Some of this decade's best performances

25. Adrien Brody as Wladyslaw Szpilman The Pianist (2002)
While many great performances rely on dramatic and affecting dialogue, Adrien Brody’s turn as real life musician Wladyslaw Szpilman in Roman Polanski’s Holocaust drama The Pianist is hushed, a sullen-eyed lost soul hanging on to a world cloaked in gray. As the title character, Brody became a living skeleton, an all-too-real representation of one of history’s darkest periods.
24. Ellen Page as Juno MacGuff Juno (2007)
Ellen Page walks the delicately fine line between pitiable pregnant teen and resilient, plucky feminist in this film that manages to be both a cautionary tale and a story of love and compassion. Page displays intelligence and wit while clearly conveying the moments of humiliation that come with being pregnant in high school, producing an utterly endearing, memorable character.
23. Adam Sandler as Barry Egan Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
In a dark romantic comedy plot complicated by phone-sex scams and Healthy Choice frozen dinners, Sandler handled this starring role in the same manner in which he shuffles down that grocery store aisle – with ease. This will shock any moviegoer who’s watched any of his mediocre comedies or who got to know the Saturday Night Live comedian for his spats with Bob Barker and feuds with imaginary penguins.
22. Penélope Cruz as Raimunda Volver (2006)
As prominently displayed in his most recent works, director Pedro Almodovar found his muse in Cruz in the same way that Woody Allen did in Diane Keaton years ago. Here, with a performance displaying both maternal and primal instincts, made as equally compelling and complex as the plot in itself, Cruz shows most clearly why such idolization is deserved.
21. Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles Ray (2004)
Jamie Foxx might have seemed an odd choice to star in Ray Charles’ biopic, but he surpassed all expectations. Sadly, Charles died just before Foxx brought all of the R&B titan’s frailties and triumphs to life on screen.
20. Anne Hathaway as Kym Buchman Rachel Getting Married (2008)
No one expected Anne Hathaway to take on the role of an ex-junkie in Rachel Getting Married, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t deserve it. Hathaway nimbly sidesteps the clichĂ©s inherent in her character and creates a moving portrait of renewal and hope.
19. Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Owen Wilson was brilliant in this film. Ben Stiller was brilliant in this film. Anjelica Huston was brilliant in this film. But it was Gene Hackman as the title character and family patriarch who made The Royal Tenenbaums the one of the 10 Best Movies of the Decade.
18. Laura Linney as Sammy Prescott You Can Count on Me (2000)
Laura Linney may have been the decade’s best everywoman, giving import to the daily stresses of juggling work and family dysfunction. That distinction began with 2000’s You Can Count on Me, with a wayward brother, an overbearing boss, an infatuated new boyfriend, an abusive ex-husband and a fatherless son spinning around her center of gravity.
17. Kate Winslet as Clementine Kruczynski Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Perhaps the best actress of her generation, Kate Winslet brought a stunning performance to every film she made, regardless of how inconsequential they may have been. No movie showcased her talents better than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which allowed her to bounce from serious to playful in a matter of moments.
16. Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Her best of a fourth decade of outstanding performances. No one’s better at giving proper justice to a good script and a strong cast.
15. Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar American Splendor (2003)
It’s hard to forget his wine-whiney lines in Sideways, but his dour portrayal of comics writer Harvey Pekar in American Splendor was a more complete, singular performance.
14. Halle Berry as Leticia Musgrove Monster’s Ball (2001)
Berry’s Oscar-winning performance as down-and-out death row widower Leticia is startlingly unglamorous and fearlessly honest. In a film that is full of deeply flawed, unvarnished characters, Berry displays the kind of raw vulnerability alongside steely, almost vicious, resiliency that stays with you long after the final credits roll.
13. Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II The Queen (2006)
There are few bigger challenges than portraying a living celebrity whose private life feels completely foreign to us commoners. Helen Mirren fully inhabited the queen of England as she navigates a world that has changed tremendously during her lifetime.
12. Julie Christie as Fiona Anderson
Away From Her (2007)
Julie Christie got her first Oscar nomination in 1965. Her fourth came 22 years later for her turn as a victim of Alzheimer’s in Sarah Polley’s directorial debut, Away From Her. Christie makes us fall in love with her character before we see her slip from her husband’s grasp, make the loss so much more palpable than it otherwise would have been.
11. Sean Penn as Jimmy Markum Mystic River (2003)
Playing a man distraught over the murder of his daughter this is Penn at his emotional zenith (yes, a half-an-iota better than Milk) with excellent direction from Clint Eastwood. But really, Penn could be on this list for a number of roles.
10. Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar Brokeback Mountain (2005)
While his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight certain deserves the acclaim it’s been given, Heath Ledger’s true tour de force was his understated work in Brokeback Mountain. Ledger brought a driving force to the movie which complimented its contemplative tone and showed a true, classical brilliance in acting that left you convinced that his character was real.
9. Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina Hotel Rwanda (2004)
As director Terry George found from his own research, this story of the 1994 Rwandan genocide unfortunately wrote itself. On the other hand, Cheadle’s portrayal as its hero seemed to rise from a passion he held within himself, transforming the role into a career golden standard still relevant today.
8. Felicity Huffman as Bree Osbourne Transamerica (2005)
Between her TV roles on Sports Night and Desperate Housewives, Felicity Huffman showed her amazing range, playing a transexual woman who finds out she’s a father a week before her sexual reassignment surgery.
7. Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson The Wrestler (2008)
This tale of a professional wrestler 20 years after his prime resembles the life of the starring actor himself, who returns to Hollywood one boxing career, one shattered cheekbone and five nose operations later. And as the wrestler searched for solace from everything he once abandoned from his sport, the role tore apart Rourke’s surgically reconstucted, sun-weathered exterior to reestablish his niche in Hollywood, if only because of one line: “I’m an old, broken-down piece of meat, and I deserve to be alone.”
6. Amy Adams as Ashley Johnsten
Junebug (2005)
She might have technically been a supporting character, but Amy Adams made the most of every moment on screen. Born in Italy and raised in Colorado, she was the rare non-Southern actor who seemed to be molded from North Carolina clay.

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