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

by Sophia Savage
January 3, 2012 6:02 PM
  • |
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"

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"

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"


Olivia Colman in "Tyrannosaur"

Kirsten Dunst & Charlotte Gainsbourg in "Melancholia"

Michael Fassbender & Mia Wasikowska in "Jane Eyre"

Brad Pitt & Jonah Hill in "Moneyball"



"The Tree of Life"


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


Michelle Williams, "My Week With Marilyn"

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


  • Leena | January 10, 2012 2:21 AMReply

    Wouldn't Woody Harrelson's performance in Rampart be Standout?

  • eurocheese | January 5, 2012 2:01 AMReply

    After hearing the comments on Oscar Talk, I'm surprised not to see Vanessa Redgrave here. In fact, aside from the ensembles (and I must admit Chastain and Laurent made my five for these films), no Supporting Actress picks. Interesting.

    Love seeing Juliette Binoche get some attention though. I wish she could factor into the Oscar race.

  • Gaspar Marino | January 4, 2012 7:23 PMReply

    I thought Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan were excellently pared in "Shame".
    I also liked Juliette Binoche in Certified Copy.

  • DL | January 4, 2012 4:41 PMReply

    I totally agree with this article. I thought Hunter McCracken was great but it seems that noone pays attention to it. Shame!

  • WF | January 4, 2012 2:30 PMReply

    Michelle Williams did not pull-off a believable Marilyn Monroe. She deserves to be in the overrated category.

  • moviegoer | January 4, 2012 5:35 AMReply

    I respect the list but do find some of the performances grossly overrated especially when it comes to awards.

  • Ralph | January 4, 2012 2:39 AMReply

    Leonardo DiCaprio's stunning portrayal of J. Edgar Hoover must be included.

  • Pod | January 3, 2012 11:40 PMReply

    You hit it out of the ballpark and I agree with all the Standout choices, even adding Carey Mulligan's turn in Shame (that scene on the sofa where both siblings argue while the TV is playing is magnificent) . Just saw Copie Conforme last week, and Juliette Binoche's work is so great, I don't understand how she's not even a dark horse for Best Actress. She acts leaps and bounds above the current 5 frontrunners and I'm surprised she hasn't won more critics' awards.

  • KitCon | January 3, 2012 7:51 PMReply

    Happy to see a list I thoroughly agree with (although I liked Fassbender and Wasikowska in Jane Eyre a bit less than you did). A few frontrunners are missing from this list and I agree that they don't belong.

  • cadavra | January 3, 2012 6:27 PMReply

    BRIDESMAIDS? Seriously? Over THE HELP? Over THE IDES OF MARCH? Over anything?

    Brendan Gleeson in THE GUARD needs to be recognized, as do Keira Knightley in A DANGEROUS METHOD, Michael Parks in RED STATE, and the voice cast (especially Ashley Jensen) of ARTHUR CHRISTMAS. Plus Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis were fabulous in BURKE AND HARE, though I grant you that one week at Laemmle's Monica is not exactly conducive to visibility.

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