Category Archives: Best of the Decade

The 20 Best Albums of the Decade (#10-1)

Here’s the second and final part of my “Best Albums of the Decade” list. Be sure to check out part one, which covered numbers 20-11. Feel free to let me know what you think of my list in the comments. Of course, this is all just my opinion, so let me know which albums from this decade struck a chord with you!

10. Amnesiac – Radiohead (2001)

I can see the merit of Kid A. I just don’t find it to be that enjoyable of an album to listen to. And while Kid A and Amnesiac are often lumped together, I see them as totally separate albums. Amnesiac has some typically lovely Radiohead songs, like “The Pyramid Song”. You can also find one of the most debauched, oddly raucous songs in Thom Yorke’s catalogue here – the jazzy “Life in a Glasshouse”. I may be one of those annoying “common” Radiohead fans that love The Bends and OK Computer more than anything from this decade, but Amnesiac is by far the best of their less accessible albums, in my opinion.

9. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver (2008)

I don’t want to overstate the importance of Bon Iver’s (aka Justin Vernon’s) debut, but this is an album that I could see becoming something of a classic, over time. The back story is top-notch, as are all of the songs on here. “Skinny Love” is a phenomenal song, and “Re: Stacks”, “Creature Fear” and “Flume” all rotate as my second favourite song on the album. Justin Vernon followed For Emma up with his Blood Bank EP, and if these two releases are any indication, I’m definitely excited to see where his music is headed. Maybe all of the praise is premature, but even if he can never recreate the magic of this album again, at least we have this one.

8. Rockin’ the Suburbs – Ben Folds (2001)

Ben Folds Five is a band that is quintessentially 90’s. Snappy, piano-driven hits like “Kate” (which was on my Sabrina the Teenage Witch soundtrack) and “Brick” seem like nostalgic fun now. So perhaps it makes sense that Ben Folds would go it alone for the new millennium. Rockin’ the Suburbs still has the upbeat, vaguely gimmicky vibe that his music has always had, yet it also feels very honest. It’s power-pop at its best. “Zak and Sara” and “Rockin’ the Suburbs” are tons of fun, while “Gone” is just a plain fantastic tune. Ben Folds is fairly popular, but I still don’t think he gets enough serious credit as a songwriter.

7. I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning – Bright Eyes (2005)

Perhaps what I like best about Conor Oberst’s music is that he isn’t afraid to be earnest. His lyrics (while sometimes seeming contrived) are just ambiguous enough to be open for interpretation, but they are also distinct in their sentiment. And I don’t think he’s ever got that emotional-fuck-up sentiment as right as he did on I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. He celebrates drugs, women, and making noise, but there’s a naiveté to his tales of rebirth and fresh starts that keep it all relatable and grounded. He might not be the “New Dylan”, but Oberst knows how to pull on people’s heart strings in precisely the right way.

6. Chutes Too Narrow – The Shins (2003)

The Shins hit it big with Oh, Inverted World, but I like their 2003 follow-up slightly better. Chutes Too Narrow is generally far more upbeat, and it suits James Mercer’s off-kilter, yelpy voice really well. “So Says I” is my favourite Shins song, and the rest of the album is an easily digestible, fun set of songs. I know that they’ve supposedly changed the lives of indie kids everywhere, but can’t people just enjoy the Shins for what they are – a really good pop band that writes fantastic pop songs – and stop with all the overstatements?

5. Close to Paradise – Patrick Watson (2006)

I’m always eager to support Canadian music, and even though not as much of it ended up on this list as I had originally hoped, I am incredibly proud to place Patrick Watson’s debut album in my #5 spot. Close to Paradise has slowly been growing on me since its release, and I’m now just about convinced that it’s a perfect album. Every song is lovely, and they all work together to create a fantastic atmosphere. From the piano-driven hymn “The Great Escape” to the slightly raucous “Drifters”, Watson always uses the precise emotion in his voice to convey his ideas. (Side note: if you haven’t already, be sure to check out Patrick Watson’s work with The Cinematic Orchestra on “To Build a Home“)

4. White Blood Cells – The White Stripes (2001)

Jack White is undoubtedly one of the hardest working musicians of the past ten years. People often whine about how rock stars are a dying breed, but this guy is singlehandedly keeping them alive. The White Stripes burst into the mainstream in 2001 with their third album, White Blood Cells. It’s an eclectic collection that even tosses in some country (“Hotel Yorba”), but even though the Stripes hadn’t entirely honed in on their blues-rock niche yet, this album is far from unfocussed. It’s obvious that Jack White knows exactly what he’s doing at all times, and it makes for a nice transition between their scrappier early work, and their more refined albums that would follow.

