Iconic – The Top 20 Male Performances of 2008

Director: Jonathan Demme
Film: Rachel Getting Married
Studio: Sony
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Debra Winger, Bill Irwin, Mather Zickel, Anna Deavere Smith, Tunde Adebimpe
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-10-03 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/r/rachel-getting-married.jpg

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List number: 20

Bill Irwin

Rachel Getting Married

In Ordinary People, Donald Sutherland played the perfect example of a parent unhinged by a horrific tragedy. In a 2008 revisit of a similar storyline, actor and clown Irwin shows how far/low the American father has come/gone in 28 years. Part pro-PC doormat, part symbol of post-millennial male ineffectualness, there’s a deeper element to Papa Buchman, a creative man plagued by simple doubt, that keeps us sympathetic and engaged. While he may not have the answers to a family falling apart, his open hearted attempt to heal his children’s wounds indicates a man of untapped potential — and significant vulnerability. Bill Gibron

Rachel Getting Married

Director: Guillaume Canet
Film: Tell No One
Subtitle: Ne le dis à personne
Studio: Les Productions du Trésor
Cast: François Cluzet, Marie-Josée Croze, Marina Hands, Kristin Scott Thomas, Nathalie Baye
Website: http://www.tellno-one.com/
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2007
Distributor: Music Box
US Release Date: 2008-07-02
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/t/tellnooneposter.jpg

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List number: 19

Francois Cluzet

Tell No One

Plots surround pediatrician Alexandre Beck (Francois Cluzet) when he gets a chance to recover the wife he thought he lost eight years earlier. Whereas other actors might have approached Beck with a grizzled sense of sorrow or acquired affectation, Cluzet locks into a tricky balance of optimism and caution. At once detective, suspect, and victim, Beck is defined by loss, and Cluzet wisely plays him like there’s nothing left to lose. There is a refreshing romanticism to his dedication that steadies the more improbable tangents of the story and keeps the action moving forward in a quest for justice and lost love. Thomas Britt

Tell No One

Director: Thomas McCarthy
Film: The Visitor
Studio: Overture Films
Cast: Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira, Hiam Abbass
Website: http://www.thevisitorfilm.com/
MPAA rating: PG-13
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/video/V08B7gjuzCFNTU
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2008-04-11 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-07-04 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/v/visitor-poster.jpg

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List number: 18

Richard Jenkins

The Visitor

Richard Jenkins is a career “That Guy,” known for playing small character roles and never really sticking out much. Even this year, he showed up as the dad in the Will Ferrell-John C. Reilly comedy Step Brothers and as the gym manager in the Coens’ Burn After Reading. But he finally got his chance to shine in The Visitor and seized upon the opportunity. Listless college professor Walter Vale discovers a foreign couple squatting in his little-used New York City apartment, and decides to let them stay, even beginning to learn the art of African drumming. Jenkins is in nearly every scene, and he carries the movie wonderfully as Walter begins to discover joy in his life, and later deals with tragedy and even tentative, tender middle-aged love. Chris Conaton

The Visitor

Director: Martin McDonagh
Film: In Bruges
Studio: Focus Features
Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Jérémie Renier, Zeljko Ivanek, Eric Godon
Website: http://www.filminfocus.com/focus-movies/in-bruges/movie-splash.php
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/56/4756/videos/?s=trailers
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-02-08 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-04-04 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/i/in-bruges-poster.jpg

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List number: 17

Brendan Gleeson

In Bruges

A variation on his character from I Went Down, Gleeson’s Ken is a hitman in a holding pattern. Stuck in Bruges with Ray (Colin Farrell) and under the thumb of boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes), Gleeson calmly and coolly attempts to mediate between the two hotheads. Many actors of Gleeson’s stature fail to convincingly square their ursine exterior with the delicacy some roles require (compare for instance Hoffman’s Capote to that of Toby Jones). Gleeson, however, endearingly conveys a big man who wants nothing more than to enjoy life’s small pleasures even as his criminal commitment unavoidably draws him back in. Thomas Britt

