30 December 2011

Films of the Year 2011: Male Performances

I posted my picks for female performances yesterday, so to go alongside it, as ever, here are the ten male performances of the year that I enjoyed the most. And as with the female list, there's a second-tier list of performances, 20-11, first:

20. Sam Riley Brighton Rock
19. Jean-Pierre Darroussin Early One Morning
18. Albert Brooks Drive
17. Jacob Wysocki Terri
16. Lucas Pittaway Snowtown
15. Benedict Cumberbatch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
14. Youssouf Djaoro A Screaming Man
13. Woody Harrelson The Messenger
12. Will Ferrell Everything Must Go
11. Ryan Gosling Drive / Blue Valentine / Crazy, Stupid, Love.

The Top Ten Male Performances of 2011:

Last year the calibre of the male performances was higher than this year – and I still had trouble selecting twenty, let alone a top ten (but here it is for perusal). At the ten end of the list is Cris Lankenau for his affable role in Cold Weather. I enjoyed how he casually navigated his way around the tenuous mysteries of the film: it was a natural and likeable performance. Paul Rudd stood out of the starry cast of How Do You Know. He always charms easily, but it’s a trait I never take for granted. His exasperation and amiability shone here just as much as it has elsewhere – and the rooftop scene where he frustratingly attempts to barbecue a steak was a favourite 2011 comic moment. Paul Giamatti is always solid in most films, and he was typically assured in Win Win. He can do the kind of put-upon everyman role he does in the film effortlessly, but he added an extra zippiness to complement his character’s crestfallen vibe. John C. Reilly was good in We Need to Talk About Kevin, but even better in Terri; it’s perhaps one of the best things he’s done. If the Academy wants to strike the right note in February, he should be duly nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar. He does wonders with his support role. The very same could be said of Yûsuke Iseya in 13 Assassins. In a film which contains many great physical turns, his was the cheekily ragged standout. His performance was sly, charming and oddly moving - a welcome respite from the massacres depicted over the film's duration.

Just like Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling and Tom Hiddleston, Chris Evans had a handful of films out in 2011. In, respectively, Captain America: The First Avenger, Puncture and What’s Your Number? he was heroically sincere, vigorously committed and daft as a ferret and refreshingly breezy. All three were delivered with the requisite pitch-perfect levels of exuberance and skill required for these three entirely different films. He’s shown he can master a varying range of styles and genres: now let’s see more of it. Another actor due just a bit more praise, I’d say, is Matthew McConaughey, who weaves a rakish spell with his best role in years, perhaps ever, in The Lincoln Lawyer. He played it smart, savvy and with just enough of a hint of playboy noir. He was shabbily captivating. Of the two lovely performances - from Tom Cullen and Chris New - in the very becoming love story, Weekend, I was taken with Cullen’s just a bit more. It was his character, Russell’s, story, essentially, and he gave a beautifully measured and affecting turn. He should rightly go on to more great roles as soon as possible. Daniel Henshall’s role as serial killer John Bunting in Snowtown is one that I won’t forget easily. His intricately ghastly mannerisms and actions, both major and minor, were hard to shake from my mind after seeing the film, as they are now; his riveting performance is hard to shake. Depicting real, unfiltered evil as Henshall does takes serious acting chops. Top of the male acting pile, though, is Ben Foster in The Messenger. As soon as the film finished I wondered if I’d see another performance which could surpass it for sheer boldness and conviction. As an ex-U.S. Army Staff Sergeant assigned to the Army’s Casualty Notification department, he was both subtly assured and deceptively volatile, depending on the circumstances within the plot. He expertly commanded every scene he was in. It’s a performance on the level of any of the great actors – but from a relatively unheralded character actor. More kudos, and more brilliant roles like this, should be directed Foster’s way.

Cris Lankenau
as Doug
in Cold Weather

Paul Rudd
as George
in How Do You Know

Paul Giamatti
as Mike Flaherty
in Win Win

Yûsuke Iseya
as Koyata
in 13 Assassins
(Jûsan-nin no shikaku)

John C. Reilly
as Mr. Fitzgerald
in Terri

Chris Evans
as Mike Weiss / Captain America/Steve Rogers / Colin Shea
in  Puncture / Captain America: The First Avenger / What’s Your Number?

Matthew McConaughey 
as Mick Haller
in The Lincoln Lawyer

Tom Cullen
as Russell
in Weekend

Daniel Henshall
as John Bunting
in Snowtown

Ben Foster
as Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery
in The Messenger

Next up: Top Ten Films of 2011


  1. I'm loving your lists so far and I love that you're giving a shout out to lesser known performances like Djaoro's. I like his performance a lot better than the film itself, though I watched it last year at TIFF. It might be due for a revisit.

    Also love your number one. I had him in my top five in '09 and Nick Davis was the only other blogger whom I remember mentioning him. Such an underrated performance. I'm curious how he never gained any awards traction given the buzz about the other two performances.

  2. When I saw this in 2009 Foster was a close second to Ben Whishaw for my favourite lead performance, so I'm sort of stoked that you have him as your number one. I've always felt badly that Foster has never managed to break out into getting those plum roles and that he most certainly deserves.

  3. Amir - Thanks for reading and comment. There's such a vast array of films that you really can find such great and unassuming perfs. in many films, esp. those outside the usual circles. The Messenger only got released here in the UK in 2011, so we had to wait a fair while for it. But it was worth it. Foster was exemplary. Best I've seen him yet.

    Andrew - Thanks. Foster blew me away in the film. He deserved so much more praise than he got. I think he'll keep rising and continue to get solidly great roles.