After checking out my favourite directors and ladies of 2011, it is time to look at the lovely men that impressed me on screen. Tomorrow, it'll be time to unveil my favourite films of 2011 - finally! However, back to the men of 2011: wasn't last year really a 'year for actors'? There were so many great performances that it made it hard for me to cut my list down to ten. Hence the fact that I have a rather long list of honourable mentions, who in a perfect world, would have all been in my top ten. Seriously, all of them just missed out on a place.
Honourable mentions: Ezra Miller - We Need to Talk About Kevin, Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Ewan McGregor - Beginners, Christopher Plummer - Beginners, Colin Firth - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Mark Strong - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tom Hardy - Warrior, Joel Edgerton - Warrior, Patton Oswalt - Young Adult, Leonardo DiCaprio - J. Edgar, Rhys Ifans - Anonymous, Antonio Banderas - The Skin I Live In, Ben Kingsley - Hugo, Ralph Fiennes - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Kenneth Branagh - My Week with Marilyn, Ryan Gosling - The Ides of March, Ryan Gosling - Drive, Albert Brooks - Drive, Jonah Hill - Moneyball, John Hawkes - Martha Marcy May Marlene, Peyman Moadi - A Separation, Andy Serkis - Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Hunter McCracken - The Tree of Life, Brad Pitt - The Tree of Life, Michael Fassbender - X-Men: First Class, Adrien Brody - Midnight in Paris, Corey Stoll - Midnight in Paris, Tom Hiddleston - Thor, Anton Yelchin - Like Crazy, Matthew McConaughey - The Lincoln Lawyer, Michael Fassbender - Jane Eyre, Christian McKay - I Melt with You, Peter Mullan - Tyrannosaur, Paul Rudd - Our Idiot Brother, Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Hesher.
10. Michael Shannon as Curtis LaForche in Take Shelter.
Michael Shannon has always been a great actor who has taken supporting roles and stolen the entire film within a few minutes. Revolutionary Road was a classic example of that. In Take Shelter, Shannon gets the lead role, and totally rocks the entire film. Curtis is a rather difficult character who is on the cusp of madness, constantly trying to make everyone believe that there's an apocalypse coming. Shannon's performance is a study of paranoia, instability and weakness. If it hadn't been Shannon playing him, I doubt that I would have felt so connected to Curtis. Instead of viewing his actions as irrational, I definitely felt as if I should get a shovel and pitch in with his plans.
Key scene: "There's a storm coming!"
9. Nick Nolte as Paddy Conlon in Warrior.
Warrior, one of the most surprisingly great films of 2011, worked on the basis of the towering performances from the three leading men: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and the Oscar-nominated Nick Nolte. The word 'comeback' is probably thrown around a little too much, but this is the kind of performance that we should see more of from him. He plays a man filled with regrets, trying to break even with his sons, caught up in a whirlwind of religious awakening. This isn't one of those 'pity the old man' performances - Nolte is truly heart-breaking in his role, commanding the screen with his tragic presence. Being the finest performer of Warrior is a little bit of an achievement in itself, too.
Key scene: The hotel scene where he succumbs to alcohol again.
8. Jean Dujardin as George Valentin in The Artist.
This year's winner for Best Actor (I was seriously rooting for him even when I hadn't seen the film because I really didn't want George Clooney to win) was Jean Dujardin, a popular French actor who fit right into The Artist's 1920s nostalgia-fest. He certainly looks the part, with his thin moustache and perfect appearance making him seem like he came straight from the same dressing room as Rudolph Valentino. He can also be the part extremely well, charming his way through the film even as his character starts hitting a few lows. Dujardin is a magnetic presence in this film, effortlessly doing the difficult job of acting without words. Even though he isn't my favourite 2011 actor, I can't say that the Oscar wasn't deserved.
Key scene: George takes all the applause for 'The Russian Affair'.
7. Alan Rickman as Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.
I feel a little odd about putting Rickman here, considering that I only just watched all of the Harry Potter films in one go at the end of last year. Surely his performance means a lot more to the actual fans of the series. However, Rickman was the actor that I found to be the most consistent throughout the entire series, and I couldn't help but be a fan of Snape from the very beginning. The final chapter to the series let me justify that. Even though Snape isn't around in the film for that long, Rickman commands the screen as we find out that tragedy behind Snape's story. Thanks to Rickman's work, I think that's going to be one of the most memorable scenes from 2011.
