The 25 Best Movie Performances of the Decade

Sometimes, a good actor can make a bad script tolerable and mediocre script enjoyable. But occasionally, an actor will stumble upon a role they seemed born to play, and watching them transform themselves is an utter joy. We chose 25 of our favorite performances to celebrate from the last decade and could have picked another 25 we dearly loved. We only selected our favorite from each actor so that Daniel Day-Lewis, Kate Winslet, Sean Penn and Philip Seymour Hoffman didn’t simply dominate the list. [via pastemagazine]


25. Adrien Brody as Wladyslaw Szpilman
The Pianist (2002)

While many great performances rely on dramatic and affecting dialogue, Adrien Brody’s turn as real life musician Wladyslaw Szpilman in Roman Polanski’s Holocaust drama The Pianist is hushed, a sullen-eyed lost soul hanging on to a world cloaked in gray. As the title character, Brody became a living skeleton, an all-too-real representation of one of history’s darkest periods. Justin Jacobs


24. Ellen Page as Juno MacGuff
Juno (2007)

Ellen Page walks the delicately fine line between pitiable pregnant teen and resilient, plucky feminist in this film that manages to be both a cautionary tale and a story of love and compassion. Page displays intelligence and wit while clearly conveying the moments of humiliation that come with being pregnant in high school, producing an utterly endearing, memorable character. Emily Reimer


23. Adam Sandler as Barry Egan
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

In a dark romantic comedy plot complicated by phone-sex scams and Healthy Choice frozen dinners, Sandler handled this starring role in the same manner in which he shuffles down that grocery store aisle – with ease. This will shock any moviegoer who’s watched any of his mediocre comedies or who got to know the Saturday Night Live comedian for his spats with Bob Barker and feuds with imaginary penguins. Christina Lee


22. Penélope Cruz as Raimunda
Volver (2006)

As prominently displayed in his most recent works, director Pedro Almodovar found his muse in Cruz in the same way that Woody Allen did in Diane Keaton years ago. Here, with a performance displaying both maternal and primal instincts, made as equally compelling and complex as the plot in itself, Cruz shows most clearly why such idolization is deserved. Christina Lee


21. Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles
Ray (2004)

Jamie Foxx might have seemed an odd choice to star in Ray Charles’ biopic, but he surpassed all expectations. Sadly, Charles died just before Foxx brought all of the R&B titan’s frailties and triumphs to life on screen. Josh Jackson


20. Anne Hathaway as Kym Buchman
Rachel Getting Married (2008)

No one expected Anne Hathaway to take on the role of an ex-junkie in Rachel Getting Married, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t deserve it. Hathaway nimbly sidesteps the clichés inherent in her character and creates a moving portrait of renewal and hope. Sean Gandert


19. Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Owen Wilson was brilliant in this film. Ben Stiller was brilliant in this film. Anjelica Huston was brilliant in this film. But it was Gene Hackman as the title character and family patriarch who made The Royal Tenenbaums the one of the 10 Best Movies of the Decade. Josh Jackson


18. Laura Linney as Sammy Prescott
You Can Count on Me (2000)

Laura Linney may have been the decade’s best everywoman, giving import to the daily stresses of juggling work and family dysfunction. That distinction began with 2000’s You Can Count on Me, with a wayward brother, an overbearing boss, an infatuated new boyfriend, an abusive ex-husband and a fatherless son spinning around her center of gravity. Josh Jackson


17. Kate Winslet as Clementine Kruczynski
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Perhaps the best actress of her generation, Kate Winslet brought a stunning performance to every film she made, regardless of how inconsequential they may have been. No movie showcased her talents better than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which allowed her to bounce from serious to playful in a matter of moments. Sean Gandert


16. Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Her best of a fourth decade of outstanding performances. No one’s better at giving proper justice to a good script and a strong cast. Tim Basham


15. Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar
American Splendor (2003)

It’s hard to forget his wine-whiney lines in Sideways, but his dour portrayal of comics writer Harvey Pekar in American Splendor was a more complete, singular performance. Tim Basham


14. Halle Berry as Leticia Musgrove
Monster’s Ball (2001)

Berry’s Oscar-winning performance as down-and-out death row widower Leticia is startlingly unglamorous and fearlessly honest. In a film that is full of deeply flawed, unvarnished characters, Berry displays the kind of raw vulnerability alongside steely, almost vicious, resiliency that stays with you long after the final credits roll. Emily Riemer


13. Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II
The Queen (2006)

There are few bigger challenges than portraying a living celebrity who’s private life feels completely foreign to us commoners. Helen Mirren fully inhabited the queen of England as she navigates a world that has changed tremendously during her lifetime. Josh Jackson


