The Best Male Film Performances of 2010

by PopMatters Staff

4 January 2011


10 - 6

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The American

Director: Anton Corbijn
Cast: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Irina Björklund


George Clooney
The American

Anton Corbijn’s The American is nothing if not stylish film and the ever-elegant George Clooney is the key to making it work. Clooney plays a weapons builder (named either Jack or Edward, it’s not clear which) who specializes in custom jobs for people about whose motives it would be best not to inquire. The camera loves Clooney, of course, but it also loves watching him building a custom rifle in his shop, celebrating the careful workmanship of a man who is only one step removed from a hired killer. Equally important, when the story requires him to step outside the extreme reserve which has been his character’s dominant characteristic Clooney has more than enough charm to sell the transformation. Sarah Boslaugh


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The Town

Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper


Jeremy Renner
The Town

As the bad-seed buddy to Ben Affleck’s tough-guy-going-good Doug McRay in the year’s best bank heist flick (a higher compliment than it might seem), Jeremy Renner’s Jimmy Coughlin is the living embodiment of the friend you want at your side in a sketchy bar, but aren’t so sure about otherwise. Renner plays Jimmy as all id and bad ideas and misplaced tribal loyalty, the kind of hand grenade whose pin is always about to fall out (a brave, smart choice by director Affleck, who knew that Renner was going to upstage him in every scene). His appeal is perfectly encapsulated in the scene where Doug busts into Jimmy’s apartment, asking for his help in beating up some guys for reasons that Doug can never explain, to which Jimmy’s businesslike, half-bored reply is only, “Whose car we takin’?” Chris Barsanti



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Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Alexander Scheer, Nora von Waldstätten, Ahmad Kaabour, Christoph Bach, Susanne Wuest, Anna Thalbach, Julia Hummer


Edgar Ramirez

Illich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos, was a superstar among terrorists and the subject of the movie marathon (originally created as a mini-series for French television) Carlos directed by Olivier Assayas. As the film runs over five hours and covers two decades of Carlos’ life with action taking place in perhaps a dozen countries and almost as many languages it would be easy to get lost among all the assassinations and hostage takings and revolutionary movements, particularly if you didn’t major in The History of Modern Terrorism in college. Fortunately the narrative is held together by Edgar Ramirez who pulls off the role of Carlos with great panache: he’s by turns charming, ruthless, gloating, disdainful and misogynistic, effortlessly shifting gears as the occasion requires. Facial hair and bad fashions come and go, the gut increases and the girlfriends change, but Ramirez is always Carlos, providing continuity while everything around him changes. Sarah Boslaugh


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127 Hours

Director: Danny Boyle
Cast:   James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Clémence Poésy,  Lizzy Caplan


James Franco
127 Hours

When you first experience this true-life take on the terrifying misadventures of mountain climber Aron Ralston (you know, the guy trapped under a boulder for five days before cutting off his own arm), you are smitten by the stylistic choices of Danny Boyle. In combination with cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and the actual locations, the film looks marvelous—so much so that you could easily overlook the raw power in Franco’s fierce performance. It’s definitely a turn that takes several viewings to appreciate. More than just a sunny slacker extreme freak, the actor’s take on Ralston is both soulful and understated, using the adrenaline rush mentality of someone like this to mask a backstory of pain and personal regret. By the time he does a bit of pocket knife surgery, he’s earned his freedom… figuratively and literally. Bill Gibron



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The Social Network

Director: David Fincher
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Brenda Song, Rooney Mara, Rashida Jones, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella


Jesse Eisenberg
The Social Network

For several years now, Jesse Eisenberg seems to have been lumped in with Michael Cera, both for their resemblance to each other and for their predilection for playing mumbly, shy, somewhat detached characters. With The Social Network, though, Eisenberg has firmly established himself as an actor with range. His take (along with director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin) on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is profoundly different from his previous roles. Eisenberg creates a full person in Zuckerberg, a genius who has no patience for those who can’t keep up with his intellect or his computer skills. That lack of patience translates into a paucity of social skills as he flounders around at Harvard, dating awkwardly and trying unsuccessfully to get into the school’s clubs. But those computer skills lead him to become the world’s youngest billionaire. Eisenberg’s steady presence at the center of the film allows us to both admire Zuckerberg for his amazing abilities while also convincing us that he’s a jackass. And somehow, we still almost sympathize with him in the end. It’s a tough trick, but Eisenberg pulls it off with aplomb. Chris Conaton


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