The 10 best male performances of 2011

The 10 best male performances of 2011. By Simon Miraudo.

Acting! It’s perhaps the most subjective craft in the entire moviemaking process. What better way to celebrate its unquantifiable nature than by ranking our favourite performances of the year? Look past the inherent ridiculousness of comparing dudes who play vicious murderers with those dressed in latex suits pretending to be chimpanzees, and join us in congratulating some of the finest actors working today. Each of these performers have created something unique, indelible, and wonderful. No matter the type of role they played, or the genre in which their film falls in, they helped contribute to an excellent year in cinema. Good on them!

Check out the top 10 female performances here!

First, the honourable mentions (in alphabetical order):

Steve Coogan in The TripJoel Edgerton in Warrior, Bruce Greenwood in Meek’s Cutoff, Tom Hardy in Warrior, Jonah Hill in Moneyball, Hunter McCracken in The Tree of Life, Nick Nolte in Warrior, Brad Pitt in Moneyball, Christopher Plummer in Beginners and Noah Taylor in Submarine.

10. Bobby Cannavale in Win Win

Bobby Cannavale is a reliable scene-stealer and supporting performer. In his second collaboration with writer-director Thomas McCarthy (the first being The Station Agent), he plays a recent divorcee who rides the coattails of a high school wrestling champ (Alex Shaffer) to relive the long-gone days of his own teenagerdom. Cannavale reminds us that the comic relief can provide a film with an emotional backbone too (silly haircut be damned).

9. Andy Serkis in Rise of the Planet of the Apes

We may never know just how much credit Andy Serkis deserves for playing Caesar in the surprise box-office hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Effects house WETA should certainly receive some of the glory. But, as Serkis recently told The Hollywood Reporter, “an actor finds things in the moment with a director and other actors that you don’t have time to hand-draw or animate with a computer”. He did this with devastating, unforgettable effect… as a chimp, no less.

8. John Hawkes in Martha Marcy May Marlene

He may have been more intimidating as Teardrop in Winter’s Bone ­- arguably the best male performance of 2010 – but Hawke’s turn as seductive cult-leader Patrick in MMMM was just as memorable. Sly, and at times even likable, it’s easy to understand why all those runaways stay in his clutches, even as his actions become more and more horrifying. Star Elizabeth Olsen was our #2 female performer of the year. (Martha Marcy May Marlene opens in Australian cinemas January 19, 2012. It played at the Melbourne International Film Festival and Sydney Film Festival.)

7. Corey Stoll in Midnight in Paris

Corey Stoll’s Ernest Hemingway was the most memorable character in a movie chock-full of them. Direct, masculine, dripping in alcohol; he embodied Hemingway’s writing, yet not once felt like a spoofery. There are so many reasons to love this movie; Stoll is just one of them, but he’s a big one.

6. Daniel Henshall in Snowtown

Daniel Henshall will have a very hard time convincing people he’s not the sadistic serial killer John Bunting in future pictures (and perhaps even while out in public trying to carry on his life). That’s not a pre-emptive diss of his acting ability from this point further, but rather a compliment for the ineffaceable impression he made in the almost-unwatchably-horrifying Snowtown.

5. Paul Giamatti in Win Win

We’ve long known Paul Giamatti can play befuddled and anxiety-ridden expertly. They’re practically his calling cards. But here, as a lawyer and wrestling coach trying to keep his life on track, he brings pathos, charm, and good humour that recalls Jimmy Stewart (look out Tom Hanks). It’s hardly a revelatory performance, but it’s worth recognising the actors that just keep hitting it out of the park (see also: The Ides of March).

4. Brendan Gleeson in The Guard

Speaking of always-excellent actors. Brendan Gleeson shines as a politically-incorrect and enigmatic policeman who tries to bring down a drug ring in his small Irish port town. Writer-director John Michael McDonagh asks Gleeson to spout some pretty bizarre things, and to commit some fairly outrageous actions, but he does it all with gusto and still manages to ground it in reality. We’d share one of his many hilarious quotes, but, you know, they’re filthy.

3. Peyman Moaddi in A Separation

Iranian actor Peyman Moaadi stars as Nader, a put-upon husband whose wife (Leila Hatami, our #5 female performer) is filing for divorce, in Asghar Farhadi‘s A Separation. They love each other, but she wants to move to the United States and he needs to stay home to look after his Alzheimer’s-ridden father. Stuck in the middle is their daughter. Amidst the breakdown of his family, Nader struggles to remain a good and honest man. There might not be a more profoundly sad scene this year than when Nader must tell his daughter that he’s made some terrible mistakes. Moaddi will break your heart. (A Separation opens in Australian cinemas early 2012. It played at the Melbourne International Film Festival and Sydney Film Festival.)

2. Ryan Gosling in Drive

Bug-eyed? Perhaps. Almost fetishistically obsessed with pauses? Definitely. Ryan Gosling’s turn as the unnamed driver was a divisive one, but I personally found it to be an endlessly compelling depiction of a madman. Though generous at his core, the driver’s sadistic, sociopathic side cannot be contained when the people he loves are put at risk. Watching his mask slip over the course of Nicholas Winding Refn‘s tightly-wound thriller was one of 2011’s delights.

1. Michael Shannon in Take Shelter

Though the film suffers from a questionable final scene, Michael Shannon’s performance as a man suffering from apocalyptic visions in Take Shelter is peerless. Unsure as to whether he’s going insane, or if he is in fact a prophet being informed of the impending end-of-days, Shannon’s internal battle is equally upsetting and mesmerising. He’s an actor well-versed in playing coiled crazies, but in Jeff Nichols‘ film he adds layers of impotence and tragedy, the likes of which we’ve never before seen from him. I can barely comprehend the heights of greatness Shannon has reached over the past few years.

Discuss: OK, who did we miss?

One Response to “The 10 best male performances of 2011”

  1. Ben Oxenbould – Caught Inside

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