The Criticwire Survey: The Best Performance of the Year

The Criticwire Survey: The Best Performance of the Year

Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week’s question:

Q: Forget separating for male or female, lead or supporting. You can just pick one; so what is the best performance of the year?

The critics’ answers:

Ethan Anderton, First Showing:

“The best performance of the year comes from Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master.’ The actor’s turn as Freddie Quell doesn’t even feel like a performance, but rather a hidden personality that Phoenix has in his mind at all times. From his drunken stupors and sudden aggression to the desperate, doughy eyes that follow Lancaster Dodd, Phoenix disappears into the role in mind and body, almost as if he’s in some sort of fever dream that seemingly might not end after the camera stops rolling. The interrogation scene between Phoenix and Hoffman by itself is worthy of an Oscar for both actors.”

Edwin ArnaudinAshvegas:

Denis Lavant in ‘Holy Motors’ satisfies all of the above and then some. Tackling roles male and female, lead and supporting while traversing the spectrum of genres, he gives his all each time to glorious success. Next to this pro, the competition (including quality turns like those of the ‘Cloud Atlas’ cast) feels paltry.”

Adam BattyHope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second:

“Performances are often something that take a back seat when I’m evaluating a film. What can I say, but the director is usually my main focus. But alas, this year has been somewhat defined by a pair of great performances for me, and having thought long and hard on it I’m going to cop out and choose both. Leos Carax’s ‘Holy Motors‘ and Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master‘ are built around awe-inspiring performances from Denis Lavant and Joaquin Phoenix, which in turn hint at one of the wider thesis of the cinema of 2012, which one might mark out as one shaped by a curious commentary on performance in general, with films like ‘Cloud Atlas,’ ‘Tabu’ and ‘This Is Not A Film’ each posing questions on the role of the actor in the modern cinematic landscape.”

Nicholas BellIONCINEMA:

Marion Cotillard, ‘Rust and Bone.’

William BibbianiCrave Online:

“It’s still early December, and there’s a three or four prominent features I still haven’t seen yet, but I think it’s highly unlikely that I’ll see two performances this year more memorable and striking than Clarke Peters‘ incredible portrayal of Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse in Spike Lee’s ‘Red Hook Summer,’ or Michael Shannon‘s ingeniously over-the-top villain Bobby Monday from David Koepp’s ‘Premium Rush.’ Sadly, I don’t think either actor is likely to get an Academy Award nomination. Lee’s film slipped under the radar, a quasi-follow up to ‘Do the Right Thing’ about a middle-class Georgia boy (Jules Brown) forced to spend the summer with his Evangelical grandfather in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Peters’ love for his grandson evolves over the course of the film from overeager Bible-thumping to a genuine understanding of their generational divide, but thanks to an unexpected finale, every decision Clarke Peters’ makes in the role takes on a shocking duality. And Michael Shannon just appears to be in an entirely different dimension from every other actor this year, hamming it up but feeling perfectly in place in Koepp’s fantasy world of New York bike messengers, risking their lives to keep a mysterious envelope from Shannon’s corrupt cop character, who needs its contents to survive the day. Shannon doesn’t play Bobby Monday as an excuse to be hammy, he plays Bobby Monday as a truly outlandish person, who lives the sort of life that naturally extends from that level of extreme self-involvement. I can’t compare these two performances in any tangible way, so let’s just call this one a tie.”

Danny BowesTor.com/Movies By Bowes:

“Without dwelling too long on the ‘as an actor myself, I have strong opinions and piercing insights on this subject’ card because nobody cares, I’ll proceed directly to submitting Simon Russell Beale in ‘The Deep Blue Sea’ for your consideration. With a lot of actors, the cuckolded husband character ends up being either simply loathsome or one-dimensionally pitiful, but Beale finds a deeply human complexity within the character, who ends up reading as a pretty decent guy who, given a choice, would rather have beautiful much-younger wife Rachel Weisz be happy and not sleeping with Tom Hiddleston, but ultimately, fatalistically, and British-ly accepts that things are the way they are. Through all that, he manages to not be a doormat, as well, which is a miracle considering that the character is one. Anyway, that’s acting, kids.”

