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The 20 Best Acting Performances of 2012

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The Academy Awards separates its acting categories by sex and screen time. The Golden Globes goes as far as to separate them by genre. I say screw that. Here are the 20 best performances of 2012, regardless of sex, genre or species.

20. Tom Hardy, Lawless

Many more people saw him as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, but Hardy was unquestionably the highlight of the mildly entertaining but ultimately inconsistent movie Lawless.

19. Denzel Washington, Flight

The return of Robert Zemeckis to live-action drama was much welcomed, even if the film was only so-so. Still, there is no denying that Denzel delivers another fine performance (though not his best).

18. Christopher Walken, A Late Quartet

Few people saw this movie about a string quartet who disintegrates when the group’s leader – played by Walken – announces that his recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s will force him to retire. It’s a shame.

17. Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe

It’s understandable that few people saw, or even liked, the NC-17-rated Killer Joe, but Matthew McConaughey delivers a wickedly gray performance as the title character.

16. Michael Peña, End of Watch

Both Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are terrific in this surprisingly good cop film, but Peña offers one of the best performances of his career as the funny but emotional enforcer.

15. Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Tommy Lee Jones is given more words in one scene than most lead actors receive an entire movie, and he takes advantage of the opportunity.

14. Christopher Walken, Seven Psychopaths

Love it or hate it, Seven Psychopaths was a funny if not [purposefully] disorganized comedy. Amidst it all, Walken stands above the rest and wins over the audience with a lasting speech in the film’s waning minutes.

13. Javier Bardem, Skyfall

Skyfall was a very good Bond movie, and for the second time in his career, Bardem brings to screen one of the most memorable villains in recent memory.

12. Helen Hunt, The Sessions

Hunt still looks great at age 49 and isn’t afraid to show it. The payoff is huge, as the actress earned a much-deserved Oscar nomination for her pivotal role as a sex surrogate.

11. Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained

The Academy hates Leonardo DiCaprio, but we love you! DiCaprio turns in yet another superb performance in Tarantino’s latest, this time as an insidious villain who is as charming as he is wicked.

10. Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

The Master was a disappointingly dull affair, but Hoffman’s portrayal of a Scientology-esque cult leader is as powerful as you’d expect from the respected actor.

9. Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

If I were Christoph Waltz, I would insist to work with Tarantino on every project he does. Tarantino clearly knows how to bring out the best in the actor, who gives another sensational performance as the likable dentist-turned-bounty hunter.

8. Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables

While Les Misérables didn’t meet expectations for me, there is no denying that Hugh Jackman turns in one of the best performances of his career – and that’s just in the first act.

7. Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Welcome back, Joaquin. His rap career now thankfully behind him (I’m still not entirely sure whether it was fake or not), Phoenix does what he does best: deliver scene-stealing performances.

6. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Yes, the unquestionable favorite for another Best Actor Oscar is only at #6. Despite there being two actors ranked above him on this list (neither of whom were nominated for an Oscar), there is no denying that Day-Lewis gives the movie his all. Not like any of us expect anything less.

5. Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Bradley Cooper is simply terrific as the bipolar lead character in this funny, romantic comedy. His character could have easily veered into obnoxious territory, but Cooper walks a very fine line – and the risk pays off. He won’t win an Oscar, but he should.

4. Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables

Does anyone else in the running even stand a chance? People were talking about Anne Hathaway’s tragic performance long before they even saw her on screen. She doesn’t disappoint.

3. Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

Only two years ago, no one had even heard of Jessica Chastain. How many Oscar nominations does she now have? Two. And in Zero Dark Thirty, unlike in The Help, she knocks it out of the ballpark.

2. Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Bradley Cooper may have been great, but Jennifer Lawrence steals the show with her disturbed but sexy performance as his reluctant better half.  Even after Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games I wasn’t sold on the young bombshell, but now I’m fully on board.

And the best performance of 2012 is…

John Hawkes in The Sessions

1. John Hawkes, The Sessions

John Hawkes embodies the role of paralyzed Mark O’Brien, and not even an Oscar nomination? A travesty. Simply a travesty.

By Erik Samdahl
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