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Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Eric Kohn
December 11, 2012 12:20 PM
17 Comments
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Critic's Picks: The Best Film Performances of 2012

Abel Ferrara's "4:44 Last Day on Earth."

We no longer live in the age of the method. Setting aside Daniel Day Lewis' brilliantly convincing turn in "Lincoln," the performances that stand out in current cinema radiate a self-reflexive intensity less impressive for how much they convince us of their authenticity -- although they do that -- and pertain instead to addressing viewers aware of the artifice. Coming out of a brutal election season, we have been particularly attuned to the ways moving images capture the constructed aspects of human behavior. The challenge of today's actors is to embrace the tendency of audiences looking for transparent performances and transcend expectations. The best performances of the year dare us not to accept their legitimacy and then declare victory.

Of course, acting is a subjective task that audiences tend to fight over more than any other filmic ingredient. We encourage readers to share their own top performances in the comments. These are mine.
 

Denis Lavant, "Holy Motors"

As Monsieur Oscar, Lavant plays a half dozen peculiar roles over the course of one surreal day dashing around Paris in a limousine. Ranging from phantasmagorically bizarre to solemn, heated and downright insane, these characters convey a wide variety of attitudes particularly enticing for their progressive intensity. Lavant displays remarkable agility on par with his character in each progressive scene, which hammers home the main point: Every movie performance showcases people trapped by the medium recording them, which is why it makes such an ideal encapsulation of life experience.

Visit the Criticwire page here. Watch the trailer below:

Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"

Last year, Jessica Chastain starred in seven new releases, leading many to deem 2011 as her breakthrough year. It turns out that less is better in this case. Underutilized a few months back in "Lawless," she gets her moment to burst through the domestic mold that held back much of last year's output with "Zero Dark Thirty." As the ferocious, cunning CIA agent Maya in Kathryn Bigelow's marvelously suspenseful accomplishment, she's the center of a supremely ambitious effort. While Chastain showed potential for an aggressive screen presence in last year's underwhelming "Texas Killing Fields," here she gels perfectly with the immediacy of the subject matter, representing 10 years of post-9/11 emotions in the memorable final shot alone.

Visit the Criticwire page here. Watch the trailer below:


 

Tim Heidecker, "The Comedy"

Best known as one half of the irreverent comedy duo from "Tim and Eric's Awesome Show, Great Job!," Heidecker embodies a supremely obnoxious and over-priviledged Williamsburg resident committed to wisecracks regardless of whether or not anyone laughs. Usually, they don't -- and neither do we. That's the point. Rick Alverson's transgressive character study is a brilliant indictment of today's affluent class, largely because Heidecker excels at getting under our skin.

Visit the Criticwire page here. Watch the trailer below:

Louisa Krause, "King Kelly"

A grotesque complimentary piece to "The Comedy" that introduces the manias of a social network-crazed suburban youth culture to the equation, "King Kelly" literally assumes the perspective of its demented main character through her sloppy iPhone videos. Kelly annoys the hell out of her family and friends by thrusting her all-seeing phone at them as if it were an extension of her own eyes. And she's not the only one: Her pal Jordan's similar tendency enables director Andrew Neel to shift angles as well as broaden the perception of the entire movie exists within the vernacular of rebellious teens. Whether grinning ear-to-ear and shooting dauntingly flirtatious gazes at her peers or staring into the camera and announcing her insane self-confidence, Krause delivers a diva monster for the ages.

Visit the Criticwire page here. Watch the trailer below:

Willem Dafoe, "4:44 Last Day on Earth"

An obvious stand-in for director Abel Ferrara, Dafoe plays a troubled actor spending the final hours of his existence in a Lower East Side loft waiting for the world to end. Embroiled in passionate exchanges with his young wife, arguing with his ex-wife and daughter via Skype and struggling to avoid a drug relapse, Dafoe's character displays a full range of emotions gradually coming to the fore in sudden outbursts and sullen asides. His finest role in years, the character is a testament to his capacity for supreme understatement -- in this case, taking a ludicrous, half-baked premise and elevating it to the level of tragic poetry.

Visit the Criticwire page here. Watch the trailer below:

Next page: The best team-ups of the year (not counting "The Avengers").

17 Comments

  • Renata | December 14, 2012 12:09 PMReply

    Emmanuelle Riva/Jean-Louis Trintignant. Where are they?

  • troy | December 12, 2012 12:52 PMReply

    smart list. Thank you

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  • meggie | December 11, 2012 8:29 PMReply

    A. Ferrara. Way to go!

  • Sarah | December 11, 2012 7:08 PMReply

    Marion Cotillard deserves be in the list, come on!

  • TM | December 11, 2012 3:30 PMReply

    Marion Cotillard/Matthias Schoenaerts ?

  • Vino | December 11, 2012 2:29 PMReply

    "ZDT" requires a Barbara Stanwyk as the fictional heroine. Once again, Chastain cant deliver. But then, there's no script.

  • Dan | December 11, 2012 1:46 PMReply

    Especially well-done pointing out Heidecker. A criminally underseen performance in one of the best movies of the year. And Lavant goes without saying.

  • Dan | December 11, 2012 1:43 PMReply

    Kohn is a good critic that has his own opinions and doesn't conform to bullshit. Trolls go home.

  • Lars | December 11, 2012 1:15 PMReply

    So I've read the first page and kept thinking, "Where's Emmanuelle Riva?". Then I thought, maybe you've included both Riva and Trintignant in "Amour" as the best team performance of the year. Yes, that makes much more sense. Then I clicked on the second page, and you'd rather have Lawrence/Cooper (good), and Cohen/Faris (WTF). Can you explain your rationale for excluding these two magnificent performances of the year?

  • Lars | December 11, 2012 11:51 PM

    K, Eric, fair enough.
    But I still wish you would've written something like your reply at the beginning of the piece. Some people wouldn't have read your column yesterday. I know it's your column and you don't have to explain yourself, but it would stop unnecessarily cruel/pointless remarks.

  • Peter Knegt | December 11, 2012 10:56 PM

    I for one welcome our newfound partnership in croonyism.

  • Eric | December 11, 2012 1:26 PM

    The rationale for leaving Riva's performance off this list was that I already singled out "Amour," one of my favorite films of the year, on yesterday's list. Granted, I also already singled out "Holy Motors" and "Zero Dark Thirty" on that list, but didn't want to consume this entire piece by reiterating praise for the exact same group of movies.

    The trollish comment from Banta is one of those lame jabs better worth ignoring but since it's already mucking up the comments section...well, we can't just let it sit there. The intro to this article asks readers to share their own favorite performances in the comments. "Banta," you're welcome to do that, but otherwise quit wasting space. You may want to consider the brash nature of your own remarks ("croonyism"? at least proofread your insults) before taking cheap shots.

  • Banta | December 11, 2012 1:18 PM

    Their rationale is that they are clueless hacks. I read Kohn and Knegt to laugh. Daily chuckles from fake critics who prefer croonyism and easy analysis do a body good.

  • Genadijus | December 11, 2012 1:10 PMReply

    Sacha Baron Cohen/Anna Faris, "The Dictator"? WTF? For me these are the worst performances of the year...

  • jon | December 11, 2012 6:22 PM

    Mr Kohn: Your two lists make a lot of sense. Banta's comment show how arrogance and ignorance is protected by the anonymity of the web