#5: Keira Knightley – Ruth, Never Let Me Go
Spoiler warning: In order to discuss this performance, I must reveal the premise of this film, which some might consider a spoiler.
Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go was an absolutely haunting experience. The alternate-world tale of three friends who grow up to be harvested for their organs, this film doesn’t feel overtly like science fiction, but instead relies on a triumvirate of strong performances to convey the somber and limited lives these three must experience. Keira Knightley gives easily her strongest performance in years, conveying every bit of the jealousy, longing, and regret that this tragic character demanded. While the film’s love triangle was one of its weakest aspects, Ruth’s relationship with Kathy (Carey Mulligan) worked masterfully, and owes just much to Knightley’s supporting turn as to Mulligan’s strong lead.
#4: Delphine Chanéac – Dren, Splice
Dren, the human-animal hybrid from Splice, certainly owes some of its effectiveness to makeup and visual effects, but I must nonetheless applaud this utterly fearless portrayal from French model/actress Delphine Chanéac. This creature must convey a huge range of emotions and instincts through expressions, tics, and growls, often during some pretty harrowing and horrific sequences. Like the residents of the uncanny valley, Dren seems irrevocably human, and yet even when her animal parts aren’t visible, she just seems…wrong. Chanéac lends just the right amount of humanity and intelligence while never failing to remind the audience, whether through a jerk of the head or a high-pitched whine, that this character is not and cannot be human. As a bioethical thought experiment, this film’s ideas are effective. With this performance, the film approaches disturbing near-realism.
#3: Chloë Grace Moretz – Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl, Kick-Ass
As I said in the second FilmWonk podcast, I found Chloe Moretz’s performance as the psychopathic superheroine Hit-Girl to be downright unsettling. Not when she was hopping down a hallway dispatching gangsters with the same eerie speed and dexterity as Prequel Yoda, but when she was having sweet father-daughter moments with an utterly ridiculous Nicolas Cage. Through no fault or will of her own, Hit-Girl has been saddled with an upbringing not unlike that of a Rwandan child soldier, and the cringe-inducing warmth of these family scenes lends nicely to the film’s pitch-black satirical tone. Hopefully, Moretz won’t get saddled with the child-actor typecasting curse, as this is the second film in which she’s played a wildly unrealistic child prodigy. Physically and emotionally, this performance is nothing short of mind-boggling in its scope and commitment to the role, and firmly cements her as one of the finest young actresses working today.
#2: Amy Adams – Charlene Fleming, The Fighter
Oh, what to say about Amy Adams? This is a fantastic performance in a mostly impressive filmography, made even more so by what a radical departure it is from her usual “sweet girl” persona. Charlene is, and I mean this with the utmost respect, a tough bitch. Her strong, confident demeanor proved a fascinating counterpoint to Mark Wahlberg’s understated performance of an overshadowed character, and the chemistry between the two was undeniable. But even outside the romance, Charlene is a fascinating character, and Adams gives just the right balance of confidence and vulnerability to what could have been a very one-note love interest.
#1: Jacki Weaver – Janine Cody, Animal Kingdom
Not since Heath Ledger’s Joker have I seen such an delightfully creepy villain as this. Jacki Weaver’s appearance as the Aussie gangster matriarch Janine Cody quite deliberately evokes a lioness dutifully guarding her cubs, but at the same time, Weaver’s intensity muddles the metaphor a bit as she seems poised to devour any family member that gets in her way. This performance is utterly magnificent, from her every little interaction with her sons and grandson to her dismissive taunts to law enforcement (“but I’m not afraid of you, sweetie!”). As I said in the podcast, this film is a slow burn, but it’s Weaver, the standout in a cast of strong performances, that makes this film such a compelling watch.
- Dale Dickey as Merab in Winter’s Bone
- Rebecca Hall as Claire Keesey in The Town
- Michelle Williams as Dolores in Shutter Island
- Mia Wasikowska as Joni in The Kids Are All Right
- Rooney Mara as Erica Albright in The Social Network