Thursday, August 25, 2011

Top Ten Performers of 2011 (So Far)

The past couple years, around this time, I try to take stock of some of my favorite film performances of the year so far before we head into the busy glut of fall/winter with its many festivals, Oscar-bait premieres, and holiday offerings. In years past it was easier to come up with my Top 10 list since I wouldn't have seen that many films (23 films in 2009 and 2010) and more than half of those films just weren't that good to begin with. This year, it's a bit different. To date, I've seen 38 theatrical releases and there are more than a bunch of quality performances that merit mention. So with a bit of cheating on my part, here are my "ten" picks:

1. The entire cast of The Help
- Already I'm starting with one of my cheats. I had to do this. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer deliver Oscar-worthy performances, sincere and heart-felt. Emma Stone, her star continually rising, was as solid as ever and the mother-daughter duo of Sissy Spacek and Bryce Dallas Howard was a hoot. Though special kudos goes to Jessica Chastain who was the most pleasant surprise for me. Didn't even get to mention Allison Janney or Cicely Tyson.

2. Andy Serkis as Caesar (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) - Motion capture? CGI? Visual effects? Animation? Who cares really, because I don't. It was a moving portrayal that has captured a lot of people by surprise with many even saying it warrants some sort of award recognition. I'm in that camp.

3. Michael Fassbender as Rochester
(Jane Eyre) and as Erik Lehnsherr (X-Men: First Class) - Sure I saw him first in 300 and then Inglourious Basterds, but like a lot of people, I didn't really take notice of him until this year when he was asked to play two quite complicated characters that have been portrayed before. Yet with his natural charisma and presence he succeeded in making them his own. It also didn't hurt that he had amazing chemistry with both of his co-stars in the films.

4. Daniel Radcliffe as Harry J. Potter (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2) - Does he really compare to the accomplished adult thespians in his film? Probably not, but this was the first film of the series where I thought Radcliffe just nailed the iconic role. Maybe because it was also his character's biggest moment, but Radcliffe impressed me by not only delivering every emotion he was asked to deliver, but also taking absolute command of every scene he was in.

5. Tom Hiddlestone as Loki (Thor) - Another Marvel baddie makes its way into my list and why not? Unlike most superhero villains, we actually get why he is the way he is. We understand his motivations wanting to prove himself against his overbearing father and perfect brother and Hiddlestone just delivered. Part of why he's on the list is also because of his vastly different role as F. Scott Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris.

6. The kids of Super 8 - In a film that isn't aging well with me even though I only saw it a couple months back, the performances of ALL of the kids (but especially from the main trio of Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, and Elle Fanning) have held up. There were times when I had to remind myself that these weren't just kids goofing off, doing their thing, but actual actors working from a script. That's how good they were.

7. Owen Wilson as Gil (Midnight in Paris) - The only reason I didn't see this film on opening weekend was because I had an aversion to Wilson. So of course he blows me away and then some. Not sure why his role worked for me so well. Perhaps it's because he really wore all of his emotions on his sleeves. We're right with him as he struggles to figure out the fantastical and crazy events happening around him. Just an assured performance above all the great performances by the wonderful ensemble.

8. Melissa McCarthy as Megan (Bridesmaids) - I didn't love this film as much as everyone else did, but I did love McCarthy in it as much as everyone else did. You assume from the trailers that she is just the fat girl whose weight will be played for laughs, and while this is somewhat true at first, her character and her performance is more than that. In fact, I dare say she sort of becomes the heart of the film towards the end. Also, kind of a given, but she's really funny.

9. James McAvoy as Charles Xavier (X-Men: First Class) - While Fassbender gets the flashier role of Magneto, McAvoy really steps it up playing a sexy, flirty Xavier that a lot of people are probably not used to seeing. And the thing is, he makes it work. People sometimes forget how damn charming McAvoy is and he puts that into great effect with this role. Plus his chemistry with Fassbender elevates the film. That's a fact. He also deserves a bit of credit for his work in The Conspirator.

10. Alan Rickman as Severus Snape (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2) - I debated about putting this on the list over any of the dozen or so names that made it on my honorable mention list below, but in the end I knew I just had to. He had to do a lot (and simultaneously NOT ENOUGH) in this final film, but he still managed to deliver a heart-breaker of a performance.

Honorable Mentions: Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, Saoirse Ronan in Hanna, Corey Stoll and Alison Pill in Midnight in Paris, Xavier Dolan in Heartbeats, Maggie Smith in Deathly Hallows, Ryan Gosling and Steve Carrell in Crazy Stupid Love, John Boyega in Attack the Block, Keira Knightley in Last Night, Hiam Abbas in Miral, Chris Evans in Captain America, and Mia Wasikowska in Jane Eyre.

I'm thinking about doing a Top 10 list of worst performers of the year so far, but that could be a bit dispiriting to work on. Stay tuned.


  1. Total agreement on 1, 4, 5, 6, and 10. I'd throw in Chris Evans as Captain America in there as well. I am crushing on Tom Hiddlestone so dang bad at the moment. :)

    And, this is the third time I'm going to try posting this. :(

  2. You know, I read this list and completely missed that part about Hiddleston? Sigh. Really, though, Ryan...Radclfife? Tsk, Tsk.

    (But Jessica Chastain is adorable. ADORABLE!)


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