The 25 Best Movie Performances of 2010

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5. Christian Bale (The Fighter)

Character: Dicky Ecklund
Bale transcends the lightweight material and brings Dicky Eklund to life in all his charms
and foibles. Bale uses his body as well as any actor alive, and it’s fascinating just to watch him move, let alone speak his lines.—MD


4. Carey Mulligan (Never Let Me Go)

Character: Kathy
Mulligan’s performance distills the grace and acceptance of a much older actress into a character only in her 20s but nonetheless dealing with her and her loved ones’ mortality. It’s Mulligan that keeps the film from becoming didactic—while its characters may have doubts as to whether she’s a real person, its audience never does.—SG


3. Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)

Character: Mark Zuckerberg
Eisenberg’s sneering performance as Mark Zuckerberg broke ground we never would’ve expected from the actor. Playing completely against type, Eisenberg’s Mephistophelean character was mythic but humanly frail—an anti-hero who wrung every bit of meaning out of every word that came out of his mouth. Eisenberg dominated the film with intensity but also complexity, and like Fincher, he’s not afraid to question how much we can ever really know someone.—SG


2. Colin Firth (The King’s Speech)

Character: King George VI
Portraying the stuttering Prince Albert, who would become King George VI of Britain, Firth maintains a constant aura of frustration. It’s not the way that a non-stutterer stutters that makes him believable, but the pitch-perfect emotional resonance of gifted actor.—JJ


1. Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone)

Character: Ree Dolly
It’s no exaggeration to say that the entirety of Winter’s Bone rests upon Lawrence’s back. Her performance as Ree gives the movie the pride and determination necessary to make it alive through the stark noir plot, but Lawrence plays her as neither damsel in distress nor butch tough girl. There’s no type at all, no baseline for where Lawrence’s character came from. Instead, we forget about that entirely and just understand her as a human being, dealing with life in the best way she can. Every gesture Lawrence makes and every step she take feels like it’s come right of the Ozarks. You can see how her difficult background has shaped her mannerisms, how she understands her uncle, what she thinks of her siblings—you won’t learn it from Winter’s Bones’ dialogue, but the entire history of her life is right there on screen. Only it’s all fictional. Lawrence has simply become the role, and her horrific search for her father’s bones is captivating because of what she shows us about Ree. —SG