For this year’s top male actors you can pretty much look at the Oscar’s and they will give you a basic view of what’s out there (though I have not seen Bardem in Biutiful). This list will mostly reflect that, with some smaller budget projects in there as well. As with the best supporting performances, this list will be a top ten, rather than a top five. Enjoy! And debate if you’d like!
10. Aaron Eckhart in Rabbit Hole-Eckhart plays a grieving father who recently lost his four year old son in a car accident. He does everything he can to deal with this loss. He follows the steps that he’s heard you’re “supposed to do” in the aftermath of such a tragic event. He gets the more emotional role (Nicole Kidman’s character is more cold and silent) and expresses those opinions one can only imagine must be killing him inside.
9. Stephen Dorff in Somewhere-Dorff (some say playing a caricature-of-sorts of himself) plays a Hollywood actor whose meaningless life consists of doing press for his upcoming films, living in an expensive hotel, and sleeping with women (although this bores him at times). Throughout the first half of the film he rarely utters more than a line and most conversations that happen are through people around him rather than him. When Dorff starts spending more time with his daughter he gradually begins to shift. Now some actors may really overplay this character growth, but director Sofia Coppola and Dorff decide to underplay it. Rather than a huge overt change in character, we get things like little smirks and glimpses in which we can see him subtly starting to open up. That is what earns Dorff this spot.
8. Robert Duvall in Get Low-In Get Low, Duvall plays hermit Felix Bush who declares he’d like to attend his own funeral. Duvall displays greatly the life of someone who is largely misunderstood and how holding back from confession can destroy one’s life. The film may have its share of problems, but none of them are found in Duvall’s performance.
7. Aaron Johnson in Nowhere Boy-While I might not be an expert on John Lennon or anything surrounding the Beatles, I believe that Johnson did an excellent job portraying the story of a young Lennon caught in between two households while desperately trying to find his place in both music and life. For anyone remotely interested in Lennon, the Beatles, or the old rock ‘n roll days, check out Johnson in Nowhere Boy.
6. Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine-Gosling (pictured above) really plays two characters in this movie. One, a young hip kid with no real direction in life who romantically falls in love with a girl he’s just met. The other, an older version of this kid who has become worn out over time and though he still has passion and love for that girl, it is only by alcohol that he can cope. While a bit over the top at times, Gosling’s transformation from hipster to bitter drunken father is great.
5. Tahar Rahim in A Prophet-Look out for Rahim in the future. Rahim plays lead character Malik brilliantly. From his entrance as a kid in the middle of a complex French prison system, to his manipulation and dominance of the system, Rahim nails every bit. The movie is like The Godfather in a French prison, could this mean we have the next Pacino on our hands?
4. Jeff Bridges in True Grit-Bridges takes on The Duke’s sole Oscar winning role in fully forced ridiculousness. And it works wonderfully. As the drunken Rooster Cogburn, Bridges resembles The Dude more than he does The Duke, but with the Coen’s over-the-top dialogue it is a perfect match.
3. James Franco in 127 Hours-The scene in which Aron Ralston severs his arm lasts for about 5 minutes maximum. This is the critical point of the film and the one in which the audience is waiting for. Every minute that comes before this is all in Franco’s hands. Sure there is the neat editing in the opening sequences that director Danny Boyle gives us. Sure he does spend some time with a couple of girls. Sure there are some flashbacks and flashforwards. But if Franco wasn’t a great personality to watch, nobody would be talking about this movie. He brings everything from desperation to comedy while stuck (literally) in an absolutely terrible situation.
2. Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network-Re-watching this film made me realize just how big of a jerk Mark Zuckerberg is to everyone around him. At times this attitude is funny and most of the time very witty, but there are a few moments where he will say something so hideous that the person in conversation with him doesn’t know how to respond. As a viewer you can only cringe at the awkwardness of the moment and hope it quickly passes. Eisenberg nails every aspect of Zuckerberg: the socially awkward moments, the witty and rapid dialogue, the desire to be the best, and the complex moments where we really have no idea why he’s doing what he’s doing; he delivers it all in a way so that throughout most of the film we don’t hate his character, but even root for his success.
1. Colin Firth in The King’s Speech-The likely Oscar winner, Firth is well deserved of it. He not only nails the crippling stammer of King George, but also the insecurity that comes with it. Firth showcases the evolution of the king as he conquers his stammer and overcomes self doubt in order to become the leader his country needs him to be.
Honorable mentions: Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter, Leonardo Dicaprio in Inception and Shutter Island, Ryan Reynolds in Buried, Lars Eidinger in Everyone Else