With today's announcement of the 71st Golden Globe Awards nominations, cinephiles and casual movie fans alike find themselves officially in the thick of awards season. New best-of lists from critics appear daily. Oscar bloggers argue on Twitter. And before long, former critical darlings but mainstream question marks like Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), June Squibb (Nebraska), and Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) will be as widely recognized as Tom Hanks, Jennifer Lawrence, and Sandra Bullock.
This year is full of great performances, and that's nothing new. In both the indie and major studio scenes, the movie world's best talents have been killing it all throughout the new millennium. To truly evaluate this year's crop of Best Actor and Best Actress selections, think about how they'd fare if pitted against any one of The 25 Best Movie Performances of the 2000s. As you're about to see, that phenomenal nine-year span (2000-2009) saw towering work from titans like Daniel Day-Lewis, Cate Blanchett, and the late Heath Ledger. June Squibb, bless her soul, would have her work cut out for her.
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25. Jim Carrey as Joel Barish in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Moviegoers have known and loved Jim Carrey for a really, really long time. Dumb and Dumber? Classic. Liar, Liar? A childhood staple. But we were all more than concerned when we found out he wanted to take on more serious roles. His elastic plastic face wasn't born to be molded into a worrisome frown! Of course, he was great in Man on the Moon and The Truman Show but those were still comedies (mostly), and we easily saw him in those roles, ya know? For chrissakes, this was a man who dressed up in a green fur suit to play the Grinch!
But Carrey revealed the depth of his skills, with a perfect blend of ferocity and subtletly, in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. You're with him the whole ride, from falling in love, to wanting to forget, to grasping desperately to hold on to the memories. For the first time, it's easy to see yourself reflected in a Jim Carrey role.
It's an impressive transformation to watch, sure. But more impressive is the fact that thanks to his performance, with the help of co-star Kate Winslet, the film's become a classic that hopeless romantics love to revisit. Despite the pain it causes. —Tara Aquino
24. Denzel Washington as Det. Alonzo Harris in Training Day (2001)
23. Amy Adams as Ashley in Junebug (2005)
22. Uma Thurman as Beatrix "The Bride" Kiddo in Kill Bill: Volumes 1 & 2 (2003 & 2004)
21. Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Here's the thing about Ron Burgundy. He's an entity in himself. You mention the name alone and people know who he is, what he does, how he talks—everything. Will Ferrell is just a vessel for this character to use and to come alive in. And, not to give something so ridiculous so much meaning, but it's kind of awe inspiring.
What gives strength to his performance is this: No one believes in Ron Burgundy more than Will Ferrell himself, and his unforgettable and now-iconic comedic peformance is a testament to that. It's as if he missed his calling in a past life. Or maybe it's the mustache. Who could be sure? All that's certain is that Ferrell looks in the mirror each morning and says, "I'm Ron Burgundy?" before shaking his head. No, of course not. That can't be... —Tara Aquino
20. Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (2000)
19. Tim Robbins as Dave Boyle in Mystic River (2003)
18. Maggie Gyllenhaal as Lee Holloway in Secretary (2002)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (Jake's older sister) isn't a name you hear often enough, and it's a damn shame. Her talent is just as immense as her brother's and Secretary is proof. It takes a lot of ability to make a rom-com involving BDSM both believable and watchable. More specifically, it takes an actress with a certain mixture of skill and fearlessness to play a naive submissive masochist who can come off as endearing to a wide audience.
And Gyllenhaal nails it as the sexually inexperienced Lee Holloway. She's makes a 50 Shades of Grey-esque comedy, in which she plays the titular character to James Spader's boss, look like a smarter version of Sandra Bullock fare. Whether she's being spanked, gagged, or tied up, she manages to emanate a sweetness that hooks you too the screen. So to speak. —Tara Aquino
17. Mathieu Amalric as Jean-Dominique Bauby in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
16. Naomi Watts as Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn in Mulholland Drive (2001)
15. Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain (2005)
It's easy to go on about what Brokeback Mountain meant to American culture—how it pushed homosexuality and the issue of equality to the forefront and made it a national conversation, how it helped people accept homosexuality as a reality, and how there was (and still is) a tremendous dearth of homosexual stories at the movies. But let's talk about what made it so effective: the directing (by Ang Lee, who won an Oscar for his effort) and the performances. Namely, Jake Gyllenhaal's portrayal of Jack Twist.
