The Paperboy John Cusack

Last year’s Cannes Film Festival featured this year’s Oscar winning Best Actor performance thanks to the inclusion of the wonderful The Artist in competition, and though the films seem to have been chosen for their artistry and provocative subtexts more than any really commercial pointers (as always happens the year after the festival is deemed “too commercial”), there have been some seriously fine performances this year as well.

There wasn’t an Uggy this year, but there was a murdered pooch in Moonrise Kingdom, a bitey Killer Whale in Rust & Bone, and a striking performance from an armadillo in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Me and You, so we’ll have to wait and see who emerges with the best animal performance. Probably won’t come from Madagascar 3 though…so for the time being, let’s stick to the humans.

12. Caleb Landry Jones – Antiviral

In comparison to that other Cronenberg star turn from Robert Pattinson in Cosmopolis, the former X-Men: First Class actor showed exactly how to turn a cool as ice, understated performance with a dark heart into an explosive one that gets under the skin of the audience. Landry Jones channeled the lost spirit of Patrick Bateman in his central turn as Syd, conveying both mental and physical deterioration with authenticity and effect, helped by Brandon Cronenberg‘s eye for shocking sequences. Definitely one to watch out for more.

11. John Cusack – The Paperboy

Though it was pretty much horrendous, The Raven did at least offer a brief glimmer of hope for Cusack as a serious actor, and his turn as psychopathic and repulsively physical convicted killer Hillary Van Wetter in Lee Daniels’ disappointing adaptation is one of the stand-out strings to the film’s bow. He is seedy, despicable and deeply unlikeable – just as you’d want him to be, in other words.

10. Garrett Hedlund – On The Road

In an otherwise uninspiring film, Hedlund’s take on iconic anti-hero Dean Moriarty was an all-too limited flash of brilliance: Hedlund clearly understands the character, and crucially balances his disarming and roguish charm with a tender under-current that is only briefly, but devastatingly glimpsed late on.

9. Chris O’Dowd – The Sapphires

It is admittedly little more than a scene-stealing stand-up act, but O’Dowd’s comic turn as Dave in this Australian Dreamgirls gives the film its over-riding charisma, and deflects from what could have been a saccharine, right-on portrait of prejudice. Instead O’Dowd lightens the mood and makes the audience’s decision to empathize with the girls a lot easier. Big things expected from the Bridesmaids and IT Crowd actor now.

Lawless Tom Hardy

8. Tom Hardy – Lawless

Bulked up for Bane, Hardy could have just played a meat-head boot-legger with a bad temper to match his physical presence, but he’s not that one-dimensional. In his earliest roles, Hardy proved to have a wonderful knack of doing very little to communicate a lot: the still river runs deep with him, as they say, and he brought that emotional depth to a character who might otherwise have been defined by violence, in someone else’s hands. As it is, in Lawless Hardy offers a picture of a caring family man, just as vulnerable in charged emotional situations as he is brutal in those which require his animal side to come out. Hardy offers Forrest Bondurant an inherent and intriguing contradiction that turns his minimalist turn into something altogether more engaging.

7. Matthias Schoenaerts – Rust & Bone

An actor after Tom Hardy’s own heart – simple, powerful and packing huge physical presence, Schoenaerts has previously shown off his abilities in earlier projects – not least the excellent Bullhead – and in Rust & Bone he continued to make a name for himself. Strong and almost silent, Schoenaerts’ Ali was a poignant picture of intense physicality, contradicted by his emotional heart and a vulnerability that is barely hinted at, but which again is realized perfectly in the third act. If he isn’t making Hollywood films inside two years, I’ll eat my hat.

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