Top 51 Performances of the 00s – Part I: 51-26

Just as a few of my posts are inspired by other posts by awesome bloggers, this idea was taken from Jeff S.C. Presents, who kindly allowed me to mooch off of him.

I feel like these next posts are pretty explanatory. Each decade has its fair share of good and bad performances; the amazing this about this is that there is always great stuff to keep an eye out for in the movie world! Here, I’m focusing on a particularly recent decade, the 00s. My intentions for this are probably to show that budding talent still exists in this day and age, and classic performances can be deemed brilliant even if they aren’t decades old.

Just a few points to make before I begin. Of course, these are all of my own personal opinion. Thus, there will be some choices that some may deeply disagree with (and with a few of my choices, I could totally see that). This is fine; I’m not saying that these are the bonafide “best” performances, just personal favorites. I initially wanted a nice even number of 50 performances, but I decided to go with 51 for reasons I will elaborate on later. Finally, I should note that my choice of ranking for these performances are relatively loose. None are set in stone and on a different day or time, they could be ranked totally differently. So if you’re pissed because your favorite actor is ranked below an actor you despise, just know that I love them all and in my own little world, every performer is equally as awesome as the next.

And now we shall commence!

51) Choi Min-Sik as Oh Dae-su
Oldeuboi (Oldboy) (2003) – dir. Park Chan-wook

One of the worst things I ever did as a cinephile – albeit a young one – was watch Oldboy for the first time on Netflix Instant… with terrible English dubbing. Though I didn’t have the advantage of seeing the *full* performance, I was still completely absorbed by Choi as the deranged protagonist in our story of sadistic revenge. He truly owned his role in this one, becoming as convincingly disturbed as his character needed to be. Truly befit for a tale as twisted as this.

50) Will Ferrell as Harold Crick
Stranger Than Fiction (2006) – dir. Marc Forster

I find this film to be one of the most underrated of the decade, and I think it’s because of the stigma of our main actor. Honestly, Ferrell’s performance is pretty great here. It’s mostly subdued (which is unusual for him), yet still shows off his range. His romantic chemistry with Maggie Gyllenhaal in this film is a highlight. I think for such an outlandish narrative, a likable character one can sympathize with is greatly needed. Fortunately, he succeeds on all fronts.

49) Oksana Akinshina as Lilja
Lilja 4-Ever (2002) – dir. Lukas Moodysson

Dear lord, this film is depressing. Yet with its intense emotion and dark substance, it’s probably my favorite of Moodysson’s film. A lot of this has to do with Akinshina’s performance who, at the tender age of fifteen, totally owns the film. While generally minimalist, she is able to explode with sadness and terror at just the appropriate moments. Because of this, the pure tragedy of her story is magnified. Lilja is transformed into a character want to give our full attention to – and probably a few long hugs as well.

48) Lars Rudolph as János Veluska
Werckmeister harmóniák (Werckmeister Harmonies) (2000) – dir. Béla Tarr

I’m not sure if there are very many filmmakers who carries as great of a flair for tremendously muted style as Tarr. As noted by Rudolph, it could be assumed that his actors tend to follow suit. His performance is subtle enough that it doesn’t feel like acting, but rather a “performance” for a documentary. However, his range in emotion is not always so stoic, and as we follow him along the tedious narrative, his wild-eyed demeanor only heightens the intensity. So much in Werckmeister contributes to its ingenious end result, and I think Rudolph is a hefty chunk of that.

47) Emilio Echevarría as El Chivo
Amores Perros (2000) – dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu

I’m generally not a fan of Iñárritu and his interlacing storylines, but I think it’s implicated most successfully in Amores Perros, particularly the bits that focus exclusively on El Chivo. While a lot of the praise for the character can go towards the writer for making him a truly fleshed-out character, Echevarría deserves all the acclaim for performing with such emotional potency, giving us a character we can truly empathize with on his quest for redemption. His final monologue at the very end of the film completely breaks my heart every single time.

46) Trey Parker as Gary Johnson, Joe, Kim Jon Il, et. al.
Team America: World Police (2004) – dir. Trey Parker

(I might be cheating a bit here, but I don’t care; this is my list and I’ll do what I please!)

