Christopher Walken may have sucked up the bulk of the attention by being super Walken-y in the movie's ad campaign, but those who saw the Psychopaths know better. Rockwell owned the movie with his perfectly calibrated manic energy.
2. Blythe Danner - Hello, I Must Be Going
Melanie Lynskey rightly got a lot (but not enough) attention for her leading work here, but she shines brightest in her duets with Danner as the mother who is forced to finally call her daughter on her failure to grow up and take responsibility.
3. Ben Whishaw - Cloud Atlas
It's funny that for all its elaborate time jumping, and body switching Cloud Atlas is at its most effective when it lets the actors simply play a straightforward character without pounds of latex or an alien future language to distract. None of the film's elaborate transformations are half as moving as Ben Whishaw's elegant performance as a brilliant but disillusioned young composer.
4. Melissa Leo - Francine
Chalk this up to just being way, way too far under the radar. Leo followed up her role in The Fighter with an equally strong performance as a ex-con who finds more comfort in the company of animals than humans. Her minimalism as Francine is the polar opposite of her expansive Oscar winning work, but it was just as worthy of awards attention.
5. Jason Mantzoukas - The Dictator
While The Dictator found Sacha Baron Cohen's schtick wearing thin with audiences, Mantzoukas quietly stole a bounty of scenes using only a great deadpan and terrific timing. The scene where Mantzoukas explains to Cohen's painfully dim despot why bombs need not be pointy to be effective was one of 2012's funniest scenes.
6. Kirsten Dunst - On the Road
Out of all On the Road's big name ringers, the one who best transcended the stunt casting was Kirsten Dunst. She scored many of the film's best moments as the put upon, on-again-off-again wife to Hedlund's Dean Moriarty who can finally take no more of his free-wheeling lifestyle.
7. Simon Russell Beale - The Deep Blue Sea
Too often those playing meek, unimposing characters fail to get the accolades that go to bigger, extroverted characters. Case in point: Simon Russell Beale who is quietly, sincerely heartbreaking as the man who can inspire respect in his young wife, but not passion.
8. Leslie Mann - This is 40
I thought this too prominent a performance to list here until I saw that this work went unrecognized save for one nomination for best female comedic performance by the BFCA. Do I need to drag out the whole "comedy gets no respect" argument to explain why Mann's virtuoso comedic performance should not have gone so sorely ignored?
9. Tim Heidecker - The Comedy
A lot of the time the word fearless is thrown around in reference to actors who dare to appear on screen looking less than 100% perfect. I think it should be reserved for performances like Heidecker's where he not only unafraid to look physically unappealing, but throws himself body and soul into playing a man so unpleasant it leaves your jaw on the floor.
10. Scoot McNairy - Killing Them Softly
I was most definitely not a member of this film's passionate critical fan club, but I wouldn't deny had its strong moments, most of which involve McNairy's performance as a particularly weasley criminal who gets in over his head and stays there. There is something about the earnest desperation in McNairy's cracking voice that makes him stand out from the hundreds of other cinematic low lives I've seen over the years.
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