I love movies.
Given my exposure to the magic of cinema at an early age pretty much cemented my lifelong fascination with the film industry. Years of watching countless movies on TV and in the movie theaters have honed my tastes to the point that I became something of a film snob by the time I was rational enough to know what I like and what I don’t like. Every year that passes by, there are always movies that make a large impression on me. Regardless of whether the film is a major Hollywood blockbuster or a relatively obscure European indie film, my list of favorite films gradually gets bigger and bigger with every new release that I immerse myself into.
But stripping away the plot and visual effects of a standard movie, the essential part of my enduring love affair with cinema are the performances of the actors and actresses immortalized in film. There have been numerous fictional characters that I have come to know and cherish since childhood, and as a twentysomething cinephile, I have the utmost faith that I will not run out of such unique personalities depicted on the silver screen until the day I die.
2012 provided me with a bumper crop of good movies that encompassed many genres I like. The many thespians featured on this list are not by any means definitive, but a personal reflection of how such actors made an impact in the way I see the character being played in a particular film. You may have seen some of these famous faces grace your nearest movie theater (or in some cases, viewed on your computer screen via torrent downloads) in the past year or so. You might not agree with some or most of my choices, but like any notable film critic, all things are subjective to the viewer and it is left to the audience whether they agree on the opinions of another.
So allow me to wax poetic on the most memorable film performances of 2012, presented in chronological order of the release dates of the films the actors and actresses starred in. And if you haven’t seen these characters come to life yet, I highly recommend that you see the films they are featured in and judge for yourself whether they made a strong impression on you as they did with me.
Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk
The green-skinned, rage-fueled, and gloriously ripped behemoth of Marvel Comics didn’t exactly start out on the right path. First portrayed on the big screen by Eric Bana (in a cringe-worthy adaptation) and then passed on to Edward Norton for the roughly serviceable 2008 reboot, the character of Bruce Banner was then bequeathed to Mark Ruffalo for the superhero spectacular, “The Avengers”. What makes Ruffalo’s portrayal different from his predecessors is his subtle command of how Banner struggles with keeping the Other Guy in check while in human form. Considering he shares very little screen time compared to the other members of the Avengers, the Hulk managed to score big-time with extraordinary feats of fantastic rampage against an armada of intergalactic aliens, and giving the audience an impressive slew of “Fuck Yeah!” moments like beating the crap out of trickster Norse god, Loki, and saving a falling Iron Man with an awesome power catch. The fact alone that Ruffalo also provided the motion capture performance as his gigantic alter ego—replete with an understated facial resemblance even after transformation—is enough to make you believe that this complex character easily tops the rest of his Avenger comrades.
Charlize Theron as Queen Ravenna
“Snow White and the Huntsman”
What makes Charlize Theron’s portrayal of the classic evil queen of this timeless fairytale stand out from the many others who have played her in numerous adaptations is the unfortunate cross she has to bear for the sake of her all-consuming poisonous desire for power and beauty. Though bordering on campy melodramatics at times, Queen Ravenna nevertheless follows her darkest instincts when she consults her mercurial magic mirror and is told to consume the heart of Snow White (played by a roughly passable Kristen Stewart in a variation of her “Twilight” role as Bella Swan). She steals the show from the protagonist in a way that very few antagonists can actually achieve in most movies. Draped in stunning medieval fantasy couture and boasting a slew of impressive scenes in the film—the seductive milk bath, the tar-covered defeat, the Dementor-like consumption of female youth—it’s enough to make you wonder she should have triumphed at the end instead of Snow White. Bonus points also goes to her since Ravenna was the lyrical inspiration behind the stunningly epic film theme entitled, “Breath of Life”, flawlessly performed by flame-haired indie chanteuse Florence Welch from Florence + The Machine.
“Do you hear that? It’s the sound of battles fought and lives lost. It once pained me to know that I am the cause of such despair, but now their cries give me strength. Beauty is my power.”
Michael Fassbender as David-8
How does one play a realistic android that is not quite human but can still deliver an astonishing performance that can suspend your disbelief of the unnerving artificiality? Very few actors can achieve such a difficult task, but Michael Fassbender joins the ranks of the exclusive club of thespians who have successfully learned the Art of Being An Android. In Ridley Scott’s mind-blowing pseudo-prequel to his groundbreaking “Alien” film, Fassbender plays the role of David—an eighth generation android model from the sinister Weyland Corporation who serves as the dashingly handsome maintenance man aboard the spacecraft that bears the film’s title. Underneath the cultured physicality and witty articulation—chiefly inspired by David’s repeated viewings of the classic film, “Lawrence of Arabia”—programmed by a limited range of robotic emotions lies a character whose intentions are anything but altruistic; setting a deadly precedent for many Weyland Industries robots gifted with advanced sentience in the main “Alien” franchise. David’s childlike curiosity paired with a calculating deviancy has led to the ruin of most of the crew aboard Prometheus. Indeed, were it not for the ministrations of David, the audience would not be treated to that deliciously grotesque and intense alien abortion of Elizabeth Shaw (fiercely handled by Swedish actress, Noomi Rapace). Though he might have met his comeuppance at the climax of the movie, David still comes out of the film as a survivor who may still have some more high-jinks to serve up on his pretty severed head in the upcoming sequel.
