10. Marion Cotillard - "Mal," Inception
"Inception" is going to get a lot of love this award season and rightly so. Though I'm still undecided, if I were given a vote for a major award committee, I think this would get my vote for Best Picture. Still, Cotillard's hypnotic and ghoulish turn as Mal isn't getting much attention these days and that's a crying shame. She is magnificently creepy as the ghostly vision of Cobb's (Leonardo DiCaprio) dead wife who pops up at the most inopportune of times to wreak havoc on an otherwise flawless plan. Mal is an atypical villain but "Inception" calls for a compelling antagonist and Cotillard steps up beautifully.
9. Will Ferrell - "Allen Gamble," The Other Guys
This one is undoubtedly a unique choice. On the whole I didn't really like "The Other Guys" all that much but the one blindingly bright spot was Ferrell. Gamble is a straight edged, starched collar, pleated pants kind of guy whose humor is more unintentional than anything else and Ferrell absolutely nails that description. The downfall of this movie is the rest of the cast, almost all of whom get swallowed up by director Adam McKay's improvisational, "just see what happens" style. Ferrell, on the other hand, flourishes in that setting and gives a truly funny performance.
8. Armie Hammer - "Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss," Social Network
The majority of the attention being paid to the actors of "The Social Network" is going to Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield and rightly so. Both men did an excellent job with their characters. Hammer, however, stole the show for me every time he and his body double came on screen. Sure, Mark Zuckerberg is clearly the brainier of the three but it would be very easy for him to dominate the screen and the story. Instead, Hammer delivers a dual performance that is commanding, compelling, and sympathetic with his twin brothers going to toe-to-toe with Zuckerberg.
7. John Hawks - "Teardrop Dolly," Winter's Bone
Jennifer Lawrence is the clear star in "Winter's Bone" and she'll get her due in a minute here. But wow, what an outstanding job Hawkes did as a backwoods, Ozark tough guy. Teardrop is a man torn in two directions: on the one hand he'd like to avenge his brother's death and on the other he must respect the code developed between himself and the rest of the his methed-out community. Hawkes displays this internal struggle gloriously and would be nominated for Best Supporting Actor if I had a vote.
6. Emma Stone - "Olive Pendergrass," Easy A
You can't watch an Emma Stone movie and not fall in love with her character. She's the girl next door who also happens to be deliciously hilarious. "Easy A" is Stone's coming out party of sorts, her first real, mainstream starring role and what a job she does with it! Olive is an unknown teenager who finds that her popularity (temporarily) soars when (untrue) rumors of her promiscuity roll through the school. Stone plays Olive perfectly, never allowing her to become too wrapped up in the cliche drama that envelopes most high school settings but still letting the ramifications of her circumstances register with the audience. It's an excellent balance and it is what makes "Easy A" a valid piece of social commentary instead of just a throw away teen movie.
5. Jennifer Lawrence - "Ree Dolly," Winter's Bone
As an Ozark mountain teenager left in charge of her young siblings as her mother drifts deeper into depression and her father jumps in and out of jail, Ree is an uber-sympathetic and harrowing figure. Lawrence embodies the backwoods of Missouri so perfectly that you would think "Winter's Bone" was based on her life. She is strong, rugged, and determined but with a subtle touch of naivety that makes the role as powerful as it is. She's a shoe-in for a Best Actress nomination and would get my vote in the category.
4. Leonardo DiCaprio - "Cobb," Inception and "Teddy Daniels," Shutter Island
I'm going to focus mostly on DiCaprio's turn in "Inception" but I would be remiss if I didn't mention his outstanding work in "Shutter Island." While "Island" wasn't quite up the expectations I had going in, it was a compelling story and DiCaprio was wicked good. Like Mal in "Inception," Daniels is often a disturbing figure that you can't take your eyes off of. DiCaprio sells the film's final twist beautifully. Cobb is a much more commanding but no less compelling and sympathetic figure as compared to Daniels. Cobb is haunted by the ghostly spectre of his dead wife but hell bent on delivering on his most complicated job to date. He is an excruciatingly complex character and everything about DiCaprio's performance brings the audience deeper and deeper into his soul (for lack of a better term).
3. Jeremy Renner - "James Coughlin," The Town
Two years ago, Renner was in a short-lived ABC cop drama called "The Unusuals." Last year he gave a stirring performance in "The Hurt Locker" which earned him a Best Actor Oscar nod. This year, he was cast as Hawkeye in the upcoming "Avengers" movie and perfectly played the crucial role in "The Town." He's a star in the making. As a hardened ex-con with a horrifying temper and a lack of legal skills, Coughlin is the driving force behind the inevitable confrontation between Ben Affleck's bank robber and John Hamm's FBI agent. He is devoted and loyal to his crew and his heritage but he will not accept that his best friend is moving on with his life. Most importantly, he is steadfast in his determination that he will never again be kept prisoner. When Renner makes this declaration I believed him, unlike so many movie crooks I've seen over the years. You could almost feel sorry for Coughlin if you weren't sure he'd beat the crap out of you for saying so. It's a riveting portrayal.
2. Jeff Bridges - "Rooster Cogburn," True Grit
How do you follow up a role that won you the Oscar for Best Actor? I guess revamping a character that won the same award for another legendary actor is a good way to go. Rooster Cogburn is a collection of contradictions: harsh but appealing, simple but wickedly sharp, often drunk but always sober-minded, slow to speak but quick to act. There's no question that writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen gave Bridges a magnificent character to work with. Likewise, however, there's no question that Bridges did more with what he was given than even the Coens could have envisioned. Bridges offering is, all things considered, perfect. Adding to the brilliance for me is how decisively different Bridges' Rooster Cogburn is from his Bad Blake, the role for which he won the Oscar for last year. Both are aging, grizzled, down home, good old boys but their similarities end there. To make those two characters so different is EXTREMELY difficult and I think any number of great actors wouldn't have been up to challenge.
1. Christian Bale - "Dick Eklund," The Fighter
It is tough to standout in a film that is rife with amazing performances. In "The Fighter," Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo all deliver excellent portrayals of their respective characters. Adams and Leo are likely to garner numerous Best Supporting Actress nominations and for my money, Wahlberg deserves some award talk as well. So please understand how great those actors were when I say that none of them even hold a candle to what Christian Bale did. A drugged out, washed-up former boxing prodigy whose reality never measured up to vision in his own head, Eklund is one of the more well-crafted characters in recent memory. It is not easy to accurately depict the life of a junkie, to find the proper balance between the zone-outs and the manic outbursts, the shifty vulnerability and the drug-fueled strength. From moment one of the film to the final frame, Bale hits the mark flawlessly. He sucks you into his world as an addict, keeps you there as he attempts to recover, and rewards you for your patience when he ultimately steps up in the most important moment of the film. In a year that was egregiously lacking in heart, Bale's turn as Eklund is the only single performance that brought a little water to my crybaby eyes. It is a tremendous achievement in acting and Bale deserves every single praise that comes his way.
Looking forward to what these great actors will do in 2011,