Christopher CampbellDocBlog

“I’m temped to say ‘The Imposter”s Frederic Bourdain, but he’d get pissed at me, and I don’t feel like arguing why even if he’s being completely truthful he’s still performing to the camera, to a degree. So, I’m going to pick another documentary that definitely involves a convincing performance-as-con: ‘Kumaré.’ Director/star Vikram Gandhi did a more serious Sacha Baron Cohen type stunt by taking on the persona of an Indian guru and deceptively developing a following in Arizona. It’s a film I have some issues with, but I can’t deny Gandhi clearly gives the best performance of the year.”

Fico Cangiano, CineXpress:

“For me, it’s down to Daniel Day-Lewis as ‘Lincoln,’ and Joaquin Phoenix as the troubled soul, Freddie Quell, in ‘The Master.’ In the end I”d have to go with Phoenix, because his performance goes beyond what’s expected from him as an actor. Phoenix goes into really dark places within ‘The Master,’ both physically and emotionally. The best way to describe why I choose him over Day-Lewis, is simple: What character stayed with me long after I saw each film? The winner: Freddie Quell.”

Daniel CarlsonPajiba:

Joaquin Phoenix in ‘The Master.’ In a year of strong performances, his still stands out. It’s frenetic and fierce, and he absolutely loses himself in the role.”

Sean ChavelFlick Minute:

Woody Harrelson is scary and haunting in ‘Rampart’ as racist, malevolent cop Dave Brown. Yes, you trolls out there will say it’s a 2011 movie. It got shown publicly in a few theaters in December 2011 to qualify for Oscar consideration, but the publicists behind it dropped the ball. And so the film was left in the dust, not really eliciting any kind of attention until February of this year when it got an under-advertised release. I hate it when actors tout their disappointment that they weren’t nominated but in this case Harrelson is absolutely right about himself (Academy by-laws disqualify him from 2012 contention). It’s the triumph of his career, a role as dangerous as De Niro from the ’70’s.”

Marc CiafardiniGoSeeTalk.com:

“Brandon Cronenberg’s ‘Antiviral’ will undoubtedly be, family name not withstanding, a warped ride and a tough sell for most audiences. Yet, underlying all the weird and macabre elements is a brutally focused performance from Caleb Landry Jones that borders on brilliance. Jones gives everything he has into this role and goes to such deep, dark depths to become his character Syd. So much so that he really makes us feel both the nuance and bluntness in the intense physicality of his role. It’s a fascinating and unsettling story that wouldn’t have half the effect without Jones’ contributions and conviction.”

Matt CohenMeets Obsession/Cinespect:

“I’ve got to give it to Denis Lavant for his role(s) in Leos Carax’s ‘Holy Motors.’ ‘Holy Motors’ — which may end up being my favorite film of 2012 (Disclosure: ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ ‘Django Unchained,’ and ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ are the only prestige films I have yet to see) — is a marvelous film about many things. It’s a mediation on film genre, filmmaking, and an acutely and masterfully self-aware thesis on how films react with their audience. But, in the case of Lavant’s role, it’s also a deconstruction of the acting process. Throughout the film, Lavant is shown getting in and out of different characters — both physically and emotionally — to tackle each of his mysterious ‘appointments.’ This act, and Lavant’s brilliant execution of it, is not only a daring and multilayered performance, but one that showcases the emotional struggle actors go through in order to prepare and dedicate themselves for each role. There were many fine performances in 2012, but I suspect only Lavant’s is the one that will stay with me for years to come.”

Jake Cole, Not Just Movies:

“Matthew McConaughey deserves special mention for a range of high-quality performances this year, but as the credits for ‘Holy Motors’ tell me, Denis Lavant had 11 in just one film. Slowed by age but still acrobatic and balletic, Lavant embodies his director’s worn enthusiasm, if not outright cynicism, even as his spry movement and constant reinvention proves how much life cinema still has as it moves beyond ‘visible machines’ and cameras heavier than us.”

