Tuesday, January 18, 2011

LeapBackBlog 2010 Film Awards – Part 4: Leading Performances

Film in 2010 was fantastic, full of great performances, great directing and great work behind the camera (or in post-production). More so than the last few years, 2010 had a greater number of excellent films, which made choosing the best films, performances, directors, and technical achievements very difficult. The LeapBackBlog Film Awards are comprised of what I think were the best and most interesting films, the strongest performances (taking into consideration who the actor is and what else they have done, and 2010 features a lot of amazing breakthrough performances), the narrative style that drew me in (best directing), and exquisite craftsmanship (best technical achievements). But really, these are lists of my favorites from the year.
Leading Performances:

In True Grit, Bridges gives another fantastic performance as Rooster Cogburn, evoking feelings of “wow this guy is a bad-ass” and “wow this guy is totally worthless” sometimes in the same breath for the audience – and for Mattie Ross. He is incredibly funny and his line delivery and timing are just genius. He takes a line like “You are not LaBoeuf!?!” and turns it into comic gold. Yet, he is stern and proud while being fairly ridiculous. It is just marvelous work.

In what is probably the best performance of the year (along with Christian Bale in The Fighter), Danes is simply amazing as Temple Grandin. The role required Danes to play an autistic woman, the most challenging role of her career to date. And, she just completely embodies the character and makes the film something quite special. I look forward to see what Danes does next, as she has certainly shown herself to be an elite acting talent.

Inception is such a big action adventure heist film that it really needed a strong emotional center for the audience to be fully engaged and care about the outcome (aside from just seeing how the plot plays out). DiCaprio fills that role perfectly. He is both very good at his work and in control, and yet broken emotionally. For many action films, drama is often an afterthought or not done well enough. DiCaprio’s performance is top-notch dramatically, as if he were in a tragic romance film (without all the amazing action) which in turn is what makes the ending so powerful. It was a good year for him as he was also very good in Shutter Island.

Eisenberg is very good at playing roles that are sort of nerdy, awkward and sensitive but determined young men, and this is very much that kind of role. However, what sets this particular performance in The Social Network apart is that it called for almost a complete lack of emotion (at least on the outside). Eisenberg plays Mark Zuckerberg to be seemingly uncaring and almost cruel, but there is a deeper sensitive emotional core that drives his actions, which he does subtly and expertly creating an anti-hero – a character we do not like, but are intrigued by nonetheless. It is the best performance of his career to date.

Firth has always been a good actor, but with his last two performances (A Single Man and The King’s Speech) he has shown himself to be a great actor. As King George VI, Firth must speak with a restrictive and damning stammer (which I imagine was quite difficult to master). But the performance is not great solely due to his ability to stammer, it is his ability to convey the emotions of a man that is put upon by tremendous pressure who takes it in and is able to overcome it and succeed. Firth is able to pull the audience in and make them feel true joy at his character’s triumph. It is a beautiful performance.

If there ever was a film that could be called a one-man-show, it is 127 Hours. And for such a film to be any good at all, its lead must be superb. Franco is even better than that. Playing Aron Ralston in the film is challenging as the character is stuck in one play for a large portion of the film with no interaction with other characters. Yet, Franco is able to entertain and draw his audience in –having them laughing, gasping and crying from moment to moment. It is an incredible performance, and one that should certainly see Franco getting bigger and better roles in the future.

One of this year’s breakout performances, Lawrence is perfect in Winter’s Bone, as if the film were a documentary merely following this young woman around as she tries to save her home. But Ree is a character and Lawrence an actress playing her to be strong and matriarchal, yet still childish and wanting more which is a delicate balance and was so important to the film working as well as it does. The audience is completely behind Ree and wants so much for her to succeed, making every twist and turn, negative and positive so meaningful. I think we all expect big thing from her in the future.

Moretz had really three great performances this year (being the best part of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, her breakout role in Kick-Ass and an amazing performance in Let Me In). What makes her performance in Let Me In all the more impressive is that she had a lot to live up to (almost too much to live up to), as there was so much love for the original film and actress. But, Moretz is even better playing the role forcefully and being quite scary, while also being sweet and loving. It is an astounding dichotomy. Maybe above all the other great young faces to emerge from 2010 (this also applies to Andrew Garfield), she has asserted herself as a star to watch.

We always knew Portman was a great talent, but we were just waiting for that leading role for her to really blossom – that role is as Nina in Black Swan. Psychological thrillers are often hard for actors to give great performances because they are so fractured, and the same is true with Black Swan. But, Portman is able to craft a whole character from the moment we first see her, making her unraveling all the more compelling and scary. She is both introverted and extroverted in the role, which I imagine is quite difficult playing different psyches of the same person. We truly feel her fall into madness (gripping our seats the whole way down), and that is due to the excellence of Portman in the role.

Talk about a daunting first major leading role, playing opposite Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon (both of whom are also excellent). Steinfeld did just that, and is just as good in True Grit as Mattie Ross (and maybe even a little better than her co-stars).  I cannot imagine a more perfect casting choice for the role, as her performance is wonderful – playing it just tough and all-knowing, bullying around adults and yet still letting moments of childish feelings sneak out. Having not seen her in anything else, I am quite interested to see what she does next.

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