By Matt Singer | Criticwire December 3, 2012 at 10:03AM
"This is too hard. I have to have male and female, because while Daniel Day-Lewis is certainly the nearest thing to the actual historical personage I have ever seen in 'Lincoln,' Emmaneulle Riva IS the embodiment of herself and of someone her age in 'Amour.' I simply can't choose one over another. Sue me."
"It's a boring response, but there's no way around it: Daniel Day-Lewis gave not just the greatest performance of the year in 'Lincoln,' but maybe the greatest performance of his career. I hadn't been that keen on his last couple of performances ('There Will Blood,' 'Gangs of New York'), which struck me as meticulous yet hollow. This one is as meticulous as ever, but it's filled with love for Lincoln the man, and that love fills up the space between himself and the character. I found it almost uncannily moving."
"There are plenty of incredible performances to choose from this year, and still plenty when you think about ones that aren't getting talk about enough. For me, the one I wish was in the awards conversation more was Denis Lavant's stunning work in 'Holy Motors.' He plays a multitude of different parts and nails them all. It's quite possibly the performance of the year for me, and I hope that I'm not alone."
"Matthew McConaughey in 'Magic Mike.' It's not even a performance, it's a once-in-a-lifetime event that allowed him to tap into the essence of Matthew McConaughey and, against all odds, become even more McConaughey. Every time he was onscreen it was like you weren't even watching a movie, you were watching McConaughey be McConaughey, the McConaughey equivalent of a nature film about a tiger eating a tapir. They should create a new category for Most McConaughey. As for traditional performances, no one will recognize him for it, but Art Hsu is incredible in 'The FP.' He holds that entire movie together and his performance was as tough to pull off as anything anyone did this year. It takes a special actor to bring to life a line like, 'Dayum! Yo kicks got smiles humped all up my face!'"
"Nadezhda Markina in 'Elena,' Denis Lavant in 'Holy Motors,' Rosemarie DeWitt in 'Your Sister's Sister,' and, perhaps most strangely, Ethan Hawke in 'Sinister.'"
"This is a pretty easy one for me. No performance this year left me as mesmerized as the one Joaquin Phoenix gave in 'The Master.' He disappeared into the character of Freddie Quell, an alcoholic with an anger management problem and some odd sexual proclivities. Talking out of only one side of his mouth, Phoenix plays him like a caged animal trying to break free. It's almost as though Freddie is filled with so much emotional anguish that he can no longer contain it -- and neither can the actor playing him. There is a lengthy sequence in which Freddie, under the full spell of a cult leader's bizarre notions, paces back and forth in a room, alternately touching the wall and a window. The scene could have been ridiculous, but Phoenix brings it such raw power that it becomes transformative. You really feel how lost this guy has become. I've seen many great performances this year, but this one will stay with me for a long time."
"Suraj Sharma [in 'Life of Pi'] for now, but I haven't seen a few movies on my list yet."
"Since comic performances occasionally get short shrift in polls, I'm happy to throw in a vote for Melanie Lynskey in 'Hello, I Must Be Going.' There's nothing flashy or sympathy-grubbing about her work; it's full of exquisitely funny, real reactions. I knew I was in love with Lynskey's performance when I saw her character Amy's face as she watches 'One Day at a Time' reruns in a state of near-catatonic gloom. Amy is a pampered young layabout, who theoretically could have annoyed the mess out of the audience, but Lynskey never grates. The scene where she hooks up with the teenage son of her father's client is hilarious, and also truly romantic."
"Rachel Weisz, 'The Deep Blue Sea.'"
"Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy in 'Beasts of the Southern Wild.' For an unknown child actor to pull off that level of heart and vulnerable strength in her performance, this one really stood out most to me. My runner up would be Denis Lavant for his multitude of performances as the Russian doll of an actor Mr. Oscar in 'Holy Motors.'"
"While there have probably been richer, deeper performances, I'm going to use this space to give a shout-out to Yoo Jun-sang in Hong Sang-soo's 'In Another Country.' Yoo takes a role that's of little consequence in an almost pointedly inconsequential film and fills every moment onscreen with a manner of life and vitality I haven't seen in any other performance this year. Just seeing him walk or run is vastly entertaining, nevermind the exuberant will to please everyone with whom he interacts. It's rare to find a performer, especially these days, who can entertain just by appearing onscreen, but Yoo achieves that marvelously."
