Actors are on the forefront of everyone's mind even before they sit down in the theatre. More often than not, who is or who is not acting in a film will be a deciding factor when it comes to choosing where you'll be spending your money.
"Oh, that cute guy from The Notebook is in a film about cars? Yeah, sure. It's probably a comedy."
2011 offered lots in the way of compelling performances. We got actors reaching all time heights (Radcliffe and Co). We saw some hit all time lows (Sandler). We saw break out of the torrid waters of obscurity and scream onto the A-list (about half the people in this article.). 2011 was good to us at the movies, and the actors had a lot to do with that.
Before we go any further, allow me to list off some honorable mentions that didn't quite make the cut. They include, but are not limited to, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2), Emma Watson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2), Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2), Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Thor, Midnight In Paris), Owen Wilson (Midnight In Paris), Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life, Moneyball), Jonah Hill (The Tree of Life), Joel Courtney (Super 8), Elle Fanning (Super 8), Laurence Fishburne (Contagion), Matt Damon (Contagion), Colin Firth (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Christopher Plummer (Beginners, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Daniel Craig (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Albert Brooks (Drive), and Carey Mulligan (Drive, Shame).
And now... here are Films From the Supermassive Black Hole's Acting MVPs of 2011.
10. Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, Shame)
This one comes with a huge caveat. I've been hearing such wonderful things about Mr. Fassbender's performance in Shame, how he really goes for broke and turns in a spectacular piece of work. But, I haven't seen it yet. I am going to, real soon! But I have to keep this list fair, and that is why he's all the way down here at number ten. But, his performance in X-Men is good enough by itself to land him here. We all know where the character of Magneto is going to end up, but Fassbender makes us empathize and even root for him as the seeds of the super villain are planted. I hope he plays the role again. I really do!
9. Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life)
Employing grace, beauty, and good, ol' fashioned, motherly love, Ms. Chastain effortlessly makes herself standout in Terrence Malick's complex and compelling film. Though her voice rarely rises above a whisper (indeed, some of my contemporaries have taken to calling The Tree of Life "Whisper, The Movie"), Chastain presents a character that is layered and interesting, perfectly counter-balancing Brad Pitt's intensity with a quiet elegance. I think I might have sort of kinda fallen in love with her over the course of the movie. Oops. She was apparently also good in The Debt, but who the hell saw that movie?
8. Hunter McCracken (The Tree of Life)
Yeah, yeah, Brad Pitt and Sean Penn got top billing for this, but let's be real. Pitt's role is really supporting, and Penn is in the movie for a grand total of five minutes. The real star is Hunter McCracken, proving to the world what Noah Ringer cannot; that child actors are a force to be reckoned with. Handling all the conflict of an adolescent boy with daddy issues like a champ, McCracken's Jack is instantly relatable and unforgettable
7. Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)
There was a time when Mara was probably one of the most hated actresses in Hollywood. "She's taking on a role that someone else already played well in a foreign film that came out less than two years ago! She's just gonna ruin it! HOW DARE SHE!!!" Well, the haters can shove it, because Mara kills it as Lisbeth Salander! Bringing all the gruffness, the sociopathy, and the piercings that Noomi Rapace did, while also unearthing a certain warmth in the character, Mara puts all the naysayers in their place, and sets herself up for a spectacular franchise.
6. Alan Rickman (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2)
Rickman was always a standout in the Harry Potter franchise for his devilishly fun take on everyone's favorite Potions teacher. The material he is tasked with handling in the finale is significantly heavier and more intense, and Rickman brings his A-game! The Prince's Tale is really wonderful, and he does some of his best acting in it. Truly heartbreaking!
5. Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin)
This man deserves an Academy Award. As technology becomes better and better, specifically the technology used to capture a humans body and facial movements, performance capture technology is becoming more and more legitimate. And Andy Serkis is the undisputed king of performance capture, and he was on fire this year. He single handedly elevated Rise of the Planet of the Apes from a tired cash in on a long dead franchise to one of the freshest and most interesting reboots in a long time. And he was an absolute live wire has the perpetually drunk Captain Haddock in Tintin. Wake up Oscar. This guy is for real!
4. Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
This guy swooped in at the very last moment to claim the number four spot, as I only saw The Artist a couple of days ago, but it's well deserved. Funny, moving, charming, and oh so sexy, Dujardin creates a character we can sympathize with and cheer for, all without uttering a single word. I don't know about you, but that's impressive.
3. Gary Oldman (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
His performance in Harry Potter is barely a cameo, but it comes at one of the most memorable and emotional moments. His performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is something altogether different. Giving off an air of steely control, whilst conveying all the weight that a world weary spy with years of experience must be feeling. A lead role was long overdue for this master actor, and he knocks it out of the park!
2. Ryan Gosling (Drive, The Ides of March)
Ryan Gosling was seemingly everywhere this year. In addition to starring in lots of movies, he took up a brief career as a crime fighter in the streets of New York and is now the subject of his own meme. But that's not why your here. In The Ides of March, he does a fine job as a smarmy, confident, hotwire campaign worker whose faith in his leader is severely tested. His performance in Drive is something even more memorable. Emulating the likes of McQueen and Eastwood, Gosling's Driver is one of the coolest wheelmen to grace the silver screen in a long time. At one minute tender, the next unfeeling, the next downright scary, Gosling soars to new heights as this ultimate badass. Heights usually reserved for...
1. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50)
You're probably rolling your eyes and closing the window right now cuz, of course I would choose this guy. But, believe me! I always have good reasons. This year, JoGo was only seen in one thing, but he did so well in that one thing!! Like I said in my review, Gordon-Levitt has that admirable quality to take any role and give a certain jazz to make it stand out, and he is on fire here. As Adam he deftly and effortlessly hops between all the stages of grief, running the gamut from hopeful optimism, to blind fury, to mind numbing depression. And he excels at every! Single! One! He is just so perfect in this movie that I can't even believe that he wasn't the casting director's first choice. Oscar consideration is more than deserved.
Well, that was... sexual.
We're getting into the home stretch. Tune in tomorrow for the next installment of 2011: The Retrospect, and be sure to check for all the lists thus far. Bye bye everyone. If aliens attack, make like David and Steve, and hide.