*Note: This feature focuses on contemporary performances that range from the last 15 years
While actors offer some truly extraordinary performances within film, there is a distinct difference between a brilliant performance and a transformative performance. The latter type of acting is a rarity, to which the actor truly becomes the character they are portraying. When the viewer has to remind themselves that they are watching a performance, that is transformative acting they are witnessing. Here are 10 performances that are transformative and should be watched at least once.
Sean Penn in Milk (2008)
Penn truly channeled the real-life Harvey Milk into his performance in this biopic that chronicled the rise of first elected gay politician to his tragic assassination in 1978. Penn’s acting is remarkable in that he completely captures the mannerisms and charismatic nature of his real-life counterpart.
Max Von Sydow in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)
Only a veteran actor like Sydow could convey a litany of emotion within a performance without ever uttering a single word. Playing a voluntary mute individual who is haunted by his past, Sydow’s performance is a mixture of heartbreak with occasional moments of tenderness that reveal his humanity.
Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique in Precious (2009)
Despite a stellar script, it is the acting that truly dominates in Lee Daniel’s film. Sidibe’s performance not only is the perfect combination of vulnerability and empowerment, but it is remarkable to note that her performance as Precious was her debut film performance. Additionally, Mo’Nique’s performance is so convincingly revolting that the mere sight of her makes one’s skin crawl. Mo’Nique furthered proved with her performance that a comedian is just as capable of a serious role as any other actor.
Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine (2013)
Despite playing a neurotic New York socialite whose has been reduced to working class in Woody Allen’s film, Blanchett was able to get viewers to pity and sympathize with her character despite how repugnant the character is. Also, Blanchett was able to incorporate elements of mental illness into the performance so effectively that it elevated the performance beyond what Woody Allen intended for the character when he wrote the script.
Jim Broadbent in Iris (2001)
There have been many performances featuring the long-suffering spouse of someone who is afflicted with an ailment. Jim Broadbent is perhaps the most profound in this sort of role, whose character is tending to his wife who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Broadbent completely gave himself over to the role to the point that the pain and exhaustion on his face feels so real to the viewer.
Ed Harris in The Hours (2002)
Harris is the epitome of heartbreak in Stephen Daldry’s The Hours. Despite only being in two lengthy scenes, Harris’ performance is so dominant and convincing that it lingers throughout the entire film. Harris’ portrayal of a writer afflicted with AIDS and having nothing but the past to cling onto is a tearjerker of a performance that stays with the viewer.
Kate Winslet in The Reader (2008)
It is not an easy achievement to give a highly ambiguous performance while also conveying the tragedy within the character as well. That is precisely what Winslet does in The Reader and succeeds in offering film one of the most complex and dense performances in recent years that undoubtedly will be analyzed for years to come.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine (2010)
This film, and especially the acting within it, have been unfortunately ignored by mainstream film viewers. Gosling and Williams show tremendous range in their acting as the film showcases the beginning and end of a relationship that should never have begun at all. Gosling and Williams clash so effectively against each other in this film that it nearly borders on realism.
J.K. Simmons in Whiplash (2014)
There was no dispute this last year that Simmons’ performance in Whiplash was THE performance of 2014. Hinging on obsessiveness and outright cruelty, Simmons’ acting is so profound that even viewers will feel uncomfortable around his ridiculously high standards and unpredictable demeanor.
Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)
The argument can be made that Ledger’s performance in this film is THE quintessential example of transformative acting. Every component of Ledger’s being was altered to become the maniacal arch-villain to Batman, The Joker. The way Ledger perfected the mannerisms and quirky behavior of the character are astounding, especially how he was able to alter his voice and deliver the most bloodcurdling laugh a villain has ever given in film. Yet Ledger also was able to incorporate an eerie sense of ambiguity with the character by hinting of his past without ever utilizing it directly in the performance.
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