2010 was a slow year for the movies, even when it came to the performers. Some years are full of indelible performances- this wasn’t one of them. What we did see a lot of were breakout performers, actors and actresses who made their first mark before going on to bigger and better things. But I suppose that’s appropriate; the first year of the 2010s was the year that introduced a lot of the performers that would shape the rest of the decade since.

[Disclaimer: There’s probably some profanity in these clips. And maybe some poorly subtitled dialogue.]

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Best Supporting Actress

Melissa Leo, The Fighter: Like Weaver in The Fighter (see below), Leo was a hardened matriarch, not over a gang in this case, though her brood of daughters was about as intimidating. Some devalued her performance, accusing her of caricaturing Bostonians. But as you watched Leo interact with her sons, played by Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg, her affection for them was a clear indicator of her performance’s depth.

Blake Lively, The Town: Lively is best-known for Gossip Girl, but her character in The Town skews as far away from that show as possible. She’s a junkie, someone without any identity beyond her need for drugs and her longing for Ben Affleck’s character. Lively could have easily fallen back into an overdone stereotype, but her desperation rings true.

Rooney Mara, The Social Network: It’s easy to see why David Fincher chose Mara as his Lisbeth for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Her time was extremely limited (only a couple of scenes), but she more than held her own against Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg’s soon-to-be ex-girlfriend. Mara proved herself to be an actress capable of volatile range.

Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom: American audiences are more familiar with Weaver from her Oscar-nominated role in Silver Linings Playbook as Pat’s mom. But Animal Kingdom gave her a far more scrumptious part to sink her teeth into. As the matriarch of an Australian gang, Weaver was conniving and subtle, arguably the scariest character in the film.

Lesley Manville, Another Year (winner): Lesley Manville was arguably the central performer in Another Year, but you weren’t aware of that until the very end. For the majority of the movie’s running time, the movie is mostly concerned with Tom and Gerri, the older couple played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen. Manville plays Mary, the most dysfunctional of Tom’s and Gerri’s many friends. Mary’s life is falling apart, while all around her friends are finding more and more success. The last shot is a revealing slow-zoom on Mary’s face, her psyche crumbling amidst her friends’ affluence; Manville sells it with exquisite pain.

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Best Supporting Actor

John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone: His breakout role finds him casting a shadow over Jennifer Lawrence’s own breakout role, which is no small feat. As Lawrence’s character’s uncle, Teardrop, Hawkes is menacing. I promise I mean this as a compliment, but he makes the perfect meth addict: emaciated, desperate body and hungry eyes.

Jeremy Renner, The Town: Apparently, before they made the Boston-set The Town, director Ben Affleck, who is from Boston, told the cast they wouldn’t be doing any accent training. Instead, he brought them to the town to spend time around the people, the blue-collar workers, the kind that grew up in the kinds of neighborhoods depicted onscreen in the movie. Jeremy Renner’s performance as a hardened criminal reeks of the kind of life experience he learned from those people.

Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right: Before he was the Jolly Green Giant, Mark Ruffalo made his living playing the kind of aimless journeyman he portrays in The Kids Are All Right. He’s no more naïve than he was in his breakout role ten years earlier in You Can Count on Me, but he wreaks just as much havoc. Spending time with the children you sired via sperm donation is one thing, and falling into bed with their adopted lesbian mother is another, but Ruffalo somehow makes both seem lovable.

Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech: Geoffrey Rush almost stole Best Supporting Actor on moxie alone. His Lionel Logue is so willfully preposterous with his speech-language pathology methods, he almost single-handedly holds this slight movie together. What makes him believable in spite of this is that he displays that quality essential to any speech-language pathologist: he believes wholeheartedly that his patient will improve.

Christian Bale, The Fighter (winner): It’s easy to make fun of Bale for his methods or his hot temper. But Bale is more than a cliché. Otherwise, how did he come up with a performance so lived-in that you hardly recognize the man who played Batman? Sure, he lost a lot of weight and adopted a flawless Boston accent, and those are challenging and effective transformations. But a performance of this caliber goes beyond such observable distinctions to something indescribable under the skin.

