' Cinema Romantico: Finest of the 00's: Top 10 Performances of the Decade

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Finest of the 00's: Top 10 Performances of the Decade

These are not just my favorite movie performances of the decade but my favorite movie characters of the decade and, of course, they are my favorite movie characters in no small part because of the performances.

10. Billy Crudup as Russell Hammond, "Almost Famous" (2000). Yes, I'm marginally biased in his favor. Deal with it. But you also saw the same movie I did so you saw him ground fictional guitar (golden) god Russell Hammond completely without losing the edge, cockiness, or cruelty. I love the moment when they walk through the airport after the near-crash and the young journalist who has been on the road with them stops because he is finally leaving them behind and only Russell stops too and then Crudup does about ten different things with his face in six seconds.

9. Amy Adams as Ashley Johnsten, "Junebug" (2005). Just watch this.

8. John Cusack as Rob Gordon, "High Fidelity" (2000). Released in the third month of the first year of the decade this might be the forgotten great performance of the decade. It was given by a man everyone knows, and everyone seems to love, who often does not seem to receive the adulation he deserves for his acting and his music obsessed Rob Gordon, an earnest asshole, is supremely delicate work. That, and he breaks the fourth wall and you never even think about the fact he's breaking the fourth wall. No one's broken the fourth wall better.

7. Kate Winslet as Clementine Kruczynski, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004). She's got the colored hair and the crazy clothes and she drags potential suitors to the frozen river Charles and happily proclaims herself to be a "vindictive little b----" but in the hands of our greatest actress she is not a characture but a living, breathing, complex woman burned into our memories just like she is burned into the memory of Jim Carrey's Joel Barrish. Only Kate Winslet could overshadow a person who just happens to be giving the performance of his career.

6. Amy Ryan as Helene McCready, "Gone Baby Gone" (2007). Seeing this performance as an alcoholic, coke-snorting, drug mule mother whose neglect sets in motion the story is the same as hearing Public Enemy's "Welcome to the Terrordome" for the first time. When it's over you're left like someone tied to a tree during a hurricane. In three words? Force Of Nature.

5. Laura Linney as Samantha Prescott, "You Can Count On Me" (2000). Let us consider two moments in particular, both in which Linney, as Samantha Prescott, a single mother of a young child, finds herself riding a car. In the first she is by herself, having just had sex with her married boss. She is remorseful, then happy, then elated, then remorseful again. Later, she is riding with a guy she was seeing but who then asked her to marry him and who then she stopped seeing but is now helping her out in a delicate situation and she looks at him and you realize she thinks that maybe this guy isn't so bad. Maybe she should give him another chance. Maybe they could get married. Or they could at least start down a real path to see if that's a good idea.

And she does everything I just said without ever saying a single word.

4. Mark Ruffalo as Terry Prescott, "You Can Count On Me" (2000). Of this performance Neil Labute, the writer/director of "In the Company of Men" and "The Shape Of Things", amongst others, said this of Ruffalo: "(A) guy who makes you believe Brando wasn't a fluke but a lovely virus that only afflicts a lucky few." And there is something very, very Brando-esque about Ruffalo's work here. I've always liked him, even in the rom com crap he is still winning, but this performance, as the ragtag, drifting brother of Laura Linney, is so vulnerable and so pathetic yet has such presence and such command it really is the closest modern day equivalent you will find to Terry Malloy of "On the Waterfront". (Is it coincidence Ruffalo's character in this is named....Terry? You be the judge.)

3. Kelly Macdonald as Kate Frazier, "The Merry Gentleman" (2009). An immense valuer of privacy, she seems filled with much sadness but counters it with a brightness, a resolve, a passion that is no put-on but entirely sincere. Her greatest weakness may be that she feels everything too much and that, my friends, is a feeling to which I can totally relate. You often see movie characters and think how you would like to go out and meet that person on the street. I have never wanted to go out and meet a movie character on the street more than Macdonald's Kate Frazier.

2. Hilary Swank as Maggie Fitzgerald, "Million Dollar Baby" (2004). When it comes to Swank's work as a female boxer following her passion down to the awful end it's best just to leave boilerplate like "she was really believable" or "a wholly credible performance" or "resembling a young Sissy Spacek" out of it. She is Maggie Fitzgerald. Swank inhabits every last fiber of this character's being. She reaches the sort of rarefied air even many of the greats have never achieved - complete transformation.

The #1 Performance of the Decade? Check back tomorrow.

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