Top 25 Film Performances of 2010


2010 boasted some particularly great performances and I am very excited to share what I think were the 25 that stood out the most. I’ll list 10-25 alphabetically and then list the top 10 alphabetically. It seemed odd to rank performances to such the extreme degree of “this performance was better than this and this was better than those two”. There were many many performances that left me moved, impressed and even in awe that failed to make this list. Who do you think gave the best performances this year?

10-25 (in alphabetical order)

Christian Bale – Dickie Eklund – The Fighter
Bale captures the mannerisms of the real Dickie as well as the push and pull between his own selfishness and the moments he becomes aware of himself and the damage he has caused.  Unfortunately, all the hype led to me from being aware I was watching a performance the entire time. While I was unable to lose myself in the performance, I was able to become lost in my admiration for it.  His upcoming Oscar won’t be undeserved though as this ranks among his best work.


Jim Carrey – Steven Russell – I Love You Phillip Morris
There are some that are going so far as to call this Carrey’s best work to date. I would not definitively go that far but this certainly is one of his best performances and marks a return to form for the actor. Phillip Morris could have easily become a one note hustler character. Carrey is able to infuse sincerity amidst all of the lies as well as balance memorable comedic moments, his underrated ability to deliver lines that bring so much more comedy to the dialogue and his dramatic chops which he shows off here as well. Carrey gets to do everything imaginable here and it pays off big time.


Lars Eidinger – Chris – Everyone Else
With this film and Blue Valentine, the two central performances should be counted as one as they are so dependent on each other. While co-star Birgit Minichmayr has the more eccentric role, it is the slowly emerging identity crisis within Chris that is the catalyst for the changed dynamic between the couple. The way he is able to show the audience what he is thinking without saying much is an accomplishment. His dynamic with Minichmayr is unlike anything I’ve seen in a film before with its authenticity.


Ryan Gosling – Dean – Blue Valentine
I found Gosling’s Dean to be more than a little annoying. His way of picking apart everything his wife says, his inability to either have a serious conversation or to shut up for one second got a bit grating. This is by no means a flaw in the film; bring on the unlikable characters I say. Gosling dives into his heavily improvised portrayal of Dean. By the film’s end, the audience knows Dean very well and the relationship and dynamic he constructs with Williams’ Cindy is to be greatly admired. He is able to insert an unexpected amount of humor into the film which lightens the load just enough.  The actor continues to give exciting and vital performances that solidify his already impressive career.


Rebecca Hall – Rebecca – Please Give
Hall’s best performance this year and to date came not from the Red Riding Trilogy or from The Town but from Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give (which has quite possibly the best ensemble acting from 2010). She plays Rebecca, a shy but very honest woman who has to contend with her selfish sister Mary and her greedy but well meaning neighbors Alex and Kate. Helped by a very strong script, she is given plenty to work with and a lot of time to allow us to see how her character lives in the world.


John Hawkes – Teardrop – Winter’s Bone
I opted for choosing Hawkes’ performance as the intimidating  Uncle Teardop over Jennifer Lawrence’s Ree. That alone should be a testament to how difficult this list was to do. I’ve been a Hawkes fan for a couple of years now and he transforms himself every time I see him. This is no different and his scenes have an electricity to them from his unpredictability. I truly hope that he get the Oscar nomination he deserves. He actually has a shot at one and hopefully will get his due.

Kim hye-ja – Mother – Mother
Thankfully getting the acclaim she deserves for her stellar work, Kim Hye-ja is infinitely watchable as the Mother whose unassuming earnestness greatly contrasts the story director Bong Joon-ho puts her in.

Katie Jarvis – Mia – Fish Tank
Jarvis, an unprofessional who director Andrea Arnold discovered by chance for the film gives a raw and natural performance as a hard edged girl growing up and navigating through a number of challenges, some of which she deals with in ill advised ways.

Julianne Moore – Jules – The Kids Are All Right
I opted for Moore’s performance over Bening’s also excellent work. Her performance in A Single Man last year was disappointing not because it was overwrought and miscast. Here she is magnificent as the child-like Jules. Her mannerisms, speech patterns and characterization go far beyond what other actresses would have most likely brought to it. It is subtle and effective work by an actress who is better than most when she hits all the right notes, as she does here.

Carey Mulligan – Cathy – Never Let Me Go
Choosing one performance from Mark Romanek’s intensely devastating mood piece was a toss up. Andrew Garfield and Keira Knighley arguably give their best work here as well. It’s Mulligan’s performance (her best) that struck me the most. Cathy has to deal with an unspoken crush and looming death all while being repressed from the environment the Halisham children grow up. She is able to express so much without saying anything.

