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Best Performances of 2011: Standouts, Duos, Ensemble & Most Underrated

Thompson on Hollywood By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood January 3, 2012 at 6:02PM

Standouts are just that -- performances with so much depth and subtlety that they could have college research papers written on their characters alone. Duos are two exceptional performances that are best considered together. Ensembles are those rare films whose entire primary casts are woven so finely that it's hard to tell where one performance begins and the other starts. There's also the Best Peformance Despite a Terrible Film and The Most Underrated Performance. Check them out below:
10
Tilda Swinton in "We Need To Talk About Kevin | Juliette Binoche in "Certified Copy"
Tilda Swinton in "We Need To Talk About Kevin | Juliette Binoche in "Certified Copy"

Standouts are just that -- performances with so much depth and subtlety that they could have college research papers written on their characters alone. Duos are two exceptional performances that are best considered together. Ensembles are those rare films whose entire primary casts are woven so finely that it's hard to tell where one performance begins and the other starts. There's also the Best Peformance Despite a Terrible Film and The Most Underrated Performance. Check them out below:

Most of these performances don't need explanation, but it's worth acknowledging the debate that Rooney Mara's Lisbeth Salander is causing. Is she a feminist icon? David Fincher and Mara say no. But plenty are arguing otherwise. Both sides are right. One can also debate how sexualized Salander is, how the film was marketed, what the gender dynamic of Salander and Mikael Blomkvist is and so on. When you get beneath the layers of debate and conjecture what you have is a bold, unflinching performance from Mara.

Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Here's my list of top ten films of 2011.

STANDOUTS (alphabetical)

Juliette Binoche, "Certified Copy"

Olivia Coleman, "Tyrannosaur"

Michael Fassbender, "Shame"

Michael Fassbender in "Shame"
Michael Fassbender in "Shame"

Rooney Mara, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Hunter McCracken, "The Tree of Life"

Michael Shannon, "Take Shelter"

Tilda Swinton, "We Need To Talk About Kevin"

DUOS

Olivia Colman in "Tyrannosaur"
Olivia Colman in "Tyrannosaur"

Kirsten Dunst & Charlotte Gainsbourg in "Melancholia"

Michael Fassbender & Mia Wasikowska in "Jane Eyre"

Brad Pitt & Jonah Hill in "Moneyball"

ENSEMBLE

"Beginners"

"The Tree of Life"

MOST UNDERRATED

Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton & Nick Nolte in "Warrior"

DESPITE A TERRIBLE FILM

Michelle Williams, "My Week With Marilyn"

Best Actor Nominee Michael Shannon in "Take Shelter"
Best Actor Nominee Michael Shannon in "Take Shelter"
Hunter McCracken in "The Tree of Life"
Hunter McCracken in "The Tree of Life"
Brad Pitt & Jonah Hill in "Moneyball"
Brad Pitt & Jonah Hill in "Moneyball"
Mia Wasikowska & Michael Fassbender in "Jane Eyre"
Mia Wasikowska & Michael Fassbender in "Jane Eyre"
"Melancholia"
"Melancholia"
Jessica Chastain & Brad Pitt in "The Tree of Life"
Jessica Chastain & Brad Pitt in "The Tree of Life"
Ewan McGregor & Melanie Laurent in "Beginners"
Ewan McGregor & Melanie Laurent in "Beginners"
Tom Hardy & Joel Edgerton in "Warrior"
Tom Hardy & Joel Edgerton in "Warrior"
Michelle Williams in "My Week with Marilyn"
Michelle Williams in "My Week with Marilyn"

This article is related to: Awards, Lists, Headliners, Directors, Genres, Awards, Oscars, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Rooney Mara


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.