Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Top 5 List: Great Performances of 2009

With a few marquee names still to come in films this month (i.e. Morgan Freeman, Daniel Day Lewis, Jeff Bridges), here's a rundown of the 5 performances that made an indelible mark so far this year, in no order:

5. Peter Capaldi

As the vitriol political spin doctor Malcom Tucker, every scene with Capaldi is a masterwork in verbal violence and aggressive body language. Every time he walked on screen in Armadno Ianucci's highly entertaining comedy "In the Loop", one could feel the audience tense up with anticipation and guarded laughter. This is the stuff of real acting... a performance that manipulates and titillates.

4. Carey Mulligan

Not the best known secret in town anymore, young Carey Mulligan embraces every scene in "An Education" with intelligence and warmth. As noted by many, "An Education" is a terrific film not only because it eschews the pitfals of the genre it places itself within, but Mulligan's clear eyed performance is genuine and makes one really care for the outcome.

3. Emily Blunt

Probably the biggest surprise of my movie-going year so far is Christine Jeffs' "Sunshine Cleaning". I expected very little from this small comedy-drama out of Sundance, yet it resonated strongly. Emily Blunt- beautiful beyond belief- really makes me love this film even more. As the younger, more complex and off beat sister to Amy Adams, the duo organizes a crime scene cleaning business. The film goes to some very unexpected places, and I doubt I'll see a better scene in any film this year than the moment when Blunt takes her new friend (Mary Lynn Rajskub) to the train tracks and releases some pent up sadness.

2. Vera Farmiga

Another stone cold beauty with some serious acting chops, Vera Farmiga is quickly becoming an actress I devour anything she's in. 2009 saw her taking on two diverse roles (with another yet to be seen): first, as the blown CIA operative in Rod Lurie's "Nothing But the Truth", Farmiga steals the movie with a couple of scenes, namely one where she tries to appeal to the softer side of reporter Kate Beckinsale before retreating into corrosive governmental threats. Secondly, in a more typical role as the distraught mother in the over-the-top child horror movie "Orphan". Her sexiness, nerve, and strong command are on display in both movies and I can't wait to see what she does in "Up In the Air".

1. ensemble cast of "Summer Hours" (a bit of a cheat)

Like the best of Renoir or Rohmer, Olivier Assayas' "Summer Hours" captures something autumnal and heartbreaking about the large family. Setting his film around the death of a family's mother and then trying to settle her estate afterwards, every actor in this multi-generational cast embues their role with subtely and beauty. And it ends on a perfect note as the young grand daughter (Alice de Lencquesaing) slowly wanders around the large estate grounds as the mortality of the film's events finally hit her. A stunning moment and film.

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