Quentin Tarantino's dialogue is an actor's dream come true. It's virtually impossible to speak his fictional language and not sound cool, or witty, or devious, or all three concurrently. But Christoph Waltz does more than just let Tarantino's dialogue do the heavy lifting in Inglourious Basterds (not to mention, in last year's Django Unchained, as well)—he empowers it.
One of Tarantino's greatest discoveries, Austrian film veteran Waltz came out of nowhere to blindside Hollywood with his next-level performance as Col. Hans Landa, a.k.a. "The Jew Hunter." Considering himself more of a detective than a military leader, Landa is a master interrogator, disarming his conversation partners with his nice-guy charms and eloquent descriptions of things like milk, rats, and strudel. But there's a malevolence tucked away into his surface-level pleasantries, which he subtly reveals through a mere turn of phrase. Before the other person realizes it, Landa has manipulated them. They're powerless against him.
As the story goes, Tarantino originally wanted Leonardo DiCaprio to play Landa, but eventually opted to cast the Austrian actor. And thank the acting gods for that, because had DiCaprio been in that remarkable "strudel" scene, it wouldn't be nearly as alternately endearing and devilish. Waltz nails the perfect balance of friendly uncle and Jim Jones-like manipulator that gives Col. Hans Landa his singular presence. —Matt Barone