12. Julie Christie as Fiona Anderson
Away From Her (2007)

Julie Christie got her first Oscar nomination in 1965. Her fourth came 22 years later for her turn as a victim of Alzheimer’s in Sarah Polley’s directorial debut, Away From Her. Christie makes us fall in love with her character before we see her slip from her husband’s grasp, make the loss so much more palpable than it otherwise would have been. Josh Jackson


11. Sean Penn as Jimmy Markum
Mystic River (2003)

Playing a man distraught over the murder of his daughter this is Penn at his emotional zenith (yes, a half-an-iota better than Milk) with excellent direction from Clint Eastwood. But really, Penn could be on this list for a number of roles. Tim Basham


10. Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar
Brokeback Mountain (2005)

While his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight certain deserves the acclaim it’s been given, Heath Ledger’s true tour de force was his understated work in Brokeback Mountain. Ledger brought a driving force to the movie which complimented its contemplative tone and showed a true, classical brilliance in acting that left you convinced that his character was real. Sean Gandert


9. Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina
Hotel Rwanda (2004)

As director Terry George found from his own research, this story of the 1994 Rwandan genocide unfortunately wrote itself. On the other hand, Cheadle’s portrayal as its hero seemed to rise from a passion he held within himself, transforming the role into a career golden standard still relevant today. Christina Lee


8. Felicity Huffman as Bree Osbourne
Transamerica (2005)

Between her TV roles on Sports Night and Desperate Housewives, Felicity Huffman showed her amazing range, playing a transexual woman who finds out she’s a father a week before her sexual reassignment surgery. Josh Jackson


7. Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson
The Wrestler (2008)

This tale of a professional wrestler 20 years after his prime resembles the life of the starring actor himself, who returns to Hollywood one boxing career, one shattered cheekbone and five nose operations later. And as the wrestler searched for solace from everything he once abandoned from his sport, the role tore apart Rourke’s surgically reconstucted, sun-weathered exterior to reestablish his niche in Hollywood, if only because of one line: “I’m an old, broken-down piece of meat, and I deserve to be alone.” Christina Lee


6. Amy Adams as Ashley Johnsten
Junebug (2005)

She might have technically been a supporting character, but Amy Adams made the most of every moment on screen. Born in Italy and raised in Colorado, she was the rare non-Southern actor who seemed to be molded from North Carolina clay. Josh Jackson


5. Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Daring to base the central character of a Disney franchise on a notorious junkie-alcoholic walking-corpse rock star like Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards was a coup, but even more mind-blowing was how well Depp’s crazy idea worked. Guzzling rum as he bobs and weaves—stumbles, really—through this film delivering hilariously slurred one-liners, he is the consummate goodhearted scoundrel, easily stealing every frame he flamboyantly swaggers across. Steve LaBate


4. Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin
The Last King of Scotland (2006)

For much of this film, it’s easy to forget that the character you’re watching onscreen is actually a brutal, murderous dictator. The charm, depth and utter believability Whitaker brings to the role are unparalleled. And this likability makes Amin’s paranoid, violent outbreaks all the more chilling. Steve LaBate


3. Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview
There Will Be Blood (2007)

Without Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie could only be a faint shadow of itself. It’s a testament to Day Lewis that his performances alone are enough to draw an audience. Sean Gandert


2. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote
Capote (2004)

In the same manner that In Cold Blood depicted the pristine scenes of Holcomb, Kansas, and the two men who disturbed them with a quadruple murder, Seymour Hoffman offered a precise yet chilling depiction of the man who helped found New Journalism. In turn, his performance burst apart Capote’s carefully crafted narrative to show just how haunted the writer himself had become. Christina Lee


1. Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos
Monster (2003)

If you haven’t watched the difficult but terrific Monster, it would be easy to dismiss Charlize Theron’s Oscar-winning performance as a gimmick: pretty actress made to look plain or ugly. We’ve seen that many times, on screens big and small, and we’re usually left wondering why the producers just didn’t get a non-starlet to play the role. But even though Theron’s physical transformation takes the ruse to a new level—it is thorough enough to render the actress unrecognizable and often indistinguishable from the real person she plays—her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos goes well beyond make-up tricks. It’s all encompassing. Theron is completely submerged in her character. Every glance, every hand gesture and every physical tick seem to be those of Wuronos. There’s not a single moment in the film in which the actress peaks out from behind those eyes. Charlize Theron captured something essential and magical (if very disturbing) in a performance that ranks as one of the best, not just of this decade, but of cinematic history. Tim Regan-Porter

Did you like this post? Leave your comments below!

Found this Post interesting? Receive new posts via RSS (What is RSS?) or Subscribe to CR by Email

More Post From The Web