3. Boxer – The National (2007)

This Brooklyn band has steadily been releasing great albums throughout the decade – it just took people (including myself) a little while to catch on. They earned massive critical acclaim for 2007’s Boxer, which was actually their 4th release of the decade. Boxer is home to a slew of fantastic songs, such as the timely, brooding “Fake Empire”. Matt Berninger’s voice has such wonderful feeling of melancholy in it, and The National extend that feeling throughout the record. I find new things to love about this album every time that I listen to it, and I think that this is an album that I will be listening to regularly for years to come.

2. Neon Bible – Arcade Fire (2007)

2004’s Funeral may have been the album that caught most people’s attention, but Arcade Fire’s follow-up, Neon Bible, was the one that caught my attention. The album sticks with the band’s signature grand arrangements, but also makes the songs feel more personal. There’s a desperation here that I like. Not to be morbid, but I like the anger, frustration, and near hopelessness that seems to run through this album. I think the grandness of Arcade Fire’s sound (not to mention the power of Win Butler’s voice) is much better suited to this kind of fare. I don’t know that it’s meant to be a concept album, but I feel like this album takes us through the course of a person’s life. Every song evokes a different feeling, yet they all work together perfectly to create a beautiful statement about what it means to be alive.

1. Heartbreaker – Ryan Adams (2000)

Leave it to Ryan Adams to out-brood everyone else on this list just by opening his mouth. Even when he’s singing an upbeat song, he still sounds miserable as hell. Heartbreaker, his debut solo album (his original band, Whiskeytown, imploded around the turn of the millennium) is one of his twangiest to date, but it’s also his most consistent, by far. Every song here is great, and integral to the over feeling of the album. The raw energy of Adams’ voice on songs like “Shakedown on 9th Street” and “To Be Young” contrast nicely with the wistfulness of “Come Pick Me Up”, and it all comes together to paint a portrait of a complicated man. Heartbreaker goes far beyond your typical “break-up album”, emotionally.

The 20 Best Albums of the Decade (#20-11)

Though I was originally going to make this a top 50 list (and I did compile such a list), I decided to trim it down to 20. The list was starting to feel unfocussed, and I thought that it would be more interesting to really focus in on 20 albums from this decade that I really loved, rather than worrying about fitting in the certain albums I felt I had to have on my top 50.

So here is part 1 (#20-11). I think there are some unpredictable choices, which I like. It has some of the stuff you’d expect, but I tried to keep things a bit interesting. There’s lots of indie stuff, but I guess that’s just what I like to listen to most. Let me know what you think of my list, and feel free to share your own picks in the comments.

(UPDATE: Part 2, where I talk about my top ten albums of the decade, is now up! Be sure to check it out here.)

20. Consolers of the Lonely – The Raconteurs (2008)

In just one of his many side projects of the decade, Jack White joined forces with some “old friends” (he and Brendan Benson share frontman duties) to form the Raconteurs in 2006. Their first album was something of a success, and they topped themselves (pun somewhat intended) with their sophomore disc. The album is split more definitively between White and Benson, and each bring a lot with their respective styles. Highlights include Benson’s “Many Shades of Black” and White’s “Top Yourself” and “Five on the Five”. Every track is fascinating, and the endless variations on style throughout the track listing are impressive.

19. Youth and Young Manhood – Kings of Leon (2003)

Kings of Leon have recently been spotted invading radio airwaves with “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire” off 2008’s Only by the Night. But North America’s just been a little slow to pick up on these guys (which is odd, considering they’re American). Back in 2003, when they all had ridiculous haircuts and moustaches, they released their debut LP, which is full of catchy little retro tunes. I like the new Kings of Leon sound, too, but there’s something endearingly scruffy about their early work. “California Waiting” and “Red Morning Light” are raw, but the Followills’ ability to write an incredible pop song was evident early on.