In Bruges

Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Film: Midnight Meat Train
Studio: Lionsgate
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Vinnie Jones, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Roger Bart
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-08-01 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/m/midnight_meat_train_ver2.jpg

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List number: 16

Vinnie Jones

Midnight Meat Train

You’ve probably seen Jones, the former English soccer star, playing tough guys in the films of Guy Ritchie and in various other movies over the past decade. He definitely has a comfort zone, and he always does solid work inside of that zone. Still, his performance as the silent, creepy killer Mahogany in Midnight Meat Train may be the role of his career. There’s no mask or grotesque makeup here, but Jones doesn’t need much to be imposing. In this movie, he’s frightening just walking on the street in a business suit, and when he shifts gears to attack unsuspecting passengers on the New York City subway, it’s absolutely terrifying. Jones makes a hell of an impression without saying a word. Chris Conaton

Midnight Meat Train

Director: Gus Van Sant
Film: Milk
Studio: Focus Features
Cast: Sean Penn, Jamesw Franco, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Alison Pill, Diego Luna
Website: http://filminfocus.com/focus-movies/milk/movie-splash.php
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-11-26 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-01-16 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/m/milk-poster.jpg

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List number: 15

Josh Brolin

Milk

After tearing up the screen thrice in 2007, and wowing as Dubya himself earlier last year, Josh Brolin has accrued one of the best strings of roles in a long time. And best among them is Milk’s killer Dan White. Opposite some of the most sublime acting of last year courtesy of Penn, Franco and Hirsch, Brolin works a minor miracle by nearly stealing the film away from everyone with about a tenth of their screen time. His White is sympathetic without being obvious in any way. Is it hot in here or is it just this dude’s career? Aaron Marsh

Milk

Display Artist: Joel and Ethan Coen
Director: Joel
Director: Ethan Coen
Film: Burn After Reading
Studio: Focus Features
Cast: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, Richard Jenkins, David Rasche, J.K. Simmons
Website: http://www.burnafterreading.com–live.com/#/home
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-09-12 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-10-17 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/b/burnafterreadingposter.jpg

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List number: 14

Brad Pitt

Burn After Reading

If Javier Bardem and that hideous haircut resonate as the signature touch from last year’s No Country for Old Men, then a shamelessly Coen-ized Brad Pitt should stand as Burn After Reading’s indelible image — especially that last expression we see on the face of Pitt’s character, an awkwardly effusive grin, like a jack-in-the-box popping up out of cue. In a movie full of vintage Coen sleazebags and schemers, Pitt’s jamba juice-chugging, bike-riding gym rat is the one that’s sort of inadvertently endearing, mostly because you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. Whoa, wait a minute: this is Brad freaking Pitt we’re talking about here–the guy who won the genetic jackpot, then got charisma and talent thrown in as a bonus. No statement, then, could more highly attest to Pitt’s degree of in-character “transformation” here. Josh Timmermann

Burn After Reading

Director: David Gordon Green
Film: Pineapple Express
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Amber Heard, Rosie Perez, Gary Cole, Craig Robinson, Kevin Corrigan, Bill Hader
Website: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/pineappleexpress/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
Distributor: Sony
US Release Date: 2008-08-06 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-09-12 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/p/pineapple_express.jpg

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List number: 13

James Franco

Pineapple Express

If you’re of a certain age, from a specific generation, you probably had a stoner friend. Maybe you were the one waking and baking on a consistent basis. Whatever the case, there are certain Mary Jane inspired clichés that come with the concept, and amazingly enough, Franco transcends each and every one of them. He’s intelligent when stupidity should rule. He’s loyal when self-preservation should be the focus. And when the time comes to pack heat and kick some ass, he’s initially reluctant – proving that marijuana doesn’t really impair one’s better judgment. Instead, friendship and loyalty – not THC – turns him into something almost heroic. Oh, and he’s hilarious as well. Bill Gibron

