FIRST-HALF FYC: Best Actor

Posted by · 1:57 pm · December 21st, 2010

After a sidestep into the writing races last week, we return to the performance categories in our rundown of notable work from the first half of the year’s release slate. And so we land upon the category that perhaps needs this feature most of all: where the Best Actress conversation still includes some names from the January-to-June window, no leading men from early 2010 are to be found even on the fringes of the awards race.

Of course, when you consider the options, it’s not hard to see why: all the strongest performances came in films that nobody saw, films that the Academy wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, or both. In four of my five selections below, moreover, the actor is operating at a rather higher level than the film around him — and yet it’s here where I think some of the whole year’s most adventurous work in the category is to be found.

I wish it wasn’t quite such a bleak set of films to be celebrating in this of all weeks, but that’s just how it worked out. I’m sure at least one omission will confound some readers, as, I imagine, will one inclusion — but therein lies the fun. Check out my picks after the cut and contribute yours in the comments. Remember: first half.

Casey Affleck, “The Killer Inside Me”

Forgive the lazy shortcut, but my Berlin take on Affleck’s icily precise lead turn as a murderous sheriff in Michael Winterbottom’s uneven Jim Thompson adaptation still says everything I want to say: “Reprising the slithery adaptability of his Oscar-nominated Robert Ford, but with more straight-backed charm, he’s ideally cast here and knows it, wielding his unnervingly milky gaze like a weapon in every scene. Something in Affleck’s easy shuffle between yes-ma’am compliance and leery reticence somehow puts me in mind of the young Henry Fonda; a great American character actor might be in the making here.”

Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, “Father of My Children”

No lead actor in 2010 was given more notes to play in a more curtailed stretch of screen time than de Lencquesaing, whose daughter Alice I already singled out for praise in the first of these columns. As a fictionalized version of the late French producer Humbert Balsan, the actor balances the genial exterior of a smoothly scrappy industry pro and devoted family man with a mounting sense of unspoken, unshared panic; as the carefully built fences between these states collapse into one another, de Lencquesaing’s performance flirts with hope before abruptly breaking your heart.

Brian Geraghty, “Easier With Practice”

This time last year, clean-cut Jersey boy Geraghty was along for the ride as the most undersung member of the “Hurt Locker” ensemble; playing against type in Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s intriguing if problematic debut, however, he makes a thoroughly convincing bid for indie leading-man status. As a lonely writer drawn into a phone-sex relationship that turns unexpectedly intimate, Geraghty is smart enough to avoid the stereotypical surface neuroses such a character could easily invite, probing instead for the source of his self-aware insecurity. So delicately pitched is the performance that we stick with him through the film’s numerous implausibilities and curious trick ending.

Dieter Laser, “The Human Centipede: First Sequence”

There’s nothing gently pitched whatsoever about German veteran Laser’s brazenly insane lead turn in Tom Six’s much-ballyhooed horror exercise: his every gesture and line reading dripping with leering menace and knowing camp, with even his natural accent seemingly amplified for maximum cartoon effect, Laser made for the year’s most irrepressibly hilarious villain. As an economical parody of two B-movie staples—the mad scientist and the maniacal Nazi, with a healthy dose of Udo Kier thrown in—the performance admittedly doesn’t go very deep, but it delights all the same; would that the “Saw” films starred anyone this committed to the cause.

Andy Serkis, “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”

Serkis received a well-deserved 2009 BAFTA nomination for his inspired interpretation of British protopunk star Ian Dury – but sadly, despite the Academy’s well-known weakness for musical biopics, not so much as a whisper of Oscar talk followed when the film crossed the ocean in May. Blame the early release, small distrib or the subject’s own lack of American profile, but Serkis’s performance is a wild, mercurial thing, nailing both the manic energy of Dury’s live performance style and the quieter tragedy of his emotional and physical disabilities. It’s knockout awards bait in search of a hook, and as eccentric a biopic turn as 2010 had to offer.

Who were your favorite leading men from the year’s first half? Have your say in the comments. Next week: Best Actress.

[Photos: IFC Films, Lantern Lane Entertainment, Tribeca Films]




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27 responses so far

  • 1 12-21-2010 at 2:05 pm

    Yih said...

    I assume the omission you’re referring to is Leo in Shutter Island…because you’re right, that confounds me. I found that to be one of his best performances in his career.

  • 2 12-21-2010 at 2:13 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    I’m surprised that you didn’t mention Ben Stiller’s arguably career-best work in Greenberg.

    I thought The Killer Inside Me was a piece of shit, but I guess Affleck’s performance was admirable. Now, if Dieter Laser plays his cards right, he could be a great B-movie actor. Boy does he know how to ham it up in all the best ways.

  • 3 12-21-2010 at 2:17 pm

    Bernard said...

    I absolutely love this series. I’ve only seen two of these performances (Affleck and Laser), but I think they’re pretty solid recommendations.

