God knows there are plenty of highly talented actors and actresses in the film industry, and many provide amazing performances that are worth talking about. These are my personal favorites that always blow me away or keep me engaged every time I see the film.
10) Sean Penn as Jimmy Markum (Mystic River)
In Mystic River, Penn plays an ex-criminal who tries to put his past behind him and become a family man. When he discovers his daughter has been murdered, the image he’s worked hard to keep suddenly shatters. Penn captures the loving husband and father role well, but in his highlighted scene in the film when he discovers the news about his daughter, Penn’s character breaks down and is no longer the tough guy he thought he was. The way Penn captures the breakdown is purely heartbreaking and gut-wrenching in the way he breaks down in tears, but you also see him basically losing his mind. From there he turns in a cold and raw performance as he sets out to find the killer, no matter who it is.
9) Sarah Michelle Gellar as Kathryn Merteuil (Cruel Intentions)
Sarah Michelle Gellar’s performance as Kathryn may not be Oscar-worthy, but damnit if it’s not a terrific performance. Everyone knows her as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the strong female heroine. But she changed that image by portraying the evil, vicious, bitchy, manipulative, cunning, seductive, and just downright awful Kathryn. Gellar just makes you absolutely HATE her to the point you forget she was ever Buffy or any other likable lead she’s played. Even the image above perfectly captures Kathryn in every way. Gellar’s highlighted moment in the film comes in near the end when she’s at her final stand off with her stepbrother Sebastian (played by Ryan Philippe) who decides he’s done playing her games. It’s at this point the gloves come off and she really lets her inner evil come out on Sebastian and you know he’s a dead man. Gellar nails the dialogue, but even her facial expressions and spot on for the role and can work as a substitute for no dialogue.
8) Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump)
This iconic role is superbly played by Hanks. He capture Forrest Gump’s simple-mindedness with charm and humor, but he also provides genuine sweetness in his moments with his best friends Jenny and Bubba that are very touching. It’s not until the end when we see the deep emotional side of Forrest when tragedy strikes his life, and you find you own heart breaking with his in that moment at a certain character’s grave. It’s one of many Tom Hanks roles that have earned him award recognition, but to me it’s easily his most iconic and the one people will remember him most for.
7) Angelina Jolie as Lisa Rowe (Girl Interrupted)
Say what you want about Angelina as a person, but she’s a stellar actress. Hands down her best performance is the one that earned her an Oscar as the institutionalized sociopath Lisa. Right from her first scene, she’s right in your face batshit crazy, and it’s super believable. Throughout the film we see her slowly reeling in the lead Susanna (played by Winona Ryder) into her clutches and playing with her mind. She does the same for the audiences, we can see her craziness and evil side, but there is something about her that we almost let our guard down towards and sure enough we find ourselves just as trapped as Susanna. And when Jolie has us, she can do something with just a look or a facial expression that can make you feel so uneasy. Jolie’s highlighted moment appears at the end of the film where it’s a cat and mouse game in the basement of the institution as he pursues Susanna after screwing with her mind (as well as the other patients’ and turning them against Susanna) more than ever. It’s almost equivalent to a chase scene in a slasher film, but this time you have no idea what the outcome will be and what Lisa has up her sleeve, and Jolie keeps this hidden while still looking evil as hell. Eventually Lisa’s character has an emotional breakdown and we see the vulnerable side of her we never would have guessed existed, and Jolie makes us feel for her despite everything she’s done to the characters (and hell even to us).
6) Kevin Spacey as John Doe (Seven)
Kevin Spacey is no stranger to providing knock out performances (American Beauty, House of Cards, The Usual Suspects), but for me it’s his iconic role in the thriller/horror film Seven that I feel is his best. Spacey’s role was completely kept secret in the film. It isn’t until the film’s climax that Spacey is finally revealed to be the unknown killer of the film. The dark and emotionless performance by Spacey is chilling, horrific, and absolutely villainous. The casual line delivery he provides is even more unsettling. When we finally get to the iconic scene in the field, Spacey just gives it his all to make the scene so uncomfortable and horrifying that the big reveal in the scene is just a punch in the gut after the mental and emotional beatdown Spacey provides prior.