“‘Want?’ Not a concept I’m familiar with. That being said, doesn’t everyone want their parents dead?”
Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy
“Beasts of the Southern Wild”
The rarest being in the realm of Hollywood is a child actor with the talent and captivating aura of a seasoned acting veteran. Years have passed without such a creature to register on the radar of the film industry. It is, therefore, a stunning revelation to finally find one in the form of Quvenzhané Wallis—a breakthrough novice who headlines the magical realist indie drama, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. The story of Wallis is the stuff of Hollywood rags-to-riches legend: aged five when she was cast, six when the film was shot, and nine when she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Most deserving, given that her portrayal of Hushpuppy cements her meteoric status as a force to be reckoned with in the acting circuit. As the pint-sized, cotton candy-haired heroine of the movie, Wallis commands a ferocious performance and captivating screen presence matched by her poetic Southern drawl as she lives a beautifully derelict life in a drowned bayou world that is reflective of post-Hurricane Katrina. The audience sees this surreal world through her eyes, and with such hardscrabble conditions, Hushpuppy takes it upon herself to prepare for adult independence as her highly protective and loving father approaches the brink of death. Armed with nothing but strength, brightness, and the tenacity of a feral child, she takes us through this gorgeously constructed fever dream of a film to its uplifting conclusion. And once the journey is over, the audience will be sure to remember Wallis’s name—and how to pronounce it properly—as her star continues to rise within the glimmering ranks of established acting heavyweights already bowing down to her feet.
“I hope you die! And after you die, I’ll go to your grave and eat birthday cake all by myself!”
“When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me lying around in invisible pieces. When I look too hard, it goes away. And when it all goes quiet, I see they are right here. I see that I’m a little piece in a big, big universe. And that makes things right. When I die, the scientists of the future, they’re gonna find it all. They’re gonna know that once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.”
Tom Hardy as Bane
“The Dark Knight Rises”
With the third and final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s vision of the Batman universe, it seems that it would be a tough act for many actors to follow in the wake of Heath Ledger’s crackling and psychotic Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight”. Tom Hardy dares to fill such large shoes as the physically imposing villain, Bane, to go head-to-head with Gotham’s billionaire caped crusader. A smart reimagining of the character’s look from the original source material, Hardy packed on the hefty pounds and muscle required to play the hulking brute. But Bruce Wayne’s nemesis is not just an unstoppable force of strength; underneath the menacing face mask lies a cunning intellect and disturbingly charismatic persona whose sole purpose is to bring destruction to a mostly privileged Gotham City until all that remains is ashes. Though most audiences found his warbled accent to be odd, Hardy’s curious articulation added a seductive element to his intimidating aura, augmented by highly expressive eyes that can switch from passionate to cold-heartedness in a snap. And when a villain has achieved the level of Internet meme-dom after his debut just like Bane, you can pretty much guarantee he has earned his place among the esteemed baddies in Batman’s rogue gallery.
“Oh, so you think darkness is your ally? But you merely adopted the dark; I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was already a man. By then, it was nothing to me but blinding!”
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as Georges and Anne Laurent
There are no words to accurately describe the revealing performances of these two veteran French actors in Michael Haneke’s emotionally gripping film about love in the face of old age, illness, and death. Without descending into melodrama or grand theatrics, Trintignant and Riva deliver a masterstroke of heartbreaking brilliance that many other younger actors could only dream of achieving in their careers. As a retired pair of haute bourgeoisie music teachers, Georges and Anne Laurent are struck by tragedy in the form of a debilitating stroke that affects the proud and aristocratic Anne. Trintignant as Georges takes it upon himself to experience the true hardship of taking care of his ailing wife while struggling to come to terms that the woman he loves for so many decades is withering away in front of him. Riva as Anne is remarkable for her accurate depiction of a stroke victim that one can’t help but experience the pain she is suffering, and workers in the health care industry might find her performance too close to home. Their trials and tribulations all revolve around their magnificent Parisian apartment that reflects a sense of melancholia rather than grandeur. Indeed, this is not a happy movie despite the film’s title. But because of the riveting pairing of Riva and Trintignant, you will come away from this movie knowing the true meaning of love that no romantic comedy could never even touch or surpass.