Cillian Murphy – John/Emma Skillpa – Peacock
The year’s most underrated performance comes from a direct to DVD flop. Peacock is a film with a fascinating yet ridiculous premise that starts out well enough but crumbles with the entrance of Ellen Page’s character (all the script’s fault). Here is another career best performance making its way onto the list. It certainly functions a a piece of showcase acting. The question is will Murphy be good enough to get the audience to buy into what it want us to? The answer is yes. Murphy seamlessly depicts two separate personalities, giving each depth and showing a great deal of range. It is impossible not to admire the ambitious and successful acting at work.

Noomi Rapace – Lisbeth Salander – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
One of 2010’s most transformative pieces of acting. She is what holds this film together (I’m not the biggest fan of the way the novel was adapted. The word lifeless comes to mind). Rapace is Lisbeth Salander. She perfectly portrays the awkwardness of the character without losing her uncompromising edge. She is the reason I was weary about the Fincher adaptations. She is the definitive Salander. With Rooney Mara’s pic as Salander out though, I am officially on board. While everyone else whines about how Mara looks like an unattractive skeleton, I’ll be admiring how great she looks. Rapace will always be Salander, but at least Mara looks able to fill her shoes.

Ben Stiller – Roger Greenberg – Greenberg
Aah, the character and film that inspired so much hate from so many. The blind rage disillusioned some from seeing how strong Stiller is here. He succeeds in that he is unwilling to give the audience a break. He plays the character the way it was written and refuses to relate to the audience so they sympathize or care. The actor trusts and accepts that there will be people who care about the film and people who don’t. By staying true to the defense mechanisms of Greenberg, Stiller reminds us that he is capable of strong dramatic work and makes us wish he would do more.

Emma Stone – Olive – Easy A
There is no amount of sufficient praise that can do justice to Stone’s revelatory and starmaking performance as Olive. She took a film that was passable (certainly above average in the current state of teen films) and turned it into a highly entertaining showcase. Females are still being forced into stereotypical positions by comedy filmmakers. It is a significant problem as women are frequently allowed to have no fun in comedies. For Stone to show this kind of comedic instinct is astonishing. The only thing one can do is watch in awe at what she is able to create out of one measly line or how she can throw a facial expression in that you don’t expect.


Michelle Williams – Cindy – Blue Valentine
Cindy is a girl tuck in a situation with no easy solution. Williams balances the early scenes and later scenes with great skill. In the early scenes she cares for her grandmother and has hopes for her life and career. In the later scenes she is trapped, has clearly fallen out of love and can barely go through the motions. The later scenes are where the performance achieves greatness. She conveys being trapped (an emotion women are often asked to show) in a fresh and effective way. She makes us feel her helplessness. There is no right or easy choice and she knows it. Williams makes us understand all of this.

The Top 10 (in alphabetical order)

Jesse Eisenberg – Mark Zuckerberg – The Social Network
Seeing Eisenberg get this level of recognition is satisfying. This is an intimidating performance. His relentless and focused conviction, at times cruel defense mechanisms, deep insecurity and endless ambition are captured perfectly. It is shocking just how much of the tension found in The Social Network comes from Eisenberg’s performance.

Colin Firth – King George VI – The King’s Speech
Last year Firth gave a stunning performance in Tom Ford’s A Single Man. This year, he gives another equally impressive performance. The role is definitely meant to function as a showcase for the actor. It requires quite a bit from Firth. There are a lot of emotions to play; not only to convey King George’s speech impediment convincingly but to deal with the unwanted transition of becoming a king. Firth has so much to do and makes the film with his winning performance.

Jeon Do-yeon – Shin-ae – Secret Sunshine
Seeing the brutal events that hit Shin-ae’s life are nothing short of devastating to see. Jeon throws everything on the table for us to see and the result is a tough film to watch because of the authenticity. She won Best Actress at Cannes when the film premiered there in 2007.


Catherine Keener – Kate – Please Give

This might be Keener’s best work that I’ve seen. At the very least, it’s her best work since Being John Malkovich. Keener excels partly because the character she is given is so different than most of the film characters one comes across. Keener is being able to play a type of inner conflict rarely seen, mainly because it has nothing to do with a man and entirely to do with her own ideals. It is unfortunately not the type of character that comes along for women often and it must have been a treat for her to act in it (clearly, since she continually appears in Holofcener’s films).

Ben Mendelsohn – Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody – Animal Kingdom
Along with Please Give, the best ensemble acting came from this superb Australian thriller from David Michod. Including stellar work from others like Jacki Weaver (deserving every ounce of the acclaim she has received, Mendelsohn stands out amongst the rest in an underrated performance. His ‘Pope’ is terrifying and unpredictable and filled with layers that go undiscovered but are lurking throughout. Mendelsohn always makes sure we see that there is so much to his character we don’t see; so much being kept hidden. I feel like if this had been played by someone else, ‘Pope’ would have fit more into an archetype. Maybe he was always meant to be this eccentric, but Mendelsohn brings something very original to the film with this performance.