In lists such as these, voice performances generally don’t get the respect that many very well deserve. Same could be said for comedic performances. However, Team America is a fine, fine example of pure vocal craft being put to full potential. Trey Parker is such a trooper for doing the voice work of so many minor and major characters in this film. And while they are all generally variations of the same voice, he does an amazing job at being funny and that’s what I think matters the most. Also, he sings the entire multi-genred soundtrack as well, which deserves extra brownie points.

45) Julie Delpy as Celine
Before Sunset (2004) – dir. Richard Linklater

This addition to the list could probably apply to Before Sunrise and Midnight as well. There are so many things to admire about Linklater’s romantic trilogy, but I’ve always found myself falling in love with Delpy the most for each. Sunset in particular has found her much more matured, more cynical than in the first installment. Of course, the movie-long interactions with Ethan Hawke are what really seal the deal, but her sad love song near the end of the film (as well as her seductive “Baby, you are going to miss that plane.”) really put the icing on a delicious cake.

44) Thomas Turgoose as Shaun
This is England (2006) – dir. Shane Meadows

I knew I wanted This is England somewhere on my list, since it has quite a number of excellent performances. Which one to use, however, was a bigger problem. I decided to settle with the main protagonist of our tale, played impressively by child actor Turgoose. His character is a testament to charismatic innocence, through the face of someone who is simply looking for a role model. His character development is a sad one, yet managed oh-so convincingly, full of heart and the tragic nuances that come with desensitization. Not bad for a first-timer.

43) Emile Hirsch as Chris McCandless
Into the Wild (2007) – dir. Sean Penn

The first time I watched Into the Wild was shortly after it was released on DVD, and I remember that it made me bawl my eyes out. Nowadays, I know a lot of this has to do with Hirsch’s performance as the ambitious McCandless. He simply has the face for his character, and embodies the characters in ways that make it utterly impossible not to love him. Thus, making his inevitable fate all the more devastating. It is because of this film that I’m willing to defend Hirsch to the death; here’s to hoping he decides to take on more profound roles like this one.

42) Penélope Cruz as Maria Elena
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) – dir. Woody Allen

Although I’m never totally satisfied with Allen’s recent work, it’s clear to see that he really knows how to direct actresses. Besides Cate Blanchett’s exceptional performance in this year’s Blue Jasmine, Penélope Cruz offers a whirlwind of a performance that is introduced only halfway through the movie. And boy does she deliver. I usually love her in Almodóvar’s films, but here, her spitfire line-reading is at full volume. Wonderful, vibrant, even a little bit crazy, her presence is precisely the kind of European flair that certainly livens up an otherwise drab film.

41) Kim Hye-ja as Mother
Madeo (Mother) (2009) – dir. Bong Joon-ho

As a different sort of revenge flick, Bong’s Mother turns the conventional image of the nurturing, protective mother on its head. Kim is absolutely magnificent in her role, brimming with the utmost, unmistakable intensity that, in the end, could only stem from a mother’s love for her child. She plays in the role with nuanced flair that fires with emotion at the most appropriate moments. She is cold at the front, yet heated and spiteful at her very core. In all, she leads the show, putting her titular role to full potential and taking a run for everything else.

40) Hilary Swank as Erin Gruwell
Freedom Writers (2007) – dir. Richard LaGravenese

I know what you’re thinking, but no I have not seen that movie yet. Therefore, this will stand in for the Swank performance, who I do believe is a genuinely great actor. She is absolutely perfect in her role as an idealistic teacher going against the grain and succeeding. She comes across as professional, yet carefree and not-so conventionally stern as one would think the role would require. The film itself isn’t really all that great, but what it does exceed at is its performances. And Swank’s interactions with the very well-acted young cast makes it all worthwhile, despite the rest of the flick’s shortcomings.

39) Bill Paxton as Dad Meiks
Frailty (2001) – dir. Bill Paxton

Bill Paxton to me always seemed like the guy who appeared in starring/supporting roles of ‘okay’ movies. With this kept in mind, I think his performance in Frailty is incredibly underrated. As a psychopathic killer with delusions over his being God’s chosen one, his character is in competition for being the worst father of all time. Indeed Paxton plays deranged and twisted quite well, and the weight of his performance is heightened by the presences of child actors Matthew O’Leary and Adam Sumpter, who play his children. Truly one of the more terrifying roles in modern cinema.

