Best of 2012: The year’s top 10 performances

2012 was certainly a diverse year in terms of subject, style and substance in film, and the performances within them reflected that versatility as well. Below are the top 10 film performances of the year:

Tom Cruise reminds audiences how good of an actor he can be in 'Rock of Ages'
Tom Cruise reminds audiences how good of an actor he can be in ‘Rock of Ages’

10. Tom Cruise, Rock of Ages
Yeah, I said it. Making fun of Cruise the celebrity has become such a cultural blood sport that it’s easy to overlook what a skilled actor he is. But as the Axl-esque Stacee Jaxx, Cruise sketched in a lifetime of cynicism and loneliness. And oh, yeah: he rocks the house.

9. Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Disaster surrounds Wink, the ill father played by Henry in his breakout role. But leave it to the actor to prove that he views his world to be surrounded by nothing more than love.

8. Melissa Leo, Francine
This is a return to Frozen River form for Leo, as a small-town woman recently freed from prison. Her character can’t stop making bad decisions, but her portrayer makes only smart ones.

Anders Danielsen Lie is mesmerizing in 'Oslo, August 31st'
Anders Danielsen Lie is mesmerizing in ‘Oslo, August 31st’

7. Anders Danielsen Lie, Oslo, August 31st
As the recovering drug addict in Joachim Trier’s searing film, Lie doesn’t just embody a day in the life of an addict. He shows us a window into the whole life of someone for whom the world is not enough.

6. Eva Green, Dark Shadows
As perfect a portrayal of deft comic timing and screen sensuality as you’ll see this year. Shadows may have been a forgettable movie, but Green was anything but.

5. Rosemarie Dewitt and Mark Duplass, Your Sister’s Sister
The first of two pairs of performers on this list. It took two of the year’s most assured, complex performances to pull off a look at two of the year’s more effed-up on-screen adults.

Kelly Reilly delivers an under-appreciated performance in 'Flight'
Kelly Reilly delivers an under-appreciated performance in ‘Flight’

4. Kelly Reilly, Flight
Most are talking about Denzel Washington’s star turn in this shallow look at rendition. But pay close attention to Reilly’s wanton character – she’s the one digging deep here.

3. Ann Dowd, Compliance
Character actress and theater vet Dowd pulled off one of the year’s great hat tricks in Craig Zobel’s film. She played ordinary without making it seem boring or predictable, and she played simple without ever condescending to the human being she rendered whole from fade-in to fade-out.

2. Luke Kirby, Take This Waltz
Straddling the line between pursuer and prey, Kirby is the grounding force in Sarah Polley’s otherwise wobbly sophomore feature about a woman caught between two men. And he makes mincemeat of the year’s best monologue.

Helen Hunt and John Hawkes in 'The Sessions'
Helen Hunt and John Hawkes are completely in sync in ‘The Sessions’

1. John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, The Sessions
The two performers are so in sync, not just physically but emotionally, that it would be almost as cruel as the polio that cut Mark O’Brien’s life short to tear these two apart on this list. Folks misuse the term “brave” so often to apply to actors’ penchant to alter their appearance, gain weight or drop trou as though it weren’t simply a part of the job to strip themselves of vanity. No, these two bare their souls as two very disparate people striking the oddest of connections. It becomes clear that this was more than just a job for Cheryl Cohen Greene, Hunt’s sexual surrogate character. And the same is true for both of these – yes, brave – actors.

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