5. Kiefer Sutherland in Melancholia
Lars von Trier's movies never seem to give space for his male actors to thrive. More often than not men are "pawns" of sorts in the larger scheme of the female driven universes created by the mad Dane. Just think of the fates of Willem Dafoe in Antichrist and Stellan Skarsgard in Breaking the Waves. Because it's often the women who give the most arresting performances in his movies, it seems that the men are a bit underrated and what he achieves with Kiefer Sutherland in Melancholia should by no means go by unnoticed. Playing the loyal husband of Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) he divides himself drastically in the movie's two chapters, in the first he has to play a strong head-of-the-house who tries to make his sister-in-law (Kirsten Dunst) understand that despite his affection for her, he is still the, literal, king of his castle. His strong charisma shifts in the latter chapter to give way to a man who quite simply loses all faith in the things that had supported him before: science and love. Watching his destruction parallel to the "larger" events going on might be all the more haunting because Sutherland never allows his character's limitations to prevent him from being completely unforgettable.
4. John Hawkes in Martha Marcy May Marlene
There is something so seductive about John Hawkes in this movie that defies all laws of attraction. Why would anyone want to be with someone who forces them into an alternative but violent cult, constantly rapes you, makes you fall in love with him and then not only ignores you but makes you aid him in finding new lovers? Yet somehow that's what he does as Patrick, in Sean Durkin's remarkable directorial debut. There is something so effortless about the way in which Hawkes movies in front of the camera, something so menacing about the way he looks when he smiles and yet we totally "get" why the title character (Elizabeth Olsen) can't stay away from him for long. This performance must be what they mean by "magnetic".
3. Chris New in Weekend
New is the epitome of alluring in Andrew Haigh's Weekend, what's so remarkable and fascinating about his character and his performance is how completely blasé he seems while harboring an explosive combination of emotions inside. His Glen seems like a free spirit, a bit on the politically incorrect side but the actor goes beyond the confines of the "bohemian" character's traits and finds something rather touching in him. The way in which Glen always seems to be both intensely interested in Russell (Tom Cullen) while wanting to run away, punches you right in the gut in the most unexpected moments. His line deliveries are magical and there's no way you would be able to say no to having him tape your sexual history. On a shallow note - which somehow adds to the constant wonderment of his performance - never expected him to be the top.
2. Bruce Greenwood in Meek's Cutoff
There is very little information on who Stephen Meek was exactly, yet what Bruce Greenwood does in Kelly Reichardt's revisionist western feels as if someone found a time machine and brought the legendary explorer back to life. Greenwood is practically unrecognizable behind the shaggy beard and oversized hat that Meek wears and his performance may lack the "excitement" associated with playing historical figures. Yet perhaps because the actor had a pretty much empty canvas to portray the character as he found fit, he comes up with a thing of true beauty, creating a harsh, soulless creature that demands your attention and always ends up winning your favor. No other performance in 2011 captured the "rock star"-ness of current politics like this one, he reminded us that we're living in a world where politicians need only but to charm us before we are willing to get lost in the labyrinth of their lies.
It must be telling that while Woody Allen has abstained of tackling biopics or historical characters throughout his legendary career, several of his fictitious creations seem to take on a life of their own outside the realms of his movies. Try convincing people that Zelig wasn't a real being, that you can't find Emmet Ray albums in record stores or that Hannah and her sisters don't actually live somewhere in NYC... It was a real surprise then to see him explore some of the most famous artists of the 20th century in his enchanting Midnight in Paris, which not only resulted in the best movie he's done in over twenty years but also reminded us of the Woodsman's more playful side. Allen has always tried to represent and preserve his personal tastes through his movies and it makes sense that the ones in Paris are some of his all-time favorites, what's remarkable is how he manages to give them their own life while imprinting the Woody Allen touch on them. Best in show is Corey Stoll who fills the screen with testosterone and bravado playing none other than Ernest Hemingway. Even when he's reciting passages of Hemingway's life adjusted to the straightforward nature of his writing, Stoll gives the legend a suspicious earthy feeling. No scenes in the movie feel as alive as those that feature him and the way he always looks into the horizon as if both recalling specifics and planning his next masterpiece will certainly leave you wanting more.