Oddly I find it much harder to be impressed by male actors than their female counterparts, but this year was actually full of really impressive performances, especially after the rather underwhelming crowd last year (though Jeremy Renner's work in "The Hurt Locker" is simply fantastic).
5. Colin Firth - "The King's Speech"
If you think about it, Firth really doesn't have THAT much dialogue in the whole movie - yet he is able to create a fantastic character. His stutter isn't just a physical impairment, it comes from every fiber of his very being and Firth makes Bertie's journey so relatable for the audience.
4. James Franco - "127 Hours"
Franco's challenge is obvious - to hold the screen with almost no supporting cast for the duration of an entire film. But, with his ever expressive eyes and his brilliant energy, we the audience are completely captivated by Ralston's struggle. Franco skews his natural charisma as the film goes along so that we never lose hope for Ralston, even if he's losing hope himself.
3. Ryan Gosling - "Blue Valentine"
It may miss the point of the film to call Gosling the heart of "Blue Valentine", but his performance, more than any other aspect of the film, is charged with a real emotional intensity that is simply devastating. Dean's fight for what he considers a "perfect family" ends up tearing his marriage apart but his constant and failing attempts are portrayed so painfully and convincingly by Gosling. Oh, and I know everyone's already said it but "You always hurt the ones you love" is one of the best acted scenes of the year.
2. Aaron Eckhart - "Rabbit Hole"
It's shocking how unnoticed Eckhart went throughout awards season. His quiet performance never steals momentum from Kidman, and yet it stands alone so brilliantly and ends up being so heartbreaking. Eckhart layers his character so well that when the breakdown finally does happen it's impossible not to be completely destroyed with him.
1. Jesse Eisenberg - "The Social Network"
Ever since "The Squid and the Whale", I've always thought that Eisenberg had potential - but nothing prepared me for the brilliance that was his work in "The Social Network". Eisenberg is so subtle it's shocking, every emotion lying slightly underneath this facade that Mark creates for himself, Eisenberg always able to show so much while doing so little. Though the snappy, smart alecky dialogue is particularly well played, it's the subtle turns of emotion (such as in the "did I answer your condescending question?" scene) that are truly stunning.
Jeff Bridges grumbles and mumbles his way amazingly through "True Grit", and the amount of emotions he expresses with his one eye is simply awesome; Ben Stiller is kind of polarizing but I found his performance in "Greenberg" to be perfectly simple droll and ultimately affecting; Ben Mendelsohn is frighteningly unhinged in "Animal Kingdom"; Anyone saying Michael Cera plays the same character every time is missing out on all the hilarious little subtleties he injects into "Scott Pilgrim vs the World"; Leonardo DiCaprio does a perfect spiral into madness in "Shutter Island".
Just Missed It:
Oliver Platt in "Please Give", Alexei Guskov in "The Concert", Christos Stergioglou in "Dogtooth"
Ya'll know the drill. Comments below!