The Best Male Film Performances of 2009

by PopMatters Staff

5 January 2010


10 - 6


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The Last Station

Director: Michael Hoffman
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti, Kerry Condon
Review [9.Dec.2009]


Christopher Plummer
The Last Station

Like many stage and screen greats who have been around long enough, Christopher Plummer has been in enough dross over the years (Dracula 2000, The Lake House) that it can be easy to forget exactly how formidable they are. But in Michael Hoffman’s good-not-great The Last Station, Plummer delivers one of the year’s most resonant performances. Playing Leo Tolstoy in his final years, Plummer presents the aging literary lion as not so much Russian artistic treasure but impish mystic who exhibits more lusty earthiness than his newfound followers would prefer. Part visionary, part misled fool, Plummer’s Tolstoy is potently, frustratingly human, the flawed giant who barely understands the passions his words and deeds arouse, and feels powerless to stop them. Chris Barsanti



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In the Loop

Director: Armando Iannucci
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini, Chris Addison, Anna Chlumsky, Gina McKee
Review [7.Aug.2009]


Peter Capaldi
In the Loop

Richard Pryor was an artist. His preferred medium: four letter words. One assumes, however, that even the late great stand-up god would bow with some begrudging deference to the sensational slang anger of this British actor’s amazing use of the curse. Beyond all the Type-A personality gripes and backdoor political intrigue, Capaldi’s character stands out because of the clever combination of blue language laughs he concocts. Just watch his face as it works itself into another terrific tirade, as rants and railings spew forth like never-ending waterfalls of nastiness. And the best part? Though he’s totally intolerable as a player, we can’t wait for him to comeback and criticize everyone over and over again. Bill Gibron



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Up in the Air

Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman
Review [11.Mar.2010]
Review [4.Dec.2009]


George Clooney
Up in the Air

George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air is, on the surface, quite similar to the character he usually plays. Ryan Bingham is charming, suave, and supremely self-confident. He’s so comfortable with his life on the road that he gives motivational speeches encouraging people to divest themselves of not just their possessions, but their friends and family as well. It’s a testament to Clooney’s skill as an actor that he gradually, carefully shows us the cracks in Bingham’s facade. When Bingham has to spend time at “home”, he looks desperately unhappy in his barely-furnished one-bedroom apartment. When he has to go to a small town in Wisconsin to attend his sister’s wedding, we can see that Bingham doesn’t really know how to deal with people on a personal level. He knows how to fire employees and “set them on a new life path”, sure. But when he starts to fall for Alex (Vera Farmiga), his casual acquaintance from the road, he loses all sense of perspective. Bingham may be a showy role for Clooney, but his acting performance here is subtle and nuanced, and one of his best. Chris Conaton



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Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kaya Scodelario, Dominique McElligott, Kevin Spacey
Review [18.Jan.2010]
Review [9.Jul.2009]


Sam Rockwell

This year’s Moon benefits doubly from its astute casting of Sam Rockwell. First, Rockwell gives an emotional center to the film’s ruminations on loneliness and identity as Sam Bell, a lunar employee monitoring the extraction of the moon’s materials. Second, the fact that he is practically the only human in the film allows him to stretch out, explore his range, and turn in a career-best performance. Rockwell proves himself to be an actor of astounding depth, capturing the withdrawn, desperate for company, eccentric temperament of a man left alone in a confined environment for too long. He even accomplishes the difficult task of convincingly playing different versions of himself, matching the demands of Duncan Jones’ script with nuance and commitment to make each of the film’s ‘Sam Bells’ distinct. Rockwell needs more challenging roles like this Andrew Blackie



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Where the Wild Things Are

Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Max Records, James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, Forest Whitaker, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Dano, Catherine Keener
Review [16.Oct.2009]


James Gandolfini
Where the Wild Things Are

The first time we see Carol, one of the creatures in Spike Jonze’s melancholy wonder, Where the Wild Things Are he is thrashing about the forest in a rage, razing everything in sight. He’s a fearsome Wild Thing indeed, but through James Gandolfini’s extraordinarily canny performance, Carol becomes the embodiment of our most challenging emotions—jealousy, fear, fury, and longing—the ones we often fail to understand, much less articulate. Like he did with ruthless mobster Tony Soprano on six seasons of The Sopranos, here Gandolfini shows us the wounded humanity lurking beneath the surface of a seeming monster. His Carol is a tortured artist and a loyal friend, and it’s because he dares to dream of a better world that his anger and anguish run so deep. His unforgettable howl of sorrow at the film’s conclusion could smash your heart to pieces. Marisa Carroll


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