0009: Best Modern Lead Performances

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  1. Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters
  2. Charlotte Rampling in Under the Sand
  3. Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher
  4. Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking
  5. Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream
  6. Jim Broadbent in Topsy-Turvy
  7. Bjork in Dancer in the Dark
  8. Tom Wilkinson in In the Bedroom
  9. Ian Holm in The Sweet Hereafter
  10. Frances McDormand in Fargo
  11. Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive
  12. Susan Sarandon in Dead Man Walking
  13. Russel Crowe in The Insider
  14. Julianne Moore in Far from Heaven - "Heartbreaking" comes to mind, but so does "deceptive". Many critics loved Ms. Moore's performance, but some were less than enthralled (Stephen Hunter comes to mind). Some said that her performance was all surface. That makes me wonder what movie these critics thought they were watching. The entire point of Far from Heaven is that on the surface, the film and its characters are glossy and nearly perfect. Without that original beautiful veneer, the slow transition of the movie has no effect. Julianne Moore changes from cold and beautiful to shattering through the course of the film.
  15. Nicole Kidman in The Others - In 2001, Nicole Kidman kicked the world in the ass. Her flamboyance in Moulin Rouge! stands in perfect balance to her careful and brilliant restraint in this film. Her beautiful and sad Grace is a flawed and even unpleasant character, but Kidman grants her a soul (ironic, considering Grace's heavenly obssessions) and a wonderful hidden fire. One of the most confounding Oscar snubs ever, it was impossible for Kidman to be nominated for two films. Sadly, this performance ended up suffering. What a shame, because it's her best performance ever.
  16. Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt - Sad sack Warren Schmidt may seem an unlikely late-career highlight, but Jack Nicholson did so much without resorting to his usual theatrical crutches that he reminded an entire generation of movie-viewers that he is one of the great screen actors of all time.
  17. Ed Harris in Pollock - The term "smoldering" comes to mind when I think of this performance. Embodying the rage and genius of Jackson Pollock so completely, Harris tears down the audience's guard and never let's up with his tenacious performance.
  18. John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig and the Angry Inch - Turning a slip of a boy into the glamorous Hedwig, John Cameron Mitchell killed with his comic timing and emotional gravitas. One of the great musical performances of all time.
  19. Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth - Blanchett is naturally regal, but with this performance she commanded the screen like never before. Her gaze and power went hand in hand with her vulnerability and nuances.
  20. Denzel Washington in Training Day - Turning his star power on its head, Denzel created a brilliant villian that transcended the traditional idea of one dimensional or enigmatic villians. The layers used are suprising, but wholly satisfying.
Author Comments: 

Performances from 1993 onwards only. This is a continuation of my "Modern" series. This is a reflection of my taste, etc., etc.

The reason I am splitting this into lead and supporting performances is that scene stealing and carrying movies are two different things. I think both take a lot of talent, but they are two different ideas. Call this arbitrary, but I have trouble comparing Jack Nicholson's work in About Schmidt with that of Frances McDormand in Almost Famous.

If you spot performances missing, ask if I've seen it, I might not be shunning it on pupose.

Comments soon...

Honorable Mentions
Javier Bardem in Before Night Falls - He was indeed genius, but not enough room.
Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story - Such a painful omission.
Reese Witherspoon in Election - Comedic brilliance.
Laura Linney in You Can Count on Me - One of the great understated performances of the new millenium.
Campbell Scott in Roger Dodger - Smart, quick, and affecting.
Adrien Brody in The Pianist - I may have some problems with the film, but Brody is not one of them.
Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon - He proves that he really can act if given the opportunity.
Annette Benning in American Beauty - Anger and bitterness right beneath the surface and a perfectly modulated "bitch" performance.
Emma Thompson in Much Ado About Nothing - Great Shakespearean comedic work. The best of the past ten years.
Stockard Channing in Six Degrees of Seperation - Wonderful translation from stage to screen. I love this woman.
Nicole Kidman in To Die For - If everyone had payed attention to this, we wouldn't have been so shocked in 2001.
Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma - Her best work, and it's pretty damn good.

Nice, I'm really liking this series! Do you plan to add comments for this list as well?

BTW, one performance that would be on my list is John Cusack in "Being John Malkovich." I also see that's your pick for the best movie of 1999. Just not good enough to make your top 20? Or left off unintentionally?

Well, I do enjoy (but don't love) that performance. I think his best work in the past few years has been in High Fidelity, but I didn't include that either. I guess that if I were making a longer list, I would include him, but he just doesn't fit into a top twenty.

I do plan to add comments, and I am gonna start working on the supporting list soon.

Finally,somebody recognizes Ellen Burynstein's performance as Sarah Goldfarb.Her performance still haunts me years later.

It is a marvel of a performance. It was robbed at the Oscars.

You nailed my favorite female lead of 2000 -- Bjork's devastating work in "Dancer in the Dark". But what's your take on my favorite male performance that year -- Christian Bale's beautifully controlled, intentionally artificial turn in "American Psycho"?