Marion Cotillard (Midnight in Paris), Trine Dyrholm (In a Better World), Melissa Leo (Red State), Michelle Monaghan (Source Code), Chloë Grace Moretz (Hugo)
5. Charlotte Gainsbourg (Melancholia)
The urgency of Gainsbourg’s performance as a desperate mother in Melancholia is unparalleled. She is the perfect foil to Kirsten Dunst’s character, who seems apathetic about the impending end of the world. Dunst, by the way, is an actress you’ll be hearing more about next week, when I do the best leading performances of the year.
4. Emily Blunt (The Adjustment Bureau)
The chemistry between Blunt and co-star Matt Damon was one of the few redeeming factors of The Adjustment Bureau, and boy, did it redeem. Blunt not only sold me on this bad girl dancer character of hers, but she also sold Damon’s David Norris on her as well. It was key that this film find a strong actress to play Elise, as she is what propels the entire movie.
3. Jodie Whittaker (Attack the Block)
Whittaker gives her character depth. At the start of Attack the Block, she is mugged by a group of boys. Later, she must mend these boys, as well as aid them in their fight against killer monsters.
2. Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life)
I’m interested in what the filming of The Tree of Life looked like. Chastain’s scenes are far different from any of the scenes Brad Pitt (see below) is in, as they’re more poetic and graceful. Chastain glowed in The Tree of Life, and that alone is good enough for the runner-up position.
1. Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
I made up my mind about this just a few minutes before posting. It was Chastain’s aura versus McCarthy’s hilarity. Chastain won… easily. But then I went back and read my review of Bridesmaids, and noticed that I spoke about McCarthy being the heart of this movie, and I remembered that she was my favorite part of that film, and that was the reason why. McCarthy was excellent, and she deserves to be nominated for an Oscar.
Creed Bratton (Terri), Chris Henry Coffey (Trust), Gérard Depardieu (Potiche), Alex Esmail (Attack the Block), Ben Kingsley (Hugo), Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
5. Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (Cedar Rapids)
The one scene that convinced me I should pick Whitlock was the “teet” scene, in which Whitlock’s character walks in on a mostly nude John C. Reilly sort-of feeding his breast to a mostly nude Ed Helms. In a lesser film with lesser actors, Whitlock’s character would have freaked out, and that wouldn’t have been very funny. In Cedar Rapids, though, Whitlock just rolls his eyes, sighs, and goes on about with his business. It was hilarious.
4. Ryan Phillippe (The Lincoln Lawyer)
The role of this playboy heir accused of murder did not ask for much, but Phillippe gave it his all. I personally both despised and was intimidated by the character. The Lincoln Lawyer was a very good and very fun film, but one that missed my top 10.
3. Jonah Hill (Moneyball)
Christy Lemire puts it best in her review: “Hill ultimately finds the quiet confidence in this character [Assistant GM Peter Brand], and he and Pitt bounce off each other beautifully.” Note: congrats to him on the drastic weight loss.
1 (tied). Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life)
Brad Pitt probably won’t get an Oscar nod for his performance in The Tree of Life (instead for Moneyball) and that’s too bad. He gives a powerful performance as a Texan father who reminded me of my own father… if he were 10 times more powerful with a single glance. Pitt completely controlled me from within the movie (!). I felt like I was his bitch. If he gets lucky and snags two Oscar acting nominations this month, he might actually win them both.
1 (tied). John C. Reilly (Terri)
If Pitt’s Mr. O’Brien is the father that could make me say “sir” at him, then John C. Reilly’s Mr. Fitzgerald is the principal that could earn me calling him “sir,” then chastise me for calling him “sir.” I contend that John C. Reilly and Brad Pitt are our two best actors going (Fassbender is overrated), and I really enjoyed all of their performances in 2011. But, somehow, they were at their best this year when playing second fiddle (Pitt to the camera; Reilly, in screen time, but not quality, to Wysocki).