Every decade has its share of sensational performances in film; sometimes, it’s hard to keep track. The 2000s had Denzel Washington in Training Day, and the ’90s gave us Robert De Niro in Good Fellas. Still, it’s hard competing with what the 2010s provided movie-goers with, thanks to all the innovations and new storytellers stepping into Hollywood. As we patiently wait for what the next ten years bring, it’s only right to look back at the top performances of the 2010s. Read on and see for yourself.
Mark Zuckerberg – Jesse Eisenberg
The thing that made The Social Network (2010) a magical work was a combination of two aspects. One is the casting and the second is undoubtedly actor Jesse Eisenberg. Director David Fincher didn’t choose Eisenberg solely based on his ability to act like Mark Zuckerberg the best. Had he done that, the movie wouldn’t have been a hit.
Eisenberg did a swell job at acting unassuming, arrogant, and slightly evil. Now, you can’t read about Zuckerberg without the image of Eisenberg popping into your head. That’s how you know an actor played a character fittingly.
Christine McPherson – Saoirse Ronan
Lady Bird is a 2017 film starring Saoirse Ronan as the lead, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson. While it might be classified as a coming-of-age movie, director Greta Gerwig does a wonderful job of making it universal.
Gerwig couldn’t have done it without Ronan’s charming persona. She plays a teenage girl who has confidence that hides self-doubt and resentment, something many can relate to. The best part of the film comes in the final twenty minutes, as it transcends from outstanding to immaculate.
Samantha – Scarlett Johansson
There was no physical appearance for Scarlett Johansson in 2013s futuristic film, Her. Still, she managed to swoon the lead actor Joaquin Phoenix off of his feet as a kind, loving, and ever-evolving operating system artificial intelligence named Samantha.
Johansson wasn’t even the first person considered for the part, as Samantha Morton did the voiceovers first. Director Spike Jonze chose to recast in post-production, and Johansson knocked the part out of the park. Johansson manages to make the audience believe that she’s a real human and not an AI. As Phoenix falls in love, so do the viewers just by listening to her words.
Adonis Creed – Michael B. Jordan
Creed (2015) was a surprise for everyone. Who could’ve thought that a Rocky spinoff, 39 years later, would be such a fantastic film? Even after you take into consideration that the up-and-coming director Ryan Coogler was in control, no one saw this knock-out coming.
With Michael B. Jordan playing the son of Apollo Creed, he brought a riveting show that highlighted his character’s short temper, but sensitive attitude, while often clashing with Rocky Balboa. The iconic one-shot fight scene Coogler pulled off cemented this film and Jordan’s performance as one of the greatest of the 2010s. The body transformation Jordan went through was also intense.
Lee Chandler – Casey Affleck
In 2016’s Manchester by the Sea, Casey Affleck gives a performance of a lifetime as Lee Chandler, a grief-riddled loner. The audience gets taken on an emotional rollercoaster filled with extreme lows that allow you to understand the character.
Affleck’s character experiences a loss that torments his soul, but then, another one happens and he has to go through it all over again. The only difference the second time is that he has to look after his 16-year-old nephew.
Abraham Lincoln – Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the greatest actors ever to do it, has a knack for getting lost into his roles. Due to this, he’s able to resonate with audiences in a way most other actors can’t hold a candle to.
In the 2012 historical drama, Lincoln, Lewis proved once again why he’s one of the best. You begin to feel like you know the character inside and out, in this case Abraham Lincoln. You experience the last four months of his life in a manner that no other rendition of him comes close to.
Albert – James Gandolfini
In one of the more serious romantic-comedy dramas of the decade, Enough Said (2013) gives us a heartfelt performance from the late James Gandolfini as Albert. For a man who was giant-like, he touches the audience with how gentle and vulnerable he becomes.
It was as if he didn’t want to disrupt the film with his size. It’s almost impossible to capture the essence of his performance if you haven’t seen it. Albert is a single dad that you want to see be okay, and you have this gut-feeling the whole film that he just might be. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the perfect mate for him. Rest in peace to The Sopranos actor.
Annie Graham – Toni Collette
Its almost concerning how much regret, love, and rage Toni Collette can put into one role in Hereditary (2018). In this supernatural horror film, Collette plays Annie Graham, the mother of two and wife to husband Steve. After she discovers some horrifying news about her daughter, you can feel the movie head into a new, twisted direction.
Collette provides the audience with a heaping pile of sadness, but there are also moments where the creepiness grows on you.
Imperator Furiosa – Charlize Theron
In 2015, Mad Max: Fury Road released, starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. This was a time before Hollywood doubled-down on the “strong female character,” so Theron’s performance was gripping, yet highly satisfying.
Director George Miller nailed it with this post-apocalyptic masterpiece and Theron gave one of her best performances to date. Imperator Furiosa was an intelligent and gritty hero in this film, who had a serious toughness about her. Once she let the audience into her deep emotional reserves, all bets were off. This was a sensational movie character that the 2010s needed.
Chris Washington – Daniel Kaluuya
Unless you caught everything about Get Out (2017) the first go around, chances are you didn’t fully grasp the brilliance of the entire movie, including Daniel Kaluuya’s performance as Chris Washington. In Jordan Peele’s big-screen directorial debut, he made sure to bring out the fireworks.
