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Year in Review: The 10 Best Performances of 2009

By  · Published on December 30th, 2009

Often “Best of” lists include a bunch of the Oscar bait roles that we hear about at the end of every year (ex. “I hear Helen Mirren is great in that movie that opened in one theater in LA!”) but in 2009 we had some great performances in big movies which sadly isn’t always the case (G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra and Terminator: Salvation, I’m looking at you two). With this list I tried to balance the two opposing worlds of critical credibility and popularity by considering which roles stuck out in my mind most. I thought about which characters I couldn’t stop thinking about (not counting stuff like Chris Klein’s brilliant turn as Charlie Nash in Street Fighter: Legend of Chun Li) and this is what I came up with:

10. Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills in Taken

While watching Taken one can’t help but root for Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, the bad ass old dude, who systematically eliminates the scummy Eurotrash who stole his daughter. What’s most appealing about Bryan Mills is that he doesn’t just use all brute force but instead opts for clever ways to dispatch an enemy who vastly out number him.

9. Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell in Moon

Throughout the slow burning Moon, Rockwell is fascinating to watch as a lonely astronaut at the end of a three-year contract of working by himself on the moon. His mental stability is thrown into question when he discovers another “iteration” of himself. Rockwell successfully carries the film pretty much by…and with himself.

8. Zach Galifinakis as Alan Garner in The Hangover

Galifinakis’ role as Alan, the well meaning but bizarre satchel wearing in-law, hilariously introduced the world to the oddball comedian. When not doing his insane stand up, Galifinakis had been formally relegated to supporting roles in terrible films (Out Cold anyone?) but is now in high demand as he will be re-teaming with Hangover director Todd Phillips in Due Date with Robert Downey Jr. as well as reprising his Alan role in a Hangover sequel.

7. Chris Pine as Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek

Stepping into a massive amount of fanboy/Trekkie pressure, relatively unknown actor Chris Pine somehow managed to avoid doing a William Shatner impersonation and truly made the role of Captain Kirk his own in J.J. Abrams’ enjoyable reboot of Star Trek. The film absolutely could not have succeeded with out Pine’s perfect blend of charm, comedic timing and action star cockiness.

6. Anna Kendrick as Natalie Keener in Up in the Air

I never would have thought an actor from Twilight could make the best performances list but Anna Kendrick is simply wonderful in Up In The Air as young executive looking to shake up George Clooney’s world. She is also may be the first character ever on film who is NOT attracted to a George Clooney character.

5. Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre in The Informant!

Matt Damon is a blast to watch in the role of Mark Whitarce, a goofy and seemingly well-intentioned executive who decides to out his co workers on illegal price fixing of a widely used food additive. But as the court case and investigation goes on, more and more layers of Whitarces’ statements are entertainingly torn down to reveal what kind of person he really is.

4. Sharlto Copley as Wikus Van De Merwe in District 9

Sharlto Copley’s Wilkus Van De Merwe starts District 9 as a spineless Ricky Gervais-esque bureaucrat charged with moving a bunch of slum dwelling prawn-like aliens into a new detainment camp. When Wilkus is sprayed with an alien weapon that begins to transform him into a prawn alien, he’s forced to team with up with the aliens to find a cure. As he deals with his transformation into an alien (and a better man) you can’t help but love him. Plus he gets in a mech robot and blows a bunch of stuff up along the way.

3. Gabourey Sidibe as Precious in Precious

No matter what you thought of Precious, there’s no question that first time actress Gabourey Sidbe knocked the title role out of the park. She brings to life a tough yet ultimately vulnerable black, urban teenager who has experienced the worst the world has to offer. With a little help from a caring teacher she grows in spite of her situation and watching her transformation is a joy.

2. Christoph Waltz as Col Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds

In many ways I strongly disliked Inglorious Basterds but there was one thing that was absolutely clear: Christoph Waltz’s Nazi Col Hans Landa is a blockbuster performance. Landa is completely ruthless and evil (he is nicknamed the Jew Hunter after all) yet he manages to charm you into really liking him. Anytime Waltz is on the screen you can’t help but be enthralled.

1. Jeremy Renner as SSgt. William James in The Hurt Locker

Renner is a blast (pun intended) to watch as SSgt. William James the cocky action star bomb squad leader we’ve come to expect from action movies (ex. while defusing a huge car bomb SSgt. James takes off his armor because “If I’m gonna die, I want to die comfortable”). But things get really interesting when we get to see SSgt. James off the job as his dark side comes out. It’s clear that this dark side is what dangerously fuels his brash actions on the job. As we go further down the rabbit hole of SSgt. James’ psyche, he becomes more intense (and possibly insane) we are glued to our seats for the best performance of the year.

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