Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris
In a very general sense, Cotillard plays the muse in Midnight. I recently read an article where Cotillard was interviewed, and asked how she defined a muse. She filled up about half a page discussing the implications of being a muse - the artistic and emotional openness required, the trust, and so much more. Cotillard's complex knowledge of her potentially simple character shows in her irresistible work in Woody Allen's latest, as she turns her fantasy muse into a fascinating mix of complex emotion, motive and mysterious beauty - all while making it look effortless.
Vera Farmiga in Source Code
Speaking of silently complex performances, here we have another that fits into that category. On paper, the character of Goodwin is little more than a cipher to the audience - an expositional plot device. Of course, though, Vera Farmiga would never let her character be ONLY that. Even though the movie skirts around the philosophical questions it wants to ask, Vera is not afraid to question them herself with her performance, as she expresses every doubt, every insecurity and every bit of inner pain through her eyes, while the rest of her physical composure shields it all in a way her character must have been building up for years. It's a perfectly structured and ever-surprising piece of work.
Jennifer Lawrence in X-Men: First Class
There is a lot of good acting in First Class (we already spoke about Fassbender and McAvoy) but Lawrence stands out above the rest. In the first movie I've seen her in since her impressive work in Winter's Bone, Lawrence proves that she's an actress with a bright future ahead of her. Her Mystique is, in a word, organic - everything she does feels totally natural. Even when she's spouting lines as clunky as "mutant and proud", Lawrence comes across with conviction. She's not afraid to show fear, something that's far too sparse in superhero films, and when she's scared, it's a fear from the bottom of her soul. When you consider how much of this performance was done through the guise of CGI, it is truly impressive.
Elle Fanning in Super 8
I've never been a huge fan of Dakota, but I'm starting to find a real affinity for her sister, who does such great work in Super 8. Shedding all signs of child-star pretention, Fanning turns her love interest role into an interesting piece of actorly characterization. It's hard to believe that she is, in reality, the youngest of the entire cast! Her "acting" scene at the train station alone is enough to offer commendation - in that one scene, we see a girl with talent, a sad talent that will probably never be cultivated because of her family life.
Jessica Chastain in The Tree of Life
As the mother figure in The Tree of Life, the soon-to-be-ubiquitous Jessica Chastain has a lot of different roles to fill - matron, fantasy, ideal, and human. She rises to each of these challenges masterfully. Like her costars, Chastain feels real in every frame, and in her beautiful characterization, pulls the audience in from the beginning. Watch as she contrasts a playful chase through the house with her sons to a frightened and angry flee from the kitchen after one of her husband's meltdowns - it's powerful stuff, and of all the stunning elements of The Tree of Life, Chastain is easily the most memorable.