I saw a lot of movies over the last decade and with that, I saw a lot of performances too. The amount of great performances I saw over the last ten years was ridiculous, so making this list was incredibly tough and took a number of rewatches and some deep thinking. What makes a great performance? The key factor for me when making this list was which performance had the biggest impact on me. Which performances do I think about constantly? Which performances come back to me every now and then and I think about how great they are? Which performances to I look up on YouTube just to get a glimpse of greatness?
For this list, I broke it down like the Oscars, where there is Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, and Best Actor. For each category, I ranked my ten favorite performances, with my favorite performance of each category taking the number one spot. I will then give a brief description as to why I picked the number one choice.
One rule for each category: if an actor had multiple excellent performances, the actor can only be on the list once and I can only choose one of their great performances. An example would be say, Jennifer Lawrence, who gave great performances in Winter’s Bone and Silver Linings Playbook, yet I can only choose one of the two. Now, an actor can appear in two different categories (be prepared for a couple of those) but not multiple times in the same category. Get it? Great.
Here are my picks for the best performances of the 2010s.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
- Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
- Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
- Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
- Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
- Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
- Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
- Alicia Vikander, Ex-Machina
- Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
- Leslie Manville, Phantom Thread
- Tilda Swinton, The Souvenir
- What I noticed when making my top ten Best Supporting Actress list was that the list was filled with actors who had put in work for years and finally got a performance that they could sink their teeth in to. Performances like Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk, Leslie Manville in Phantom Thread, and Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids proved just how great of actors they were. But the best supporting actress performance of the decade came from a debut performance from an actress who became a star. Lupita Nyong’o gives one of the truly great debut performances in recent cinematic history in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. Nyong’o plays Patsey, the best cotton picker on the Epps plantation, yet also one who is subject to endless abuse. This is a heartbreaking, remarkable performance filled with as much love and honesty as heartbreak and pain. Nyong’o’s strongest scene comes when Patsey gets scolded by Epps for going to a different plantation only to find out that it was for a bar of soap so she could clean herself. You see the desperation in Nyong’o’s eyes as she pleads to Epps to not whip her, only to see all hope vanish when Epps sets up to give whip her. It’s an extraordinary performance and one that launched a star.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
- JK Simmons, Whiplash
- Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
- Joe Pesci, The Irishman
- James Franco, Spring Breakers
- Sylvester Stallone, Creed
- Christian Bale, The Fighter
- Nick Nolte, Warrior
- Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
- Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther
- Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!
- When looking at the Best Supporting Actor performances of the decade, both the ones listed and the ones, this was where the strongest performances of the decade came from. The quantity of great supporting actor performances is endless and the quality goes unmatched. Though I made a list of ten, the top spot was a four horse race between James Franco, Joe Pesci, Mahershala Ali, and the winner, JK Simmons. Most people will look at Simmons performance as the tyrannical music teacher Fletcher and focus on the his loud, vulgar insults and coaching methods throughout the film. But the scene that solidified his performance for the top spot was a quiet conversation between Fletcher and one of his former students, Andrew (Miles Teller). This is where we learn that Fletcher is more than just a deranged, obsessive music teacher and see him as an actual human, speaking from the heart and even cracking a joke or two. But we also learn his perspective on his tactics and Simmons delivers it, making us actually understand this man and delivering the scene with an earnestness and passion of a man who believes his methods. Simmons was a character actor for years and his performance in Whiplash was the performance Simmons had worked his whole career for.
- Natalie Portman, Black Swan
- Toni Collette, Hereditary
- Lupita Nyong’o, Us
- Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
- Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
- Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
- Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
- Cate Blanchett, Carol
- Sandra Bullock, Gravity
- Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars
- What I noticed when looking at the performances for Best Actress was that a lot of actresses had multiple lead performances that could have made this list. Cate Blanchett, Jessica Chastain, and Jennifer Lawrence (who didn’t make the list) all had multiple great lead performances this decade. Natalie Portman had the two strongest lead performances of any actress this decade with her work in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and in Pablo Larraín’s Jackie. These performances would have landed number one and two on the list, but because of the rule of one per category, I had to pick between the two and it was Portman’s performance in Black Swan that blew me away when I first saw it and still blows me away to this day. This is a performance that is as physically impressive as it is emotionally, as Portman plays a ballerina obsessed with becoming the best. Portman did all her dancing and watching her go from a shy, quiet dancer to the darker, meaner one is an emotional rollercoaster that Portman nails. Rightfully winning an Oscar for her performance, Portman has never been better and there was no better lead actress performance this decade.
- Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
- Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
- Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born
- Brad Pitt, Moneyball
- Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems
- Michael B. Jordan, Creed
- Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
- Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher
- Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
- Michael Keaton, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
- If there were an actor of the decade, there’s a good argument to be made that the decade belonged to Leonardo DiCaprio. Starring in eight films over the decade and being genuinely great in seven of them (sorry, J. Edgar), DiCaprio proved he is one of the all-time greats. I already put DiCaprio’s performance in Django Unchained on the Best Supporting Actor list, but his best performance of the decade was in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. This is a balls-to-the-wall performance full of non-stop energy. DiCaprio flexed his superstar muscle as Jordan Belfort, a one time penny-stock broker who rose fast in the stock market, only to have his life crumble in a whirlwind of a corruption, greed, and drugs. DiCaprio carries this three-hour epic, taking us on this wild and crazy journey, flashing his comedic chops, yet making a despicable human being so compelling and captivating, showing us a man obsessed with his money and his power. DiCaprio commands the screen in the best performance of his career.
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