The 25 Best Movie Performances of the Decade

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5. Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Daring to base the central character of a Disney franchise on a notorious junkie-alcoholic walking-corpse rock star like Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards was a coup, but even more mind-blowing was how well Depp’s crazy idea worked. Guzzling rum as he bobs and weaves—stumbles, really—through this film delivering hilariously slurred one-liners, he is the consummate goodhearted scoundrel, easily stealing every frame he flamboyantly swaggers across. Steve LaBate


4. Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin
The Last King of Scotland (2006)

For much of this film, it’s easy to forget that the character you’re watching onscreen is actually a brutal, murderous dictator. The charm, depth and utter believability Whitaker brings to the role are unparalleled. And this likability makes Amin’s paranoid, violent outbreaks all the more chilling. Steve LaBate


3. Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview
There Will Be Blood (2007)

Without Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie could only be a faint shadow of itself. It’s a testament to Day Lewis that his performances alone are enough to draw an audience. Sean Gandert


2. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote
Capote (2004)

In the same manner that In Cold Blood depicted the pristine scenes of Holcomb, Kansas, and the two men who disturbed them with a quadruple murder, Seymour Hoffman offered a precise yet chilling depiction of the man who helped found New Journalism. In turn, his performance burst apart Capote’s carefully crafted narrative to show just how haunted the writer himself had become. Christina Lee


1. Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos
Monster (2003)

If you haven’t watched the difficult but terrific Monster, it would be easy to dismiss Charlize Theron’s Oscar-winning performance as a gimmick: pretty actress made to look plain or ugly. We’ve seen that many times, on screens big and small, and we’re usually left wondering why the producers just didn’t get a non-starlet to play the role. But even though Theron’s physical transformation takes the ruse to a new level—it is thorough enough to render the actress unrecognizable and often indistinguishable from the real person she plays—her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos goes well beyond make-up tricks. It’s all encompassing. Theron is completely submerged in her character. Every glance, every hand gesture and every physical tick seem to be those of Wuronos. There’s not a single moment in the film in which the actress peaks out from behind those eyes. Charlize Theron captured something essential and magical (if very disturbing) in a performance that ranks as one of the best, not just of this decade, but of cinematic history. Tim Regan-Porter