Best and Top of Everything : Top 10 Movie Performances of 2012

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Top 10 Movie Performances of 2012

10. Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook



David O. Russell’s movie, highly touted for awards consideration, is almost studiously banal: two neurotics at loose ends forge an emotional détente by rehearsing for a dance contest. Bradley Cooper is fine as the bipolar Pat, but the big news is Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany, a woman who has tried to purge the sudden death of her cop husband by sleeping with every man she meets — except Pat. Just 21 when the movie was shot, Lawrence is that rare young actress who plays, who is, grown up. Sullen and sultry, she lends a mature intelligence to any role, whether as the one sane person in Winter’s Bone or as Katniss in The Hunger Games. She sets Tiffany up as “the crazy slut with the dead husband,” then slowly, subtly thaws, without renouncing her principles or her gravity. Lawrence is the silver lining in this by-the-numbers playbook.

9. Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln

DreamWorks Studios / Touchstone Pictures

 “I lead,” says the powerful Congressman to Abraham Lincoln. “You should try it sometime.” The Civil War President, as captured in Daniel Day-Lewis’ towering, burrowing performance, is obviously the central role in Steven Spielberg’s movie of the Tony Kushner script about the battle to pass the 13th Amendment. But in a large, distinguished cast, Tommy Lee Jones leads by example as Stevens, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the fulminous architect of this crucial legislative victory. The Texas actor slips smoothly into the mind, skin and voice of this starchy arch-Yankee: born and raised in Massachusetts, schooled in New Hampshire and Vermont and representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Jones has often played men with a prickly intelligence driven to obsessive lengths; here the wit and rage are directed toward the goal of freeing black slaves. It’s a flinty, inspiring turn.


8. Vanessa Paradis, Café de Flore

Café de Flore 

Americans know Vanessa Paradis, 39, as Johnny Depp’s semi-spouse, from 1998 to this June, and the mother of his two children. In her native France, though, she has been a pop diva from the age of 14 (with her 1987 hit “Joe the Taxi Driver”) and a movie star when she feels like it, in such pre-Depp films as the sexy Élisa and Patrice Leconte’s The Girl on the Bridge. She does her most demanding and mature work in Jean-Marc Vallée’s French-language drama about two seemingly unrelated couples: a mother and child in the Paris of the late ’60s, a divorced couple in today’s Montreal. As Jacqueline, caring for her Laurent (Marin Gerrier), who has Down syndrome, Paradis acutely demonstrates how love can accelerate into an obsession that the beloved is unable to fully, eternally reciprocate. In this mystical treatise on such obsessiveness, Paradis is the goddess of a devotion both exalted and terrifying.

7. Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker in Flight

Paramount Pictures

Whip Whitaker is an American hero: the airline pilot has just managed the nearly impossible landing of a defective plane, saving all but six of the 102 people onboard. He’s also a pretty serious alcoholic and cokehead. Do Whip’s strengths outweigh his weaknesses? They should when his pilot’s fallibilities, no less than his power and charm, put the moviegoer in his corner — and when he is incarnated by one of the most impressive contemporary star-actors. Denzel Washington has played bad guys (he won an Oscar for playing the corrupt narc in Training Day), but more typically he is the strong, haunted man audiences love to love. His nuanced work in Robert Zemeckis’ action film cum morality play is a tightrope walk between the Denzel whom people expect and the flawed, stubborn character he so boldly inhabits.

6. Denis Lavant as the Actor in Holy Motors

Les Films du Losange

Sitting in the back of a stretch limousine cruising through Paris, an actor named Oscar prepares for one of the many roles he will play that day: a beggar woman, a gangster, a concerned father, a wistful lover, an old man on his deathbed and the anarchic Monsieur Merde, a beast who kidnaps Eva Mendes from a glamour shoot in Père Lachaise Cemetery for an interlude in his underground lair. Writer-director Leos Carax’s surreal cinema trip runs mad, hysterical and naked through Hollywood and Continental film tropes, but first and foremost, it’s a glorious show reel for its star, Denis Lavant. Carax’s favorite actor and alter ego, Lavant uses the limo as his makeup room, applying extravagant disguises to slip into his 10 or more characters. Watch him perform martial-arts stunts in the motion-capture scene and wander to the roof of an abandoned department store with Kylie Minogue. Like the limo and the movie, Lavant is never less than transporting.

