Girl Walk All Day
The Dancers - "Girl Walk // All Day"
A Kickstarter-funded NYC performance project set to Girl Talk's most recent album of mash-ups, this joyous and freely available feature-length music video is a borough-hopping delight in which The Girl (Anne Marsan), The Gentleman (Dai Omiya) and The Creep (John Doyle) leap, thrust and twirl throughout the city, occasionally dancing with one another as their paths cross. Bystanders are left often puzzled, scared or annoyed by their outbursts, but some clearly admire the work and even join in. Their ranks grow as silent scenarios play out on bridges, on streets, even in subway cars and at baseball games, culminating in the year's second most delightful sparkler sequence ("Beasts of the Southern Wild" has that title locked up). However, none of it would mean a damn thing without the fluid motions and giddy emotions of every fearless performer, especially the seemingly inexhaustible Ms. Marsan.

Chronicle, Dane Dehaan
Dane DeHaan - "Chronicle"
Josh Trank's "Chronicle," a film about a three high school friends who gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery underground is arguably the breakthrough “superhero” film of 2012, in that it really upended the genre. It’s inventive, smart, but at it’s core, it’s also emotional. Three friends become extraordinary and that’s something to celebrate. But the most damaged and dysfunctional of the trio, played by Dane DeHaan begins to curdle with his burgeoning powers. While the other two friends are galvanized by their heightened telekinetic abilities, DeHaan’s character's loneliness, anger and misfit status only become amplified by the fact that he’s different. And this soon begins to boil to a misguided rage, aided by the thought that he and his friends have evolved and become better than the stupid, hurtful humans that have tormented him all his life. This is an incredible arc to play and a lot of it is done without dialogue, but DeHaan is a powerhouse in “Chronicle,” transforming from meek, fragile teenager into a full blown monster drunk on power over the course of 90 minutes or so. It’s a completely believeable metamorphosis and one that proves this kid is going to be one of the greats. But don’t take our word for it -- filmmakers like John Hillcoat, Derek Cianfrance and Atom Egoyan also approve, casting him in “Lawless,” “The Place Beyond the Pines," and "Devil's Knot," respectively.  DeHaan is about to take off and Hollywood is already banking on it -- see "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" where Marc Webb has chosen him as the new Harry Osborn.

Sound Of My Voice Brit Marling Christopher Denham
Christopher Denham - "Sound Of My Voice" and "Argo"
2011 must have been frustrating for Christopher Denham, an acclaimed young theater actor. He had the lead in the taut, fascinating thriller "Sound Of My Voice," which took great notices at Sundance two Januarys ago, and while Fox Searchlight picked the film up, they wouldn't release it until this spring. But fortunately, one important person saw "Sound Of My Voice" last year, and that was Ben Affleck, who cast Denham in the key role of Mark Lijek in "Argo." And the result is that Denham's given two very different, and excellent, performances in the space of one calendar year. In the former, Denham plays documentary maker Peter Aitken, who's out to infiltrate the cult run by the intriguing Maggie (Brit Marling), and while Marling got the lion's share of the praise, Denham is great in the film too. Cocksure and vociferous in his crusade against the mysterious cult leader, and religion in general at first, the character sheds layers as the beguiling Maggie gets under his skin. And then he popped up in "Argo," as one of the embassy employees that Affleck's Tony Sanchez attempts to rescue. It's not a showy part, but the character's timidity and humor is a long way from Aitken, and sharing bona-fide chemistry with screen wife Clea DuVall, he feels like the heart of that central group of captives. Denham, a Steppenwolf veteran who made his directorial debut with 2008's "Home Movies," and cropped up in "The Bay" this year as well, clearly has great things to come after this one-two punch.

Ann Dowd - “Compliance”
At first, ChickWich manager Sandra is unassuming, a folksy Midwestern type who simply wants no fuss on just a regular day of work. But, it takes only a few minutes of screen time for Sandra to become the audience’s number one enemy in Craig Zobel’s “Compliance,” and it’s purely through genuine intellectual shortcomings. Veteran character actress Ann Dowd has a difficult task here: she has to be dim enough to believe that the disembodied voice on the other end of a phone line is a cop interested in interrogating one of the restaurant’s employees. But she also has to have that superficial common decency and leadership skills that, as a viewer, one could conceivably see as motivating others to follow her lead blindly. The perpetrator on the other end of the phone line might be the one committing the crime of impersonating an officer, but it’s Sandra that does the heavy lifting, and Dowd achieves remarkable work in turning Sandra into a complete boob, but one who we’ve met a thousand times before, one whom we’ve probably shared a friendly word or two with. Tasked with bringing to life a character that stands in for the injustice of the story, simply by her own ineptitude, it’s a surprisingly touching element, in a film many describe as hostile and inhuman, even if Sandra herself makes the audience’s skin crawl.

Pierce Gagnon Looper
Pierce Gagnon - "Looper"
Rian Johnson’s “Looper” is a taut little sci-fi that’s inventive, sharp and entertaining. But it’s also, like Christopher Nolan films, a ruse; its premise is a launching pad for something more meaningful. On the surface it’s about the mob, time travellers, hitmen and targets sent back into the past to be killed. And while this is a fun brain-buster that tickles the minds of audiences for its first half, the true meat of the film is about a boy, the consequences of messing with time and the abilities to change our destinies. In “Looper,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt discovers that a young boy -- Cid Harrington, the son of the girl he is falling in love with played by Emily Blunt -- also has unusual telekinetic abilities. More importantly, he learns that in the future world of 2074, he grows up to be a malevolent force known as The Rainmaker who uses his power for evil. Point being “Looper” is fun, but blooms into something much more meaningful and transportive when this young, innocent and rather unassuming boy, played by Pierce Gagnon, is revealed to be something much more sinister.  And so Cid is crucial and Gagnon sells this character with astonishing power, playing the intelligent boy with a little secret that can explode with a shocking and tremendous fury when his loved ones are in danger. In short, Cid is the true heart of “Looper” and the film wouldn’t work if it didn’t have this precocious boy at this center who can transform from sweet, lovable rascal to terrifying malignance in a matter of chilling seconds.

The Comedy
Tim Heidecker - "The Comedy"
Primarily known as the less menacing member of the peculiar "Tim & Eric Awesome Show Good Job" duo, Heidecker turned heads in Park City when it was discovered that his role in Rick Alverson's "The Comedy" was, despite the title, a dramatic one. Reducing the movie to such a simple genre descriptor is not only a huge disservice to its depth, but it's also wholly misleading -- though it's a sharp look at disillusionment, maturity, privilege, and jesting in general, often-times the same jokes that are rendered cruel or empty through the director's eye are a legitimate crack-up. But it was obvious that Heidecker would elicit chuckles, and it's those quiet, uncomfortable moments when the well runs dry that are the most impressive. He gives the role a subtle shade, hinting at the internal void within but never leaving himself open for something even remotely meaningful to happen to him. Despite being a traditionally unlikable character, you can't look away, and Alverson utilizes this in a number of close-ups of Heidecker's deeply enthralling mug. With this role, Heidecker has proven that he can have depth and nuance in a position not solely concerned with goofy comedy, and hopefully we'll see some more interesting performances come from him soon.