Michael DaltonMovie Parliament:

“A very hard question to answer, especially in my case when I have yet to see the likes of ‘Lincoln’ and ‘Silver Linings Playbook.’ Ones that immediately come to mind are Michael Fassbender in ‘Prometheus,’ John Hawkes in ‘The Sessions,’ Quvenzhané Wallis in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild,’ Jennifer Lawrence in ‘The Hunger Games’ and the leading trio in ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower.’ Additionally Javier Bardem’s performance in ‘Skyfall’ is one that re-energizes and in my eyes makes the film. In my mind ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ showcases the best ensemble of the year so far and I was tempted to go for Joseph Gordon-Levitt in that film due to the underrated nature of the role and the way in which he makes it look so easy. On the underrated and perhaps rather snobbishly overlooked note, Andrew Garfield gives a very commanding and believable performance in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man.’ However the best performance of the year so far that I have seen is probably Liam Neeson in ‘The Grey.’ In that film he had to confront some very raw and very real emotions considering his personal past. It is a film that very much relies upon his performance and in some quiet yet emotionally loud scenes at the beginning and end of that film, he says so much by saying nothing at all.”

Tony DayoubCinema Viewfinder/Press Play:

“In ‘The Master,’ Joaquin Phoenix isn’t acting so much as he’s exorcising some inner, enraging distraction in a way that begs for comparison with the last great performance directed by Paul Thomas Anderson: Daniel Day-Lewis’s in ‘There Will Be Blood.’ Freddie Quell is one for the ages.”

John DeCarliFilmCapsule:

“For me, it’s easier this year than it’s been in a long time: Joaquin Phoenix in ‘The Master.’ I think it helps a lot having the counterpoint of Philip Seymour Hoffman, and both performances are great, but Phoenix is nothing short of magnetic. Some might think Phoenix takes the physical tics of Freddie Quell too far, but he’s able to capture a seething rage and crippling uncertainty beneath it all. Instead of vast natural expanses (barring one scene), the marvelous detail of ‘The Master”s 70mm image is put to use largely in close-ups, and no face is under as much scrutiny, and reveals as much depth and mystery, as Phoenix’s.”

Steve DollarWall Street Journal/GreenCine Daily:

Denis Lavant,Holy Motors.'”

Edward DouglasComing Soon:

Marion Cotillard inRust and Bone.’ I was shocked when I met her and realized she still had her legs.”

Alonso DuraldeTheWrap/What The Flick?!:

“Without a doubt, Denis Lavant in ‘Holy Motors,’ doing the work of the entire cast of ‘Cloud Atlas,’ times ten, in the service of a far more powerful movie. If he were a known Hollywood quantity, the Oscar voters would be shitting themselves over the physical and emotional heavy lifting he does here, and Carax’s complicated conceits wouldn’t work without him. It’s a stunning piece of acting.”

Jessica ElgenstiernaThe Velvet Café:

Matthias Schoenaerts in ‘Bullhead.’ Like Michael Fassbender in ‘Shame,’ he can convey a life’s story twitching a muscle.”

Kenji FujishimaThe House Next Door:

“The best performance I saw this year by anyone was given by Lily Rabe in a Shakespeare in the Park production of ‘As You Like It’ over the summer here in New York, but since we’re talking about just movies and not art in general here, I’m going with Denis Lavant in ‘Holy Motors’ — hardly the most outside-the-box of choices, I suspect, but really, the multiple roles he plays, the wide range of emotion he’s called upon to evoke and sheer freedom and joy he finds in tackling each role-within-a-role simply beggars belief. (Runner-up: Anne Marsen as The Girl in Jacob Krupnick’s glorious ‘Girl Walk // All Day.’)”

Jason GorberTwitch/Filmfest.ca:

“Hrm. I grant that Channing Tatum was shockingly good in ‘Magic Mike,’ DDL in ‘Lincoln’ and those two guys from ‘The Master,’ but I’m going to cheat here and say that Stephen Root in ‘Boardwalk Empire’ had by far the most delicious, compelling performance of the year, and provided me with by far the most fun I had watching someone perform on screen.”

Melissa HansonCinemit:

Michelle Williams, ‘Take This Waltz.’

