Mark Ruffalo has always been a dependable and consistently excellent actor, so it should come as no surprise that his performance in The Kids Are All Right is great. His character is deceptively simple, the laid back guy who just goes along, up for whatever. However, there are depths to the character and layers that Ruffalo reveals. Just watch his final scene in the film, that helpless, pleading look on his face. You'll see what I mean.
I've been a Jay Baruchel fan since the sadly short-lived TV show Undeclared and he's never let me down. Though, it is a bit odd that he's still playing teenagers. His performance as a Trotsky obsessed teen determined to bring about a revolution is engaging and funny and all around brilliant.
As Mark Wahlberg's older, drug addicted brother who has long since crashed and burned, Christian Bale shines. Though a few critics have written off his performance as "showy," I think it rings with authenticity from beginning to end. Bale has, shockingly, never been nominated for an Oscar. I think it's safe to say that that will change with this performance.
Not many actors would be brave enough to step into John Wayne's iconic shoes but leave it to Jeff Bridges to do it and make it work. His Rooster Cogburn is a gritty, tough, occasionally drunk S.O.B. who knows how to take care of business. With a character as colorful as Rooster, it would be easy to go over the top, but Bridges keeps it in line and delivers a great, compelling performance.
As the one who gets left behind, Garfield is really the emotional centre of The Social Network. In my review I described him as playing "the wife" role (whereas Justin Timberlake gets to play the rival for the protagonist's affections), which I think is a fairly accurate description of his place in the story. The wounded puppy thing that he's so adept at works especially well here. He's the film's only really sympathetic character and his suffering helps give the film it's resonance.
Mad, bad and dangerous to know, John Hawkes' character Teardrop is the scariest character in a film full of scary characters. This is a commanding performance, one of controlled intensity. Teardrop is a man of few words, but Hawkes plays him with his whole body, his posture alone saying what 1000 words never could. This is not just one of the best performances of the year, it's also (sadly) one of the most underrated.
George Clooney's performance as the haunted and on-guard assassin is one of the best of his career. It's a quiet performance that depends less on what he says than on how he looks when he's not saying it. He plays a man with many secrets, many regrets, and a whole host of fears and Clooney is able to convey all of that. It's an effective performance that leaves a lasting impression.
Jesse Eisenberg is no stranger to playing unlikeable characters (if you haven't seen The Squid and the Whale, I highly recommend it) but he always manages to bring some element of humanity to them that makes them work as protagonists. As depicted in The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg is a brilliant thinker but totally lost when it comes to interacting with other humans. At times he seems almost robotic but Eisenberg's performance never seems artificial or contrived.
In The King's Speech, Colin Firth gets to play both the hauteur and the humility of King George VI. He is a proud man consistently humiliated by his stutter, his dignity undercut by his own mind and body. There are great depths to this performance, which never allows the character's disability to become a crutch for the actor. In all likelihood, Firth will win an Oscar for this performance. He certainly deserves it.
For most of its running time, 127 Hours is simply "the James Franco show." Trapped and alone, the character contrives various plans of escape, relives old memories, and tries to keep himself amused and sane. Franco's performance is at times funny, at times heartbreaking and, in one scene in particular, almost unbearably intense. He has nobody but himself to play off of for much of the story, but his performance never becomes tiresome nor does it ever falter. It's brilliant from beginning to end.