Top 5 Lead Actors:
#5: Clint Eastwood – Walt Kowalski, Gran Torino
This is an odd film, and I have a feeling it will be a polarizing one. Eastwood is not only the strongest performance in this film; he is the only good performance. He uses racial slurs in about 50% of his dialogue. The story is minimal, and some scenes are even more heavy-handed about race than Crash. And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and it owes entirely to Eastwood’s acting and direction. The film looks gorgeous, and Eastwood is a delight in it. If this really is the end of his acting career, it’s a fine performance to go out on, even if it’s not the greatest film. Oh, and get off his lawn.
#4: Brendan Gleeson – Ken, In Bruges
Gleeson (left) is best known for playing Mad-Eye Moody in the last two Harry Potter flicks, but he gives an amazing performance in this film. Gleeson’s joyous and somber performance makes this character greatly sympathetic, despite having done some truly horrific things. His performance helps the film strike the perfect balance between brooding melodrama and dark comedy. If I felt like cheating the list slightly, I would tie Gleeson with Colin Farrell as Ray. It must be said that Farrell is most on form when he’s playing an Irish douchebag, perhaps because it’s not such a stretch for him… Regardless, these two work immensely well together, and truly make the film worth seeing.
#3: Frank Langella – Richard Nixon, Frost/Nixon
Lisa can attest to my initial reaction to the Frost/Nixon trailer… “My god, what is that? It doesn’t look…or sound…like Nixon. That doesn’t even look or sound human.”
Langella’s performance was pretty jarring when I first saw it, but ten minutes into this film, he had me. He was Nixon, plain and simple. Intelligent, corrupt, sweaty, and (just maybe) vulnerable. He paints a portrait of a shrewd politician who flagrantly abused his power, and didn’t consider until the very end that perhaps he did something wrong. It is sympathetic and enthralling to watch. The pseudo-documentary style of this film really holds it back, but it is Langella’s magnificent performance that gives the film even a slight chance of greatness.
#2: Sean Penn – Harvey Milk, Milk
Sean Penn is one dark, brooding motherf*cker. That he could pull off such a carefree, joyous performance is nothing short of astonishing. Penn brings the man to life on-screen, doing a fine job of delivering the film’s hopeful (albeit very didactic) message.
#1: Mickey Rourke – Randy “The Ram” Robinson, The Wrestler
“And now…I’m an old, broken down piece of meat. And I’m alone. And I deserve to be all alone. I just…don’t want you to hate me.”
Mickey Rourke, who showed immense promise as an actor, then destroyed himself with drugs, prize-fighting, and bad plastic surgery, was probably the only person who could pull this role off. There are so many deeply affecting scenes in this movie, and the film’s success owes entirely to Rourke’s performance. He adeptly conveys the tragedy of this character, and there is not a single scene that feels forced or dishonest. He is genuine and heartbreaking.
Samuel L. Jackson – Abel Turner, Lakeview Terrace
Dev Patel – Jamal Malik, Slumdog Millionaire
Jason Segel – Peter Bretter, Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Steve Coogan – Dana Marschz, Hamlet 2