5) Ellen Page as Hayley Stark (Hard Candy)
Before the plucky and lovable Juno, Ellen Page played Hayley Stark. She starts out as this sweet young teenage girl that you feel is going to fall victim to this man she meets online named Jeff (played by Patrick Wilson). However, when we arrive at Jeff’s home, we gradually come to see that Hayley isn’t that innocent. Everyone remembers Page as Juno (how could they not? she was incredible in that too), but she provides such a dark and horrific role in this film as she plays psychotic games with Wilson’s character and puts him through mental and physical hell. The way Page was able to switch gears of this character so well at such a young age at the time earns her a spot on my list. It’s a performance that leave you as a viewer unsure whether to root for her or fear her, but it still leaves you shaking in the end.
4) Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom (Nightcrawler)
As you can probably tell by now, my favorite performances mostly consist of psychotic roles in thrillers. Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in Nightcrawler is no exception. His character Louis as an aspiring journalist takes the role to a whole new level. Save for one scene, Gyllenhaal remains unsettlingly calm in the film, even during the moments when he’s at his most psychotic. Like Jolie’s role in Girl Interrupted, Gyllenhaal does a fine job of getting into our heads and trying to reel us in, while wondering what will happen next. Louis takes his role in journalism into his own hands in order to gain fame and respects, often in the most diabolical (and clearly unethical) ways possible. All the while he manages to manipulate those around him in order to get what he wants. It’s so chilling and demented, but yet Gyllenhaal remains calm the whole damn time and it still gets under your skin.
3) Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne (Gone Girl)
If there ever was a role that will make men fear women for life, it’s this one. And Rosamund Pike sees to it that men will want to sleep with their eyes open the next time they piss off their wife. Pike shows Amy initially as the used and abused housewife, but events lead to a discovery about her character that sends chills down your spine. Pike is so manipulative, cunning, and psychotic in this role that you just absolutely HATE her and forget that this is an actress.
2) Tobey Maguire as Sam Cahill (Brothers)
Prior to this film, I admit I never thought much of Tobey Maguire (besides from being fricken Spider-Man!), but this movie completely changed my point of view of him as far as acting. The film itself is depressing and heartbreaking. But really all of this comes down to Maguire in a gun-wrenching and heartbreaking performance. After being thought of as dead when his plane crashes while going to war (he was actually held as a POW), Maguire’s character Sam returns home to find his life changed. It’s a look at PTSD at it’s most raw and brutally honest level. We see the pain he’s going through, how much he wants some kind of normalcy back in his life, but the little things set him off and keep him on edge. It’s at the end, when his mental state completely crashes that we end up fearing his character but we are also emotionally shattered and heart-broken for him that things have to this stage for him (lashing and acting violent towards his wife, children, and brother). It’s the most emotionally charged performance I’ve ever seen from an actor that ends up taking a huge toll on you.
1) Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos (Monster)
Hand down, the most deserved Oscar winning performance I’ve seen. Charlize Theron is an incredible actress in everything she’s in and just completely loses herself in the characters she plays. Monster, she goes above and beyond. She underwent major physical changes for the role, and clearly some psychological changes. Theron portrays the prostitute turned killer in a way that I don’t think most people could. She makes the performance raw, emotional, and brutal. We see her as this monster and how deranged she is (and Theron does completely go bat shit crazy in the scenes required), but also see the tortured soul behind all of this and Charlize presents Aileen’s lost mind but being fully aware of what she’s doing. There’s a scene where she’s about to kill one of the victims, and in one instant you see her horrified about what’s happening, but in a second that changes to her trying to tell herself and giving her reasons to kill him, and she goes full-on killer. There are so many emotions and personalities at play with this role and Theron captures them all.