"Joaquin Phoenix's performance in 'The Master' is still the most transformative, captivating of the year for me. Emmanuelle Riva's heartbreaking turn in 'Amour' is a very close second."
"I think this will be a popular answer in this crowd, but I also don't think it's fair to shut up about Denis Lavant in 'Holy Motors' until more people see that movie. That performance is a miracle, and even if you feel lost in what the movie is trying to tell you -- as I was in the first half hour or so -- Lavant makes all of his characters so lively that it's worth following along anyway."
"My vote goes to Daniel Day-Lewis in 'Lincoln.' I can't think of a performance as convincing as his in 2012."
"I'm going to go ahead and give it straight to Joaquin Phoenix for 'The Master.' What he was able to portray with just a facial expression, in all of those close-ups, hasn't been matched in what I've seen thus far this year, and I highly doubt it will be."
"To be fair, I've yet to see some potential juggernauts such as Jessica Chastain in 'Zero Dark Thirty,' Hugh Jackman/Anne Hathaway in 'Les Miserables' and DiCaprio/Waltz/Jackson in 'Django Unchained' but as of this moment the single best performance of the year has to be Joaquin Phoenix in 'The Master.' As great as Daniel Day-Lewis is in 'Lincoln,' Phoenix's performance as Freddie Quell is in a league of its own. What most impressed me is that it's quite surprising he was able to pull it off after his insane 'I'm Still Here' hoax. For most actors, that would have ruined their careers, but for Phoenix he seems to channel the 'crazy' he used in his previous film for an absolutely amazing performance in 'The Master.' The jail cell scene with Hoffman still haunts my dreams and locks down the best performance of the year."
"Denis Lavant in 'Holy Motors,' Macy Gray in 'The Paperboy,' and Michael Fassbender in 'Prometheus' are the performances I'm still bowled over by."
"Performance of the year, hands down, is Denis Lavant's multiple identity explosion in Leos Carax's 'Holy Motors.' However, since I suspect you'll be getting that response a lot (and rightfully so), I'm going to say a bit about the second-best performance of the year. In Tsai Ming-liang's short film 'Walker,' Lee Kang-sheng portrays a monk who is quite literally out of step with the bustle of contemporary Hong Kong. He moves in agonizing slow motion, centimeter by centimeter, while the rest of the city -- shoppers, businesspeople, workers -- go about their business. Thing is, there is no digital trickery whatsoever. Lee, exhibiting astonishing bodily control, simply moves in actual slow motion, presenting the monk's self-contained "holy time" as both a universe unto itself and resolutely embedded in the material world."
"Denis Lavant in 'Holy Motors.' I suspect it is going to be a popular choice but with good reason. 'Holy Motors' is built around Lavant's 'performance' to such a degree that it's hard to even imagine what the film would be like with someone else in the central role. Lavant gets the chance in 'Holy Motors' to stretch his acting muscles in so many ways and he appears to relish the opportunity. Almost certainly a career defining performance, it's one that will undoubtedly be forgotten in the high gloss world of the bigger awards ceremonies but I'm positive it will be remembered long after many of this year's nominees' performances have long been forgotten."
"I can’t think of a better performance this year than that of those MacGuffin-esque chems in 'The Bourne Legacy.' Seriously, I’m going with Joaquin Phoenix in 'The Master.' During the period when Phoenix pranked people by growing out a bushy beard, alienating David Letterman, and pretending to be a rapper, I wasn’t too sad to see him leave acting. I had just never been blown away by his work, even in 'Walk the Line.' And yet, as soon as I saw a teaser for Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, I found myself thinking, 'Man, I missed that guy.' His work in the film was revelatory, a man tapping in to his pure animal tendencies. Even though this thankfully wasn’t the case, Phoenix’s performance would be the best of the year even if 'The Master' had just the one great scene, where Phoenix’s Freddie Quell is 'processed' by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd."
"No performance this year better complements its film's themes than Brit Marling's turn as Maggie, a charismatic cult leader, in 'Sound of My Voice.' She delivers each line in an soft but authoritative tone; she's warm and comforting, yet vaguely haunting. As a viewer I was so drawn in by Marling's presence onscreen, it's easy to accept that Maggie could reel people into her cause. The movie itself is damn good too."