Eric HavensDownright Creepy:

“If I were doing best performance in a scene I’d have to go with Matthew McConaughey in the final sequence of ‘Killer Joe.’ For a more complete performance, though, I have to go with Joaquin Phoenix in ‘The Master.’ His facial work alone, which Anderson spends plenty of close-ups on, is enough to earn him some accolades. Add in the rest of the transforming performance and he has to be the stand out performance of the year. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Helen Mirren’s work in the under seen ‘The Debt.’ Nuanced stuff.”

Jordan HoffmanScreenCrush:

“I’m not a radical progressive, but I do consider myself a liberal, and I applaud you for breaking down the strangely sexist way in which we measure acting performances. I get gender segregation in Olympic sports, but for measuring artistic endeavor it seems like a strange holdover from a less enlightened era. Why not have an award for people under or over 40? Anyway, all this is tapdancing before giving the answer most people are going to give you: the best performance of the year is Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘Lincoln.’

Drew HuntChicago Reader/The Talking Pictures:

“This struck me as a difficult question until I realized the answer is a complete no-brainer: Gina Carano in ‘Haywire.’

John Keefer51Deep.com:

“I’ve got to go with Joaquin Phoenix [in ‘The Master’]. If only Cassavetes were still alive just imagine the psychodrama they could have made!”

Adam KempenaarFilmspotting:

“Truly, I’m not trying to be cute here. I’ve never previously considered a documentary for a performance award, and very likely never will again; after all, the subject is simply existing on camera. But no ‘character’ impressed or moved me more than Marina Abramović, playing the role of artist Marina Abramović, in the doc ‘Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present.’ The film chronicles the famous performance artist preparing for a 2010 MOMA retrospective, which Abramović, appropriately, turned into its own two-and-a-half month, 736-hour exhibition where she sat still, and silent, while spectators sat opposite her and… well, reacted, in a variety of often fascinating ways. What’s the point? Is that really art? Exactly. And you thought Joaquin Phoenix was the most tortured soul on screen this year.”

Gary KramerGay City News:

Denis Lavant, ‘Holy Motors.’

Adam KuntavanishNext Projection:

“I think it would be very hard for anyone who’s seen ‘Holy Motors’ not to pick Denis Lavant‘s varied, full-bodied performance as the one of the year. It’s almost not fair, frankly. Runner-up would be the heartbreaking Rachel Weisz in ‘The Deep Blue Sea.'”

Peter LabuzaLabuzaMovies.com/The Cinephiliacs:

“Even though the film is a mixed bag, Rosemarie DeWitt blew me away in ‘Your Sister’s Sister.’ She speaks more volumes with a glance of her eyes shooting across the room than most actors do in an entire monologue. In that film’s improvisational style, she always chooses the unexpected gestures to note her character — the way a hand moves across the table or takes a uniquely motivated move across the space. Even when she gives a big monologue, it is not the text that is rendered beautifully, but her response to registering the emotions she has been hiding. I do wish the film was better for many reasons, but DeWitt is simply radiant, capturing the fear of the unknown with the flash of an eye.”

Jonathan LackWe Got This Covered:

“There have been dozens of fantastic performances this year, but the absolute best of the bunch, for me, is Liam Neeson in ‘The Grey.’ Such an intensely vulnerable, emotionally raw piece of acting, especially in the film’s final act. Neeson’s shouting match with God may be my favorite film moment of 2012, and Neeson deserves full credit for making the scene so emotionally powerful and immediate.”

Andrew Lapin, The Atlantic:

“The same weekend as ‘The Avengers,’ a very different sort of comic-book movie opened and promptly flopped in U.S. theaters: the Irish-made tragedy ‘Death of a Superhero,’ starring 21-year old Thomas Brodie-Sangster (the kid from ‘Love, Actually’) as a spandex-obsessed teen dying from cancer, who escapes into the world of his comics when real life becomes too much for him to bear. Brodie-Sangster’s work is piercing and intense, and more than a little troubled — his penetrating glares, which betray his overwhelming obsession with sex and death, seem to channel a much older actor, and he’s very careful to make sure we don’t feel sorry for him. In what’s shaped up to be a banner year for young actors, Brodie-Sangster rises to the top of the pack.”