Memorable Quote (Anne):
“I don’t want to go on. You’re making such sweet efforts to make everything easier for me, but I don’t want to go on.”
Memorable Quote (Georges):
“Things will go on as they have done up until now. They’ll go from bad to worse. Things will go on, and then one day… it will all be over.”
Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller as Charlie, Sam, and Patrick
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
Every generation has that teen movie to call their own, and in the tradition of the seminal classic that is “The Breakfast Club”, a new breed of adolescent misfits converge in the form of Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller in Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his epistolary novel, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. The trio has an easy dynamic that feels just like how you once were as a kid back in high school with the closest friends you know. And although the film is subtly different from the book in many ways, Lerman, Watson, and Miller owned their characters that only great young adult actors can easily do. Lerman as the protagonist Charlie brings that brand of shy awkwardness you’d expect from an incoming freshman exposed to the crazy aspects of high school life. Meanwhile, Watson and Miller as step-siblings Sam and Patrick play off to each other’s strengths and both have insane chemistry towards Charlie once this oddball trinity appears onscreen. From weed-induced house parties to driving through dimly lighted road tunnels, you can’t help but cheer for these three self-proclaimed wallflowers from beginning to end.
Memorable Quote (Charlie):
“This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song and that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.”
Memorable Quote (Sam):
“You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think it counts as love.”
Memorable Quote (Patrick):
“I have received a harmonica, a magnetic poetry set, a book about Harvey Milk, and a mix tape with the song ‘Asleep’ on it twice. I mean, I have no idea. This collection of presents is so gay that I think I must have given them to myself.”
Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy
If you are born with a name as cool as “Rebel”, then you best live up to that particular designation. As the ridiculously hilarious Fat Amy, Wilson careens out of nowhere to effectively steal the scenes in the rip-roaring comedy film about collegiate acapella. Giving plus-sized women everywhere a good name, Wilson as Fat Amy owns her extra-plump body with an unshakable confidence and backs it up with genuine talent as she gets inducted into the ranks of the Barden Bellas—an all-female acapella group determined to bring their obnoxious male rivals, the Treblemakers, on their knees. Despite the film having an amazing ensemble cast—Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, and Anna Kendrick—it is Wilson who shines out the brightest with her spot-on comedic timing and irreverent style of delivery that simply hits all the right spots to tickle the audience’s funny bones. Whether she’s horizontal running during Barden Bellas boot camp or commandeering the stage with her larger-than-life presence, Wilson as Fat Amy cements herself as a comedic tour-de-force that is destined for more gut-busting laughs in the future.
“You guys are gonna get pitch-slapped so hard, your man boobs are gonna concave!”
Doona Bae as Sonmi-451
In a movie that employs a large ensemble of actors who play different characters, it is already hard enough to make your mark. But among the six engrossing narratives outlined in the soon-to-be-cult-masterpiece that is “Cloud Atlas”, South Korean actress Doona Bae shines as the dystopian fabricant named Sonmi-451. Engineered as a fast-food waitress in the futuristic world of Neo Seoul, Bae as Sonmi evolves from a timid and obedient clone to a formidable figurehead of an underground uprising that seeks to expose the truth about clones and the abolition of corporate slavery. Though her screen time may be limited due to the multiple storylines that encompass this epic science fiction extravaganza, Bae headlines her segment with equal parts of strength and fragility. Despite her demise at the hands of the corrupt Neo Seoul government, Sonmi-451 is immortalized in the post-apocalyptic future as a goddess worshipped by a primitive tribe that live by her inspirational words which sparked a revolution. And as Tom Hanks’s character would say, that is the “true truth”.
“The nature of our immortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds that go on apportioning themselves throughout all time. Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others—past and present. And by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future.”