5. Matthew McConaughey as Joe Cooper in Killer Joe

LD Entertainment

It’s a wondrous process, when an established movie star turns himself into a prime actor. After a decade or so of drecky rom-coms, Matthew McConaughey earned plaudits as the hot-shot attorney in The Lincoln Lawyer, then went indie with five appealing, daring performances. He played the star reporter with a secret in Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy, the suspicious district attorney in Richard Linklater’s Bernie, the obsessed fugitive in Jeff Nichols’ Mud (yet to be released in the U.S.) and, most popularly, the aging impresario of a male strip joint in Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike. Best of all is McConaughey’s turn here, as a policeman who moonlights as a hitman in William Friedkin’s nutsy-weirdsy film of the 1993 drama by Tracy Letts. His Joe Cooper is totally bad, and quite possibly mad — stick around for the fried-chicken scene — but still a Texas charmer, speaking to his prospective clients about a murder in the actor’s patented musical cadences, as if he were inviting a pretty girl to dinner and a movie. The dimpled demon lover proves he can be just as seductive playing the world’s creepiest, craziest cop.

4. Rachel Weisz as Hester Collyer in The Deep Blue Sea

Music Box Films / Artificial Eye

“Let’s not be vulgar, Hester,” says the honorable judge (Simon Russell Beale) to his wife (Rachel Weisz). “We are talking about marriage.” But when the marriage is loveless, a woman has the right to be vulgar by pursuing a mad passion with an ex-RAF wastrel (Tom Hiddleston) — and to sustain that torch even when her lover abandons her. Terence Rattigan created Hester in his 1952 play; Terence Davies, Liverpool’s unique film poet (Distant Voices, Still Lives; Of Time and the City), revived her in this operatic adaptation. The movie is a museum of emotions brought to contemporary life through the director’s artistry and his leading lady’s fire. Playing a woman whose sexual ferocity could crack the china in any tea set, Weisz imparts intellectual acuity and, at the end, a saintly, forlorn fury.

3. Clarke Peters as Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse in Red Hook Summer

Variance Films
Enoch Rouse, pastor of Lil’ Piece of Heaven Baptist Church in Red Hook, Brooklyn, has the gift of turning the Gospel into thrilling oratory; his sermons are poems on fire. “It should not be,” he thunders, “that the only God is football and rap!” He thumps his copy of the Bible and shouts, “Meet my gangsta! Meet my social network!” In Spike Lee’s ragged melodrama, Enoch has a new potential convert in his bookworm grandson Flik (Jules Brown), who is up from Atlanta for the summer. Whether preaching the Commandments he doesn’t always follow or denouncing the incursion of investment bankers into a poor black neighborhood, Enoch is a magnificent series of contradictions. And Clarke Peters, author of the ’90s West End and Broadway hit Five Guys Named Moe, radiates a charismatic presence, with a voice that’s as potent and plangent an instrument as Ornette Coleman’s saxophone.

2. Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Fox Searchlight Pictures 

 Preparing his film about life and death in the lush, imperiled Bathtub section of the Louisiana delta, first-time feature director Benh Zeitlin auditioned more than 3,500 children for the main role, conceived by playwright-screenwriter Lucy Alibar as a boy or girl ages 10 to 15. Then 5-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis showed up and, Zeitlin recalled, he was “looking at a warrior. It’s not at all who the character was, and it’s not at all who you were imagining, but it’s so clear that [her] spirit is exactly the spirit of the movie.” As an Alice let loose in a watery wonderland, enduring threats to her home and family, and encountering all manner of wild Southern beasts, the lovely, wiry Wallis seems to live through each of Hushpuppy’s moods, fears and visions. She could be the youngest performer ever nominated for an Oscar; anyway, she ought to be.


1. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as Georges and Anne in Amour

Sony Pictures Classics (2)


Georges and Anne, in their 80s, have been together for ages; maybe they thought they would live forever. But when she falls victim to two crippling strokes, he honors her wish to stay at home by caring for her, eventually alone, in their Paris apartment. An On Golden Pond without the golden sunsets, but with a warmth unprecedented in the films of the eminent Austrian Michael Haneke, Amour is the purest fable of love at the end of life. As Georges and Anne are inseparable, so is the work of the actors who bring them to crotchety, luminous life. Both stars of French cinema since the 1950s — Jean-Louis Trintignant in … And God Created Woman, Emmanuelle Riva in Hiroshima mon amour — they never appeared together in a full feature before Amour, but they make the couple seem like eternal soul mates, their twinned lives spinning toward a final act of love.