Will LeitchDeadspin:

Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘Lincoln.’ It’s pretty amazing how his Lincoln is both familiar and entirely new. I’ve been reading about Lincoln since I was four years old, but this, this is how I’ll always picture him from now on.”

Shawn LevyThe Oregonian:

“This is too hard. I have to have male and female, because while Daniel Day-Lewis is certainly the nearest thing to the actual historical personage I have ever seen in ‘Lincoln,’ Emmaneulle Riva IS the embodiment of herself and of someone her age in ‘Amour.’ I simply can’t choose one over another. Sue me.”

Scott MacDonaldToronto Standard:

“It’s a boring response, but there’s no way around it: Daniel Day-Lewis gave not just the greatest performance of the year in ‘Lincoln,’ but maybe the greatest performance of his career. I hadn’t been that keen on his last couple of performances (‘There Will Blood,’ ‘Gangs of New York’), which struck me as meticulous yet hollow. This one is as meticulous as ever, but it’s filled with love for Lincoln the man, and that love fills up the space between himself and the character. I found it almost uncannily moving.”

Joey MagidsonThe Awards Circuit:

“There are plenty of incredible performances to choose from this year, and still plenty when you think about ones that aren’t getting talk about enough.  For me, the one I wish was in the awards conversation more was Denis Lavant‘s stunning work in ‘Holy Motors.’ He plays a multitude of different parts and nails them all. It’s quite possibly the performance of the year for me, and I hope that I’m not alone.”

Vince ManciniFilmdrunk:

Matthew McConaughey in ‘Magic Mike.’ It’s not even a performance, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event that allowed him to tap into the essence of Matthew McConaughey and, against all odds, become even more McConaughey. Every time he was onscreen it was like you weren’t even watching a movie, you were watching McConaughey be McConaughey, the McConaughey equivalent of a nature film about a tiger eating a tapir. They should create a new category for Most McConaughey. As for traditional performances, no one will recognize him for it, but Art Hsu is incredible in ‘The FP.’ He holds that entire movie together and his performance was as tough to pull off as anything anyone did this year. It takes a special actor to bring to life a line like, ‘Dayum! Yo kicks got smiles humped all up my face!'”

Calum MarshSlant Magazine:

Nadezhda Markina in ‘Elena,’ Denis Lavant in ‘Holy Motors,’ Rosemarie DeWitt in ‘Your Sister’s Sister,’ and, perhaps most strangely, Ethan Hawke in ‘Sinister.’

Mike McGranaghanThe Aisle Seat:

“This is a pretty easy one for me. No performance this year left me as mesmerized as the one Joaquin Phoenix gave in ‘The Master.’ He disappeared into the character of Freddie Quell, an alcoholic with an anger management problem and some odd sexual proclivities. Talking out of only one side of his mouth, Phoenix plays him like a caged animal trying to break free. It’s almost as though Freddie is filled with so much emotional anguish that he can no longer contain it — and neither can the actor playing him. There is a lengthy sequence in which Freddie, under the full spell of a cult leader’s bizarre notions, paces back and forth in a room, alternately touching the wall and a window. The scene could have been ridiculous, but Phoenix brings it such raw power that it becomes transformative. You really feel how lost this guy has become. I’ve seen many great performances this year, but this one will stay with me for a long time.”

Jana J. MonjiThe Demanders/Pasadena Art Beat/Examiner.com:

Suraj Sharma [in ‘Life of Pi’] for now, but I haven’t seen a few movies on my list yet.” 

Farran Smith NehmeSelf-Styled Siren:

“Since comic performances occasionally get short shrift in polls, I’m happy to throw in a vote for Melanie Lynskey in ‘Hello, I Must Be Going.’ There’s nothing flashy or sympathy-grubbing about her work; it’s full of exquisitely funny, real reactions. I knew I was in love with Lynskey’s performance when I saw her character Amy’s face as she watches ‘One Day at a Time’ reruns in a state of near-catatonic gloom. Amy is a pampered young layabout, who theoretically could have annoyed the mess out of the audience, but Lynskey never grates. The scene where she hooks up with the teenage son of her father’s client is hilarious, and also truly romantic.”

