Mar 6, 2012

Thespians: 2011's Best Performances

Honourable Mentions
Tom Cullen and Chris New (Weekend), who gave us the year’s most believably romantic pas de deux, and Michael Fassbender (Shame), whose raw emotional turn marked yet another intriguing collaboration with Steve McQueen, came really close to making the final list. Similarly, Ryan Gosling (Drive) and Stephanie Sigman (Miss Bala) as two semi-silent anti-heroes gave perhaps the most iconic performances of the year that deserve to show up on every such list. On a related note, Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy) would have been on this list (all the way at number 2) had she not been mentioned on the list last year. I got around to the film on the festival circuit so I count it as a 2010 film.

12. Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin)

For conveying terror, helplessness, misery and confusion, all without words; for her thoughtful and balanced examination of a flawed character; and for continuing her streak of challenging performances in auteur pieces

11. Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead)

For his commitment; for gradually opening up years of pent up tension, inferiority and vengeance; and for an uncompromising portrayal of bruised virility and pride

10. Jean Dujardin (The Artist)

For his physicality; for the most expressive face in recent memory; for bringing together dance, comedy and tragedy; and for successfully carrying a film above its thin premise

9. Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaur)

For wearing her heart on her sleeve; for her eyes full of fear and sorrow; for her gut-wrenching breakdown scene; and for her brutal honesty

8. Jeremy Irons (Margin Call)

For standing out as the one unwavering monster in a film that tries hard to humanize all its monsters; for his stone-faced ruthlessness; and for delivering the line “It wasn’t brains that got me here” with such masterful irony

7. Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids)

For her sheer knack for comedy; for her poignant portrayal of depression; and for confirming that her talent can carry an entire film with as much ease as it can a short SNL sketch

6. Jessica Chastain (The Help)

For a standout turn in a film with an abundance of great performances; for her over-the-top pizzazz that never becomes cartoonish; for her heart-warming southern demeanour; and for the wide range of performances she covered in her breakthrough year

5. Charlize Theron (Young Adult)

For her adamant bitchiness; for embracing the ocean of flaws in her character; for her deft delivery of every line; and for surprising us with her comic finesse (really, who knew she could she be so funny?)

4. The Ensemble Cast of A Separation

For subtly implying the small idiosyncrasies of different tiers of Iranian society; for Hatami’s steely look, Moaadi’s stubbornness, Farhadi’s tearful eyes, Bayat’s vulnerability and Hosseini’s shattered ego; and for not missing a beat as an ensemble

3. Anders Danielsen Lie (Oslo, August 31st)

For his staggering portrayal of a man’s struggle with addiction, communication and self-esteem; for treating suicidal tendencies with maturity and sincerity; and for the heartbreaking detachment in his eyes

2. Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene)

For mirroring every small charge of emotion with subtle physicality; for allowing us to paint our understanding of her inner turmoil on her canvas-like face; for effortlessly bringing together paranoia and innocence; and for promising the beginning of a genuine star’s career

1. Brad Pitt (Tree of Life)

For beautifully capturing this stern father’s inability to emotionally communicate despite utmost love for his family; for walking the tremendously narrow line between control and abuse; for balancing loss with egotism, underachievement with narcissism and inept parenting with idealized masculinity; for surrendering to the director’s vision but avoiding archetypal characterization; and for giving the best performance of his illustrious career

Previously on Best of 2011


  1. I was surprised to see Anders Danielsen Lie on this list. Good choice!

  2. Sort of love that there's so much I would not include here but I love the dynamic nature of your picks. And (I'm reading this with Juliette as number 2, because, DUH.)

    Also "adamant bitchiness", love that phrase for some reason.

    1. Well, it wouldn't be fun if we agreed on everything right?
      But damn binoche is too good to disagree on. Was just reading your post about her breakdown scene an it's so vivid in my memory and i havent seen the film in more than a year. She totally floored me.

    2. It would not, and I was speed reading last night, so I couldn't stop and go in depth. I was having a hard time putting into words what I loved about Pitt, so your write-up is a beauty.

      Incidentally, I don't think any of your choices are "bad" performances (I'd just swap our Irons, Dujardin and Olson) and I wish I could have landed Tilda in my five - a performer I need to get more acquainte with since I feel as if I'm missing the conversation and everyone loves her but I've seen a paucity of her work, but she thrilled me in WnttaK even as I felt the role seemed a bit wrong for her (which is not the backhanded compliment it reads as being.)