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Best Actress

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right: The wronged woman is a cinematic cliché, but Lisa Cholodenko had something different in mind when she cast Bening as a woman whose wife cheats on her with the man who donated the sperm that produced their two children. Bening has always been a performer that commands attention, and Cholodenko used her prim-and-proper quality to create a contrast with her reaction when her life falls apart before her eyes. It’s interesting that the Academy only nominated Bening and not Moore, but it would be impossible to argue she didn’t earn it.

Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone: The vast majority of the public didn’t see Winter’s Bone; she wouldn’t truly break out till The Hunger Games two years later. But if you did see Winter’s Bone, in which she stars as a girl looking for her estranged father in backwoods Arkansas, you knew Lawrence was a star. This has been her most subdued performance by far, but it’s the anger bubbling beneath the surface that gave her away.

Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit: The Academy apparently thought the performance by the girl with more screen time than any other actor in the movie belonged in the supporting category. But we won’t make the same mistake and diminish what Steinfeld accomplished here. As her Mattie searched for her father’s murderer, this 13-year-old girl out-acted Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon to make the movie her own.

Soledad Villamil, The Secret in Their Eyes: The Secret in Their Eyes was the 2010 winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but it still hasn’t received that much attention, from critics or audiences. That’s a shame, because one of its many charms was Villamil’s performance as a successful judge. Secret did a lot of things well, but Villamil’s portrayal of an independent Argentine woman (and the fact that the movie treats this as nonchalantly as possible) was something that’s still rare in Hollywood.

Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right (winner): You got the feeling early on that Moore was playing the wild card in the onscreen relationship between Moore’s Jules and Bening’s Nic. The feeling was confirmed when Jules jumped into bed with Ruffalo’s Paul. Moore has played plenty of characters that don’t seem to have it all together, but, like Bening, she’s always given off the air of having a firm foundation despite the world falling apart around her. The Kids Are All Right is the first time we’ve truly seen her fall apart, and it suits her. Here’s to hoping Moore can find another role that so poignantly conveys a woman’s mid-life crisis in a business that so often restricts that conflict to men.

The Social Network

Best Actor

Ricardo Darín, The Secret in Their Eyes: Playing former federal agent Benjamín Espósito, Darín moved as if he was carrying a huge weight in his chest. Battered by the horrors of the cases he had covered and wearied from the unspoken romance between him and Villamil’s judge, Espósito was the ideal man to uncover the mystery of the case at the heart of the film. In Secret, Darín turned a life’s worth of endurance into an art form.

Colin Firth, The King’s Speech: Creating a believable stutter is unbelievably difficult. It’s even harder if your character was supposed to have a severe stutter (or stammer, since this is British history we’re talking about here), like Firth’s King George VI, forced into the monarchy after his brother abdicated. If the performance was all stutter, I’d give Firth the Oscar, but he also conveys a shyness and insecurity most actors must be unfamiliar with.

James Franco, 127 Hours: On paper, the role of a man stuck under a rock probably doesn’t sound like entertaining stuff. Of course, in Danny Boyle’s hands, the real-life role of Aron Ralston was vastly expanded. Franco, who has the reputation of a pretentious pretty-boy, proved up to the challenge of showing us both physical and mental suffering.

Tahar Rahim, A Prophet: When A Prophet began, Rahim’s Malik was a rookie in the world of the prison in which he had to serve a six-year sentence. When A Prophet ended, Malik was the undisputed godfather of the prison, having taken control of the prison’s powerful Corsican mob. Rahim has shined in other movies (see last year’s The Past), but in A Prophet he reigned.

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network (winner): Eisenberg may seem to play the same character in every movie, but you could make that argument for every actor. It just so happened that in The Social Network he found the perfect match for his acerbic style in Mark Zuckerberg. It’s a testament to the power of his performance that ever since 2010 everyone has assumed that Zuckerberg is an absolute jerk. Even if he’s not, Eisenberg and his director Fincher cemented him as the ultimate salesman of the 21st century American dream. They’ll forever be linked- or at least until the next salesman’s pitch rings truer.

Future Top Performances

2013

Best Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Best Actress: Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Best Supporting Actor: Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

2012

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem, Skyfall
Best Supporting Actress: Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

2011

Best Actor: Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Best Actress: Viola Davis, The Help
Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life

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One thought on “Retro Bummys: Best Performances of 2010

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