TOP 5 LEADING ACTOR PERFORMANCES OF 2012

Lead Actor

Today I wrap up my look back at the best acting from the 2012 movie year. We’ve looked at the supporting categories and the lead actress category. Now it’s time to look at the lead actors. Just like every other field this year, the lead actor category is loaded with great performances and with deserving actors who blew me away. It was crushing to leave some names off but I think this list sums up the category perfectly. There is a huge range of performances here covering everything from small budget independent films to monster sized blockbusters. But the one constant are the performances and these guys were great. So here are the Top 5 Leading Actor Performances from 2012 (according to me)…

#5 – JACK BLACK – (“Bernie”)

BERNIE

I just can’t believe I’m actually putting Jack Black on my list of top lead actor performances. Let me say for the 100th time – I’m no Jack Black fan. But I’ve got to admit that his performance as the eccentric Bernie Tiede deserves to be on this list. Black’s loud, in-your-face brand of stupid comedy just doesn’t work for me but here he really dials it back a bit. A lot of it is due to writer and director Richard Linklater but I have to giver Black a lot of credit. I loved this performance in “Bernie” and it’s a big step in the right direction for Black.

#4 – DANIEL CRAIG – (“Skyfall”)

CRAIG

Daniel Craig won’t make any critics lists and you won’t see his name down as a Golden Globe or Academy Award nominee. That’s a shame because he should be. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his run as James Bond and his work in “Skyfall” is his best yet. Craig has all the characteristics of Bond – suave, hunky, and tough. But he tones down the cheese and brings a much more grounded and flawed character to the screen. But make no mistake, he still kicks a ton of butt. Craig packages all of this up with his “Skyfall” performance and he deserves to be mentioned with the best of the year.

#3 – JOAQUIN PHOENIX – (“THE MASTER”)

JOAQUIN

Regardless of my mixed feelings on Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master“, I had no mixed feelings about Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Freddie Quell, an alcoholic World War 2 veteran battling post-traumatic stress disorder. Anderson’s script takes Freddie down several dark holes, and even though they don’t always translate well on screen, Phoenix is riveting as this deeply damaged character. All of his past recent off screen antics can sometime cloud the fact that he is a brilliant actor. He reminds of that in “The Master“.

#2 – HUGH JACKMAN – (“Les Miserables”)

JACKMAN

I have to admit, I’ll never look at Wolverine the same way. Hugh Jackman starring in a musical may surprise some people but the actor has a history on stage. In Tom Hooper’s ambitious film version of the “Les Miserables” musical, Jackman takes the lead role and knocks it out of the park. Some have questioned his singing. It didn’t bother me a bit. But it wasn’t just his singing that made this performance so strong. Jackman invests everything, both physically and emotionally, into the part and that sold me more than anything else. He’s great in this film and he deserves the praise he’s getting.

#1 – DANIEL DAY-LEWIS – (“Lincoln”)

DANIEL DL

I know it’s the popular pick and I know that Daniel Day-Lewis is the front runnuer for the Best Actor Oscar. Good! He should be! Sometimes people just get it right. How could I not go with Day-Lewis in what was the most towering and immersive performance of 2012. Nobody throws every part of themself into a role like Day-Lewis. In “Lincoln” he manages to take an incredibly well known historical figure and give us something we have never seen before. His looks, his voice, his expressions – everything is unique. Day-Lewis is the best and this is yet another brilliant performance to add to his resume. If he doesn’t get the Best Actor Oscar they shouldn’t have the award.

So that wraps up my humble opinion of the four major acting categories for the 2012 movie year. It was a year that reminded us of the wealth of talent both old and new in the movies today. Here’s hoping we have just as much to talk about at the end of 2013.

“BERNIE” – 4 STARS

I can honestly say there are few actors that I dislike more than Jack Black. In fact, my excitement and anticipation for a movie can be negatively influenced or shaped just by seeing his name attached. So it’s safe to say that it wasn’t Jack Black that drew me to “Bernie”. But the movie has several other things going for it that spurred my curiosity. First, “Bernie” was directed and co-written by Richard Linklater, a filmmaker I have recently grown to appreciate especially after seeing “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset”. Then there’s the whole “based on a true story” thing about a funeral director in a small southern town. It sounded quirky and unusual yet featured several things that hit pretty close to home. Throw in what looked like a really peculiar looking role for Matthew McConaughey and I knew I needed to check this film out. I’m glad I did.

I wasn’t familiar with the real story of Bernie Tiede but I knew it was a highly unusual one. Jack Black plays Bernie, a funeral director in the small town of Carthage, Texas. In the first few scenes we notice that Bernie is, shall I say, a very different individual. Yet despite his many eccentricities, he is adored by the small community. He sings in the local church choir, helps locals with their taxes, coaches little league baseball, and is known for the amazing attention and care he gives grieving families at the local funeral home, particularly the widows. Linklater employs a very effective and often times hilarious method of storytelling. The movie is constructed like a documentary and we are introduced to and learn about Bernie through snippets of interviews with the Carthage locals. Some of the locals are played by lesser known actors but sprinkled in are interviews with real citizens of Carthage who are familiar with the real Bernie and the situation that he found himself in. It’s quickly evident that the locals truly loved him.

Bernie befriends a mean, crusty old widow named Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Marjorie is an extremely wealthy woman but she’s hated by the community and her family. She hits it off with Bernie after he handles her husband’s funeral and the two soon become inseparable. He takes her to dinner, helps her manage her affairs, and takes trips with her all over the world. Even as she grows more abrasive and abusive, Bernie is loyal and supportive. Again, Linklater tells us all of this through interviews with the town folks who aren’t a bit shy about sharing their opinions of Marjorie and of her friendship with Bernie. This is also where we meet Danny Buck Davidson (McConaughey), the area district attorney who some locals feel is more interested in staying in office that doing any real good. McConaughey is fantastic with his cowboy hat hair, oversized glasses, and funky inner mouth prosthetic. He fits perfectly in this zany cast of characters and he steals most of the scenes he’s in.

There is so much that works with this film. It shocks me to be able to say this but Jack Black is really good here. This is a quirky character that fits right into his limited comfort zone. He sells Bernie wonderfully and he leaves the audience questioning how we should understand and respond to his character. The movie also packs a lot of genuinely funny moments. Even when the story takes a more twisted turn it stills manages to sideswipe you with some unexpected hilarious scenes. But while it certainly didn’t ruin the movie, the later shift in the movie’s tone wasn’t seamless. There were a few moments in the film where it felt like Linklater struggled in mixing his humor with the more serious elements of the story. It’s impossible to go any further into detail without getting into spoiler territory but I did find myself questioning what kind of movie Linklater was making a few times in the third act.

But don’t let that small gripe scare you away from this picture. “Bernie” is one of the bigger surprises of the year. It’s a comedy that’s actual funny. It’s intelligent and creative and it doesn’t use the normal modern comedy gimmicks that are so prevalent today. Linklater does a brilliant job of taking a serious true story and wrapping it up in very unique humor and the results are fantastic. Black is really good, McConaughey is great, and the entire assortment of interviewed locals are guaranteed to make you laugh. I had a blast with “Bernie” and it’s a movie that I simply can’t wait to check out again.