The Best Leading Film Performances of 2011

by George Watches Things


Honorable mentions:

Catherine Deneuve (Potiche), Liana Liberato (Trust), Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids)

5. Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

Mara as Lisbeth Salander

I didn’t know where Lisbeth Salander began and where Rooney Mara ended. Sure, that can be said about a lot of the performances up here, but the range that Mara had to cover was enormous. The instances that sealed the deal for me: all the scenes with her most recent guardian, and the final shot.

4. Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia)

Dunst as Justine

Melancholia was weird. The good kind of weird you get when directors try big things. It could have been bad weird, though, had it not been for this very powerful and believable performance from its star (cosmic pun intended). The Dunst we saw in the first half was good and all, but it was the brilliance of her in the latter half that was amazing. The way she just slightly looses her cool and gets angry at her sister for being pathetic was glorious, and her half-depressed half-“I could care less, but I don’t care enough to” attitude was (ironically?) inspired.

3. Manjinder Virk (The Arbor)

Virk as Lorraine

I’d like to take a moment and congratulate the entire cast of The Arbor. I firmly believe they were the best overall cast at the movies this year, and their jobs were extra hard, since (for most of them) none of their real voices were put into the film. Manjinder Virk was the immediate standout for me, but not only because she had the most to do. She not only gets the lip-syncing right… her expressions throughout are fully emotional and occasionally heartbreaking. The Arbor requires its actors to become the character they’re portraying, and Virk does just that.

2. Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy)

Binoche as a character without a name in Certified Copy

I’ll talk about Certified Copy way more in depth next week, but I can tell you now that one of the things I’ll be praising is Juliette Binoche. There would be no movie without her. For those of you who were inspired by this film, go ahead and imagine it without her. Replace her with any other actress, even the most talented of them. See? It doesn’t work.

1. Yun Jung-Hee (Poetry)

Jung-Hee as Mija

Jung-Hee is our surrogate in Poetry. She is our window into all of these different worlds/plot lines. When I spoke typed about Rooney Mara earlier, I said that I didn’t know where her character began and she ended. But with Mija (Jung-Hee’s character), I didn’t know where what she was experiencing began and where what I was watching ended.


Honorable mentions:

Steve Coogan (The Trip), Paul Giamatti (Win Win), Andreas Lust (The Robber), Hunter McCraken (The Tree of Life), Brad Pitt (Moneyball), Luis Tosar (Even the Rain), Koji Yakusho (13 Assassins)

6. Asa Butterfield (Hugo)

Butterfield as Hugo Cabret

This was, for sure, the best underage performance of the year. The movie’s name is Hugo, and the main character’s name is Hugo. So, based on that information, I’d say that miscasting the role of Hugo would probably have been a huge mistake. Fortunately for everyone involved, they got it right.  I’ll be rooting for Hugo on February 26. [Note: I listened to Filmspotting talk about my current #2 just before I posted this, and decided to push him into the top 5.]

5. John Boyega (Attack the Block)

Boyega (left) as Moses, with fellow Filmtooth semi-winner Jodie Whittaker (center) as Sam

Talk about a powerhouse performance. Boyega is angry in this movie, and I love that. Attack the Block gives him so much to do, it’s a miracle he pulls it off. I’m looking forward to the rest of his career.

4. Mikael Persbrandt (In a Better World)

Persbrandt as Anton

Persbrandt got slapped a good amount In a Better World, but each time, his reaction was perfect. I felt for the pacifist who was separated from his wife (for whom he still has feelings). I don’t usually like watching people stare at the distance, but I didn’t mind it when Persbrandt did it, because I was staring right there with him.

3. Tom Cullen/Chris New (Weekend)

Cullen (right) and New (left) play Russell and Glen, respectively

Honestly, I couldn’t pick just one. They are this film. You cannot hope to have a successful movie about a relationship if you don’t have all-in performances from the leads, and Weekend benefits from Cullen and New being beyond all-in. But more on that later.

2. Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

Pitt as Billy Beane

This is the one. Last week, I was convinced that his best performance this year (and perhaps ever) was in The Tree of Life. But then I listened to Filmspotting, the movie podcast, and they reminded me about a part of the movie I completely forgot about. (For those of you that have seen it, think “coulda been.”) Something in my brain clicked, and Pitt went from being an honorable mention to being at #2. Now, before I name the best films of the year, I have some thinking to do regarding Moneyball.

1. Michael Parks (Red State)

Parks as Abin Cooper

Boy, do I have a hipster list. Seriously, all of these picks feel underground [with the exception of the late inclusion, Brad Pitt]. Especially my #1, Michael Parks. Say what you will of Red State (I happened to like it), but you must agree that Parks was committed to his role as the violent leader of a violent, anti-homosexual cult. He was mesmerizing and very powerful, sure, but my favorite scene of his was the final one. I suggest you go and see it (not only the scene, but the entire movie).