6. Denis Lavant – Holy Motors
The least conventional film of the entire festival brought polarized responses from those in attendance, either dismissing it as impenetrably obtuse or roundly applauding it for its audacity in being impenetrably obtuse, and it certainly meant very little in conventional terms. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t entertainment to be had, which was mostly down to the ridiculousness of the “plot”, and even more so down to Lavant’s performance as a mysterious actor playing multiple, increasingly odd roles. Each time, Lavant is accomplished, proving himself a chameleon of epic proportions, and never robbing the film of its effect by playing anything tongue-in-cheek.
5. Mads Mikkelsen – The Hunt
Some will inevitably only see Mikkelsen as a villain (part and parcel of being both European and a former Bond villain), but his portrait of a victim, trapped in an ever-worsening cycle of rumor, presumption and eventually alienation was one of the highlights of the festival. Accused of heinous abusive attacks on children, Mikkelsen’s Kindergarten assistant is a horrific picture of his situation, though without excess and that horror is so impactful thanks to the work the actor puts in early on establishing the character’s charm. We follow his deterioration very closely, aware of his emotional wounds, and his underlying dislike for confrontation, and the film is a hugely emotional experience thanks to the power of his performance.
4. Nicole Kidman – The Paperboy
It’s always nice to see an actor push themselves, especially into a role that audiences won’t immediately be charmed by: Kidman’s performance as “over-sexed Barbie doll” Charlotte Bless is easily the best thing about The Paperboy, and it’s certainly something of a departure for the actor. She is charming but fundamentally broken, wearing deep-seated emotional scars and stuck in a self-perpetuating vicious circle of self-destructive behavior. She is definitely a caricature – a grotesque portrait of people just like her – but Kidman encourages affection towards her, and there is a pronounced tragedy to the character thanks to that.
3. Dwight Henry – Beasts of the Southern Wild
It is astonishing to think that Dwight Henry is a non-professional on the back of his power-house, emotionally raw performance as Wink in the excellent Beasts of the Southern Wild, and it seems that the professional baker is just as adept at cooking up character performances as he is cakes and buns. Hopefully we will see more of this super-charged, turbulent talent, because his Wink is genuinely affecting; conflicted and contradictory, loving and broken, he forms an impressive heart of the film’s story and it’s hard to resist his disarming, but volatile charisma.
2. Guy Pearce – Lawless
Only narrowly missing out on top-spot, Pearce’s distasteful caricature-like villain is grand enough and grotesque enough to carry off his villainous responsibilities. It is a stand-out performance in a very impressive cast, and Pearce all but steals the show: willing us to hate him thanks to his all too visible rotten core, but adding depth to the role thanks to the fundamental perverse contradiction of his intense demeanor and Pearce’s physical performance. Definitely worth a good punt for Best Supporting Actor come February.
1. James Gandolfini – Killing Them Softly
Just when you think it’s safe to assume that The Sopranos was the last we would see of the heavy-weight actor, he steals the show in Andrew Dominik’s post-gangster flick, poignantly offering a portrait of a mobster suffering an almighty hangover from the good old days. He is menacing, powerful and tragic at the same time, delivering two near-monologues with awesome and irresistible effect.
If the top four or five of this list don’t attract at least some Oscar buzz, I’d be tempted to hang up my press badge for good.