Weekend Roundtable: Favorite Acting Performances of 2011

Let’s do one more of these prior-year look-back Roundtables before we move on to newer topics. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve discussed both the overrated and underrated films of 2011. This week, we’ll talk about our favorite acting performances of last year.

Aaron Peck

The best performance from an actor in 2011 was also the most overlooked. Brendan Gleeson wasn’t nominated for any major acting awards, and won’t be, but his performance in ‘The Guard‘ was my absolute favorite performance of 2011. There’s a lot to be said about the ability that it takes to pull off a dramatic role full of very dry humor. His comedic timing in ‘The Guard’ is simply perfect.

I thought there were some great performances from actresses in 2011. One of my favorites was Elle Fanning in ‘ Super 8’. That would’ve been my choice until I saw Michelle Williams in ‘My Week with Marylin‘. What’s great about her performance is that she doesn’t do a straight-up imitation of the famous person she’s playing (like Meryl Streep does in ‘Iron Lady’). Instead, she embodies the role and is still able to make it her own. I thought it was the best performance of the year.

Tom Landy

My vote for best male performance of 2011 goes to a certain genius chimpanzee embodied by the one-and-only Andy Serkis. The guy is an incredible performer. As the reigning king of motion-capture, he truly transcends what it means to be an actor. Serkis works his magic again in Rupert Wyatt’s ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘, bringing the CGI ape Caesar to life in a way that nobody else could. The facial expressions, the body movements – it’s amazing. Serkis deserves a lot more recognition than he gets, so I’m giving him some high props here.

On the female side, I’m picking Elle Fanning in J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi throwback, ‘Super 8‘. The talented young actress may have been snubbed at the Golden Globes and now the Oscars, but her acting range is fantastic in that film. Not only does she impress with her zombie tryout for Joe (Joel Courtney), she made jaws drop during the dramatic train scene-within-a-scene for a very good reason. Personally, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Mike Attebery

Christopher Plummer was the best part of ‘Beginners‘. If you ask me, that movie was overhyped to the extreme. I couldn’t wait to see it, but frankly, I thought it sucked. Ewan McGregor was perfectly adequate. Mélanie Laurent was mopey and annoying. The overall feel of the movie was that of curling up in a dank bedsheet. But Christopher Plummer was absolutely sublime! Each moment with him was tremendous. Arthur the dog (played by Cosmo the Jack Russell Terrier) also kicked ass. Christopher Plummer and Cosmo – two of the best actors of 2011.

The movie took a couple viewings to grow on me, but both times I’ve watched ‘Bridesmaids‘, I’ve thought Kristen Wiig was just incredible. Funny, of course. Sexy, surprisingly, yes, very. (Those little parentheses at the corners of her mouth just kill me!) And touching, yeah, that too! I always enjoy an unreasonably angry, simultaneously funny character (see Brick Ransom), and Wiig’s turn as the heartbroken and frustrated Annie Walker, particularly when she punches that “stupid f$%&ing cookie” and tells off a male flight attendant, hits all the right notes. It’s a great, great performance.

M. Enois Duarte

I’ve always had difficulty picking the best of whatever, and deciding best actor/actress is a huge challenge. So, I like to think of performances that surprised me most – as in, I never expected anything of such quality from that particular performer. I really enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt in ‘50/50‘. Thinking of that little pint-sized kid from ‘3rd from the Sun’ doing such a phenomenal job in a leading role still blows my mind. He was amazing and brought tears to my eyes.

But the one performance that really surprised me most has to be Albert Brooks in ‘Drive‘. The comedian from the first season of ‘SNL’, funny actor in ‘Broadcast News’, and the filmmaker of ‘Mother’ pulls no punches as a terrifying mobster and is completely unexpected. And the dude is actually scary! It’s an excellent performance that in my opinion is deserving of more recognition from the AMPAS.

Luke Hickman

This may sound totally clichéd and expected, but from the moment that I saw ‘The Artist‘, I knew that I was watching my two favorite performances of the year. I can’t think of any other actors who could have pulled off those demanding roles as well as Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo. There have been plenty of actors in the past with the ability to convey emotion without dialogue, but not since the silent film era have we seen this wide a range of emotions without words. Not only could both actors pull off that physicality, they even danced like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers too. Plus – is there anything cuter than watching Bérénice do her Charleston jig?