Key scene: "Always."
6. Bryan Cranston as Shannon in Drive.
Sure, Ryan Gosling was great in this film as the silent, brooding driver/killer. And as it says up at the top of this post, he only just missed out on a spot. Bryan Cranston gets a spot, though, because his supporting performance as the Driver's mentor, Shannon, is so bloody brilliant. He fills the role better than anyone else would, ensuring that Shannon doesn't become just another figure in the film, but another colourful character in a film rife with interesting people. The way he adores the Driver's skills and fears the taunts of Nino and his gang is truly spectacular to watch. He stole the film, for me, which is quite interesting considering the size of the role and how much is going for this film.
Key scene: When Irene has to get her car fixed and he is trying to hook her and the Driver up.
5. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam in 50/50.
Considering that JGL took this role two days before shooting began, he did a damn good job of playing Adam, a young guy who is diagnosed with cancer. Hell, even if he'd had months to prepare for the film, he still would have done a damn good job. I think it is pretty hard for a young actor to play the role of a cancer patient. Most of them go way over the top, crying and screaming every five seconds. Partly due to the fact that 50/50 is a little more on the comedic side, JGL finds a nice balance between having a laugh, seeing the best of his situation and just wishing things would be better. And through his aversion to unnecessary drama, we have a realistic portrayal of someone who has cancer, not someone who is just trying to get our pity.
Key scene: The scene before his operation.
4. Gary Oldman as George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
It would be unfair to do this list without mentioning at least one of the great actors from the power ensemble of the year: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It was really difficult to pick a favourite, since just about everyone was playing against type: we had Colin Firth as a slimy womaniser, Mark Strong not being a villain, and Gary Oldman leading the pack as the very quiet, reserved George Smiley. Like he does with any role, he immerses himself in it, becoming practically unrecognisable. He's a man of very few words, and very few actions, but that doesn't mean he is a concrete brick. It is absolutely fascinating to watch how Oldman works this role with so much restraint. Thank goodness he got an Oscar nomination for this.
Key scene: "We're not so very different, you and I..."
3. Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in Moneyball.
If I was doing this list two months earlier, Brad Pitt wouldn't have featured on it at all. To be honest, I wasn't all that impressed by his performance when I first watched it - I thought that anyone could have done what he did. However, on a second watch, I completely fell in love with his work. I can't really say what changed, because I just end up constantly beating myself up over that knee-jerk reaction. Billy Beane is a man of mystery. He's an enigmatic, charismatic father, boss, former star baseball player. He's an interesting man, filled with ideas, but without the people to listen to him. This isn't the 'movie star Brad Pitt'. This is just Brad Pitt showing us that he can be a totally normal person. Some may argue that that's exactly what George Clooney did in The Descendants, but Pitt does it far better.
Key scene: His reaction to daughter's song.
2. Kiefer Sutherland as John in Melancholia.
This will probably come as a surprise, especially being this high up, but I feel like Sutherland was truly amazing in Melancholia. Besides Kirsten Dunst's apt and terrifying portrayal of depression, Sutherland held the most interest for me. John is a guy who is just trying to keep up with his wife's "stark raving mad" family, and the fact that there's a planet passing by. The way he reacts to everything at the wedding is just priceless. But then everything changes when he finds out that Melancholia is actually coming for earth, and we see just how selfish the guy really is. Sutherland does such a great job with what could have been a one note character. If I'm alone in thinking that, then so be it.
Key scene: "Is everyone in your family stark raving mad?"
1. Michael Fassbender as Brandon in Shame.
How in the name of all things great Michael Fassbender did not get an Oscar nomination for his spectacular work in Shame is beyond me. When was the last time we had a performance as rich and as brave as this one? His performance isn't great because he bares all. If he'd worn five hundred coats he still would have been just as good. While the script has a little bit of ambigiuity surrounding Brandon's character, Fassbender brings the character layers and complexities which makes him pretty darn terrifying to watch at times. He pretty much threw himself down on the line for this role, and seemed to come out on the other side smiling. It must have been a very difficult task, but it is a stunning achievement. This is probably one of the best performances I've ever seen.
What do you think of these picks? Who were your favourite men of 2011?