Pineapple Express

Director: John Patrick Shanley
Film: Doubt
Studio: Miramax
Cast: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis
Website: http://www.doubt-themovie.com/
MPAA rating: PG-13
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/video/V08I1359AKOPVY
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-12-12 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-02-06 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/d/doubt-poster.jpg

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List number: 12

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Doubt

In 2008, the pedophilic priest is an alarming non-event. It’s something we expect whenever the church and children are mentioned. John Patrick Shanley takes such a tripwire reality, teleports it back 40 years, and rediscovers the title concept. Hoffman’s turn as Fr. Flynn seems to fit the profile — he’s a tad too personal with the students at St. Nicholas Church School, taking a particular liking to the only African American kid on campus. When the boy is found with liquor on his breath, Flynn must undergo a series of interrogations and inferences in order to clear his name. At every turn, Hoffman seems to hide the truth, leaving the audience ambiguous as to whether or not he’s guilty, misunderstood, or something far more personal. It’s spellbinding to watch. Bill Gibron

Doubt

Director: Sam Mendes
Film: Revolutionary Road
Studio: Paramount Vantage
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Michael Shannon, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-12-26 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-01-30 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/r/revolutionary-road-poster.jpg

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List number: 11

Leonardo DiCaprio

Revolutionary Road

My favorite thing about Yates’ masterful novel Revolutionary Road is how keen an eye for deconstructing masculine ideals it has. That probing eye has not been lost in the translation to the screen but has somehow transfered almost entirely to DiCaprio’s performance. Despite his lack of buzz, he has the heavy lifting in this film, though you’d never know at a glance. He makes it look entirely too easy. And as he proved to be her great romantic match in Titanic, DiCaprio again meshes with Winslet perfectly again, but this time they’re rivals. And when she calls his manhood out, it gets magnificently ugly. Aaron Marsh

Revolutionary Road

10 – 1

Director: Ron Howard
Film: Frost/Nixon
Studio: Universal Pictures
Cast: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Hall
Website: http://www.frostnixon.net/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-12-05 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-01-23 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/f/frost-nixon-official-poster.jpg

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List number: 10

Michael Sheen

Frost/Nixon

Michael Sheen, well known as Tony Blair in The Deal and The Queen, brings to David Frost some of the same self-aware energy as his signature role. But as journalist Frost — like Blair, a man who mined the intersection of politics and media — Sheen exhibits a fresh dynamism that communicates the emotional compartmentalization that comes with the territory. Sheen plays Frost as a man so in tune with the façade television requires that he’s rarely without his charming public smile. But Sheen knows that eyes are helplessly honest, and he uses them to seduce, to sell, to justify, and in his final interview with Frank Langella’s Richard Nixon, to defeat. Thomas Britt

Frost/Nixon

Director: Arnold Desplechin
Film: A Christmas Tale
Studio: IFC Films
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Melvil Poupaud, Anne Consigny, Chiara Mastroianni, Laurent Capelluto
Website: http://www.bacfilms.com/site/conte/
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://www.ifcfilms.com/viewFilm.htm?filmId=996
First date: 2008
Length: 150
US Release Date: 2008-11-14 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/c/christmastaleposter.jpg

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List number: 9

Mathieu Amalric

A Christmas Tale

Nervy, neurotic Henri has serious mommy issues. Matriarch Junon (Catherine Denueve) is dying and she lets all it hang out: she actually doesn’t care for her son at all. He’s fine with that — the two have a tentative, delirious agreement to get along for the sake of the family at what might be their last Christmas celebration. Pill-addled, ill-tempered and wily, Henri does his best to antagonize anyone who crosses his path. Amalric, in concert with his Kings and Queen director Arnaud Desplechin once again, attains a bruised glory and finds the heart of an otherwise ugly man that not even his mother loves. The added miracle is that he is so sharply funny while playing such a scumbag. Amalric proves once again to be one of the most engaging, interesting actors working today. Matt Mazur

A Christmas Tale

Director: Ron Howard
Film: Frost/Nixon
Studio: Universal Pictures
Cast: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Hall
Website: http://www.frostnixon.net/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-12-05 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-01-23 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/f/frost-nixon-official-poster.jpg