38) Bill Murray as Steve Zissou
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) – dir. Wes Anderson

Most people would probably cite Murray’s Lost in Translation performance as the best of his career, and they’re probably not wrong. However, I have a strange affinity toward his Steve Zissou character, and while I think he was best in Groundhog Day, this is surely his best role of the 00s. He perfectly embodies the sly deadpan charm he’s so known for, while also effectively portraying a deep, emotional side of his that becomes unraveled in the latter parts of this film. Out of all his Anderson performances, this is my very favorite; he embodies everything wonderful about this film and Zissou himself.

37) Adam Sandler as Barry Egan
Punch-Drunk Love (2002) – dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

Here’s another actor that I have the tendency to despise outside of this film. Sandler’s acting usually delves within the annoying and obnoxious, with little variation. Here, his character is nuanced and brilliant. He is portrayed as socially awkward and prone to fits of violence. This isn’t very different from Sandler’s other roles; however, the genius of this role is that it finds common ground and shows him as a human being you care and sympathize for. And it must be amazing if it makes me actually give a damn about Adam Sandler for an hour and a half. But all seriousness, Punch-Drunk Love is a beautiful film, and he (coupled with the lovely Emily Watson) is a huge reason for this.

36) Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Neil
Mysterious Skin (2004) – dir. Gregg Araki

I was debating between adding this performance or the one for Brick; I opted for the former, since I feel it’s the one that better demonstrates his range. Mysterious Skin is one intense-as-hell film, and while Brady Corbet is also rather effective, I think Gordon-Levitt gives the most passionate performance. His character is traumatized at an early age, and you could practically feel the pain and anguish deviating from his gaze. I’m a sucker for young actors giving truly remarkable performances, and this is one of the best. I’ve yet to see another performance of his that matches this one in intensity, but it’s great to know that he certainly is capable of amazing things.

35) Anaïs Reboux as Anaïs Pingot
À ma sœur! (Fat Girl) (2001) – dir. Catherine Breillat

Gosh, I really do wish I liked this film more than I do. But in spite of its slow descend to an anticlimactic climax, Anaïs Reboux’s performance remains one of my very favorites from a child actor. After seeing countless movies involving the same brand of skinny teenager losing their virginity, Reboux captures the unbearable pain of experiencing puberty as an overweight girl who isn’t conventionally attractive. Her character is so genuine and fleshed-out; I found myself far more interested in her tale than that of her sister’s. It’s such a shame that Reboux has no other acting credits to her name – I could see her having done even more great things!

34) Tom Hardy as Charles Bronson
Bronson (2008) – dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

I personally find Bronson to be one of Refn’s weakest films (I haven’t seen them all); on the other hand, I think Hardy demonstrates one of the more stronger performances. Brutal, violent, and dark in nature, he’s a character you can’t help but hate, and his performance truly succeeds on that level. However, Hardy also shows that such a character can also be vulnerable and confused, displaced from the world around him and very deeply conflicted internally. He totally fits his role both mentally and physically, disappearing into an embodiment of pure terror. Bravo, Mr. Hardy.

33) Anna Faris as Jane F.
Smiley Face (2007) – dir. Gregg Araki

As I’ve mentioned before, comedic performances tend to be underrepresented in lists like these. With that being said, Anna Faris is HILARIOUS in this film. It really isn’t that great of a movie, but I have a special place in my heart for her. Her character requires her to act stoned and paranoid through the entire flick. And guess what? – she totally succeeds! She plays the dumpy, non-glamorous pot smoker so well and is also incredibly charming. I find her to be one of the more overlooked comedic actors of today, and this role was practically made for her. I suggest y’all watch Smiley Face sometime just to revel in all the wonderful faces she makes.

