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Film

Iconic - The Top 20 Male Performances of 2008

Like the gladiators of old, 2008 resembles a battle of formidable acting gods, especially when looking over the 20 choices presented below. Indeed, if anything, choosing a winner requires more of a leap of faith than any amount of critical skill - they all were that good.

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

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best film of 2008 j.k. simmons steve coogan josh brolin leonardo dicaprio james franco scott glenn michael sheen james cromwell kate winslet frances mcdormand vinnie jones robert downey jr. ben stiller marisa tomei marie-josée croze kathy bates philip seymour hoffman meryl streep tilda swinton maggie gyllenhaal jeffrey wright nick nolte viola davis colin farrell michael caine terrence howard mathieu amalric gwyneth paltrow morgan freeman christian bale john malkovich sean penn ioan gruffudd zeljko ivanek oliver platt brooke shields heath ledger anne hathaway kevin bacon gary oldman brendan gleeson debra winger eric roberts david rasche jeff bridges aaron eckhart richard jenkins sam rockwell george clooney nathalie baye amy adams richard dreyfuss brad pitt rosemarie dewitt thandie newton chiara mastroianni ralph fiennes catherine deneuve melvil poupaud elizabeth banks mickey rourke ellen burstyn emile hirsch diego luna gary cole evan rachel wood jack black jason ritter seth rogen hiam abbass kristin scott thomas frank langella anna deavere smith rosie perez kathryn hahn shaun toub alison pill kevin corrigan leslie bibb roger bart robert downey doubt michael shannon jr. amber heard jay baruchel bradley cooper the dark knight bill hader tunde adebimpe ethan coen toby jones craig robinson clémence poésy jérémie renier eric godon danny mcbride haaz sleiman danai gurira the visitor iron man faran tahir pineapple express rebecca hall brandon t. jackson tropic thunder the wrestler burn after reading bill irwin mather zickel w. midnight meat train rachel getting married a christmas tale anne consigny laurent capelluto marina hands jamesw franco milk frost/nixon revolutionary road david harbour ernest "the cat" miller françois cluzet tell no one joel in bruges Popmatters Picks The Best Tv F

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