The social thriller about race in America is chilling, and a clever yet unsettling reminder that African Americans still have tons of hurdles to leap, even if they aren’t in plain sight. As Kaluuya picks up signs that something isn’t right with his white girlfriend’s family, the sheer brilliance of his role starts to hit like a slow-moving train.
Ewa Cybulska – Marion Cotillard
With James Gray’s uncanny ability to wrap big themes in an intimate manner, Marion Cotillard was the perfect choice for his film, The Immigrant (2013). Cotillard plays a Polish woman hustling to find a way to 1920s New York, a classic journey.
A character who’s desperately trying to navigate a new world hits home for a lot of individuals who’ve been in the same boat as Cybulska. Cotillard’s performance finds a way to resonate with you, one way or another.
Jackie Robinson – Chadwick Boseman
Chadwick Boseman has a reputation for portraying prominent figures in history. From James Brown to Thurgood Marshall, his best performance in the 2010s had to be as Jackie Robinson. The film 42 (2013) shows us what Robinson had to go through during segregation and as the first black player to play in the big leagues.
As a part of his agreement to join the Brooklyn Dodgers that included a $3,500 signing bonus with a salary of $600 per month, Robinson had to promise to keep his temper in check. The amount of racial prejudice he experienced was tough to watch, but to see how he responded was remarkable.
Louis Bloom – Jake Gyllenhaal
The year 2014 gave us the most chilling version of Jake Gyllenhaal we could’ve imagined. His character Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler became the NSFW version of TMZ, but in a more haunting way.
As Bloom lurked the streets of Los Angeles looking to film juicy, yet disturbing crimes, we get to see a manic side of Gyllenhaal that no one expected. Still, even with all the unethical activity, we couldn’t take our eyes away from the movie screen.
Logan – Hugh Jackman
In what was the farewell act for Hugh Jackman (or was it?) as Wolverine, Logan (2017) finally gave Marvel fans what they wanted in a Wolverine-based film. In a role he’s reprised since 2000, Jackman delivers on all levels, making this film his best as the clawed mutant.
We witness the rugged character transform before our eyes from a fearless, harsh beast, to a vulnerable caring, father-figure. It’s also worth mentioning that it was the first R-rated film he’s played in as Wolverine, so fans get to see how deadly those claws can be.
Juan – Mahershalalhashbaz (Mahershala) Ali
In 2016, Moonlight introduced the film watchers to a world-class actor, Mahershala Ali. Some might’ve seen him before, but after his display as Juan, a dealer turned mentor, he was impossible to miss.
He was very tender for the role he played and ended up taking the fatherless protagonist under his wing. Getting into character was difficult for Ali, as he had to become Juan and take in all his pain, but he embraced it. “When I read Barry [Jenkins’] script, you see somebody who’s a reflection of people you actually know,” Ali told IndieWire.
Jordan Belfort – Leonardo DiCaprio
Where do we begin with this one? This was the role that critics were sure would land Leonardo DiCaprio his first Oscar award because he did an immaculate job playing the wolf of Wall Street as Jordan Belfort (2013).
Martin Scorsese did a fantastic job at casting but placing DiCaprio as the lead was his best decision yet. For 180 minutes, viewers felt like they lived the life Belfort lived and it was one to remember. DiCaprio was in rare form as he remained grounded, but still had a touch of over-the-topness that kept us glued to our seats for three hours.
Marina Vidal – Daniela Vega
Due to there being almost zero representation of transgender people in Hollywood, it’s a treat that Daniela Vega did such an outstanding job in this film. Even with some of the big name actors playing transgender roles, like Jared Leto or Eddie Redmayne, it almost feels incomplete because that’s not really who they are.
This is why Vega’s performance was so touching in A Fantastic Woman (2017). She’s not just acting the part, because she lives that life every day.
Nina Sayers – Natalie Portman
To kick off the decade, Natalie Portman delivered high-quality acting in 2010’s Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky. He challenged Portman to become more and step outside of her usual prep for a film, as she had to endure strenuous training regimes to get ready for the performance of a lifetime.
The movie is disturbingly good, as the psychological thriller portrays the price of perfection and what it does to the mind. Portman has a flawless performance.
Freddie Quell – Joaquin Phoenix
It’s almost impossible to find a movie where actor Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t give a solid performance, but it’s even harder to decide which is his best. In 2012, he gave audiences their money’s worth in The Master.
The violent and crude character became so dedicated to the leader of a religious movement that it became frightening to be around him. With a past filled with pain and bad experiences, you might start to empathize with Quell, even with all his manic antics. Phoenix’s performance almost makes you wonder if this is how he is in real life.
Patsey – Lupita Nyong’o
Right after graduating from Yale School of Drama, Lupita Nyong’o landed the role of Patsey in Steve McQueen’s Solomon Northup biopic, 12 Years a Slave. Not only was it a stellar performance, but Nyong’o also won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2014 for it.
Nyong’o’s earth-shaking portrayal ushered her into the spotlight in Hollywood and allowed her to go on and star in many more movies. It was like Nyong’o wanted you to engrave Patsey’s name on your brain so that you could never forget her.