Daniel Craig as James Bond
Five actors have portrayed the iconic British super spy in the Eon Films adaptations of Ian Fleming’s series of novels, but it is Daniel Craig who elevates this beloved character into an unexplored territory that audiences have never been to. Initially derided when he was cast and skepticism of a ‘blond Bond’ surrounding the brouhaha, Craig proceeds to obliterate the critiques of the naysayers by successfully bringing his rebooted version of Bond for a modern audience beginning with “Casino Royale”. Bond fanatics were immediately taken, and Craig has since earned his place among the exclusive club of men—Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan—who have donned the sleek Savile Row suits and became Agent 007 for MI6. In Craig’s third outing as Bond in “Skyfall”, we discover a deeper aspect of his character that has not been discussed in any other Bond film—namely, his family background and the dysfunctional pseudo-maternal relationship with his superior, M (played to perfection by Dame Judi Dench). Hitting more emotional notes than the previous movies, Craig balances this touch of drama with the requisite action set pieces guaranteed to enthrall lifelong fans of the franchise and a new generation of Bond converts alike. What makes this version of Bond even more enticing is the ambiguous hint of his sexuality courtesy of an erotically-charged scene with a male villain (played by Javier Bardem) that makes you question if there is a possibility of having a Bond Man in the next installment rather than the traditional Bond Girl. Should this possibility come to light, we can certainly expect another scorching performance from Craig as James Bond as he turns up the heat with a male character (dare I say Michael Fassbender for the honor?).
“What makes you think this is my first time?”
Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany Maxwell
“Silver Linings Playbook”
Jennifer Lawrence’s star shows no sign of burning out as her performance in “Silver Linings Playbook” has crowned her as an Academy Award-winning actress; proving that she is The Actress of her generation by which all other aspiring starlets should be measured (that means you, Kristen Stewart!). Eschewing her hard-edged role of Katniss Everdeen in a post-apocalyptic universe via “The Hunger Games”, Lawrence headlines a contemporary dramedy film about mental illness with her character of Tiffany Maxwell. As a recently widowed woman with a sex addiction problem, she brings a veritable charm and eccentricity that matches perfectly with the bipolar character of her lead co-star, Bradley Cooper. Tiffany’s brand of crazy just scintillates onscreen, and her forceful tenacity during the expected confrontations—the diner date fiasco with Cooper and the intense face-off with Robert De Niro—just simply screams epic awesomeness that it is the sort of stuff you wish you could pull off in your own life filled with drama. Lawrence has tremendous control of Tiffany’s persona, and there is absolutely no doubt that this is only the first of many accolades to come in her acting career. And let us not forget her now-legendary fall in Dior Haute Couture and the total insouciance of the incident as she went to accept her Oscar statuette. Now that is also another reason for audiences to keep their eyes on Lawrence in the future.
“I was a slut. There will always be a part of me that is dirty and sloppy, but I like that, just like all the other parts of myself. I can forgive. Can you say the same for yourself, fucker? Can you forgive? Are you capable of that?”
“Life of Pi”
Curiously enough, one of the most memorable film characters in 2012 for me came in the form of a completely virtual performance. And I don’t mean a greenscreen performance capture a la Andy Serkis-as-Gollum, but a wholly computer generated performance that is more akin to Dobby in the “Harry Potter” series. Ang Lee and his visual effects team have brought to life on screen a highly realistic tiger in the magnificent adaptation of Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi”. Richard Parker—the 220-pound Bengal tiger shipwrecked on a lifeboat with the titular Pi—is an astonishing work of simulated proportions that it is at first impossible to believe that the animal is not real. Newcomer actor Suraj Sharma as Piscine Mollitor “Pi” Patel battles with Richard Parker for dominance and equal rights on board the tiny lifeboat, and the dynamics of man and (virtual) animal is nothing short of mind-blowing. Staying true to the actual feral instincts of a big cat, Richard Parker smashes the concepts of anthropomorphism and brings a truthful depiction of a tiger unleashed on open sea. Very rarely does an animal character—let alone a computer-generated one at that—steal the show from a human actor, but Richard Parker has managed to do just that with nothing more than scary roars and an daunting presence inherent of a wild animal.
Richard Parker’s frighteningly lethal attempts to devour Pi as the only remaining creature on the lifeboat after consuming the zebra, hyena, and orangutan previously onboard with them. Oh, and that touching moment where Pi cradles an exhausted Richard Parker as they both struggle to stay alive with dwindling food supplies on their lifeboat (pictured above)
Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
With Peter Jackson once again returning to Middle Earth for the trinity prequel to the epic fantasy trilogy that is “The Lord of the Rings”, the story now revolves around Bilbo Baggins who goes on a thrilling adventure with a company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield. But far from the dwarves previously seen in the first trilogy, Thorin—played by English actor Richard Armitage—possesses a certain attractiveness that has already captured the hearts (and loins) of many LOTR denizens. Thorin’s fierce temperament, regal bearing, and decisive authority far exceed his diminutive stature. Armitage himself (a six-footer bloke in real life) gives his dwarf persona gravitas as he rallies his motley crew of rough-and-tumble dwarves, together with a wily grey wizard in the form of Gandalf and the titular hobbit of the prequel trilogy. With only the first film released and the remaining two movies highly anticipated by Middle Earth fans, expect to see more of Thorin’s greatness to be embodied by Armitage as he seeks to reclaim the dwarf kingdom of Erebor from the clutches of the evil dragon, Smaug.
