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Overture to Oscar: Best Performances of the Year

February 17, 2011

Each week in the month of February, my posts will somehow be related to that most glorious of golden men: Oscar.  This week – my Top Five list of the most memorable performances of the year by actors/actresses.

5.) Julianne Moore as Jules The Kids Are All Right


Moore is almost always amazing (possible exception:  The Importance of Being Earnest. Earnestly, she was miscast), but as the more free spirited, flighty half of an incredibly wonderful and realistic gay couple, she has the tougher and more overlooked role.  As Jules, she manages in the space of two hours to to make adultery hilarious, make her love of shrubbery and landscaping believable, and show a remarkable and tender love for her two put-together children.  Easily one of the best roles of her career in a movie brimming over with strong performances.

4.) Natalie Portman as Nina Black Swan


While the movie itself seems to be a “love it or hate it” experience, most are willing to agree that Portman’s Nina is one of the most memorable prima ballerinas ever to grace the screen.  Part horror fantasy, part behind the scenes melodrama, Swan’s titular role is a tough one for any actress to tackle, but Portman makes Nina both empathetic and fascinatingly absurd in equal measure.  The final scene of the movie is one of the most beautiful and  ghastly emotional journeys I’ve taken in a movie in years.

3.) Geoffrey Rush as Lionel LogueThe King’s Speech


Whenever playing a real-life personage, it can no doubt be difficult to capture the importance that particular soul has had on both history and legend.  Rush’s charming and earnest portrayal of George VI’s tough and compassionate speech therapist is the heart that holds the story together.  A remarkable man in real life, Rush is careful not to make Logue invincibly saint-like,but lovable and all the more poignant for his flaws.

2.) Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Winter’s Bone


Lawrence’s great breakthrough performance as backwoods teen Ree Dolly wins my vote as the best performance by any actress this year.  Ree’s  quiet but brave journey to put her family back together (despite a community fraught with danger at every turn) after her father’s mysterious disappearance takes place in the midst of Ozark meth lab madness.  Both the movie and Lawrence’s performance are inspiring and almost Shakespearean in their subtle tragedy.  For such a young actress to portray equal parts strength and vulnerability is a minor (and welcome) miracle.

1.) Colin Firth as George VI – The King’s Speech


Firth is a rare actor who can do both comedy and period piece drama with equal success.  As George VI, a man with a supportive nuclear family, but a debilitating speech impediment, he brings the audience into the insular aristocratic world of appearances and polished surfaces.  Thanks to Firth’s skills, we see the slow growth of a frightened but insistent man determined to  rise above his own stumbling points to take help from those who care about him the most.  In the end, Firth shows us a king who was not afraid to be a outstanding father and overall decent human being FIRST, before opening his mind and heart and his soul to a grateful nation of admirers.

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