18. Gold – Ryan Adams (2001)

Gold refuses to stick to one style, and the eclectic sound suits Ryan Adams well. Adams handles country stompers (“Firecracker”), lovely ballads (“Good Night, Hollywood Blvd.), and even blues (“The Rescue Blues”, “Touch, Feel, and Lose”) deftly on his lengthy, sometimes erratic sophomore solo album. All of his genre-shifting is fascinating. Every song offers something new, and Gold proves that when it comes to his music, Adams is ambitious and fearless. Some of his best songs to date can be found here, and despite the diversity of styles, it never feels unfocused. Adams is one of the best songwriters of this decade, for sure.

17. Parachutes – Coldplay (2000)

No matter how many jokes people make (or how vehemently Chuck Klosterman hates them), I honestly think that Coldplay is pretty excellent band. Their debut album, Parachutes, certainly showed a lot of promise. “Yellow” became a big hit, but it’s far from the best song of the album. “Shiver” is fantastic, and apparently it was Chris Martin’s attempt to write a Jeff Buckley song. Their signature sound can already be heard throughout the album, but I like that this is a smaller, more personal album than some of their later work. Scoff at the sappiness if you want, but there are some fantastic songs here.

16. Poses – Rufus Wainwright (2001)

I have a pretty huge spot in my heart for Rufus Wainwright. Something about the tone of his voice always makes me feel at ease. It’s hard to describe, but it’s unlikely virtually any other singing voice I’ve heard. On Poses (the follow up to his 1998 eponymous debut), Rufus gives us more of his signature theatrical fare. Though that’s not usually my taste, I love it when Rufus does the over-the-top stuff. He also gets folkier on his cover “One Man Guy” (it’s a wonderful interpretation of his father’s song), which is nice. I’ve heard that Wainwright was at the height of his drug addiction around this time period, but it’s a beautiful album nonetheless.

15. Elephant – The White Stripes (2003)

After the success of the song “Fell in Love with a Girl” (and the accompanying Gondry-helmed music video), The White Stripes managed to take advantage of their positive buzz and release another stellar album a mere two years later. It had a couple of songs that have since become radio staples (“Seven Nation Army”, “The Hardest Button to Button), but despite its more polished sound, there’s no way in hell that Jack White is selling out here. “Ball and Biscuit” is mighty, and this album features more of a blues influence than their past three. The White Stripes are a band that is constantly evolving, and following their journey over the decade has been a blast.

14. Trouble – Ray LaMontagne (2003)

His cuddly beard and raspy voice may seem commonplace in the wake of the recent folk movement, but Ray LaMontagne came before all of that. Before I discovered LaMontagne’s music, I thought that the song “Trouble” was some kind of soul standard. And all of his songs have that timeless feeling to them, which I always love. There’s so much soul in his music, and he sings every word with such emotion. I love music that is emotionally raw, and LaMontagne pretty much epitomizes that concept. His subsequent two albums are quite strong too, but his debut, Trouble, is his most affecting work to date.

13. I and Love and You – The Avett Brothers (2009)

The Avett Brothers have been releasing albums consistently since 2002, but they’ve just recently started making waves in the mainstream with their latest album. I and Love and You was helmed by super producer Rick Rubin, and the expected shiny production is there. But all that gloss doesn’t detract from the wonderfully eclectic collection of songs. There’s not a bad track on the album, and most of the tracks are exceptional. “Laundry Room” and “January Wedding” stay closer to the Avetts’ country roots, while “Slight Figure of Speech” is a spiky little pop gem. The signature rawness, beautiful harmonies, and thought-provoking lyrics that The Avett Brothers are known for haven’t gone anywhere.

12. New Wave – Against Me! (2007)

Fans accused these Florida punks of being sell-outs when they released this radio-friendly set of songs, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a pretty amazing album. They worked with Butch Vig, who made Nirvana famous with his production of Nevermind, and I can understand how the polished production would put some fans off. But I don’t think that it hurts the album at all. “Thrash Unreal” is an infectious, unexpected anthem, and “The Ocean” boasts lovely lyrics from Gabel pondering what his life could have been under different circumstances. It’s fierce, relevant, and uncompromising, which is all anyone can ask of a band like Against Me!.

11. The Woods – Sleater-Kinney (2005)

Most people probably thought that the “riot grrrl” movement died at some point during the mid-90’s, but Sleater-Kinney proved that they still have what it takes to write an awesome rock record. The Woods is ostensibly their final album (they’ve been on an “indefinite hiatus” since 2006), and I had the unfortunate timing of discovering their music just as they ceased making more of it. But what an album it is to go out on. It rocks harder than most albums released this decade, and “The Fox” and “Modern Girl” are great slices of songwriting. Sleater-Kinney were at the height of their musical career with 1997’s Dig Me Out, and The Woods gives that album a run for its money.

