The Best Male Film Performances of 2011

In another strong year, crime and punishment take on heart and heroism for the right to be called 2011's best male film acting work.

Film: Margin Call

Director: J.C. Chandor

Cast: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgely, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci


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Display Width: 250Jeremy Irons
Margin Call

As the CEO of an investment bank just before the financial crash, Jeremy Irons may be the most indelible movie villain of the year. There is something leonine and outwardly dignified about his presence, but this hides a ruthless insistence on scrambling over everyone else to get out of the collapsing market, regardless of the consequences. Margin Call is full of greedy and selfish characters in higher and higher places, making excuses for their own unscrupulousness. This culminates in a quite astonishing speech by Irons near the end of the film, in which he picks at a meal while calmly, even callously, justifying to his head of sales (a doubtful, conflicted Kevin Spacey) the crash he has just triggered. He’s thoroughly convincing in the role, and all the more horrifying because of it. Andrew Blackie

Film: The Beaver

Director: Jodie Foster

Cast: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Riley Thomas Stewart, Cherry Jones


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Mel Gibson
The Beaver

Mel Gibson's greatest pain in life is now the knowledge he would have won an Academy Award for his touching, commanding performance in The Beaver had he not lost all public support due to his incredibly off-putting real world behavior. I mean, this easily could have been the indie-turned blockbuster of 2011 given its quirky premise paired with relatable characters. Gibson anchors the main protagonist beautifully. He manages to be funny, vulnerable, and honest from one moment to the next -- even within the same line. He is Walter. He's also the Beaver. The two are both bonded and unique thanks to Gibson's tour de force. If only he would have allowed himself to receive the accolades he deserves. Ben Travers

Film: Warrior

Director: Gavin O’Connor

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo, Kevin Dunn


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Nick Nolte

Nick Nolte has made a career out of playing blustery, burdened men who tend to have a penchant for the bottle. From 48 Hours to Afflication, and even in Tropic Thunder, Nolte has succeeded again and again with similar subjects by tweaking them slightly for each performance. In Warrior, the vastly underappreciated family drama from director Gavin O’Conner, Nolte is a cleaned-up version of his past characters. Paddy Conlon has made unspeakable (and largely unmentioned) mistakes, but he’s trying to get better. Nolte is in controlled-mourning mode, speaking softly and dropping his confronter’s gaze. Yes, he’s given a few opportunities to break the silence -- his hotel scene is one of the year’s more remarkable cinematic moments. Even during the calm before the storm, though, he’s never been more powerful. Ben Travers

Film: Hugo

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Jude Law


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Asa Butterfield

You're the star of Martin Scorsese's foray into fantasy filmmaking. He's also going to use the au currant gimmick of 3D as part of his plan. Oh, and the movie is actually a love letter to cinema, a restatement of the importance of imagination and creativity in the typical Tinseltown by committee experience. And you're just 14. How do you do it? If you're the British born Asa Butterfield, you prove that age doesn't define an actor -- acting does... and then you deliver one of the knock out performances in the history of family film. Little Hugo is so haunted by the death of his dad that he can't connect with the world. He spends his days like a hermit avoiding everything and anyone. His awakening, thanks to an automaton and a female friend, is the subtext which makes this movie soar. Butterfield's turn cements it. Bill Gibron

Film: Moneyball

Director: Bennett Miller

Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, Kathryn Morris, Robin Wright, Tammy Blanchard


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Brad Pitt

I have not read the book on which Moneyball is based, nor have I seen many pictures of the real Billy Beane, so I cannot say that Brad Pitt transformed into Beane for this movie. What Pitt certainly does do is carry the movie with his performance, the key to which lies in the way he chews tobacco and slouches in his chair; the twinkle of “are you kidding me?” in his eye when his boss tells him that almost beating the Yankees is good enough. These physical details form the performance that makes a good enough script and quality direction into a movie worth re-watching. So if you tell me that Pitt is nothing like the real Beane, I’d say change the name of the film, the name of the character, change “based on” to “inspired by.” Just, whatever you do, don’t change the performance. Tomas Hachard

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