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List number: 8

Frank Langella

Frost/Nixon

With Nixon, it’s just too easy to slip into caricature. For decades, impressionists and sketch comics have been milking the Milhous for all its “I am not a crook” worth. Following in the footsteps of Anthony Hopkins in Oliver Stone’s terrific bio-pic, West End and Broadway star Langella reprises his turn as the formidable ex-Commander in Chief. Savvy without being too smug, dignified with just a hint of desperation, this cagey old politician plays his British press given hand magnificently — until the truth slaps him right in his ‘above the law’ face. While he definitely looks the part, Langella’s triumph is in bearing Nixon’s noxious soul. It’s something no mimic can match. Bill Gibron

Frost/Nixon

Director: Jon Favreau
Film: Iron Man
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Studio: Marvel Studios
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Leslie Bibb
Website: http://ironmanmovie.marvel.com/
MPAA rating: PG-13
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/ironman/
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-05-02 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-05-02 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/i/iron-man-poster1.jpg

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List number: 7

Robert Downey Jr.

Iron Man

Robert Downey’s portrayal of Tony Stark is almost four great performances in one. He delivers a masterpiece of comic timing that makes every snappy one-liner sound spontaneous (“Hey Tony, remember me?” “Sure don’t!”). He has real chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow in a relationship that never feels like a tacked-on romantic subplot. He’s deliriously entertaining as a hard-partying bad boy whose entire lifestyle, from owning a high-tech mansion overlooking the ocean to sleeping with every Maxim covergirl he can fit into his schedule, is a daydream of male wish fulfillment. And at the same time, Downey clues us in to Stark’s innate loneliness and his crisis of conscience when he realizes he’s been living his life on hedonistic autopilot. Playing a superhero who’s both sleazy and inspiring at the same time, Robert Downey Jr. shows once again that he’s an actor without limits. Jack Rodgers

Iron Man

Director: Oliver Stone
Film: W.
Studio: Lionsgate
Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, Ellen Burstyn, Ioan Gruffudd, Richard Dreyfuss, Thandie Newton, Scott Glenn, Jeffrey Wright, Jason Ritter, Toby Jones
Website: http://www.wthefilm.com/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-10-17 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-11-07 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/w/w_ver3.jpg

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List number: 6

Josh Brolin

W.

Josh Brolin’s George W. Bush is a pretty dead-on piece of mimicry, yet as such, it’s only marginally more effective than your run-of-the-mill Saturday Night Live sketch. What elevates his performance is that, through Bush’s tics and quirks and mannerisms, Brolin finds an entry point for embodying what registers as a genuinely human and multi-dimensional Bush. Consequently, it’s in the most familiar of Dubya moments that Brolin sparks revelations. In fact, it’s hard — rightly or wrongly — to shake the feeling that we’re learning more about Bush the man from Brolin’s portrayal and Oliver Stone’s underappreciated film than we’ve been able to glean over these past eight years. Josh Timmermann

W.

Director: Sam Mendes
Film: Revolutionary Road
Studio: Paramount Vantage
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Michael Shannon, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-12-26 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-01-30 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/r/revolutionary-road-poster.jpg

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List number: 5

Michael Shannon

Revolutionary Road

Like the more than necessary slap in the face the unhappy Wheeler couple desperately need (and deserve), Shannon shows up about halfway through Sam Mendes masterful Revolutionary Road and proceeds to steal the film away from his high powered A-list costars. All DiCaprio and Winslet can do is gawk in discontented disbelief. A powerful performer always circling the main cast, Shannon comes into his own as the insane son of an uptight real estate agent played by Kathy Bates. His final scene, taking on everyone who thinks he’s socially inappropriate, marks the beginning of the end for Frank and April’s dwindling dreams. It’s all horrifically downhill from there. Bill Gibron

Revolutionary Road

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Film: The Wrestler
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Ernest “The Cat” Miller
Website: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/thewrestler/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://video.aol.com/video/the-wrestler-trailer-no-1/2343224
First date: 2008
Distributor: Fox
US Release Date: 2008-12-17 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-01-16 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/w/wrestler-poster.jpg