Eugene Novikov, Film Blather:

Rachel Weisz, ‘The Deep Blue Sea.’

Tony NunesDreaming Genius/Sound on Sight:

Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild.’ For an unknown child actor to pull off that level of heart and vulnerable strength in her performance, this one really stood out most to me. My runner up would be Denis Lavant for his multitude of performances as the Russian doll of an actor Mr. Oscar in ‘Holy Motors.'”

Scott NyeRail of Tomorrow:

“While there have probably been richer, deeper performances, I’m going to use this space to give a shout-out to Yoo Jun-sang in Hong Sang-soo’s ‘In Another Country.’ Yoo takes a role that’s of little consequence in an almost pointedly inconsequential film and fills every moment onscreen with a manner of life and vitality I haven’t seen in any other performance this year. Just seeing him walk or run is vastly entertaining, nevermind the exuberant will to please everyone with whom he interacts. It’s rare to find a performer, especially these days, who can entertain just by appearing onscreen, but Yoo achieves that marvelously.”

Jordan RaupThe Film Stage:

Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in ‘The Master’ is still the most transformative, captivating of the year for me. Emmanuelle Riva’s heartbreaking turn in ‘Amour’ is a very close second.”

Katey RichCinema Blend:

“I think this will be a popular answer in this crowd, but I also don’t think it’s fair to shut up about Denis Lavant in ‘Holy Motors’ until more people see that movie. That performance is a miracle, and even if you feel lost in what the movie is trying to tell you — as I was in the first half hour or so — Lavant makes all of his characters so lively that it’s worth following along anyway.”

David RoarkPaste/Christianity Today:

“My vote goes to Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘Lincoln.’ I can’t think of a performance as convincing as his in 2012.”

Andrew RobinsongmanReviews:

“I’m going to go ahead and give it straight to Joaquin Phoenix for ‘The Master.’ What he was able to portray with just a facial expression, in all of those close-ups, hasn’t been matched in what I’ve seen thus far this year, and I highly doubt it will be.”

Matt Rorabeck, Movie Knight:

“To be fair, I’ve yet to see some potential juggernauts such as Jessica Chastain in ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ Hugh Jackman/Anne Hathaway in ‘Les Miserables’ and DiCaprio/Waltz/Jackson in ‘Django Unchained’ but as of this moment the single best performance of the year has to be Joaquin Phoenix in ‘The Master.’ As great as Daniel Day-Lewis is in ‘Lincoln,’ Phoenix’s performance as Freddie Quell is in a league of its own. What most impressed me is that it’s quite surprising he was able to pull it off after his insane ‘I’m Still Here’ hoax. For most actors, that would have ruined their careers, but for Phoenix he seems to channel the ‘crazy’ he used in his previous film for an absolutely amazing performance in ‘The Master.’ The jail cell scene with Hoffman still haunts my dreams and locks down the best performance of the year.”

Jason ShawhanNashville Scene/Interface 2037:

Denis Lavant in ‘Holy Motors,’ Macy Gray in ‘The Paperboy,’ and Michael Fassbender in ‘Prometheus’ are the performances I’m still bowled over by.”

Michael SicinskiCinema Scope:

“Performance of the year, hands down, is Denis Lavant‘s multiple identity explosion in Leos Carax’s ‘Holy Motors.’ However, since I suspect you’ll be getting that response a lot (and rightfully so), I’m going to say a bit about the second-best performance of the year. In Tsai Ming-liang’s short film ‘Walker,’ Lee Kang-sheng portrays a monk who is quite literally out of step with the bustle of contemporary Hong Kong. He moves in agonizing slow motion, centimeter by centimeter, while the rest of the city — shoppers, businesspeople, workers — go about their business. Thing is, there is no digital trickery whatsoever. Lee, exhibiting astonishing bodily control, simply moves in actual slow motion, presenting the monk’s self-contained “holy time” as both a universe unto itself and resolutely embedded in the material world.”

