I know this post is kind of belated given it's almost the last week of February, but with the Oscars coming up on Sunday night, I thought I'd round up my favorite performances of the year. (And if you haven't already seen it, I recently compiled my list of my favorite movies of 2012 if you're interested.
First of all, here are my picks for the best performances of the Oscar nominees:
Best ActorDaniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln: What more can be said about the best performance of the year, perhaps even the last 10 years? And this from a man who has already created one of the most indelible performances in recent film history, Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Apparently Liam Neeson was considering playing Lincoln, and while he would have been good, I can't imagine anyone else losing themselves so fully in a role as Day-Lewis did. If he doesn't receive his third Best Actor Oscar on Sunday night, there is something terribly, terribly wrong.
Best ActressJessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty: Chastain, who appeared in five films in 2011 and received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance in The Help, gives a quietly ferocious performance in Kathryn Bigelow's tale of the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. Playing Maya, a dogged CIA agent determined to find the 9/11 mastermind, Chastain sinks her teeth into this role without overacting, but easily runs the gamut of emotions. I don't think she'll win an Oscar (although I hope so), but I expect one is on the horizon.
Best Supporting ActorChristoph Waltz, Django Unchained: Some say Waltz's virtuoso performance as bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz is a retread of his Oscar-winning performance in Inglourious Basterds. I disagree, but even if it was, this man had me marveling at his every line, every gesture, every nuance. While much of his performance is played for laughs, there's a brave tenderness underneath as well. It would be nice to see him play something completely different in his next pairing with Tarantino, but for now, just relish in this performance.
Best Supporting ActressAnne Hathaway, Les Miserables: The weight loss and haircut notwithstanding, Anne Hathaway's brief but emotionally riveting performance as Fantine pleased diehard fans of the musical and moved neophytes to tears. While some have said an all-singing performance shouldn't be allowed to win an Oscar (much as Jennifer Hudson's winning turn in Dreamgirls), watch the movie and if you can set aside her phenomenal singing, you'll see some pretty darned impressive acting alongside it. I'd be shocked if she doesn't pick up an Oscar Sunday night.
Here are some additional amazing performances from this past year:
Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour: Two legends of French cinema teamed up for beautiful but emotionally devastating performances in Michael Haneke's Amour. Playing the long-married couple Georges and Anne, whose lives are torn asunder when Anne's physical condition begins to deteriorate, each occupies a piece of your heart. Riva, who very well may win an Oscar, brings amazing dexterity to a woman in emotional and physical decline, while Trintignant, inexplicably overlooked for an Oscar nod, is the true soul of the movie.
Richard Gere, Arbitrage: I had hoped Richard Gere's brilliant performance as a multimillionaire businessman whose professional and personal life are rapidly disintegrating would net him his first Oscar nomination, but that was not meant to be. This is a nuanced performance, full of shadow and light, and while you may not like his character, Gere's portrayal makes you root for him far more than you would in real life.
John Hawkes, The Sessions: Playing real-life poet Mark O'Brien, whose body was destroyed by polio but not his mind or his spirit, Academy Award nominee John Hawkes (Winter's Bone) spends the entire movie lying flat on his back, head contorted to the side, sometimes confined to an iron lung. His portrayal of a man so determined to lose his virginity in his mid-30s that he hires a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) is sensitive, humorous, and downright moving, and should have been nominated for an Oscar.
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook: Is it fair for Lawrence to be so talented at such a young age? The girl who was on fire brings raw emotion and power to her performance as Tiffany, a somewhat unstable young widow who uses sex to console herself, yet finds herself unable to seduce the one man she really wants. The entire cast of Silver Linings Playbook is fantastic, particularly Bradley Cooper, but Lawrence is the one you remember most.
Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone: Sure, this movie about two damaged souls (one physically, one mentally) was kind of a downer, but Cotillard's performance was one to savor. Playing a whale trainer severely injured in a freak accident, she not only demonstrated physical dexterity, but emotional dexterity as well. Her character is so determined not to be vulnerable that she doesn't realize just how vulnerable she is.
Javier Bardem, Skyfall: Villains in James Bond movies are more known for their overacting than anything else, but Javier Bardem gives another fantastic performance as the fey but deadly Silva, a former secret agent with a very strong need for vengeance. A little bit campy, a little bit crazy, Bardem kinda makes you wonder how a man who seems so down-to-earth can embody such evil. Oh, yeah. It's acting.
Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower: This movie was one of my three favorites of the past year, and Miller's sassy yet tough-as-nails performance as Patrick, a high school senior who is exactly who he is (and is damned proud of it), is one of the reasons why. Following on the heels of his coldly disturbing performance in We Need to Talk about Kevin, Miller is definitely one to watch.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master: I really didn't like Paul Thomas Anderson's is-it-about-scientology-or-isn't-it film, but I was mesmerized by Hoffman's performance as Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a quasi-religious movement who holds so many in his thrall, yet his own grip on reality is somewhat tenuous. It's hard to remember when Hoffman didn't give knockout performances in every role he played.
Sally Field, Lincoln: When it was first announced that 66-year-old Field would play Mary Todd Lincoln opposite 55-year-old Daniel Day-Lewis, many scoffed. But I'd imagine they quieted down pretty quickly when they saw Field's fiery and emotional performance. Sometimes angry, sometimes flirty, nearly always grieving, Field complemented Day-Lewis' performance perfectly. It's so good to see her in a role she could sink her teeth into without resorting to overacting.