This blog has been on a hiatus while I wrote about a slew of November-December movies and gave extra reviews to this magazine’s expanded Vulture site, which is also your one-stop shop for all things Oscar. Having happily ceded the awards beat to others, I am pleased to give my own awards for the best performances of 2010 — irrespective of industry politics and gossip.
Annette Bening in Mother and Child and The Kids Are All Right. At a recent meeting of the New York Film Critics Circle, Bening won a prize for Kids, which is fine, great, but the majority of my colleagues voted against citing her even better performance in Rodrigo Garcia’s criminally underrated Mother and Child. As a mother who, at age 14, gave up her daughter for adoption and never got over the loss, Bening creates a tapestry of tics and tremors and false declarations of strength — followed by utter collapse. No one has her genius for illuminating the chink (or moat, or abyss) between the quivering person on the inside and the mask held desperately in place. Her work here (as it is in Kids) is both clownish and emotionally true. And marvelous.
Jim Carrey’s performance as a closeted gay con man in the spotty I Love You, Phillip Morris is a major feat. No actor this year goes so far out on a limb, mining both his strengths and limitations to create a portrait of a man forced to act for his very existence. Carrey’s Steven Russell adopts and sheds his masks faster than the hero of The Mask — without special effects.
Dale Dickey is perhaps best known as the meth head who dropped a stolen ATM machine on the head of her husband in the second season of the peerless AMC series Breaking Bad. Her role in Winter’s Bone isn’t huge, but as the haggard wife of a powerful patriarch she’s bottomless: Motherliness and murderousness have melted together; you can’t spot the line between free will and loyalty to her male-driven clan.
In the same movie, John Hawkes plays Teardrop, a volatile Ozarks addict who knows but can’t bring himself to acknowledge what has happened to his brother — until he's finally compelled to act by the potentially fatal persistence of his niece. It’s a relatively inward performance in which momentous things happen below the surface — unlike, say, Christian Bale’s terrific but extroverted turn in The Fighter, in which what you see is what you get.
More of the most superb acting of 2010:
In The Kids Are All Right, Julianne Moore’s lyric ditheriness carries echoes of Diane Keaton at her hilarious best.
In Dan Ireland’s film of E.L. Doctorow’s Jolene, future red-haired superstar Jessica Chastain plays a pretty — well, stunning — Southern girl with an abusive past who’s picked up by a series of lovers and tossed about by fate and her own lack of agency. In Chastain’s face, you see the joy of every relationship — and the awareness that her happiness is fleeting.
Amy Adams in The Fighter sheds her normal airy-fairy persona and gives us a blazing, mouthy bartender who doesn’t need much to get her Irish up.
Her forehead once more mobile, Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole is a revelation. As a grieving mother, she has chosen, shrewdly, to underline two things: righteous anger and the simultaneous awareness that said anger won’t take her very far. Aaron Eckhart plays her husband as overcontrolled one minute, manic the next. Miles Teller, in his minefield of a role as the teenager who changed their lives, is first off-putting, then irrationally endearing, befogged in all the most expressive ways.
Jennifer Lawrence’s Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone is hauntingly self-contained, unable to afford a show of vulnerability, even to herself.
In Blue Valentine, Ryan Gosling might channel De Niro too much, but he and Michelle Williams (as always, perfection) make harshly beautiful music together.
The Brits are more than all right: As a Cockney spitfire in Fish Tank, Katie Jarvis has a feral quality that keeps you watching closely for fear of missing someth