Craig SkinnerBleeding Cool/Hey U Guys:

Denis Lavant in ‘Holy Motors.’ I suspect it is going to be a popular choice but with good reason. ‘Holy Motors’ is built around Lavant’s ‘performance’ to such a degree that it’s hard to even imagine what the film would be like with someone else in the central role. Lavant gets the chance in ‘Holy Motors’ to stretch his acting muscles in so many ways and he appears to relish the opportunity. Almost certainly a career defining performance, it’s one that will undoubtedly be forgotten in the high gloss world of the bigger awards ceremonies but I’m positive it will be remembered long after many of this year’s nominees’ performances have long been forgotten.”

Josh SpiegelMousterpiece Cinema/Sound on Sight:

“I can’t think of a better performance this year than that of those MacGuffin-esque chems in ‘The Bourne Legacy.’ Seriously, I’m going with Joaquin Phoenix in ‘The Master.’ During the period when Phoenix pranked people by growing out a bushy beard, alienating David Letterman, and pretending to be a rapper, I wasn’t too sad to see him leave acting. I had just never been blown away by his work, even in ‘Walk the Line.’ And yet, as soon as I saw a teaser for Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, I found myself thinking, ‘Man, I missed that guy.’ His work in the film was revelatory, a man tapping in to his pure animal tendencies. Even though this thankfully wasn’t the case, Phoenix’s performance would be the best of the year even if ‘The Master’ had just the one great scene, where Phoenix’s Freddie Quell is ‘processed’ by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd.”

Mike SmithMoviePass:

“No performance this year better complements its film’s themes than Brit Marling‘s turn as Maggie, a charismatic cult leader, in ‘Sound of My Voice.’ She delivers each line in an soft but authoritative tone; she’s warm and comforting, yet vaguely haunting. As a viewer I was so drawn in by Marling’s presence onscreen, it’s easy to accept that Maggie could reel people into her cause. The movie itself is damn good too.”

Andreas StoehrPussy Goes Grrr:

“My favorite performance of the year is also the first one I fell in love with: Rachel Weisz in ‘The Deep Blue Sea.’ Just listen for the smoke and mystery in her voice; watch for the sardonic arch of her eyebrows, or the way her body seems to pulse with secrets rather than blood. Her work here, so finely attuned to the film’s postwar milieu, suggests a bottomless capacity for both pain and romantic ecstasy, and makes Hester Collyer one of the most tragic heroines in recent memory.”

R. Emmet SweeneyMovie Morlocks:

“The three most indelible performances of the year for me were Denis Lavant in ‘Holy Motors,’ Nina Hoss in ‘Barbara’ and Seann William Scott in ‘Goon.’ They are all astonishing in one way or another, so I’ll pick my ‘best’ by what I’d have more fun writing about at this particular instant. So congratulations Seann William Scott, you gave the ‘best’ performance of the year! Known for his hyper-horny menagerie of frat lunkheads, especially Stifler in the ‘American Pie’ series, his sweetly dopey performance in ‘Goon’ is a revelation. Playing a bartender who taps into his skill as a hockey thug, Scott shifts the blood flow in his usual characters from cock to heart, and the results are a performance that is movingly sincere and effortlessly funny. He lends each one of his knockout blows a touch of pathos, since he does not wish to hurt anyone, but it’s the only thing he’s good at.”

Luke Y. ThompsonNerdist:

“I’m leaning toward Emmanuelle Riva in ‘Amour.’ Never doubted as I watched that I was seeing an actual stroke victim.”

Anne-Katrin TitzeEye For Film:

Denis Lavant gives the best performance of the year as Monsieur Oscar in ‘Holy Motors,’ being driven around Paris in a white stretch limousine that includes a dressing room mirror, props and make-up. Director Leos Carax schedules nine appointments that give the actor nine lives. Lavant, the film’s motor as well as in the film’s motor, transforms himself into a beggar woman on the bridge, a motion-capture gymnast, covered in white sensors, that could be mistaken for the flickering lights on the Eiffel Tower, a business man, or a dying man straight out of Henry James’ ‘Portrait of a Lady’ at the Hotel Raphael. He eats sushi in the car, has a little chat with Michel Piccoli, kills his own doppelganger on assignment, and at Père Lachaise, Lavant becomes again a creature of international sewers who irrevocably declares the end to the air quote, before he snacks on Eva Mendes’s hair extensions.”