Giovanna Mezzogiorno – Ida Dalser – Vincere
Mezzogiorno’s performance is one of exhilarating extremes. Whether exuding pure eroticism in the early scenes or pure rage and desperation in others, Dalser is a woman punished for loving the wrong man. Mezzogiorno is a force of nature.

Birgit Minichmayr – Gitti – Everyone Else
Gitti is unknowingly selfish, caring, carefree, opinionated, childish and animalistic. Gitti is a lot of things and Minichmayr gives a performance that takes on a life of its own. While dependent on costar Lard Eidinger for an essential dynamic, Minichmayr has to contend with the dynamic change between the couple and goes through a range of emotions that are almost never spelled out for the audience. She conveys all of the ways she tries to reconcile Chris’ change by acceptance, subtle power plays, confrontation and manipulation brilliantly.

Natalie Portman – Nina Sayers – Black Swan
Another career best performance. What hasn’t been said about her work at this point? Everyone seems to be in consistent agreement about Portman’s work as the fragile, emotional and obsessive Nina. Like I said in my review, there is a lot of melodrama in Aronofsky’s latest and an actress not up to the task would have easily drowned in all of it. Portman anchors it and allows the film to reach its full potential in what is the year’s most intense performance.

Hailee Steinfeld – Mattie Ross – True Grit
Despite the appallingly unfair category fraud at work with Steinfeld’s clearly lead performance, it should not detract from just how good the young actress is. She has to carry the film among such actors as Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. We feel like we know Mattie by the end of True Grit and it becomes bittersweet to leave the theater because of her.

Tilda Swinton – Emma – I Am Love
She gave 2009’s best performance with Julia and she comes back again this year with possibly 2010’s best performance. Swinton and director Luca Guadagnino had been discussing and working through this film for over 10 years. She clearly knows her character inside and out and playing the repressed Russian wife lacking an identity in an Italian family is a delight to see. It does not get any better than Swinton when it comes to the craft of acting and the way she plays the realization of her attraction to Antonio and her decision to enter into an affair is as good as character work gets. Even the film’s detractors cannot help but praie Swinton’s work which is uniformly superb.

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6 thoughts on “Top 25 Film Performances of 2010

    1. Catherine says:

      Thank you!! I put it in alphabetical order because I felt weird actually ranking these performances and saying that some were definitively better than others. Thanks for expressing interest in what the ranking would be! I started to try to rank them for you but I got up to 8 and got completely stuck! I know Hailee Steinfeld would be 10 and Giovanna Mezzogiorno would be 9. Beyond that, I really couldn’t say.

  1. Mabbs says:

    Hahahaha the irony… I’m at the part where the nun is singing R.E.S.P.E.C.T. (the title of my most recent blubbering manger blog directed at my mother) … manger is anger and madness put together…. I was reading your review when i say your twitter update that you were watching airplane and i instantly felt a bond. haha.. your review is great and definitely made me watch several of these movies! How come I hadn’t heard of some of these? There’s quite a few that don’t seem really mainstream

    ps; couldnt agree more with you on several of these… the rest i have intent to watch now!

    I just watched 127 hours… if you watch movies in theatres… don’t watch this one in theatres.. i think i’m goina write a little review on how i felt while i watched it.. i always struggle with reviews because i dont believe in people spoiling the ending.. but this one is kinda tough to do.. everyone knows how it ends.. have you seen it? howd u feel about it?

    1. Catherine says:

      Haha, there are so many Airplane moments that I forget about! I’ve only seen it a couple of times so it’s not as well known to me as a film as watchable as Airplane! should be which is why I’m taken aback at just how funny it is. I hope you enjoy any films that you end up watching because it was on this list! And thank you very much for the comment! I have seen 127 Hours in theaters. I liked it a lot but I didn’t love it. James Franco was excellent and there were long segments that were really effective. Danny Boyle’s direction was where I had problems at times and prevented me from loving it. It is over directed at times and ruined some of it for me. Overall though I thought it was good. I’d love to read whatever you end up writing on it when you post it! : )

  2. Mad props for mentioning Katie Jarvis’s performance in Fish Tank, even though I think of that as a 2009 movie, though I’m pretty sure it didn’t come to the States until 2010. Nonetheless, for a first time actress in such a daring role? She’s fanfuckingtastic. Especially alongside someone as practiced as Michael Fassbender. Their chemistry is amazing. All in all, great list!

    1. Catherine says:

      Thank you! Jarvis and Fassbender had such great chemistry, I completely agree. Yeah, a lot of people consider it a 2009 film but I always count the US release date for the year and it did come out in early 2010. I’m really excited to see Andrea Arnold’s other film Red Road and her upcoming adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Cannot wait to see how they turns out!

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