"My favorite performance of the year is also the first one I fell in love with: Rachel Weisz in 'The Deep Blue Sea.' Just listen for the smoke and mystery in her voice; watch for the sardonic arch of her eyebrows, or the way her body seems to pulse with secrets rather than blood. Her work here, so finely attuned to the film's postwar milieu, suggests a bottomless capacity for both pain and romantic ecstasy, and makes Hester Collyer one of the most tragic heroines in recent memory."
"The three most indelible performances of the year for me were Denis Lavant in 'Holy Motors,' Nina Hoss in 'Barbara' and Seann William Scott in 'Goon.' They are all astonishing in one way or another, so I'll pick my 'best' by what I'd have more fun writing about at this particular instant. So congratulations Seann William Scott, you gave the 'best' performance of the year! Known for his hyper-horny menagerie of frat lunkheads, especially Stifler in the 'American Pie' series, his sweetly dopey performance in 'Goon' is a revelation. Playing a bartender who taps into his skill as a hockey thug, Scott shifts the blood flow in his usual characters from cock to heart, and the results are a performance that is movingly sincere and effortlessly funny. He lends each one of his knockout blows a touch of pathos, since he does not wish to hurt anyone, but it's the only thing he's good at."
"I'm leaning toward Emmanuelle Riva in 'Amour.' Never doubted as I watched that I was seeing an actual stroke victim."
"Denis Lavant gives the best performance of the year as Monsieur Oscar in 'Holy Motors,' being driven around Paris in a white stretch limousine that includes a dressing room mirror, props and make-up. Director Leos Carax schedules nine appointments that give the actor nine lives. Lavant, the film's motor as well as in the film's motor, transforms himself into a beggar woman on the bridge, a motion-capture gymnast, covered in white sensors, that could be mistaken for the flickering lights on the Eiffel Tower, a business man, or a dying man straight out of Henry James' 'Portrait of a Lady' at the Hotel Raphael. He eats sushi in the car, has a little chat with Michel Piccoli, kills his own doppelganger on assignment, and at Père Lachaise, Lavant becomes again a creature of international sewers who irrevocably declares the end to the air quote, before he snacks on Eva Mendes's hair extensions."
"I'd say the performance I was most blown away by thus far this year is unfortunately one that probably won't get appreciated come award's season. And that is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Young Joe in 'Looper.' The ways he emulated and so perfectly captured Bruce Willis' 'Willisisms;' I think the tendencies of some actors would have been to do more of an impression, per se. However, Levitt subtly nailed all the little intricacies that Willis' presence brings to a film. Not only that but to go one deeper, he was playing Willis playing an older version of his younger self (how's that for a loop?). It was the second coming of Bruno!"
"Denis Lavant for his portrayal of an elderly homeless woman, motion capture professional in the arts of combat and sex, sewer barbarian, overbearing father, accordion player (in an all-accordion band), assassin, old man on his deathbed, romantic reunited with an old flame, and a father to two adult monkeys in 'Holy Motors.'"
"Hate to be so predictable, but it’s got to be Daniel Day-Lewis in 'Lincoln,' right? He’s truly in a class all by himself."
"Like ever year, this one's had its share of great performances -- the kids of 'Moonrise Kingdom,' for instance, or Joaquin Phoenix in 'The Master' -- but for me the standout is Daniel Day-Lewis in 'Lincoln.' I almost hesitate to pick him, though, because at this point, Day-Lewis is such a go-to figure that you have to ask yourself, 'This guy? Again?' But yes, again. Immersive acting on this scale is rare. Day-Lewis doesn't just don a top hat and beard; he affects a credible voice and, with his slow, hunched shuffle, shows us a man afflicted by a bone-deep chill and creaky, arthritic joints. His good humor and warm smile aside, he looks like a man on his last leg, bound for history."
"I'm sure there are critics out there who are vehemently opposed to this answer, but I haven't seen a performance all year quite like Richard Parker, the tiger in 'Life of Pi.' Someone, even if it's not an actor, deserves credit for bringing us the best animal performance ever to be captured on film. The really impressive part of it is that it refuses at every turn to be a 'special effect.' At no point does Ang Lee, or the computer animators behind him, feel the need to let you know that you're seeing something impossible (As opposed to 'The Avengers,' which gets its fun precisely by hitting you over the head with its impossibility). As amazing as Andy Serkis was as Caesar the ape last year -- and that was a revolutionary special effect -- Richard Parker is light years ahead."
"The best performance of the year is Emmanuelle Riva in 'Amour.' It's sympathetic, unflinching, ugly, and brave."
The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on December 3, 2012: