Actors are the most instantly recognizable part of any movie. They are the ones that appear on the poster. They are the ones that are talked about the most when the movie comes out. They are the ones that people focus on most come awards season. A movie can live or die on their performances. The best actors can elevate a product to heavenly heights. The worst can sink a movie like it was the Titanic. 2010 had plenty of bad, even terrible performances, from lame action heroes, to lifeless muses, all capped off with one of the worst performances by a child actor ever. But, I'm not here to talk about that. That's no fun. We need some catharsis in this time of change. I know. It's difficult. Cheer up, damn it! So, with the intention of lifting your spirits, here are the MVP actors of the year. Seriously! Cheer up!
Before we go on, I want to address some people who don't make the short list, but are just as worthy of recognition. Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network). Armie Hammer (The Social Network). Vincent Cassel (Black Swan). Richard Jenkins (Let Me In). Jeff Bridges (True Grit). Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit). Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter). Allison Pill (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech). Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right, Shutter Island). Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right). Emma Watson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1). Kristin Stewart (The Runaways).
Anyway, here's the main list, after the jump!
10. Jospeh Gordon-Levitt (Inception)
Psh. Any other year, this guy would be near the top of the list, given how excellent he usually is in everything he does. But, the caliber of the rest of the list was so good as well, that I cannot in good conscience put him any higher. That being said, it's till one of the best performances of the year. His character wasn't the deepest, but with subtle additions to the character that Gordon-Levitt brought to the table elevate it above most. He's funny, passionate, and is featured in the coolest scene of the year. It's good stuff.
9. Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In)
The second best performance by a child actor this year. His confusion and sadness is truly heartbreaking. We've all dealt with assholes in high school, and we all know how difficult it is to talk about it at home. McPhee portrays this perfectly. We really feel and empathize with his character. His is an authentic performance of a kid who can't survive for much longer. His depiction of falling in love with Abby is lovely.
8. Justin Timberlake (The Social Network)
I'm a little shocked that Timberlake hasn't been considered for any major awards. You won't hear the name of this superstar at all come Oscar night. It's a shame, because Timberlake, the only pop star who can act (to my knowledge), lights The Social Network on fire from the second he enters the frame! He's alluring, witty, deliciously paranoid, and devilishly charming. Timberlake has been getting progressively better over the years, and nails every nuance of this character. It's the best of his career so far!
7. Mila Kunis (Black Swan)
Kunis graduates into an entirely new and higher class of acting with her award worthy performance as this temptress of a ballerina. She is amazing! She is alluring, seductive, dangerous, quirky, and impulsive. Kunis goes to the greatest of lengths with the character, proving that she's not just a pretty face with good comic timing. She is a dramatic actress with chops to match!
6. Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception, Shutter Island)
Ok, sure. He plays practically the same character for both movies, that being a tortured soul with a dead wife. But, no one else can play that role better than him, let alone perform it in two drastically different movies. We really get a sense of his frayed sanity and decreasing mental state in Shutter Island, and are offered an elaborate and effective portrait of his anguish and guilt in Inception. DiCaprio was at the top of his game this year, which, given how excellent his work has been the past decade or so, is not saying much, but it's enough to land him on this list.
5. TIE: Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech)
I am technically cheating with this one, but you're not complaining. I couldn't decide which one I should choose, Firth's stammering king, or Rush's eccentric speech therapist. So, I just went with both, because they are both equally good. Firth is almost guaranteed an Oscar for his moving portrayal of George IV, and Rush is righteous hoot as well as a dramatic force as Lionel, the king's therapist and confidant. Excellent work from both of them in one of the strongest acted films of the year.
4. Andrew Garfield (Never Let Me Go, The Social Network)
Where has this guy been all his life? Before this year, no one really knew who Andrew Garfield was, and now look at him. Coming strong off two superb performances in two superb movies, he is now one of the most sought after actors in the biz! His emotional and devastating performance in Never Let Me Go is astounding, and his work in The Social Network deserved every word of praise it received. People are focusing on Eisenberg to much. This guy is the real champion of that film! Expect great things from him in the future. Hey, the Spider-Man reboot might not suck now! Whoopee!
3. Christian Bale (The Fighter)
As if wanting to further prove how committed an actor he is, Bale went to the most extreme extremes to play a cracked out, former boxer, shedding all his Batman muscle and weight until he was down to Machinist levels of thin. All well and good, but looks can only take you so far. Luckily, Bale nails everything about the character, from this ticks, to his crack induced crazes, to his devastation when he nearly loses everything, to his determination to sober up and make amends. It's a career best from Bale, an actor who has consistently turned in fantastic work. A month ago, Andrew Garfield all but had the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Then Bale showed up stole it from him. Hold me to that. Batman is gonna be a winner!
2. Chloe Moretz (Let Me In, Kick-Ass)
It was a good year for child actors, Noah Ringer aside. They all, more or less, turned in decent to excellent performances, but none of them came even close to the level of talent and maturity displayed by Chloe Moretz this year. Though she got most of the press for her inspiringly vulgar take on the miniature assassin Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, it is for her subdued and tragic performance as Abby in Let Me In that she should be remembered for. As this troubled and tortured vampire, Moretz is astounding! She takes everything that Lina Leandersson did with the character in Let the Right One In and ups the ante in every conceivable way. She's heartbreaking; she's dangerous; and despite the fact that she could rip your throat out, she is instantly relatable and lovable. That scene where she finally confides in Owen everything about her? One of the best acted scenes of the year. She was a lock for number one on this list for most of the year. But, then something happened, and that something was...
1. Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Apart from the screenplay for The Social Network, and the annual Pixar award, Natalie Portman's perfect take on a dancer losing her mind is the only potential candidate 100% guaranteed to take home an Oscar. Like I said in my review of the film, she is simply astounding, delving down deep into this girl's tragic story and getting at all the juicy little tidbits! She is almost unbearably haunting as this tortured soul, going to the farthest extremes with the character. White Swan Nina is so pathetic and an incredible push over, constantly apologizing for not being able to do something. Black Swan Nina is simply terrifying, acting very aggressively, both violently and sexually, behaving in such a callous and seductive manner that anyone seeing her in the street would turn tail and run away. It's easily the best performance of Portman's career, and, since her career has been marked by some savagely brilliant work (Closer, Garden State), that is saying quite a lot! She will be walking up to that stage on Oscar night. That, you can count on!
I hope you enjoyed that. Tune in tomorrow for MVPs of the Year (Directors), and be sure to refresh yourself on everything 2010 with 2010: The Retrospect. We're inching ever closer to the Best Films of the Year. It's getting intense, isn't it? See you tomorrow little ones. Be sure to wear your seat belts.