This week, rather than go on and on about how Avengers is breaking every box office record ever, I’ll share with you a list of my 20 favorite performances from the past decade, with a few notes about the Top 5: 1. Joaquin Phoenix in The Master
On a long, lonely weekend, I recently put together a list of my 50 all-time favorite performances in a film. I didn’t sleep much that weekend because I was watching scenes and doing research and feeling lonely and allowing myself to nerd out about the movies. Joaquin ended up with a few performances on the list, and this one, especially, ranked very well.
Philip Seymour Hoffman has said that he was terrified of Phoenix while filming this movie because of Phoenix’s intensity. That helped to confirm my belief that Phoenix as Freddie Quell in P.T. Anderson’s 2012 masterpiece was truly special. This is one of the all-time great actors in what I think will ultimately go down as his signature role. 2. Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia
I’ve had high hopes for Kirsten Dunst’s career ever since 1999, when Drop Dead Gorgeous, The Virgin Suicides, and Dick were all released.
She’s maintained one of the most interesting careers of any of her peers, maybe none of whom have ever given a better performance than the one Dunst gives in Melancholia. Dunst is working at such a high level here, with director Lars Von Trier, that I’m tempted to compare this work to Cassavetes-era Gena Rowlands. 3. Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
We all knew Rooney Mara was good. We knew she was intense. We knew she was an intellectual. Then she did this movie with David Fincher.
When someone someday writes a book about actors going very deep into roles (such as Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, Charlize Theron in Monster, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Christian Bale in The Machinist, and Robert De Niro in Raging Bull), Rooney Mara’s performance in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo will, I think, be re-evaluated and thought of as one of the best of its time. 4. James Franco in The Disaster Artist
Franco’s performance in this film (which he also directed) is his masterpiece. It’s Franco at his weirdest, his most committed, his funniest, and his most memorable. We’re only a couple of years away from the film’s original release and Franco’s performance already feels like an all-time classic. Who else could pull off the line “Don’t look at robot crab, he shy,” ya know? 5. Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea
Every time I re-watch Kenneth Lonergan’s 2016 masterpiece, the great Manchester by the Sea, I’m moved by Casey Affleck’s one-man-show performance in a new way. This is about as deep, nuanced, measured, and even as screen performances get.
If cinema had an equivalent to the analytics-based rethinking both baseball and basketball have seen over the last decade, then Affleck would perhaps have the highest WAR. The highest Usage Rate.
Not a sports fan? What I’m saying is simple: Look at Casey Affleck’s IMDB page, study it. Then name one actor (aside from Ryan Gosling) who is better at consistently picking great projects. Casey is calmly putting together an incredible career, and Manchester by the Sea is his pinnacle so far.
The Rest of the Best 6. Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine
7. Anna Paquin in Margaret
8. Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master
9. Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler
10. Reese Witherspoon in Wild
11. Tahar Rahim in Un Prophete
12. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
13. Marion Cotillard in Rust & Bone
14. Christian Bale in The Fighter
15. Barry Keoghan in The Killing of a Sacred Deer
16. Joaquin Phoenix in Her
17. Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone
18. Ed Norton in Birdman
19. Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue Is the Warmest Color
20. Hailee Steinfeld in The Edge of Seventeen
Here’s hoping we have a few performances yet from 2019 to consider. Probably Tom Hanks in the new Marielle Heller film, certainly Meryl Streep in The Laundromat, probably Casey Affleck in Light of My Life, probably Robert De Niro in The Irishman, maybe Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Who knows, really?
Do you have a favorite performance from this past decade that you’d count as a favorite that I forgot to mention? Do you have your own Top 10? Would you rather binge watch episodes of Desus and Mero than do the week of research it takes to make such an inconsequential list? I hear that!
Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org with your lists.