1. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)- There must be something about Paul Thomas Anderson that gets such raw, elemental performances for his movies. Phoenix, after his faux crazy odyssey, gives The Master such ferocious, filthy life that he managed to beat all the other fantastic roles this year, including the great Daniel Day-Lewis (who also gave Anderson an immortal performance in There Will Be Blood).
2. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)- Though Lincoln is an ensemble drama, it is built from the ground up around a character that needed to be reigned in and humanized. Day-Lewis is not larger than life as our 16th president because that would’ve added layers of cheese to a movie that was already scored by John Williams. His take on Lincoln often appears exhausted, both physically and emotionally, as he should be while overseeing the Civil War while trying to push through the 13th amendment to ban slavery and contend with family drama.
3. Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)- The slow, ruthless decline of Anne during Michael Haneke’s Amour is essential to the movie’s success. From her first, silent stroke at the breakfast table to her crippled, mangled body by the end, this is a performance that required great emotional honesty without overdoing it. She gives one of the most wrenching depictions of hopeless, helpless illness ever.
Arbitrage Directed by: Nicholas Jarecki Written by: Nicholas Jarecki (screenplay) Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth and Brit Marling
Richard Gere gives a phenomenally sly performance in Nicholas Jarecki’s equally sneaky Arbitrage, although when it’s all said and done the movie is content with simply being slick and clever. It weaves a tale of deception and excess out of the generically named New York billionaire Robert Miller (Gere) and his various personal and financial misdealings.
By far the story’s biggest asset is its willingness to leave Miller’s social circle and directly confront issues of class and race. Jarecki lingers on the wealthy lifestyle a little too often, but the man at the center of his movie is never a hero. The bulk of the entertainment comes from watching Gere bring such a manipulative man to vivid life, and though it doesn’t really leave much to think about when the credits roll, it is certainly an engaging and relevant story to tell.
I’m Not There Directed by: Todd Haynes Written by: Todd Haynes & Oren Moverman (screenplay) Starring: Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, and Richard Gere
Where to begin? Here is a movie with almost no beginning and no end, an interwoven tale about both the same person and six very different ones. It’s fitting that a movie about such a radical is filled with radical notions of its own, at least about filmmaking.
Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There is a visionary look into the life and ever-shifting personas of Bob Dylan. You don’t hear his name once during the two-and-a-half hour journey into his head, but at the end you get something you don’t usually get from biopics: a true understanding and examination of the subject. We don’t follow a single artist as they are discovered to have musical talent, inevitably become famous and then acquire famous people problems. All of these things happen in I’m Not There, but to different characters in different ways.