Sometimes, a good actor can make a bad script tolerable and mediocre script enjoyable. But occasionally, an actor will stumble upon a role they seemed born to play, and watching them transform themselves is an utter joy. We chose 25 of our favorite performances to celebrate from the last decade and could have picked another 25 we dearly loved. We only selected our favorite from each actor so that Daniel Day-Lewis, Kate Winslet, Sean Penn and Philip Seymour Hoffman didn’t simply dominate the list.
While many great performances rely on dramatic and affecting dialogue, Adrien Brody’s turn as real life musician Wladyslaw Szpilman in Roman Polanski’s Holocaust drama The Pianist is hushed, a sullen-eyed lost soul hanging on to a world cloaked in gray. As the title character, Brody became a living skeleton, an all-too-real representation of one of history’s darkest periods. Justin Jacobs
Ellen Page walks the delicately fine line between pitiable pregnant teen and resilient, plucky feminist in this film that manages to be both a cautionary tale and a story of love and compassion. Page displays intelligence and wit while clearly conveying the moments of humiliation that come with being pregnant in high school, producing an utterly endearing, memorable character. Emily Reimer
In a dark romantic comedy plot complicated by phone-sex scams and Healthy Choice frozen dinners, Sandler handled this starring role in the same manner in which he shuffles down that grocery store aisle – with ease. This will shock any moviegoer who’s watched any of his mediocre comedies or who got to know the Saturday Night Live comedian for his spats with Bob Barker and feuds with imaginary penguins. Christina Lee
As prominently displayed in his most recent works, director Pedro Almodovar found his muse in Cruz in the same way that Woody Allen did in Diane Keaton years ago. Here, with a performance displaying both maternal and primal instincts, made as equally compelling and complex as the plot in itself, Cruz shows most clearly why such idolization is deserved. Christina Lee
Jamie Foxx might have seemed an odd choice to star in Ray Charles’ biopic, but he surpassed all expectations. Sadly, Charles died just before Foxx brought all of the R&B titan’s frailties and triumphs to life on screen. Josh Jackson