10. Zach Braff – THE LAST KISS
Zach Braff is a better actor than he gets credit for. In THE LAST KISS, his character contemplates fooling around on his pregnant girlfriend. It’s not a sympathetic part, and Braff doesn’t try to justify his actions, but he makes sure you UNDERSTAND them, conveying emotional confusion very well. I also liked how you could see Braff always looking for the best angle in an argument. Even when he’s wrong, he’s looking for that loophole that will make everything okay. It makes it more powerful when the only option left is to put his heart out there, do whatever it takes to make things right.

9. Aaron Eckhart – THANK YOU FOR SMOKING
In SMOKING, Eckhart plays a lobbyest for Big Tobacco. His job is to make you want to smoke, and he does his job very well. Eckhart commits, spinning every situation into a positive for cigarettes. Eckhart doesn’t go for sleazy. This is a man who is good at his job, and a likable human being. You want to hang out with this guy, and you want to believe every lie he utters.

8. Daniel Craig – CASINO ROYALE
Like Christian Bale and Batman, Craig took an established mythic figure and gave him flesh and blood. This was the first Bond that felt real, his actions felt possible. Craig also brought a blunt physicality to the part. (I haven’t seen anyone run like that since the T-1000.) He gave Bond a nice arc as we watched his style develop. This Bond was rough around the edges, but by the end, the iconic spy stood before us all.

I believe if Will Smith wanted to kill a man, I’d be honored if he asked me to help. He’s just that likable. He’s played all kinds of characters big and small, but this is his most lived in performance. Smith gives an incredible empathy to this underdog story. There’s some things (like running away from a cabbie) that I’m sure aren’t proud moments, but he never comes close to losing the audience. Scenes like the job interview would’ve been hard to believe without Smith.

6. Ryan Gosling – HALF NELSON
I didn’t like HALF NELSON. There wasn’t a lot of story and the scenes were sloppily constructed. It felt like they tried to improvise a movie out of a handful of moments. Yet I couldn’t deny the incendiary performance by Gosling, who plays a teacher addicted to crack. He pulls greatness out of thin air and some of his reactions, line readings and expressions are among the best of the year. I’m convinced he’s being saddled by mainstream Hollywood, and I hope he finds a more focused project that allows him to still run free.

5. Joseph-Gordon Levitt – BRICK
He’s out to find out who killed his girl. He’s not the smartest, he’s not the toughest, but he’s so focused on solving this mystery that he’s endearing. He has an agenda, and he’s not afraid to take a beating. He’s also a typical angry loner teenager. Levitt doesn’t rip-off Bogart, but you can’t help but think of Bogart cause there hasn’t been a tough-guy performance this good for that long.

4. Matt Damon – THE DEPARTED
The best performance is THE DEPARTED is the one nobody’s talking about. I liked everybody just fine, but Matt Damon gives the most complex and twisted portrait of corruption I’ve seen since…well Matt Damon in THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. Damon’s a cop, working for a crime lord who sees a duel search for both an undercover cop and himself as an OPPORTUNITY. You want him to get away with it, even as he becomes more and more convinced that he’s entitled to the best of both worlds. You don’t see his self-delusion from an outsiders perspective, because he pulls you right in.


Another actor with two great performances.

In HARD CANDY, Wilson is a pedophile who meets his match when a young girl turns the tables. It involves a lot of reacting and making us almost feel for him even as we become more and more aware of the evil he’s committed. In LITTLE CHILDREN, Wilson plays a stay at home dad who has an affair with Kate Winslet. I don’t know how many people picked up the suppressed adolescence of his character, with the football and the skateboarders and the way his desire to sleep with Winslet is like the way a child wants ice cream. He sees his wife more like a mom. Yet he doesn’t overtly act like a spoiled brat. Wilson finds just the right pitch for his character.

2. Sasha Baron Cohen – BORAT
Cohen may have been playing Borat for years, and through all the publicity tours, but his full commitment to the character is the year’s great high-wire act of daring do. It’s a tricky character, and could probably be almost as effective played straight. But Cohen as Borat goes the extra mile(s) burning to celluloid some of the most fearless acting in a comedy since Peter Sellers passed on. I can’t wait to see the Oscar clip, and I hope they find some way to bring Borat back in the future.

1. Forest Whitaker – THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND
Idi Amin takes the stage, and at first we only see him from behind as he addresses the crowd. It’s a great introduction to THE BEST PERFORMANCE THIS YEAR IN ANY CATEGORY. Whitaker was in my Top 5 as soon as he spoke. For the next hour, he just gets better and better. His Idi Amin is a giant teddy bear... that you fear will maul you at any moment. Whitaker’s always been good at playing likable and at playing menacing. Here you feel the capacity to go either way.

Some of my favorite scenes this year occur anytime Whitaker is talking. Whether giving a speech at a lavish banquet, or blowing his top over a negative article in the press. I’ve really seen an actor so commanding.

If any of you watch the film, or so much as catch a clip on television or Youtube, I’m certain you’ll see what presence Whitaker has. Like Streep in DEVIL WEARS PRADA, this actually isn’t the lead role, but it’s the role that makes the movie. Without Whitaker’s epic performance, you’d hear very little about THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND. This goes alongside Charlize Theron in MONSTER and Nicholas Cage in LEAVING LAS VEGAS. It’s career defining work.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The best performance is THE DEPARTED is the one nobody’s talking about. I liked everybody just fine, but Matt Damon gives the most complex and twisted portrait of corruption I’ve seen since…well Matt Damon in THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY.

You have never been more accurate about an actor's performance than you were with the above statement.

3:34 PM  
Anonymous Zach Braff said...

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5:00 AM  

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