 'The Dark Knight'
I remember when I first heard that Ledger would be playing The Joker. I didn't know what to think of that. And when I saw the movie the first time, I was less than impressed - unwilling to get caught up in the hype, I found much to nitpick about. At this point, I am fully willing to say that I get why people love this performance so much, though I do still believe the masses admire it for the wrong reasons (an eventual analysis of why that is is something I should consider writing at some point). Easily one of the most entertaining, well-written movie villains in a long time, and Ledger completely escapes into the role. The movie itself is good, but it's when he shows up that things suddenly get great. And now, my number one...
#1 - James Franco as Aron Ralston in '127 Hours'
If you saw my last list, this probably doesn't come as m uch of a surprise to you, but I genuinely feel this is one of the greatest acting performances I've ever seen. Strangely enough, I don't like James Franco, but that will never make me deny just how excellent he can be. A complete character piece, one studying the nature of both man, and a specific man. Franco embodies it wonderfully. I don't really know what else to say, other than that this is one of my favorite movies, and it wouldn't be half as good if it weren't for Franco. If you haven't seen it already, watch it. If you already have seen it, watch it again, just because I said so.
I suppose my next list will come here in a few weeks, so stick around if you want to have your world rocked.