James Wallace, CentralTrack.com:

“I’d say the performance I was most blown away by thus far this year is unfortunately one that probably won’t get appreciated come award’s season. And that is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Young Joe in ‘Looper.’ The ways he emulated and so perfectly captured Bruce Willis’ ‘Willisisms;’ I think the tendencies of some actors would have been to do more of an impression, per se. However, Levitt subtly nailed all the little intricacies that Willis’ presence brings to a film. Not only that but to go one deeper, he was playing Willis playing an older version of his younger self (how’s that for a loop?). It was the second coming of Bruno!”

Chase WhaleTwitch:

Denis Lavant for his portrayal of an elderly homeless woman, motion capture professional in the arts of combat and sex, sewer barbarian, overbearing father, accordion player (in an all-accordion band), assassin, old man on his deathbed, romantic reunited with an old flame, and a father to two adult monkeys in ‘Holy Motors.’

Max Weiss, Baltimore Magazine:

“Hate to be so predictable, but it’s got to be Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘Lincoln,’ right? He’s truly in a class all by himself.”

Andrew WelchAdventures in Cinema:

“Like ever year, this one’s had its share of great performances — the kids of ‘Moonrise Kingdom,’ for instance, or Joaquin Phoenix in ‘The Master’ — but for me the standout is Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘Lincoln.’ I almost hesitate to pick him, though, because at this point, Day-Lewis is such a go-to figure that you have to ask yourself, ‘This guy? Again?’ But yes, again. Immersive acting on this scale is rare. Day-Lewis doesn’t just don a top hat and beard; he affects a credible voice and, with his slow, hunched shuffle, shows us a man afflicted by a bone-deep chill and creaky, arthritic joints. His good humor and warm smile aside, he looks like a man on his last leg, bound for history.”

Mark YoungSound on Sight/New York Movie Klub:

“I’m sure there are critics out there who are vehemently opposed to this answer, but I haven’t seen a performance all year quite like Richard Parker, the tiger in ‘Life of Pi.’ Someone, even if it’s not an actor, deserves credit for bringing us the best animal performance ever to be captured on film. The really impressive part of it is that it refuses at every turn to be a ‘special effect.’ At no point does Ang Lee, or the computer animators behind him, feel the need to let you know that you’re seeing something impossible (As opposed to ‘The Avengers,’ which gets its fun precisely by hitting you over the head with its impossibility). As amazing as Andy Serkis was as Caesar the ape last year — and that was a revolutionary special effect — Richard Parker is light years ahead.”

Alan ZilbermanBrightest Young Things/Tiny Mix Tapes:

“The best performance of the year is Emmanuelle Riva in ‘Amour.’ It’s sympathetic, unflinching, ugly, and brave.”

The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on December 3, 2012:

The Most Popular Response: Holy Motors,” Lincoln” (tie)

Other Movies Receiving Multiple Votes: Argo,” Life of Pi,” Silver Linings Playbook,” The Master,” “Killing Them Softly,” Skyfall,” “Anna Karenina,” “Cloud Atlas,” The Comedy,” “Rust and Bone.”

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Comments

zaviar wun

Like many others, I can't choose between Phoenix and Lavant. For pure animalistic performance, I might have to tip a bit towards Phoenix's Freddie Quell, though I vastly prefer Holy Motors as a movie to the Master.

tyland

Joaquin Phoenix and Caleb Landry Jones playing brothers in a movie! There's my pitch. Someone read this and make it happen1!!!!!!!!!

Marc Ciafardini

Aside from the front runners on this list like Lavant, Phoenix and DDL, other extremely entertaining and noteworthy choices for me include Brit Marling (Sound of My Voice), Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi), John Hawkes (The Sessions), Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks), Dreama Walker (Compliance) and don't forget little Pierce Gagnon (Looper).

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