Year-End Movie Survey, Question 4

What were some of your favourite performances in 2005 (either by a main or supporting actor)?

Mickey Rourke in Sin City

2005 was a good year for great performances coming from unexpected places. Mickey Rourke reminded people why he should've been a bigger star with his sweet and moving performance as the plug-ugly brute Marv in Sin City. Paul Giamatti proved once again why he is one of the finest actors working today as he stole whole scenes from Russell Crowe in Ron Howard's rousing Cinderella Man. As Joe Gould, the devoted manager to Crowe's James Braddock, Giamatti gave the movie an extra dose of energy as he played Gould with a unwavering optimism and a fierce streak of loyalty.

The two most underrated performances came early in the year in the woefully underrated romantic-comedy Fever Pitch. Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon made the year's best screen couple in a movie that went for the gentle chuckle instead of the gross-out laugh. Barrymore, with a cuddliness tempered by shades of melancholy, proves she is one of the best romantic comediennes working. Her seemingly effortless charms continue to go unappreciated. And Fallon gave the star performance everyone was waiting for. I pray Fallon doesn't become another shining movie star that no one bothers to notice.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (and Brady Corbet) in 'Mysterious Skin'.

I'll let the others carry on about P.S. Hoffman in Capote, Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice, and the scene-stealin' Mickey Rourke in Sin City. They're all deserved for sure, but certainly not worth reading about by each and every one of us. Moving on...

As much as I want to resent the film for walking that fine line between centrism and Nazi sympathy, I cannot go without acknowledging Bruno Ganz's performance as Adolf Hitler in Downfall. The film itself, I think, is a bit long and has the feel that, well, we've seen this sort of thing before: the last days before the Axis Powers collapse, yadda yadda. Meanwhile, Ganz commands your attention. A sneer here, some kind words to his receptionist, Traudl Junge (played by Alexandra Maria Lara and the actual subject for which the film--and its preceding documentary, Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary--is based) there, then an outburst of rage. It irks me to say it but...a magnificent dictator on film.

Speaking of incredible dictators on film, how about Ian McDiarmid from Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith? It'd be nice to see the Academy give the old Brit a nod for his performance as Chancellor Palpatine/The Emperor as a sort of hats-off to his entire career in the cinema and theater. Not that he will likely win, though. Matt Dillon is getting lots of hype for his bigoted cop in Crash, and certainly Paul Giamatti is in the race for his part in Cinderella Man. That's who I'm rooting for anyway, not because I was so enthralled by his performance as the fight promoter who has "to keep up appearances"--especially in a film that critic David Edelstein (in Slate) best articulated as "a beautifully done piece of utter bullshit"--but because his snub from Oscar last year for his role in Sideways still leaves a cramp in my side.

Penelope Cruz never impressed me as an actress until I watched her a few months ago in the Italian soap opera, Don't Move, where she played the down-on-her-luck working class girl-cum-private dancer upon meeting her new backdoor man (and director, Sergio Castelitto). And, speaking of random obscure performances from across the Atlantic, let's not forget Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi from Francois Ozon's 5x2. For a role that required an actress to play the same dissatisfied lover from college years to motherhood to middle-aged divorcee, the 41-year old pulled it off better than I would imagine. Ok, so she's pretty much an unheard-of, so think of the believability factor in the way we all suckered into Meg Ryan's 20-year-spanning performance from When Harry Met Sally... I mean, really, could you imagine Julianne Moore getting away with a remake of Peggy Sue Got Married?

I've already slobbered enough on Head-On, but Birol Unel and Sibel Kekilli are both worth a mention. So go see the damn movie already. Everyone'll talk about it six months from now, and you'll have the high enough cool quotient to say that, "Oh yeah...that ol' thing."

The last two performances I want to talk about are from an up-and-comer and an A-list actress that, hopefully, will keep her top shelf pedestal. First, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the ill-fated Neil McCormick from Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin: I would have never imagined the little pisher from 3rd Rock from the Sun turning in such an intense performance. He's a confused, scumbag, narcissistic piece of ass trash, all right, but plays the part as vulnerable as any proverbial hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold on film. He boasts in front of his fag-hag and nelly friends like the cock of the walk, and it's all so tragic. When the closeted homo rapes Neil in that seedy motel room, it's like you knew it was coming. And so did Neil.

Second and lastly, Jennifer Connelly's performance in Dark Water might be the most overlooked of any from this year. The film itself was haunting and gorgeous (if I acquiesced to the top ten rule meaning that you have to list an actual top ten, Walter Salles' adaptation of Koji Suzuki's novel would definitely make the list), and it falls in between the same tragic cracks that Chris Kentis' shark tale, Open Water, suffered last year. A hard-marketed "thriller" released near the butt-end of summertime after everyone was burned out on light sabers, Wonka bars, Batmobiles, and frat brats, Dark Water itself was forgotten--and Connelly's performance even more so. The Oscar-winning Catskills native no doubt agrees to top-notch material (Waking the Dead, Requiem for a Dream, House of Sand and Fog) but--Ron Howard's 2001 Oscar bait withstanding--they're all just as easily forgotten by the public, and, moreover, the Academy. I'm not saying her career is on the downslide; I'm just saying it needs more attention--way more than the press and the critics have given her in recent years. But we'll see: she's slated to work (and has been working) with some talent that sits behind the camera: Ed Zwick (Glory), Todd Field (In the Bedroom), and screenwriter/longtime Woody Allen cohort, Marshall Brickman.

King Kong, exuding remarkable sensitivity and grace

Jeff Daniels in The Squid and the Whale really stands out--very unusual performance--and I also liked his two kids in the same film. Terrance Howard is good in Crash, but I thought his character in Hustle and Flow was a real drag. Vince Vaughn is on auto-pilot through Wedding Crashers and Thumbsucker, but somewhat reluctantly I'm a fan. Naomi Watts hadn't made much of an impression on me before, but she gives the one good performance in King Kong. (Actually there are two, and I'm sure I don't need to name the other.) David Straitharn in Good Night, and Good Luck is dead-on from the clips I've seen of Edward R. Murrow; precise mimicry is not my favourite kind of performance, but if he wins any awards in the next few months, that'll be OK. One more: the scarecrow villain in Batman Begins is terrifying. I'm not sure there's a whole lot of acting prowess on display, though; basically he's the Unknown Comic plus special effects. I still need to see Capote.