With the help of the movie recommendation podcast, Down The Hall, Top 10 Films writer Lyndon Wells has compiled a list of the best acting performances ever!
After taking on Top 10 Oscar Best Picture Snubs and Top 10 War Films we now take on the difficult task of Top 10 Acting Performances. This is not necessarily who we consider the best actors but our favourite single performances.
On the podcast we also discuss some notable omissions from the list and some actors that have multiple performances that could have made the list.
There is also another quiz on the podcast “The British Scene” to determine what top 10 list we will be tackling next with the Down the Hall guys.
Check out our final list below, do you agree with our list?
Let us know what you think, do your favourite movies also have your favourite acting performances?
10. Denzel Washington as John W. Creasy – Man On Fire (2004)
A recognised force of acting especially with his recent performance in Fences. Washington often elevates average films with his excellent performances such as Inside Man, Unstoppable and The Equaliser. He may have won the Oscar for Training Day but he makes the list in this ultimate revenge film. Denzel Washington carries the film as he portrays a clear three act arc from lost and depressed to finding his humanity again when employed as a bodyguard for the young Dakota Fanning and then releasing his violent vengeful side when she is kidnapped. A layered and thrilling performance that sneaks in at no.10.
9. Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow – Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise (2003-)
This choice was championed more by the Down the Hall Guys as the multiple diminishing sequels have taken much of the shine away from the original performance. Taking the first film on its own this is an ionic performance that has infected popular culture to this day. Depp’s unique approach and mannerisms made a captivating portrayal of a plucky pirate captain who was able to thrill in a largely comedic performance.
8. Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy – Anchorman (2004)
One of my favourite films and my favourite comedic performance, an endlessly quotable film ‘anchored’ by a central ludicrous role. To play it completely straight every laugh lands and it is a film that improves with repeat viewing. Comedic performances are often not given the credit and praise they deserve but we are all big fans of this one.
7. Leonardo Dicaprio as Jordan Belfort – The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)
This is the film that Leonardo DiCaprio should have won the Oscar for. That scene alone where the multiple drugs he has taken make him enter the “cerebral palsy” phase is a darkly comic and affecting portrayal. DiCaprio goes into full grandstanding mode when motivating his employees and yet also convincingly carries the emotional weight of his hedonistic decisions. DiCaprio is one of the greatest working actors today and deserves to be on this list for a number of roles but this is my favourite.
6. Kate Hudson as Penny Lane – Almost Famous (2000)
A choice championed by the Down the Hall guys, a film I had to revisit before compiling the list and podcast. As Chet says Penny Lane’s arc and performance mirrors the journey of maturation of the leading character, which is also enhanced by Cameron Crowe’s direction and visual style when Hudson is on screen. Hudson brings an endearing charm to the role that despite being in support you want to spend more time with and part of her mystique is her unclear backstory. This performance makes the rest of Hudson’s career even more disappointing but I implore people to see this film and seek out the extended cut as it is an much forgotten gem.
5. Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham – American Beauty (1999)
Kevin Spacey is recognised as one of the best actor’s working today and this is perhaps his defining performance. He plays the everyman that is faced with some extraordinary circumstances and emotions yet keeps his performance grounded and relatable even until his emotional closing narration. Despite his decision and disregard of others Spacey’s warm performance carries the audience along, but we know from other performances such as Seven this is an actor with an impressive range.
4. Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch – To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
I love a good superhero film but whenever I am asked who is the best hero ever in film for me the answer is always Atticus Finch. Gregory Peck’s portrayal of this literary legend transcends the page in one of the best courtroom scenes tackling racial prejudice, father food and the moral strength to do the right thing. He takes to the task with the quiet calm of the screen greats of Hollywood’s golden age. Peck is an intense but measured screen presence, the opposite to the more showy and grandstanding of DiCaprio’s at number 7.
3. Brie Larson as “Ma” – Room (2015)
The most recent addition to the list, a difficult and challenging film made with an unbearable emotional intensity. This is a film of two halves that relies on Brie Larson’s performance to carry the emotional baggage from two separate situations. She is her son’s world when they are trapped in that room as her maternal instinct to create an imaginary world that is safe and exciting for his young mind. And when they escape the emotions of her lost childhood, her parents, her home and her hometown come flooding back to the point where her son becomes her emotional rock as she collapses to the point of self-harm. Oscar winning actors are often applauded for the physical endurance they put their body through, but the emotional ones are far more impressive and psychologically difficult. This film is a stunning exploration of child psychology as Ma herself is still only a child and this performance will be remembered for years to come.
2. Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter – The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
It seems villainous roles are more popular in our list than heroes such as Captain Jack Sparrow and Atticus Finch. This is an ionic role that instantly became embedded in pop culture despite only really being a supporting role in the film, which led to the sequels being more based around Hannibal Lecter himself. Anthony Hopkins’ performance made the words Chianti and fava beans forever associated with cannibalism. Hopkins also does not blink throughout the whole performance and his presence alone elevates the film and the performance of those around him.
1. Heath Ledger as The Joker – The Dark Knight (2008)
There isn’t much to say about this role and performance that hasn’t already been said. I thought we would struggle to find a combined number one but it was an easy decision. The tragic circumstances surrounding Ledger’s death before the film’s release and his posthumous Oscar does add a certain level of mystique and aura but without the surrounding detail I think this would still top the list. There was a huge backlash after the announcement of his casting but once audiences saw the film the stellar performance was undeniable. To be able to take an already iconic screen role and recreate it to something fresh and disturbing but simultaneously mesmerising is an impressive feat of art. It is such a shame that Heath Ledger never got to see what heights his acting could go to but what a legacy this performance alone is. Christian Bale himself admitted on-set he knew this film was stolen from him; this was Ledger’s time to shine and is rightly remembered as one of the greatest modern acting performances ever.
Let us know what makes your Top 10 Acting Performances?
Written by Lyndon Wells
This top 10 was a collaborative effort between Down The Hall podcast hosts Rodney and Chet with Lyndon. Check out the podcast for their individual arguments for and against including the films above.