Without drawing on any stereotypes, Gyllenhaal played the role of the Wyoming rancher in love with a man as any other person in love with another. No special gimmicks or ticks, Gyllenhaal transferred his emotions to Heath Ledger's Ennis, the man who secretly strung his Jack Twist along for two decades, with simplicity and honesty. Their chemistry becomes so palpable that it hits you like a race horse when Twist confesses to Ennis, "I wish I knew how to quit you." —Tara Aquino
14. Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray (2004)
13. Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands in Hunger (2008)
12. Laura Linney as Sammy Prescott You Can Count on Me (2000)
11. Nicolas Cage as Charlie and Donald Kaufman in Adaptation. (2002)
10. Sean Penn as Harvey Milk in Milk (2008)
9. Cate Blanchett as Jude Quinn in I'm Not There (2007)
8. Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat Sagdiyev in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
7. Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds (2009)
6. Ellen Burstyn as Sara Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream (2000)
5. Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men (2007)
Javier Bardem was hardly a newcomer to the acting scene in 2007. The then-38-year-old had already racked up more than two dozen credits, many of them in his native Spain, plus a Best Lead Actor Oscar nomination in 2001 for his flawless portrayal of Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls. But that didn’t stop moviegoers around the world from feeling as if they’d personally “discovered” Hollywood’s next great talent after witnessing Bardem’s transformation into one of the most terrifying serial killers to ever grace the silver screen, the compressed air tank-toting sociopath Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel.
One really only needs to look at Anton’s hair to realize something’s not right with him.
All bowl cuts aside, Chigurh is a killing machine. Both because he’s paid to be and because, well, he kind of likes it. And that’s what his job is in the film: to recuperate a bag full of $2 million that got lost when a drug deal went astray. Chigurh’s task is simple; get back the cash, and kill anyone who gets in your way, cops and women included. Or the the unlucky sap who finds himself standing between Chigurh and something Chigurh wants—like that stash of cash—or on the wrong side of a flipped coin. There’s nothing but bitter coldness behind Chigurh’s eyes, which is reflected in the reaction of all those he encounters. On-screen, his presence reads like an extreme temperature drop.
Even as an actor, it would be easy to underestimate the craft involved in playing such a blank slate. Chigurh could easily be written (or written off) as nothing more than a robotic hit man. But Bardem manages to establish a strong character, even with zero back story and minimal dialogue. We know nothing about who Chigurh is or why he does what he does, but his presence is felt throughout every second of the film’s running time. Whether or not he’s on the screen really doesn’t matter; the thought that he could be lurking around any corner is enough to add a distinct level of tension to the film, that heightens even its most quiet moments. —Jennifer Wood
4. Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003)
Oscar shmoscar. The real proof of Charlize Theron's exceptional performance is the fact that every time you think about her as prostitute-turned-serial killer Aileen Wuornos, your stomach drops and you can't help but shudder. Her image is burned into your brain.
Make-up aside, Theron ditches her model-like image— the same one that broke her into the entertainment industry in the first place— to completely embody a real life murderer. Not only is her appearance—scarred, sunburnt, and unshowered—shocking, but so is the empathy Theron, as Wuornos, manages to evoke from her audience through the way she handles the rejection of her lover, the rejection of her male clients, and the rejection of employers who see her as nothing but dead-beat Florida white trash. You don't see Wournos as a sociopath, but as woman whom life repeatedly spit on and is exacting her revenge. Theron makes her monster human. —Tara Aquino