Favourite Performances of the Decade: Part 3

I think that I’m going to expand this list from 25 to however many performances there are that I feel are noteworthy. Here are five more performances from this decade that I’ve loved. Be sure to check out the other parts of this feature, and feel free leave me some comments on what you think!

Kate Winslet – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind starts off as an unconventional love story, and then becomes even more unconventional when love goes sour, and Clementine and Joel decide that they want to erase each other from their memory entirely. The most memorable moments of Winslet’s performance come when Clementine gives glimpses of her emotional, raw inner self. This often comes during spats with Joel. While I loved Carrey’s moody, restrained performance, Winslet is the opposite. She’s fiery and passionate, and Carrey almost feels like the “straight-man” to her ultra-vibrant character. Yet the vulnerable moments are great too. And even the moments where everything is actually going right in Clementine and Joel’s relationship seem elevated from the usual romantic comedy fare. Without Winslet, much of the quirkiness, heart, and charm of this movie would be gone.

Sam Riley – Control (2007)

My favourite musical biopic of the decade was Anton Corbijn’s Control, which chronicles the short adult life of Ian Curtis, and the rise of his band, Joy Division. It’s a pretty grim movie. Curtis cheats on his wife, has horrific seizures, struggles to find success with his band, and ultimately takes his own life. But Riley’s up to the role, clearly. Riley’s Curtis is soft-spoken, withdrawn, and petulant. Yet when he steps on stage, everything comes alive in a bizarre, desperate kind of way. Riley switches between Curtis’ electric stage persona and troubled personal life with startling ease, and you can feel Curtis’ pain. At times, it feels much more like a documentary than the usual glossy biopic, and this is largely because of Riley unaffected performance. Curtis is a figure who is often romanticized in hindsight. But Joy Division was only on the cusp of success when Curtis killed himself. Riley portrays him as the real, troubled human being that he was.


Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (2008)

I’m not sure if there’s much left to say about this instantly iconic performance. Only exacerbated by the tragedy of Ledger’s untimely death in January of 2008, his brilliant performance as the Joker was haunting. Darkly funny and incredibly eerie, his take on the anarchistic clown has become a landmark of 21st century pop culture. Some questioned whether Ledger would have won the Oscar (which he was posthumously awarded at the 2009 Oscars) if he had still been alive. I have no way of knowing if he would have, but I absolutely believe that he would have deserved it. His death is tragic for many reasons, but for the fans, perhaps the most frustrating aspect is the idea of the performances that we could’ve seen from this immensely talented actor.


Benicio Del Toro – Things We Lost in the Fire (2007)

While it was generally received positively by critics, Things We Lost in the Fire seemed to disappear as soon as it was released. This is a huge shame, because as well as being a really good film, it features one of my five favourite performances of the decade. Benicio Del Toro plays Jerry, a heroin addict who, after the death of his friend, goes to live with his friend’s wife and kids. If you look at a film like Requiem for a Dream, that film is all about the surreal, frightening visuals, which are meant to represent a drug-induced whirl. This film has a much simpler style. It relies on Del Toro to convey the horrors of his addiction, rather than the style and editing of the film. It’s not a by-the-numbers character arc, and Del Toro’s performance is anything but contrived. He takes the performance far beyond the usual one-dimensional “drug addict” stereotype, bringing a surprising amount of warmth to an otherwise bleak role.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Capote (2005)

Whether his Truman Capote was captivating a crowd at a lavish party, or visiting a convicted murderer in his tiny jail cell, Hoffman’s performance was both grand and subtle at the same time. Of course, he imitated the infamous voice of Capote well, but the performance goes far beyond an impersonation and never becomes the stereotype that it could have been. I thought Capote was an excellent movie, and the performances were a large part of that. Some of the supporting performances are great (Clifton Collins Jr. is incredible and understated in his role as one of the murderers that Capote is chronicling), but it’s clearly Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s show. He earned a well-deserved Oscar for his work in Capote, and it cemented his status as one of the best working actors.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5

Favourite Performances of the Decade: Part 2

Here’s the second part of my “Favourite Performances of the Decade” feature. You can check out the first part of the series here, and be sure to stay tuned for the next three parts, which will be revealed over the next few months.  