32) Kristen Stewart as Em Lewin
Adventureland (2009) – dir. Greg Mottola

I will forever be on the pro-Kristen Stewart side of the argument for Adventureland alone. No, I didn’t like her work in Twilight, but here it shows that she’s completely capable of being a great performance. She fully immerses herself into her role through the entirety of the film, giving off such a wide range of tender emotion. The romantic relationship between her and Jesse Eisenberg (who I usually don’t care for) feels completely genuine, so very human, and the emotions they emit are believable. Nonetheless, it is she who steals the show. Anyone who says that Stewart can’t act must not have seen this film. Or they’re probably just wrong.

31) Michelle Williams as Wendy
Wendy and Lucy (2008) – dir. Kelly Reichardt

There’s something about really heartbreaking performances that I tend to go for. It must be the masochist in me, but despite all this, Williams is legitimately great in this early role of hers. One could legitimately feel her anguish and suffering reaching outside of the screen, pulling us in. The minimalism of Reichardt’s direction intensifies this, and her situation is completely devastating and crushing. It’s a quiet film and a quiet performance, but one that certainly makes me want to take Wendy in for a cup of tea and a long hug.

30) Ellen DeGeneres as Dory
Finding Nemo (2003) – dir. Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich

Sure, the character arc between Marlin and and his son is super central to Finding Nemo‘s narrative, but I think any child or adult could tell you that Dory steals the show. DeGeneres’ spot-on comedic timing is so vital to the quirk of Dory’s character and she remains one of the funniest, least annoying sidekick characters in all of Pixar’s repertoire. Though she does have short-term memory loss that serves as mostly fodder for gags, the film surprisingly finds a way to incorporate depth in her character via this disorder. Though this is mostly praise toward the writers, I think DeGeneres’ voice acting sculpts her into an extremely likable character whom we can get behind the entire way.

29) Eihi Shiina as Asami Yamazaki
Ôdishon (Audition) (2000) – dir. Takashi Miike

I first watched Audition when I was merely a budding cinephile – and nothing in the world could have prepared me for its sheer mindfuckery. While many things contribute to this, I personally think Shiina’s performance is like no other. Her performance starts off pure and lovely, but quickly descends to sadistic madness. Yet this is concentrated madness, making it all the more terrifying. It still astounds me completely how she could maintain such a character, doing such terrifying line-reading, all while keeping a straight face. This may not be a particularly exceptional performance, for me, but it is a terrific one.

28) Ellen Page as Juno MacGuff
Juno (2007) – dir. Jason Reitman

I love Ellen Page, and before I even knew who she was, I loved her in Juno. It may not be one of the most realistic depictions of teenage pregnancy out there, but it certainly is one of the most entertaining. Page’s line delivery is always entertaining, and she captures the “fer suresies” tone of Diablo Cody’s script very well. The great thing about her character is that her relentlessness at being sometimes rather annoying, yet reminding us of her vulnerability and utter naïvety at the most crucial moment. It shows that even as superficial as this film can portray itself as, there’s a bit of genuine humanness lying in our protagonist. No one else can be Juno like she can.

27) Christian Bale as Trevor Reznik
The Machinist (2004) – dir. Brad Anderson

This film will always be known as “that one movie that Christian Bale lost a ton of weight for”. Which is an utter shame, because it’s actually a great film and this may very well be Bale’s finest performance. Standing front and center of this character study, he depicts a thoroughly conflicted individual, battling inner demons and an authentic case of insomnia. Bale’s mere presence in this film illustrates a sense of displacement, intense guilt – and I think his skeletal appearance is only a fraction of the reason. He brings a really strange mood to the table, and the way it unravels from there is nothing short of astounding. This performance is intense in every possible way, and so, so unrecognized.

26) Catinca Untaru as Alexandria
The Fall (2006) – dir. Tarsem Singh

Many people say that Singh’s The Fall is too “style over substance”, “overindulgent”, etc. To them I say, bah! I find it to be a lovely film about the astounding depths of a child’s imagination. At such a young age, Untaru gives a performance of a lifetime, embodying innocent with her adorable demeanor while also being absolutely heartbreaking at key moments. So much about this film has blown me away from the very first viewing, her performance being one of them, and her interactions with protagonist Lee Pace provided just enough weight to make this film simply unforgettable. She hasn’t acted much since this film, but regardless, she’ll always be little Alexandria to me.

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