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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Best Performances of 2009: Actor and Actress

Following up with my own movie awards, here are my top 5 lead Actors and Actresses. Unlike the supporting categories, there is no overlap among the nominees, perhaps because almost all of these performances dominate their movie in a way that make other performances seem supporting.

Best Actor

Almost Made It:

Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man
Soulemayne Sy Svane, Goodbye Solo

Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart: As you know (if you've seen it), Bridges gives an astonishingly good,
lived-in, from the soul performance as Bad Blake, a washed-up country singer you can't help but
like despite his many issues. I also give Bridges bonus points for doing a great job singing in the movie.

George Clooney, Up in the Air: A quintessential Clooney role, but in my mind this is the best he's
been. Ryan Bingham starts the movie full of confidence and swagger, but Clooney allows the
cracks to slowly show themselves throughout the film.

Joaquin Phoenix, Two Lovers: If Phoenix is really done with acting (which I hope isn't true), his performance as Leonard in this movie stands as the height of his acting talent. As an aimless and
suicidal young man still living with his Orthodox Jewish parents, he shows us the internal pull of being pulled between two women, one representing his parent's hopes for him (Vinessa Shaw), and another a glamorous but dangerous alternative (Gwyneth Paltrow). This movie came and went, but Phoenix's performance is one to savor.

Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker: For a good half of the movie, the audience does not know a lot
about Sergeant William James except for his recklessness. With more action than dialogue, Renner allows us to see into him until, in the final heartbreaking scenes of the movie, we feel we fully understand his psyche.

Sam Rockwell, Moon: Rockwell, as Sam Bell, is more or less the only actor in this film, and he carries the movie beautifully. Without giving away too much of the movie, I'll say that Rockwell
must play very different emotions, and he does so with great skill and emotion.

My favorite: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Runner-up: Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Best Actress

Almost made it:

Amy Adams, Sunshine Cleaning
Penelope Cruz, Broken Embraces

Abbie Cornish, Bright Star: Cornish's quiet but forceful performance as Fanny Brawne, who falls
in love with poet John Keats, is the soul of this film. Rarely have I seen an actress portray the emotions of falling in love so perceptively.

Carey Mulligan, An Education: As Jenny, the young British girl eager to grow up, Mulligan absolutely carries this movie. While portraying a highly intelligent woman, Mulligan also allows
her character's girlish emotions and naivete come through at crucial points in the performance. She's been compared to Audrey Hepburn, and I think it's absolutely appropriate.

Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Sidibe's performance in the title role takes us through many
moments of hardship and a few moments of hard-fought triumph. Sidibe speaks as if it hurts, and she makes sure we know that Precious' words come from a deep place.

Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia: What could have been a caricature becomes a full-throated, human
performance in the hands of our greatest actress. Streep makes you smile with joy at every moment when Julia Child is on the screen.

Tilda Swinton, Julia: This Julia is 100 degrees removed from Julia Child. An alcoholic, amoral,
train wreck of a woman who kidnaps a young boy for the money. Swinton doesn't play this role with any nod towards audience sympathy, but by the end of the movie she has gained a little anyway, simply by showing us the humanity and reckless desperation of her character.

My favorite (in a very tough choice): Carey Mulligan, An Eduation
Runner-up: Tilda Swinton, Julia

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