Emile Hirsch – Into the Wild (2007)

In Sean Penn’s directorial debut, Emile Hirsch plays Christopher McCandless, a young man so disillusioned with society that he sets off alone on a journey to Alaska. Though McCandless meets a few kind strangers along the way (most notably, a lonely old man played by Hal Holbrook), the film is essentially Hirsch’s. Luckily, he seems to have no trouble filling three hours with his understatedly charismatic, honest performance. Whether McCandless is marvelling at the breathtaking Alaskan wilderness, or struggling to survive in the face of its backlash, Hirsch’s performances never seems forced. In fact, I found it indefinably inspiring. As the audience, we follow the arc of emotions that McCandless goes through, and Hirsch is a good companion to have along for the ride. His performance is joy, innocence, heartbreak, and courage all rolled into one. Into the Wild is long and kind of slow-moving, but it’s ultimately very rewarding to watch, and a lot of this is because of Hirsch’s wonderful performance.

Jim Carrey – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

As much as I love Jim Carrey’s style of comedy (I’m picky about broad, physical humour, but Jim Carrey’s always makes me laugh.), my favourite performance of his came in Michel Gondry’s 2004 breakthrough, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Here, he plays Joel, a lonely, low-key man who finds love in the quirky Clementine (played by Kate Winslet). But don’t let the floppy hair and glum demeanour fool you. Carrey’s Joel isn’t just some middle-aged guy who’s still wallowing in teen angst. Carrey brings more dimensions to his performance. I totally related to Joel, and while a lot of the credit goes to the brilliant writing of Charlie Kaufman, Carrey’s performance also played a huge part. Even when the film takes a bizarre turn and explores the world of purposeful memory loss, Carrey still brings a lot of heart, and his presence keeps the film grounded.

Ellen Page – Juno (2007)

Page’s portrayal of the sixteen-year-old mom-to-be in Juno is just as sassy as everyone says, but while Juno seems self-assured, we learn that a lot of her bravado is covering up insecurities. Vaguely questionable relationships with the man about to adopt her child (played brilliantly by Jason Bateman) and dealing with the judgement that she faces as a pregnant teen clearly begin to wear Juno down. Page’s performance feels perfect as she plays a girl who is slowly stripped of her defence mechanisms (sarcasm, mainly), and is only left with real life to deal with. The way that Page reacts to teenage experiences that are both typical and unusual was so believable, and just a joy to watch. Her performance is the reason that so many different types of people loved this movie, and it’s probably the most authentic portrayal of a teenage girl that I’ve seen on film.

Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Not since Jon Favreau called the same girl’s answering machine six consecutive times in Swingers have we witnessed such an epic display of loserdom on screen. But while Favreau’s performance was played for laughs, the 2 hours and 40 minutes we spend with Casey Affleck’s bumbling Bob Ford is far from comedic. The movie itself is a complex character study of the two men in a battle of wits (Robert Ford and Jesse James, who is played by Brad Pitt), and their never-ending quest to be one step ahead of the other. At one point, James muses to Ford, “I’m not sure if you want to be like me, or to be me.” That sentiment kind of sets the tone for Affleck’s entire performance, which twists and evolves beautifully throughout the film. I found Affleck’s performance unexpectedly moving, in a way. This is best shown in the last half hour or so of the film, after Bob has killed Jesse and has to return to the real world – only to find that they don’t want him, either. He’s annoying and egotistical, yet Affleck’s amazing performance made me pity and even sympathize with this bizarre character.

Leonardo DiCapprio – The Departed (2006)

In Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning film, DiCapprio plays Billy Costigan, a conflicted young man working as an undercover investigator for the Boston police. When he’s assigned to get in with gangster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) he soon finds himself in over his head. One of the things that I liked most about The Departed is that they had two characters on either side of the law, who are crossing into each other’s turf for their work (a very clean-cut Matt Damon plays Colin Sullivan, who is a Costello’s rat in the SIU), and they flip our expectations early on in the film, when we find out who is working for who. DiCapprio is so convincing as a man with a questionable family history (which is the entire reason that he was chosen to be the mole), but who is essentially good, and strives to do the right thing. The conflict that Costigan feels is played so well, and the entire process that he goes through is really amplified by DiCapprio’s great work.

Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Favourite Performances of the Decade: Part 1

This is the first part of an ongoing feature where I’ll be sharing some of my favourite film performances of the decade. It’s impossible to compare and rank these performances, as they’re all very different and equally good, so I’ll just be posting 5 random performances at a time. It will probably be a five part series. My list is a work in progress, and I’ll be taking the rest of 2009 into account later on. These are just the acting performances that I liked best, so feel free to post your own opinions and suggestions! 

 

Ryan Gosling – Half Nelson (2006)

Ryan Gosling has proven himself to be one of the best young actors around, and he earned a surprise Oscar nomination for his turn as Dan, a crack-addicted school teacher, in Half Nelson. The Oscars seem to be all about big “actor’s moments”, but Gosling gives a great subtle, well-rounded performance here. His character is quite likeable, yet you’re left shaking you head as he continues his downward spiral. Gosling does a great job of balancing Dan’s teaching persona – where he’s charismatic, and seems to genuinely care about his students – with his hellish private life. When Dan is caught smoking crack by one of his students, Drey (played magnificently by Shareeka Epps), he develops a special bond with her as both teacher and student try to help each other. Through his facial expressions and body language, Gosling gives one of the most quietly moving performances that I’ve ever seen. 

 

James McAvoy – Rory O’Shea Was Here (2004)

McAvoy has proven himself to become one of the most popular young actors of the latter part of this decade (and has also managed to become an odd kind of sex symbol), but before he was getting starring roles in big films like Atonement, he played a young man with muscular dystrophy in Rory O’Shea Was Here (also known as Inside I’m Dancing). Playing Rory, McAvoy had the challenge of making the character charismatic and loveable, but also exasperating at times. Rory’s friendship with a young man with cerebral palsy is touching, and you’re heart goes out to the boys as you see their daily struggle to live a “normal” life, and deal with the prejudice that they face from others who do not understand their handicaps. Rory has a biting sense of humour, and McAvoy’s performance is both emotional and funny. For both fans and sceptics of McAvoy, I’d recommend checking out this movie. 

  

 

 Robert Downey Jr. – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

2008 was a great comeback year for Robert Downey Jr. with Iron Man, and his Oscar-nominated work in Tropic Thunder. But my favourite Downey role that I’ve seen from this decade is from a few years back. Though it was not a commercial success, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a hilarious crime caper comedy, where Downey plays Harry, a mediocre crook who finds his way to Hollywood posing as an actor, and gets involved in a real life murder plot. Co-starring with Val Kilmer (who is actually pretty funny!), the two have great chemistry. Downey is hilarious, charming, and sexy here. His delivery is brilliant, and he plays the everyman-out-of-his-depth role like no one else. Downey is his best playing a smartass, and there’s plenty of witty dialogue and clever subtleties to compliment Downey’s charismatic acting style. It’s a really fun movie, and a lot of that has to do with Downey’s great performance.  
 

Jennifer Connelly – A Beautiful Mind (2001)

In my opinion, Jennifer Connelly has got to be right up there with Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep as one of the best actresses around. Even in some of the so-so movies that she’s been in (think He’s Just Not That Into You and Hulk), she manages to still stand out and give a really solid performances. She was fantastic in 2000’s disturbing Requiem for a Dream, but her understated, mature performance in 2001’s A Beautiful Mind is what I see as her finest work to date. Playing the wife of Russell Crowe’s character, she must deal with her husband’s increasingly debilitating struggle with Schizophrenia. Connelly’s performance is at times vulnerable, moving, heartbreaking, and powerful as she portrays a woman who is far from perfect, but is trying desperately to make things work. 

 

Aaron Eckhart – Thank You For Smoking (2006)

In Jason Reitman’s directorial debut, Thank You For Smoking, Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, an incorrigible lobbyist for the tobacco industry. Armed with ridiculous spin tactics and an affinity for smooth-talk, it’s Naylor’s job to convince people (especially children) to take up smoking, and to downplay the health risks of cigarettes. Eckhart is hilarious and smooth in the scenes where he’s working his hyperbolic magic, and you can tell he’s having a lot of fun with it. And although his character is relatively despicable, Eckhart still brings glimmers of warmth and genuine likeability to his performance, which prevents us from truly hating the film’s protagonist. Eckhart shows real affection with his on-screen son, without falling into the sappy clichés that are so readily available in most films revolving around a single father. Here, Eckhart is larger than life in a very, very good way.

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5