The Best Male Film Performances of 2010

by PopMatters Staff

4 January 2011


5 - 1

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I Love You Phillip Morris

Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Cast: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro


Jim Carrey
I Love You Phillip Morris

Jim Carrey will never be on the list of America’s greatest living actors—Ace Ventura will always lurk on his resume—but it’s hard to swallow that fact after witnessing the one-man carnival that he brings to town in Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s I Love You Phillip Morris. An evil little twist of a story about a real-life scammer, Carrey’s Steven Russell is all grin, patter, confidence, and appetite as he rockets from being a suburban husband to blazingly-flamboyant Miami club creature and eventually serial jail breaker. Carrey’s polished con-man shtick would be treat enough were it not for how much heart he hurls into the over-the-moon romance with gentle-souled cellmate Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), who Russell almost loves enough to stop breaking the law for. Carrey is less performer here than squib of mercury, all burn, appetite, and good humor. Unforgettable. Chris Barsanti



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Director: Jean-François Richet
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Ludivine Sagnier, Michel Duchaussoy, Myriam Boyer, Cécile De France, Gérard Depardieu


Vincent Cassel

With the smug sensuality of a young Brando and the cocky, assertive arrogance of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, Vincent Cassell tore through Mesrine like a Porterhouse steak, savoring each morsel as if it were his last. In one scene, disgusted that the death of Pinochet made the front page over his own arrest, Cassell, as Mesrine, laughs at Pinochet, decrying the brutal leader’s legacy, as if to say that his own crimes will be remembered long after all the tyrants are gone. That sort of brash attitude is just par for the course for Jacques Mesrine, and one of many believable moments Cassell has while clearly relishing the role of the infamous and ill-fated gangster. Much more terrifying, though, is a moment in the first installment when he shoves a gun into his wife’s mouth, and no one, not even Mesrine, is sure if he will pull the trigger. Kevin Brettauer



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The Fighter

Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo,  Jack McGee,  Frank Renzulli


Christian Bale
The Fighter

American Psycho. The Machinist. Rescue Dawn. None of these movies proved to be blockbusters, so the only reason people recognize the titles is because of one name: Christian Bale. He’s been paired with the best adjectives available for working actors, yet he’s never even been nominated for an Oscar. This will undoubtedly change when this year’s nominees’ list is unveiled. Bale may even win with his riveting, poignant, and humorous portrayal of Dicky Eklund in The Fighter. He deserves it. From the moment he appears onscreen, he owns it. This claim may be a bit overused, but what you see in Bale’s performance is like nothing you’ve witnessed before. Dicky’s got a big personality, and Bale brings it to life without overdoing it. Watching him work is like watching a magic trick. Even though you don’t know exactly how he does it, the joy comes from the show itself. Ben Travers



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Winter’s Bone

Director: Debra Granik
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser, Garret Dillahunt, Dale Dickey, Shelley Waggener


John Hawkes
Winter’s Bone

There is something at once wild and deathly still about Hawkes’ rogue uncle Teardrop in Debra Granik’s visionary Winter’s Bone. Though he moves with the stillness of a ghost, even as he shovels meth up his nose, the wraithlike Teardrop’s power lies in his ability to unnerve those around him, in the unexpectedness of his ruthlessness and cunning. Hawkes, a character actor who is likely most known for playing Kenny Powers’ brother in season one of the HBO sitcom Eastbound and Down, pieces his character in the film together meticulously, sewing the mannerisms, the gestures, the voice, the facial expressions, and the physicality of Teardrop together like a tailor cutting a fine suit meant to fit like a glove. When he is onscreen, the viewer is transfixed by this dangerous dealer and addict, with gleaming, black eyes like an Ozarks king snake. Teardrop is torn between being a violent boogeyman and helping his brother’s daughter Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) find her father before her family home is taken by debtors, and every unpredictable decision Hawkes makes only adds to the deathly ambiance of one of 2010’s finest films. Matt Mazur



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The King’s Speech

Director: Tom Hooper
Cast:   Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Geoffrey Rush, Timothy Spall, Jennifer Ehle


Colin Firth
The King’s Speech

In the hands of anyone other than Colin Firth, this role would be the very definition of mannered Merchant/Ivory grandstanding. A modern King of England, celebrated for his strength during World War II but hiding a horrible secret: stammering. It’s enough to get your Anthony Hopkins-ing and your Derek Jacobi-ing. But thanks to the terrific, textured take by Firth, as well as able support from co-stars Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, this mundane monarch with a psychologically deep speech defect becomes a champion of choice and perseverance. Even as he is jumping around on one foot and swearing up a storm, he remains dignified, determined, and somewhat defeated. If heavy hangs the head that wears the crown, Firth’s ruler is routinely downtrodden. But when he finally overcomes, the epiphany is humbling and heartfelt. Bill Gibron



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