Film reviewing like life itself is a subjective experience. So when I started thinking about which actors stood out as the “best” of the decade I inevitably thought of which performances became seared into my own mind with the visceral force of a hot iron. And that in turn has led me to these five thespians that with the slightest gesture, with a single syllable raised the powerful films they were in to a shamanistic level.
Daniel Day Lewis – There Will Be Blood
Daniel Plainview is no Bill The Butcher. The always-mesmerizing Day Lewis plays obsessed oilman Plainview equal parts camp and pathos in a performance to rival that of Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard.” Day Lewis is ready for his close up and his milkshake – forcing us to swallow it whole.
Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men
Rather than downplay his steamy looks Bardem taps into the darkness of his innate sensuality to turn in an edge-of-your seat performance as the assassin Anton Chigurh. In spite of the Coen brothers’ crazy hairdo idea he keeps us watching with an attraction-repulsion effect, forever wondering if a hint of warm-blooded impulse will break through that stone cold exterior. Without any help from theatrical makeup or prosthetics Bardem transforms that leading man face into a chilling inhuman mask.
Michael Fassbender – Hunger
As the real life (IRA) prisoners’ rights activist and hunger striker Bobby Sands Michael Fassbender announces himself as the next Daniel Day Lewis. Fassbender’s dignified and nuanced portrayal of a man whose body physically deteriorates while his mind and soul spiritually grow is nothing short of astounding. Christian Bale should take note.
Isabelle Huppert - The Piano Teacher
Gainsbourg at the beck and call of Von Trier is no match for Huppert under Haneke’s strict hand. As the piano professor Erika whose sexual repression leads to a sadomasochistic spiraling downwards Huppert doesn’t create a character so much as stage a slow-motion, human car wreck. By the film’s shocking end we view the heroine’s suicide as a mercy killing.
Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight
Even if it weren’t Ledger’s last completed film watching the dark blockbuster you fear for his life the whole way through. The Joker takes over the actor like something out of “The Exorcist.” This is less a performance than a channeling of a sociopath, as if Ledger instead of embodying a role emptied his body of his own soul. Whereas an actor like Sean Penn might disappear into the character Harvey Milk, Ledger just disappears. Wipe away all the clown makeup and, even more terrifying, still not one trace of the actor will be glimpsed.