    My 1st Half Best Actor FYC:
    – Mel Gibson (Edge of Darkness) – The movie has a ton of issues, but Gibson isn’t one of them. Look past the tabloid drama and you’ll see a performance that adroitly balances the sort of simmering rage Gibson has displayed so many times in his career (Braveheart, Payback, etc) with a genuine note of melancholy.

    – Leonardo DiCaprio (Shutter Island) – I’m an unabashed believer in Shutter Island and the key cog that makes it work is DiCaprio’s superb performance. Far more interesting and nuanced than his more profitable work in Inception, DiCaprio’s gradual descent into madness is a site to behold. For fear of spoilers I’ll only say that his scenes with Michelle Williams are still some of my favorite of 2010.

    Colin Farrell (Ondine) – One of the most underrated movies of 2010 showcases three fantastic performances. Farrell’s work has really matured in recent years and I hope roles like this help garner him the respect deserves.

    Timothy Olyphant (The Crazies) – Typical horror schlock elevated into the second best horror movie of 2010 (behind Let Me In) by three core performances that bring more to the material than the sort of movie ever typically receives. Olyphant is a superb leading man and has wonderful chemistry with Radha Mitchell.

    Ricardo Darin (The Secret in Their Eyes) – The best foreign made crime thriller of 2010, sorry Lisbeth lovers, is carried by the romantic dynamic of its two lead actors.

    I’d also note Andrew Garfield in Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974, which is sadly ineligible because of its television roots. Or, perhaps, Michael Sheen in The Special Relationship (again excluded for TV roots). I believe Secret in Their Eyes is also ineligible, but it’s just the ‘nominated the prior year’ nonsense so I’m going to ignore that.

  • 4 12-21-2010 at 2:19 pm

    Bernard said...

    I’d also add Ciaran Hinds in The Eclipse to the conversation, middling movie with a great performance.

  • 5 12-21-2010 at 2:25 pm

    Pete said...

    Bernard, I agree that Colin Farrell did a noteworthy job in Ondine. With careful selection of roles, he will be an Oscar nominee before long.

    Casey Affleck was brilliant in The Killer Inside Me, a further reminded that he should have taken the Oscar for Assassination.

    Ewan McGregor stood out in The Ghost Writer, striking the right notes of befuddlement and attraction and flattery at being chosen. It was a performance worthy of a Hitchcock protagonist.

  • 6 12-21-2010 at 2:50 pm

    Joe7827 said...

    The performance of the year is Denzel Washington’s in The Book of Eli. It is his best work.
    I just saw Cyrus, and I have to say, John C. Reilly was pretty good in that. What – were the Globes napping when that movie was showing? And it’s obviously not his best work, but Robert Downey Jr. was same-old-same-old great in “Iron Man 2”.

  • 7 12-21-2010 at 3:44 pm

    Jeremy said...

    I’ll echo the love for DiCaprio in “Shutter Island” — a better performance than his work in “Inception” simply because he carries the entire film. I’d also mention David Roberts for “The Square” and Ricardo Darín for “The Secret in Their Eyes”, though I’m uncertain as to the former’s Oscar eligibility and I know the latter is precluded due to its Foreign Film nomination last year.

  • 8 12-21-2010 at 3:59 pm

    Graysmith said...

    Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island, a great performance that sadly has been forgotten at year’s end.

    Ben Stiller in Greenberg, he’s still in my top five.

    Ewan McGregor in The Ghost Writer. Not a flashy, awards-y performance, but worth noting.

    Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 2. Even though the movie and the performance were nowhere near as good as the first time around, Downey still just makes it all so much more entertaining. I can’t even imagine these movies with another actor.

  • 9 12-21-2010 at 4:53 pm

    Pete said...

    The greatness of Anthony Hopkins in YWMATDS towers over both halves of the year.

  • 10 12-21-2010 at 6:08 pm

    seasondays said...

    i couldn’t agree more with CASEY AFFLECK’s performance, he makes that movie worth watching

  • 11 12-21-2010 at 7:03 pm

    Patryk said...

    Michael Caine in “Harry Brown,” anyone?

  • 12 12-21-2010 at 8:04 pm

    Mitchell said...

    Louis-Do might just be the coolest first name ever.

  • 13 12-21-2010 at 8:50 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Leo – I hate the movie, in fact I hate both movies he was in this year but he was best in the first release out the gate.

  • 14 12-21-2010 at 10:05 pm

    Jasper said...

    Casey Affleck was great in an otherwise bad film; I’m glad people recognize how good he was. I’m also pretty glad that Dieter Laser was mentioned here. He was brilliant!

  • 15 12-21-2010 at 11:33 pm

    Orr said...

    Best performances of male lead this year were outside the American continent.
    I would choose:

    GRIGORY DOBRYGIN – How I Ended Last Summer
    ELIO GERMANO – La Nostra Vita
    and
    GEORGE PISTREREANU – If I want to Whistle I Whistle

  • 16 12-22-2010 at 1:23 am

    Jake D said...