Josh Zyber

What Luke said. ^

Really. I feel a little bad about choosing someone who has already received an Oscar nomination (that he seems very likely to win), but from the opening scenes of ‘The Artist’, I could tell that Jean Dujardin was absolutely giving the performance of the year. He is flawless in that movie, a perfect silent movie star. He’s dashing, charismatic, funny and ultimately heartbreaking. The movie wouldn’t work at all without his riveting magnetism. Bérénice Bejo is also quite impressive, if not quite at the same level as Dujardin for me. However, the scene where she puts her arm through his empty coat and mimics his caress was perhaps the most purely sublime moment in all of cinema last year, and she nails it.

That said, the real breakout star of ‘The Artist’ has gone unrewarded in critics’ circles. I’m talking about Uggie the dog, who steals every damn scene he’s in – and he’s in a lot of them! Between this movie and ‘Beginners’, Jack Russell Terriers had a very good year in 2011.

What acting performances did you enjoy in 2011?


  1. JM

    Alan Tudyk in ‘Transformers 3’ was like Jean Reno in ‘The Professional’ taken to a whole ‘nother level. It was like watching Yo-Yo Ma on crack.

    Aksel Hennie in ‘Hodejegerne’ would be my runner up. Hopefully his next film with Mr. Bean will put him on the map.

    • Tudyk is highly underrated IMO, his role in Transformers 3 always makes the movie for me, plus his lovable hillbilly in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is fantastic too 🙂

  2. Chris Evans in Puncture was absolutely phenomenal. You could actually believe that he was an addict. The movie may have been mediocre but his performance was anything but mediocre.

    • paramedic0112

      I totally agree. Evans was a revelation. I was skeptical because of the human torch BS, but he was really great. His performace actually made me like the movie. I hope he gets more serious/heavy hitting roles in the future.

      • I really enjoyed him in Captain America, this one proved to me that he has dramatic acting chops in spades, loved his rise from puny yet heart-filled bully magnet to the Captain, he did wonders and now I will have to see Puncture 🙂

  3. Drew

    Elle Fanning in ‘We Bought a Zoo’ made this grown man cry.

    It was even better than her performance in ‘Super 8’.

    She is a true gem of a talent. I predict a Winslet like career for her. She is a phenom!

  4. paramedic0112

    I have to go with Ryan Gosling in Drive. I know Josh doesn’t agree but I guess it’s a polarizing movie. In particular, I was amazed at Gosling’s face before and after the elevator scene. It just looked drained and haunting. Looking at his face you could tell what he’s feeling/been through. Everybody was good in that movie, but Gosling was really great in my opinion.

  5. besch64

    I feel bad about repeating what Josh said about repeating what M. Enois said, but…

    Yes. Dujardin and Bejo. There’s something special to take note of in their performances that I feel is probably under-appreciated by most audiences. Namely, they are acting in a mode that has been irrelevant for more than 80 years. I’m not sure most people can appreciate the fact that silent film acting is an entirely different art form than what is generally thought of as movie acting today. It’s all kinetic and physical, meaning is expressed through movement and the face, and from absolutely nowhere else. Dujardin and Bejo are two phenomenally talented performers, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that Hazavinicius managed to have two people in his posse that could pull off what those two were able to pull off. It’s simply remarkable.

    That being said, they almost deserve their own special category. My favorite “conventional” performance of the year was Rooney Mara. What an unbelievable explosion of talent we were witness to this year.

  6. I am going to echo Elle Fanning in Super 8. Both her and her sister have been snubbed for years by the Oscars, but I am going to go out and say that Elle is probably even better than Dakota ever was (just remember, I am a huge fan of both girls). I honestly cannot believe Elle didn’t get anything for Phoebe In Wonderland. At least the two girls usually pick up People’s Choice, Teen’s Choice, Kid’s Choice and other awards where the people vote.

    This may sound pretty cliche as well, but I am going to throw out like the enitre cast of Harry Potter. There was just so much going on in that last movie – huge fights and action sequences, tons of emotion, and the actors just really sold it. You can especially see how much the child actors have grown since the early movies. While maybe not every performance is Oscar-worthy, there was some absolutely incredible performances in there, especially by supporting characters.

  7. Scott H

    I can’t chose just one actor but, the performances of the kids in Tree of Life were so naturaly acted. I felt while watching I could relate to them in a way that brought back memories of when I was a kid.