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List number: 4

Mickey Rourke

The Wrestler

Sometimes an actor and a character are fated to meet on film. In even rarer cases, these dueling personalities are opposite sides of the same coin. In the case of has-been actor Mickey Rourke and the role of washed-up professional wrestler Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, there was quite simply no other actor capable of embodying such a flawed yet emotionally sympathetic character. Each frayed relationship depicted in The Wrestler is written in the crevices of Rourke’s subtly expressive face — a lifetime of professional miscues bubbling just beneath the surface. And yet this isn’t just an exorcism of a careers-worth of demons, but also the performance that Rourke has been building towards over the course of a decade spent in exile. Jordan Cronk

The Wrestler

Director: Ben Stiller
Film: Tropic Thunder
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Cast: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr., Steve Coogan, Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Nick Nolte
Website: http://www.tropicthunder.com/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-08-13 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-09-19 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/t/tropic-thunder-poster.jpg

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List number: 3

Robert Downey Jr.

Tropic Thunder

Downey was the best thing about the amazing Iron Man, so the fact that Tropic Thunder was his best performance of 2008 should tell you something about just how good he was in Ben Stiller’s comedy. He plays Kirk Lazarus, an Australian method actor who dyes his skin to play an African-American sergeant in a wannabe epic Vietnam war movie. Lost in the jungle and far from any cameras, Lazarus doggedly refuses to break character, to hilarious result. His advice to Ben Stiller’s clueless action star on why actors should never go “full retard” is already a film classic. And the layering of acting and confusion in the scenes where Downey, playing Lazarus, who is in character as the sergeant, disguises himself as a Chinese farmer, has to be seen to be believed. Chris Conaton

Tropic Thunder

Director: Gus Van Sant
Film: Milk
Studio: Focus Features
Cast: Sean Penn, Jamesw Franco, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Alison Pill, Diego Luna
Website: http://filminfocus.com/focus-movies/milk/movie-splash.php
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-11-26 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-01-16 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/m/milk-poster.jpg

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List number: 2

Sean Penn

Milk

In a world where the easiest road to an Oscar is playing a real life individual, seeing someone’s biopic performance not consist almost entirely of mockery is absolutely astounding. Sean Penn is absolutely astounding in Milk, anchoring an impressive film filled with equally impressive performances with his serenely happy Harvey. After the first couple of scenes, you never question Milk’s ability to draw votes or the passionate band of boys that the film centers around; he’s just that darn charismatic. Were someone else in this role, Milk almost certainly would not have become the biopic-to-beat it is today. Aaron Marsh

Milk

Director: Christopher Nolan
Film: The Dark Knight
Studio: Warner Brothers
Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Eric Roberts, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman
Website: http://thedarkknight.warnerbros.com/
MPAA rating: PG-13
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-07-18 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-07-21 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/d/dark_knight.jpg

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List number: 1

Heath Ledger

The Dark Knight

The depth of Heath Ledger’s portrayal transformed the Joker from a cartoonish villain to a painfully self-aware being — both likeable and frightening at the same time. More masochist than sadist, a darkly mirthful madness was constantly reflected in the eyes of The Dark Knight‘s self-proclaimed “agent of chaos”. While the Joker himself is a larger-than-life character, Ledger wisely employed no over-the-top theatrics, his Joker speaking in a delightfully conversational tone, even at his most deranged. His deliberate delivery of even single syllables made for memorable moments. Ledger made his prosthetic makeup more than just a prop, deftly incorporating a slight slurp and subtly informing a voice characterized by facial scars healed sans surgery. More remarkably, his characterization was so thorough that even from behind, the Joker’s distinctive walk and posture produced an aura of one part unsteady toddler and another part menacing Nosferatu, speaking volumes without saying a word. Ledger’s performance truly constructed the devil from his attention to detail, creating an enigmatic sort of subtext to the Joker mythos. Lana Cooper

The Dark Knight

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