    I thought Brian Geraghty was pretty average in Easier With Practice. Way too much reliance on physical tics; didn’t go deep enough emotionally. Could have been a great movie if he had given a good performance, but it just fell flat.

    The actor at the end though, phenomenal performance.

  • 17 12-22-2010 at 3:07 am

    ChrisG said...

    Really? “Human Centipede” was a lousy film. Just bad. Yes, Laser was great as an Udo-Kier-parody but he was way too ridiculous for a film that took itself way too serious. But since Guy didn’t really say what he thought of the film, maybe he still agrees with this.

  • 18 12-22-2010 at 3:28 am

    Tye-Grr said...

    Casey Affleck, ‘The Killer Inside Me’

    Leonardo DiCaprio, ‘Shutter Island’

    Ewan McGregor, ‘The Ghost Writer’

    Denzel Washington, ‘The Book of Eli’

    Robert Downey Jr., ‘Iron Man 2’

  • 19 12-22-2010 at 7:20 am

    DylanS said...

    The lack of recognition for Leo in “Shutter Island”, especially at the hands of “The Human Centipede” is pretty ludicrious. Even if the film is nothing more than an entertaining excercise in style, Leo is the best thing about it.

  • 20 12-22-2010 at 8:04 am

    Koto said...

    Jim Sturgess, British cult director,Philip Ridley’s”Heartless”.

    LA times says,…”Although it’s called “Heartless” (for several key reasons including an especially gruesome one), this compelling psychological horror-thriller contains a tremendous amount of heart. That would be largely thanks to a moving and deeply sensitive lead performance by Jim Sturgess (“Across the Universe,” “21”) as Jamie, a shy East Londoner disfigured by wine-colored birthmarks and haunted by the decade-old death of his beloved father (Timothy Spall), who lands on a nightmarish collision course with demonic forces.”

    AICN’s Capone says…”I’ll be the first to admit, the film’s star, Jim Sturgess, was one of those guys who just never really had me convinced he had anything to give the acting world. I wasn’t a fan of either ACROSS THE UNIVERSE or 21, but then I caught his leading role in the IRA-themed 50 DEAD MEN WALKING and my opinion of him began to turn. I’m hearing very good things about his work in the upcoming THE WAY BACK, but nothing quite prepared me for what he pulls off in Heartless, in which he plays the reclusive Jamie,””The film is scary, beautifully acted, and I never knew quite where it was going. But once it got there, my heart started racing. And none of it would have worked nearly as well without Sturgess’ fearless performance. I’m actually glad he is shunning the cutesy stuff right now, and challenging himself at every turn. But even I was shocked by what he achieves in HEARTLESS. “

  • 21 12-22-2010 at 8:06 am

    Bernard said...

    Loved Sturgess in Heartless but the movie came out on 11/19, not 1st half.

  • 22 12-22-2010 at 8:27 am

    James D. said...

    Dammit, I need to see Father of my Children.

    Tahar Rahim of A Prophet and Ben Stiller of Greenberg would be in my list. So would Lars Eidinger of Everyone Else.

  • 23 12-22-2010 at 10:23 am

    Rob said...

    Ben Stiller, “Greenberg”
    Thomas Haden Church, “Don McKay”
    John C. Reilly, “Cyrus”
    Ciaran Hinds, “The Eclipse”
    Andrew Garfield, “Red Riding”
    Leonardo DiCaprio, “Shutter Island”
    Tahar Rahim, “A Prophet”

  • 24 12-22-2010 at 12:12 pm

    So far? said...

    BEST ACTOR
    Leonardo DiCaprio – Inception
    Paul Giamatti – Barney’s Version
    James Franco – 127 Hours
    Javier Bardem – Biutiful
    Matt Damon – Hereafter

    BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
    John Hawkes – Winter’s Bone
    Bill Murray – Get Low
    Vincent Cassel – Black Swan
    Barry Pepper – True Grit
    Max Von Sydow – Shutter Island

    BEST ACTRESS
    Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone
    Natalie Portman – Black Swan
    Hailee Steinfeld – True Grit
    Mia Wasikowska – Alice in Wonderland
    Bodil Jorgensen – Nothing’s All Bad

    BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
    Ellen Page – Inception
    Mille Lehfeldt – Nothing’s All Bad
    Yeong-hie Seo – Bedeviled
    Mila Kunis – Black Swan
    Elizabeth Keener – Please Give

  • 25 12-22-2010 at 12:13 pm

    Bernard said...

    ^^^^

    Missed the point…

  • 26 12-22-2010 at 4:01 pm

    John said...

    1. Leo (Shutter Island)
    2. Michael Caine (Harry Brown)
    3. Russell Brand (Get Him to the Greek)(hey, Golden globes, what were you thinking?)

  • 27 12-23-2010 at 10:58 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Koto: Copying and pasting critics’ quotes isn’t particularly interesting or useful. Why not tell us why you admire the performance?

    But yes, everyone, first half, first half, first half. I was hoping the concept might have sunk in by now.

    Oh, and I really don’t like Leo in Shutter Island. I’m not just being perverse.