I continue the Ben’s Talking Pictures 2012 awards with my choices for the best Actors and Actresses. This was a great year for both categories, with many towering performances on both lists.
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
After breaking out in a huge way in 2011 (The Help, Tree of Life, Take Shelter), Chastain gets another juicy role as Maya in Zero Dark Thirty. Since the script gives Maya little outward emotional heft to work with, Chastain has to so often give us this character’s inner life through only her eyes, her body, and her tone of voice. With such a diversity of great performances so quickly, Chastain is the new Meryl Streep.
Cecile de France, The Kid With a Bike
How often do we reward performances of everyday goodness on screen? Cecile de France plays Samantha, a hairdresser who ends up caring for the very troubled Cyril in this profoundly quiet and beautiful Belgian movie (look for it on my Top 10). She creates a vivid depiction of a regular woman who quietly and confidently does a remarkable thing, and its incredibly moving.
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
A true knock-out movie star performance. Can anyone believe Lawrence is only 22? As Tiffany, a troubled woman falling in love with the bipolar Pat, Tiffany brings equal doses of emotional pain and screwball zaniness to her very real depiction that rivals her amazing performance in 2010’s Winter’s Bone. If Lawrence keeps her grounding and continues to make such great career choices, she has a huge career ahead of her.
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
I have almost no words to describe the emotional impact of Riva’s performance as Anne, a woman dealing with a quick descent towards the grave. Riva has to make intense physical and mental changes between scenes, and there is not a second in the film that isn’t believable and searing. A work of art.
Michelle Williams, Take This Waltz
Margot, Michelle Williams’ character in Take This Waltz, makes many choices that the viewer will inevitably question and disagree with. It’s a testament to Williams’ immense talent, then, that I was with Margot on her journey every step of the way. As a young married woman testing a flirtation with a neighbor, Williams does her typical stellar work.
My Pick: Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
#2 Pick: Michelle Williams (Take This Waltz)
Runners-Up: Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone), Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina), Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair), Naomi Watts (The Impossible), Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea)
Matches with Oscar: Oscar agreed with me on the 3 frontrunners, Lawrence, Chastain, and Riva. Naomi Watts was quite good as well and made my runners-up list. While I was completly charmed by Quevenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild, I had to give more credit to the director than such a young actor.
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
After making almost no impression on me in The Hangover, I was completely bowled over by Cooper’s performance. As Pat Solitano, a good-hearted but very damaged bipolar man, this movie rests on Cooper’s shoulders. We follow every twist and turn the story takes and root for Pat, because Cooper makes him so specific and real.
Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln
Day Lewis disappears into his roles, staying in character during filming even when the camera is off. It really shows in his towering performance of Lincoln, which is one for the ages. Day Lewis probably gets my vote as the best actor currently working. Just contrast this quiet, restrained, but powerful performance with his unhinged, violent Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood (his last Oscar win). Absolutely remarkable.
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Watching Phoenix as Freddie Quell brought to mind a young Brando. The inner sense of danger, the unknowable soul, the complete devotion to method acting all work to make this performance something very strange and terrifying. Phoenix commits body and soul to this performance, and it’s one for film history.
Jean-Louis Tritignant, Amour
Emmanuelle Riva got her more-than-deserved praise for her transcendent performance in Amour, and yet Tritignant seems to have been sidelined in awards season. That’s a real shame, becuase he is every bit her equal in this two-handed drama. Georges has to (mostly) stay physically intact as he deals with his wife’s decline, but his emotional fall is just as difficult to portray as Anne’s physical decline. His closing scenes in this movie are some of the most moving of the year.
Denzel Washington, Flight
I had issues with Flight’s script, which seemed a little messy and unstructured, but I still enjoyed watching the movie because of Washington’s grounded, masterful performance as Whip Whitaker. Many actors take addicts as a chance to overact, but Washington keeps his character grounded and true-to-life as he shows his slow unraveling.
My Pick: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
#2 Pick (Can I just call it a tie?): Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln
Runners-Up: Gael Garcia Bernal (No), Thomas Doret (The Kid with a Bike), Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained), Denis Levant (Holy Motors), Liam Neeson (The Grey)
Matches with Oscar: 4/5. I put in Tritignant while Oscar chose Hugh Jackman for Les Miserables. I enjoyed Jackman in Les Mis, but he didn’t hold a candle to the others on my list, or even to Hathaway in the same film.