Dec 10, 2010


1. Jeremy Renner — The Town
2. Christian Bale — The Fighter
3. Michelle Williams — Blue Valentine
4. Colin Firth — The King's Speech
5. Rachel McAdams — Morning Glory
6. Julianne Moore — The Kids Are Alright
7. Sam Rockwell — Iron Man 2
8. Kirsten Dunst — All Good Things
9. Amy Adams — The Fighter
10. Mark Ruffalo — Shutter Island*
This blog does not believe in Great Acting, or at least the kind of sweaty over-exertion that gets celebrated as Great Acting elsewhere. We like performers who hide their work, pull their weight, and steal the show without taking a thing from their fellows — showboats who play well with others. We do not observe any distinctions of gender, class or nationality, although we admit to a slight prejudice towards the kind of performance that gets called 'supporting'. We are not gaga for Brits or their kings. We are not hot for a funny accent or prodigious feats of girth expansion/deflation. Disabilities leave us cold. Likewise famous beauties playing 'ugly'. We like comics when they are funny. We like entertainers when they entertain. We do not ask that they recant or apologise. We are not interested in 'transformations,' 'chameleons', and have no truck with 'disappearing into a role'. The performances listed above all conform, however, to the definition of art once given us, over a bottle of Italian red, by the art critic David Sylvester: a leopard too busy running to notice how beautiful it is in motion. We naturally trust no definition of art, but like this one because we like running leopards. Also, leopards in repose. Pretty much anything to do with leopards, in fact. They are cool creatures. So. We greatly enjoyed John Hawkes in Winter's Bone, Greta Gerwig in Greenberg, Blake Lively in The Town and Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank — leopards all. We liked Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are Alright but preferred his cop in Shutter Island. His performance was an uncanny period piece: he could have slipped into any Bogart picture, third hoodlum from the left, no questions asked. We loved Amy Adams' combination of lily-white limbs and right hook in The Fighter, and felt Kirsten Dunst's dawning horror in All Good Things like a rip in our lower left ventricle. Sam Rockwell was svelte and self-absorbed in Iron Man 2, as if the entire movie was about him; he even got a laugh from a joke about Joyce'sUlysses, the first time I have come across one in a summer blockbuster about robots (all credit to writer Justin Theroux). For us, the real revelation in The Kids Are Alright was not Annette Bening, who's performance felt like an expensive engine just ticking over, but Julianne Moore: skittish, daffy, as loose as Keaton in her prime, her body acting about two seconds ahead of her mind, or morals, or any other bit of her. Rachel McAdams brought Doris-Day-like levels of perkiness to Morning Glory, establishing her as the de Niro of sugarplum moxie, with the best bum in showbusiness. We liked Colin Firth's anger in The King's Speech and the way the stammer seemed to originate in his throat not his mouth: a spiritual, not a mechanical matter. Michelle Williams gets a truly thrilling scene of inchoate rage at the end of Blue Valentine: a black declaration of anti-love that would do the Liz Taylor of Virginia Woolf proud. Somebody put Williams in a Mike Nichols picture. Second place goes to Christian Bale for his an antic, emaciated jack-o-lantern in The Fighter, his metabolism like a candle gutttering in its own wax; that he overwhelmed his own movie is the only thing in his disfavor. Bale could do with taking notes from Jeremy Renner, who powered up The Town without overpowering it, delivering the most infectious bit of daredevilry we have since Steve McQueen passed away. Almost any other actor would have rooted Jem's violence in his fear of going back to jail; Renner tacks in the other direction, tipping fear into glee. The result was both the most purely pleasurable performance of the year, pound for pound, and also the most precisely callibrated to the task in hand — an unbeatable blend of show-stopper and team-player.

* I haven't yet seen True Grit or Another Year


  1. Nice list. Like Rockwell for Iron Man rather than Conviction, though he was good there, too. Also: here's a nod to Rebecca Hall, who had a great year, I thought, with The Town and Please Give.

  2. Rebecca Hall very nearly made it. She's in the top 20.

  3. Awesome! Renner is an amazing actor. I really hope he gets his second Oscar nomination this year. I'm starting to hear more and more buzz about it, so my fingers are crossed. Incidentally, I live an hour from his hometown in Modesto, CA. Back in September, he showed up to do an "Inside the Actor's Studio" style show at the Modesto arts center for a series called Hometown Heroes. I went. What an absolutely charming, intelligent, articulate, and totally down-to-eath guy he is despite his budding (no...exploding) fame. He deserves all of the praise he receives and more. Thanks for your blog posting!

  4. Wonderful post. I'm curious as to what you thought of Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole and Javier Bardem in Biutiful. Those were simply two of my favorite performances this year.

  5. I should have added a list of the movies I haven't seen yet: Rabbit Hole and Biutiful are among them. I'm a fan of both actors, though I must admit to a certain amount of judgment when it comes to what Kidman has done to her face. But I will seek out the film....

  6. Agree on Ruffalo in Shutter Island. Amazing ease of movement, no trace that was he was conscious of its being a costume part; he even wore his hat like he'd been doing it all his adult life.

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