In no particular order, the performances that moved me during the year:
1 and 2. Michael Fassbender and Katie Jarvis in "Fish Tank"
Andrea Arnold's poignant, somewhat disturbing coming of age story is handled with delicacy and honesty, mostly driven by the ferocious performance of newcomer Katie Jarvis. In the opening scenes, she's followed as she storms about town, fighting with local girls and then trying to free a horse that's tied up in a trailer park. The rest of the film is just as whirlwindish as Jarvis experiences the frustrations and sexual longings of a 15 year old trapped in the dead-end UK. Enter her mom's new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender) and things really get complicated. Fassbender and Jarvis play remarkably well off each other, and never skip a beat as their relationship develops from mutual tenderness to something deeper.
3. Kevin Breznahan in "Winter's Bone"
Sure, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey, Jennifer Lawrence and the great Garret Dillahunt are getting most of the raves for Debra Granik's ascent into Ozarks hell, but it was the small performance of Kevin Breznahan that stuck with me long after the film was over. As Little Arthur, the timid, ultimately helpful boyfriend of Ree's best friend, Kevin just has that sad sack look that's been perfect in tiny roles since "Magnolia" and "Adventureland".
4. Tilda Swinton in "I Am Love"
Pretty much any year and one can find Tilda Swinton on my list of great performances, but her staggering accomplishments in Luca Guadagnino's sprawling yet intimate Italian family epic are mind bending. Beginning as a faithful wife, then slowly transforming into the cause of a disaster that made me gasp with surprise when it occurred on-screen, Swinton simply unravels before our eyes. A remarkable film full of uncompromising moments and luscious cinematography, Guadagnino is a real talent to watch.
5. Andrew Garfield in "Never Let Me Go", "Red Riding Trilogy" and "The Social Network"
What a standout year for young Andrew Garfield. While he was the absolute best thing about "The Social Network", his performances in Mark Romanek's "Never Let Me Go" and as a headstrong investigative journalist in the "Red Riding Trilogy" were high watermarks for an actor who just doesn't seem to be trying hard at all.
6. Zoe Kazan in "The Exploding Girl"
In last year's "Me and Orson Welles", I was immediately attracted to the brainy library flirtation that hovers in and out of Zac Ephron's world. This was Zoe Kazan. That same intelligent intensity is magnified in her first real leading role in Bradley Rust Gray's micro-budget romance "The Exploding Girl". During summer break, Ivy (Kazan) jumbles hanging out with her best friend Al (Mark Rendell, another young actor on the rise) and playing phone tag with her increasingly despondent boyfriend back at school. Ivy also suffers from seizures when the pressure gets too much for her. Kazan embodies Ivy as a wide-eyed, infectious nineteen year old going through hell as the lazy New York summer rolls along. Not much happens in "The Exploding Girl", yet it's an amazingly tactile rendering of that age when every little thing seems momentous. Rust Gray has a knack for creating great images (such as a rooftop conversation at sundown) and Kazan is alive in every inch of this movie. With her role in "Meek's Cutoff", I look forward to watching her grow with every role.
7. Rebecca Hall in "Please Give" and "The Town" and "Red Riding Trilogy"
Like Andrew Garfield, Rebecca Hall really broke out in 2010, most notably by her performance in Ben Affleck's "The Town". It was that central relationship that had me booing in disbelief at the screen (not literally) but luckily, Hall redeemed herself in two other pictures. She has limited screen time in "Red Riding Trilogy" as the emotionally wounded mother of a murdered girl and there's one scene where she aches with tension and hurt. In "Please Give", she portrays a frumpy, lonely neighbor who slowly becomes the central emotional arch of Nicole Holofcener's cavalcade of characters. Not to mention she's sexy beyond belief no matter how frumpy they make her look.
8. Emir Kusturica in "Farewell"
Kusturica has always been a terrific and unique director, and he can also act.... well. As the Russian handler trading in secrets in this quiet Cold War thriller, Kusturica runs the gamut of emotions from hanging his head out the window of his car as he drives to being the sacrificial lamb. The film wrings out its moments of suspense, but its Kusturica who gives "Farewell" the heart.
9. Lizzy Caplan in "Hot Tub Time Machine"
After first watching "Hot Tub Time Machine", I had this to say: Starring the always likable John Cusack- who established himself in 80’s comedies and seems to feel right at home as one of the four modern men who find themselves trapped back in 1986 on one eventful night that- “Hot Tub Time Machine” also develops a sweet relationship between him and music writer April, played to dizzying perfection by Lizzy Caplan. It’s this peripheral romance that gives the film its zeal. Caplan, who is a newcomer to me but has obviously been around on the small screen for years, hits the perfect mixture of 70’s hippiness and 80’s sweet girl persona. From the first time they meet on-screen at a party, Cusack and Caplan make their connection feel real and inspired. I almost wish the entire film could have been about them. But, director Pink has more important things on his mind, such as a male-on-male blowjob and hand soap designed to look like ejaculate on someone’s face. I understand today’s comedy has to reach a certain shock value (which is depressing), and “Hot Tub Time Machine” has that built in for audience acceptance. It’s just the film really soars when it tries to connect on a smaller level. That’s the kind of comedy film we could use more of today.
I still feel this way now. Caplan raises everything about this film and I've watched it twice since then just for her performance.
10. Do-yeon Jeon in "Secret Sunshine"
Right after the scene in which Korean actress Do-yeon Jeon is framed wailing uncontrollably in a pew for what feels like minutes, I knew her performance was reaching something beyond 'method acting'. Lee Dang Chong's "Secret Sunshine" perches the camera on this woman's grief and suffering and search for something religious without hesitaton or fear of alienating the audience. Jeon handles it magnificently.