The Fifties for 2011: Fellas and Dames
Rob Brydon for The Trip, whose improvisations and comic riffs are even more uproarious than Coogan's, yet who also evokes his home life in limpid though indirect detail;
Steve Carell for Crazy, Stupid, Love, who can do "schlub in need of sprucing" in his sleep but makes his adoration of his wife so real, his late-born resentment of Gosling so potent;
Grigoriy Dobrygin for How I Ended This Summer, who must scramble past a missing motive in the script but shows us a scared kid, a self-reliant stalwart, and a nervous over-reactor all in one;
Joel Edgerton for Warrior, who yearns to keep his suburban life even more than he wants to escape it, and offers round after round of character details in the MMA scenes; and
Ewan McGregor for Beginners, who is constipated with depression, whose happier moments also incline toward quiet introspection, but who comes alive at odd, revealing moments.
Honorable mentions, many of whom could have taken the fifth spot in this list, to Mimi Branescu for Tuesday, After Christmas, Youssouf Djaoro for A Screaming Man, Michael Fassbender for Jane Eyre, Paul Giamatti for Win Win, Mel Gibson for The Beaver, Ryan Gosling for Crazy, Stupid, Love, and Andreas Lust for The Robber.
Juliette Binoche for Certified Copy, whose lambent yet full-bodied emotional candor seems an odd fit for Kiarostami's eggheadism, but she dazzlingly layers concepts and feelings;
Viola Davis for The Help, who doesn't break faith with the mid-grade film she's in but uses mature understatement and ironbound directness to feed us the film we deserve;
Shinobu Terajima for Caterpillar, who finds herself amid one of the most upstaging styles imaginable but still crafts a careful dossier of the repulsed, dutiful, and bitter wife;
Mia Wasikowska for Jane Eyre, whose processes of moral and spiritual reflection are as tangible as her feelings, via a Moore-in-the-90s-style precision with her subtle face; and
Yun Jeong-hie for Poetry, who must exhibit to us a modest woman receding into her mind even as she's learning to create with it, all amidst new needs to strategize with it.
Honorable mentions, surely worth mentioning but appreciably behind these five, to Nikohl Boosheri for Circumstance, young Morgana Davies for The Tree, Monica del Carmen for Leap Year, Sarah Kazemy for Circumstance, Kristen Wiig for Bridesmaids, and Michelle Williams for Meek's Cutoff.
And that's the Fifties! Thanks for commenting so energetically, especially those of you who shared your own suggestions. Please stick around for Chicago Film Festival coverage over the next month.