The past decade has seen many career-defining roles from the best actors the world has to offer. Here is but a small smattering of the best performances of the decade. There was original intent to try and have this in a nice order. But, I just didn’t have the heart to break it down in such a way due to how much I enjoyed each performance, so a list instead will suffice!
Joaquin Phoenix – Her
Picking just one Joaquin Phoenix performance from this decade is no mean feat, but we have gone with the more sensitive, softer performance that he rarely gets to play. Whereas in The master and You Were Never Really Here, his intense physicality is removed and his emotional acting muscles are fully flexed here. This sensitive role really allows him to open up as an actor even if the awkwardness of Theodore seems closest to the real Phoenix himself.
Amy Adams – Arrival
As good as Arrival is, it would not be the film it is without Amy Adams. She carries the entire film on her back with her tour de force performance. Her ability to delve right into this character means she is believable as a linguist, on occasion we have actors have turned as academics and people with skill and it just doesn’t feel right. Adams ability to show subtle hints of her emotions as the film unfolds truly grips you. Without a doubt her best performance this past decade.
JK Simmons and Miles Teller – Whiplash
It is tough to break away from both of these performances, without one you potentially do not get the other. Like the characters themselves they need each other. JK Simmons gives the performance of a lifetime with his continual explosiveness. Teller is equalling as compelling and is able to commit to the pressures of playing not only to Simmons’ Fletcher but also to the audience, such a demanding role. These two are magic together in their magnetic performances; they make the film.
Sakura Andô – Shoplifters
In a film where the entire ensemble is sensational, Sakura Andô stands out showing that love for a child cannot be defined by blood. She is a morally ambiguous character who we know is doing and encouraging children to do immoral things, yet we know due to the world that they live in that she is merely trying to give these children a better life. She is the heart of Shoplifters.
Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler
Gyllenhaal gives the performance of his career here in a complete 180 from characters he was known for playing. His neurotic turn to become someone the audience would not have a second on closing the door on if he knocked on it is sensational. His performance as Bloom who is relentlessly determined to succeed is compelling to watch as it is horrifying. Knowing this man will do whatever it takes to succeed and reach his goals. I don’t quite remember there being a character quite like the one we seem in Lou Bloom and that is all down to Gyllenhaal.
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
As much as 12 Years A Slave is Chiwetel Ejiofor’s film. Lupita Nyong’o almost steals it right from underneath him and it becomes impossible to pick between the two when we consider the best performances of the decade. Ejiofor plays his role most with his body and facial reactions. The desperation to return home never leaves his eyes. The focus to find one way to get back to his family and if need be, to wait until the most opportune moment. Contrast this with the prideful Patsey who no matter how she is treated will stay true to herself, and no scene typifies that than that soap scene.
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
One of the most heartbreaking performances of the decade. McDormand is able to carry a lot of the emotional weight of the film while also playing a character with a lot of black humour in her. The pain she is suffering from is all on-screen to bare in the cruellest of ways, mixed with the dedicated mind-set of finding this murderer. When it feels like her character has a sense of hope and acceptance another event takes that away from her that all that remains is vengeance, even if it is not against the right person. One of her best performances, and one that rightfully earned her an Academy Award.
Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master
The late Philip Seymour Hoffman had many a great role, but his final performance in his frequent collaborator Paul Thomas Andersons The Master is perhaps the pinnacle of his career, though I imagine everyone has a different opinion on that choice. He is a leader who cannot hide his flaws and seriously struggles to refrain from exploding emotionally like Freddie. His character cannot refrain from acting out when challenged and it is rare that this type of role would not come across a tad cartoonish. Seymour-Hoffman is able to control the performance and allow subtle breaks in his character increase as time goes on. A wonderful performance from an actor gone too soon.
Rachel McAdams – Disobedience (2017)
Quite possibly, the performance of her career. McAdams understood the character of Esti. A woman who lives with regret for never being bold enough to follow her teen lovers lead. Left alone, and has had to conform to what her community wants and expects from her. It is a touching performance of a character who wants to break free but simply doesn’t know-how. McAdams is compelling and a word or two have to be shared for Rachael Weisz, who is the other half to Esti’s character.
Mads Mikkelsen – The Hunt
A powerhouse of a performance from Mikkelsen who plays a man who is an emotional mess due to the accusations thrown at him. Usually, we see him in more restrained roles, yet his true talent is one that should be utilised more, as an emotional wreck of a character. His explosive energy helps deliver a wonderful performance that is still underrated.
Cate Blanchett – Carol (2015)
Like Joaquin Phoenix, it is actually difficult to choose a single Cate Blanchett performance this decade due to her consistency as an actress. This is a fragile performance. She starts as a character who is so confident within themselves but slowly becomes more unsure and curious as she encounters Therese more and more. This nervousness of falling for someone, especially someone who you shouldn’t be falling for. It is a soul searching performance that is unforgettable.
I know that I have missed some wonderful performances out, but there is only so many you can add onto a list!