5. Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter
Wahlberg's performance in The Fighter is a knockout simply because it's not. While the actors and characters around him indulge in method acting and quirky, over the top, characterizations, he simply is.
Playing real life boxer Micky Ward, he seems to leave behind all traces of self importance and plays him like a man conflicted with the world around him. Doubting whether to stay true to family, duty or self, he subtly invades everyone's world as they try to invade his'.
Watch him in scenes with Christian Bale, during which he exudes fraternal love through tiny smiles and prideful eyes. Then watch him in scenes with Melissa Leo, who plays his mom, and observe how he disguises exasperation with obligation.
His scenes with Amy Adams are the real treat though; she plays his girlfriend and it's with her that we see him truly shine. An innocent hand grab becomes sublime support, a silence becomes an argument and a shrug opens up a world of painful possibilities, the likes of which he never exhibits in the ring. His performance proves that you don't have to wear your heart on your sleeve to show your humanity.
4. Manolo Cardona in Undertow
It must not be easy playing a symbol, and Manolo Cardona does it with such ease, that his performance becomes devastating and haunting.
As a gay artist in love with a sexually confused fisherman, he symbolizes art, homosexuality and unspeakable love, yet he never turns his character into a mere vessel.
He still plays him with the traits of a full rounded person and his eyes still look from the screen with pain and piercing desperation.
When the movie literally turns him into a symbol, he preserves this core and becomes an embodiment of memory and how its overreaching power can comfort or destroy us.
3. Edgar Ramírez in Carlos
Few actors are able to turn crime into charisma, yet Ramírez does it as famed terrorist Carlos "The Jackal". Watching him during almost six hours, he doesn't give a single false step and his performance eveolves with every passing minute of Olivier Assayas' astonishing accomplishment.
Watching him grow from a narcissist idealist into a damaged plastic surgery patient is nothing if not engaging. What's more, he changes his body with such deft unawareness (watch him go from sex symbol to chubby down on his luck criminal) that you never think twice about thinking that this man indeed aged the three decades we see him portray in the film.
2. Stephen Dorff in Somewhere
When you think "movie star", Stephen Dorff is probably not the first name that comes to mind. Yet, in Sofia Coppola's intimate Somewhere, he embodies the enigma of Depp, the effortless sexiness of Clooney and the troubled nature of James Dean, while providing him with a heartfelt sensitivity and grace.
It's easy to guess that the movies Johnny Marco does are the exact opposite of something Coppola would do (just take a look at the fiery posters featured in the film) but what Dorff proves to us is that you can't simply judge a book by its cover (or a film for its poster?).
Since Coppola gives us access to the most intimate moments in this man's life we see Johnny trying to find beauty and meaning in everything he does.
Dorff is able to overcome "poor little rich boy" clichés and delivers a sweet performance that defies our judgment. His best scene might be an awkwardly staged spectacle in which he's rewarded for his life achievements during an Italian awards show.
Watching him there paralyzed by the unknown (and giving us glimpses of subtle American xenophobia) yet thrilled by the presence of his daughter, we understand that once the movie's over we probably will never understand this man.
1. Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network
No other actor, in no other 2010 movie, delivered his lines with the conviction with which Eisenberg infused his Mark Zuckerberg. A portrait of loneliness amidst an endless world of social interaction, he captured the desolate feeling of alienation and wanting to belong, with such precision that it made total sense he was playing a computer geek.
Every move in his performance seems calculated with such meticulousness that soon we realize that Mark is always playing a part.
Even his bouts of passion are so technically precise, within their chaos, that we are always left wondering just how much goes on inside this man's mind and how much he's willing to lose control (if any).
Yet despite the assholeness he exudes, at the end of the day we can't help but be moved by his solitude. We envy him, loathe him, judge him and even if at the end we don't love him, we'd totally be willing to accept his friend request.