“You! What were you doing? You nearly got yourself killed! Did I not say that you would be a burden, that you would not survive in the wild and that you have no place amongst us? I’ve never been so wrong in all my life!”
Jessica Chastain as Maya
“Zero Dark Thirty”
Playing a fictionalized character based on a real-life person shrouded in complete secrecy might be a difficult task for any other actress, but not for Jessica Chastain. Professionally trained in the esteemed Julliard School and debuted in Hollywood with not just one, but several movies under her belt in 2011 alone, she is the definition of a working actress whose range knows no bounds. Playing a CIA operative called simply as Maya in Kathryn Bigelow’s controversial film about the manhunt of the world’s greatest terrorist, Chastain handles the job with aplomb. With a single-minded determination to have Osama bin Laden killed for his crimes against humanity, Chastain as Maya veers into a ferociously focused performance so highly pressurized that her character progression is akin to starting out as a mere piece of black carbon and transformed into an unyielding diamond in the rough. Maya is exactly the type of person who will stop at nothing to achieve her goals, and ultimately feeling empty and void of purpose once her impossible mission has been achieved. Indeed, in the final moments of the film where she breaks down after confirming the identity of the mangled corpse of bin Laden, Chastain reveals to the audience why she is a compelling thespian that Hollywood should not take for granted.
“Quite frankly, I didn’t even want to use you guys, with your dip and velcro and all your gear bullshit. I wanted to drop a bomb. But people didn’t believe in this lead enough to drop a bomb. So they’re using you guys as canaries. And, in theory, if bin Laden isn’t there, you can sneak away and no one will be the wiser. But bin Laden is there. And you’re going to kill him for me.”
Naomi Watts as Maria Bennett
Stories of survival often come across as too sensationalized for viewers that it becomes unsympathetic to an average viewer. But when you come across a film like “The Impossible”, you would be hard-pressed not to feel an onslaught of staggering emotion throughout this movie, particularly if you pay attention to the character of Naomi Watts. The stunning Australian actress plays Maria Bennett, a British version of the real-life Maria Belón, a Spanish doctor who is a survivor of the December 2004 tsunami that destroyed many parts of Southeast Asia. It is a brutal and punishing performance on a physical and emotional level, what with Watts being tossed and turned around in surging waves, and then having to traverse the devastation with life-threatening injuries upon her body. As a married mother of three young boys, Watts as Maria is confronted by the harsh wake-up call of Mother Nature and struggles to maintain a façade of strength in the face of tragedy that has equalized both privileged Western tourists like her and the poverty-stricken locals of Thailand. Much like James Franco’s pivotal role in “127 Hours”, this portrayal by Naomi Watts is a powerful piece of self-reflection that reminds us of the indestructibility of the human spirit, and the testament to the rare breed of actors who can deliver a dramatic survival story without descending into cloying farce. In Maria Belón, Naomi Watts has made the impossible possible.
“Lucas, look at this place. They’re so busy in here. You’ve got to go and do something. Go help people. You’re good at it.”
Anne Hathaway as Fantine
There were initial doubts at the onset of casting Anne Hathaway for the role of Fantine in the big-screen adaptation of the historical-novel-turned-smash-musical, “Les Misérables”. But when the teaser trailers came out months before the release date, all uncertainties were soundly crushed as Hathaway sung a few lines of the epic torch song, “I Dreamed A Dream”. And like many other dedicated actors before her who sacrificed their physical appearance to commit to a particular role—think Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep—Hathaway sheared off her hair and starved herself to accurately portray the emaciated and dying look of the French factory-worker-turned-prostitute, Fantine. Quite the 180-degree turnaround given that earlier in the year, she was appropriately fit and toned as the antihero character of Selina Kyle in “The Dark Knight Rises”. Finally, when audiences glimpsed her in all her hyped glory, the excitement surrounding her performance and metamorphosis was truly justified. And although her appearance in the film is quite succinct compared to the other characters, Hathaway as Fantine steals the entire show with just one song allegedly done in one single take during filming. Visceral, emotional, and wildly cinematic, her version of Fantine is a bravura performance that rightfully earned her an Oscar statuette together with Jennifer Lawrence at the 85th Academy Awards. Love her or hate her, Anne Hathaway is here to stay for the long haul as a part of the Hollywood dream machine.
“I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living! So different now from what it seemed. Now life has killed the dream I’ve dreamed.”