Article By: Dan Clark
My look at the year that was continues as I highlight the Best Male Performances of 2012. A great performance can help elevate an otherwise lackluster film or bring a fantastic film to legendary status. This year we have had portrayals of charismatic cult leaders, legendary American heroes, sadistic psychopaths, and self destructive alcoholic pilots. I have picked out what I feel are the Top 5 Leading and Supporting Performances of 2012. Of course please keep in mind I wasn’t able to see every film this year so I’m sure there are some great performances I missed. If you feel there was someone I truly snubbed feel free to let me know.
Best Supporting Performances:
If Sam Rockwell is in a movie chances are I’m going to watch it. Its even better when he is in an actual good movie. Seven Psychopaths gave him a lot of great lines that he delivered flawlessly. He was outlandish in every turn bringing a ton of fun and laugh out loud moments. There were a lot of performances in Seven Psychopaths that could justifiably make this list, but the one that stood out to me was Rockwell.
If Phillip Seymour Hoffman is in a movie chances are he is giving one of the best performances of the year. That was the case with his performance in The Master. He played the charismatic leader of the religious cult group called The Cause. In one moment he would be a father like figure that would portray a essence of calm then seamlessly change into a roaring fit of rage. Hoffman took control in every way making you fall in line by barraging you with forceful language you couldn’t help believe.
3. Javier Bardem (Skyfall)
So far my list of best Supporting Actors has be filled with less than stellar characters. Surely not people you would not invite for Christmas dinner. Javier Bardem’s character in Skyfall fits right in line with that crew. Bardem is larger than life as the flamboyant Silva. He is a combination of Ledger’s Joker and Hannibal Lector with a dash of the classic Bond villain charm. I only wish we got to spend more time with his character, but I can’t argue over a performance that chooses quality over quantity.
Michael Fassbender went from rising star to a top notch actor in what felt like six months. Last year he gave two great performances in Shame and X-Men: First Class. Whether he was in a fanboy flick or heavy drama he would bring his A game. Prometheus was one of the most debating films of the year, but no one debated how great Fassbender was. He is a master at nonverbal acting. You can see the gears moving simply by looking at his effortless facial expressions. Though Fassbender played an android he gave one of the most human performances of the year.
For the majority of the year Fassbender was number one on my list for Best Supporting Performance. After watching Snowtown Murders I had to reluctantly move him to number two. Daniel Henshall’s performance deserves this spot as it is one of the most frightening in recent memory. We have seen serial killers be portrayed countless times. What makes Henshall stand out is the crass realistic nature he gives to the character. He plays both sides of the killer’s personality. In one moment he seems like a charismatic stand up citizen who you would let babysit your kids. Slowly the evil in his eyes begins to show as his violent side starts to come out. Seeing that transformation was one of the most gut wrenching movie experiences I had this year.
Best Leading Performances:
5. Jacob Wysocki (Fat Kid Rules the World)
Jacob Wysocki came on my radar last year with his performance in the very underappreciated Terri. When I saw he was coming out with a new film this year I made sure to check it out. Though I did worry he was pigeon holding himself into a specific kind of role. His performance in Terri and Far Kid Rules the World have many similarities, however in only one year his acting ability has gone up a few notches. He is not the most dynamic actor. Instead his depictions are a matter-of-fact take on a common archetype. By providing some nuance to the character he makes you feel like you are watching an actual person and not a blown-up stereotype. If Jacob Wysocki can continue to get the right roles he surely has a long career ahead for him.
The list of Best Performances of this year reads like an all star cast of today’s best actors. Of course that list wouldn’t be complete without Denzel Washington. Saying Denzel Washington gives a great performances is the equivalent of saying water is wet or eating at Arbies makes you feel bad about yourself. In Flight he plays a self destructive alcoholic airline pilot whose quick action saves hundreds when his plane suffers mechanical failure. Washington’s performance is powerful as he transitions from functional alcoholic to a mess of a man. What could have become a Lifetime Movie of the Week was elevated by his potent take on this conflicted character.
Jack Black’s work in Bernie allowed him to stretch all of his comedic and musical muscle. I know there is a large contingent of people out there that have grown tired of Black and his shtick. In Bernie Black does something completely different. He is playing that character that is unaware of how hilarious he actually is. He is refrained allowing you to fall in love with his character. Just listening to him talk makes you feel better about yourself with how gleeful he approaches life. In many ways he reminds me of Ned Flanders with more musical talent.
In The Master Joaquin Phoenix plays a navy veteran trying to find his place in the world after World War II has ended, though you wonder if he ever had one to begin with. When you hear someone is unrecognizable in a role it’s typical due to a physical transformation. You have those actors who widely fluctuate their weight or undergo hours of make-up applications to resemble an entirely different person. Joaquin Phoenix is unrecognizable simply through his acting ability. He is a ben- up bowl of energy wildly roaming from one place to the next. Phoenix is ferocious and the the epitome of act first ask questions later.
1. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Oscar Bait is a term used for films or performances that are specifily designed to garner the attention of the Academy. We all know the Oscars love to highlight the big and bold especially when someone is covering a controversial or legendary historical figures. So the idea of Daniel Day-Lewis playing the 16th President of the United States has ‘Oscar Bair’ written all over it. Maybe that was the purpose of the film, however the performance is anything but Oscar bait. His Lincoln is a calm man who quietly observes everything around him. Sure he has those epic speech moments, don’t think you could have a Lincoln movie without them, but the best moments are the smaller ones where Lincoln is doing nothing more than being a man. For the first time I felt like I was watching a representation of Lincoln that was true to the man and not the legend.
Honorable Mentions: Benjamin Helstad (King of Devil’s Island), Trond Nilssen (King of Devil’s Island), Matthew McConaughey (Killer Joe), Guy Pearce (Lawless), Mark Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed), and Woody Harrelson (Rampart)