When it comes to constructing lists, the personal always wins out. For me, my gut feeling is the guiding force that allows me to separate what I casually enjoy from what I simply cannot exclude. That is how I came up with my “Top Ten Greatest Performances of All-Time” list and the exact same is true for what’s listed below. Now, as far as acting style goes, all ten of these performers/performances have something in common. No matter if they’re part of the A-list or only appeared in a handful of films, these ten commit themselves to their role without any kind of ulterior motive. There is no paycheck guiding their performance, no promises of a better opportunity right around the corner, and no posturing of their movie star persona in an effort to sell tickets. When actors arrive on set, I expect them to leave the outside world behind them. I want them to leave themselves behind and carry only the attributes within them that bring the character to life.
I’m also not a fan of theatrical performances (unless it’s in a musical). There is a time and a place to applaud that style of acting, and it’s while watching a Broadway show. I don’t want your performance on film to be “larger than life.” You don’t have to extend your performance to reach me because I’m likely sitting up close to the screen anyways. I could care less about your off-screen personality, mannerisms, likes or dislikes, politics, etc., because I don’t know you. My only relationship with you is the screen-viewer one, and that is all that matters to me within the brief time we share together. I become fans of certain actors because of their ability to consistently wow me with their work, though knowing they are a good person in real life does bring me a certain level of satisfaction. However, I’m here to talk about individual performances from movies I love. I know people have differing thoughts on the matter, but for me a performance often dictates how strongly I feel about a certain movie. There’s never going to be a time when you see me raving about a performance within a film but condemning the entire movie as a downright piece of trash. Without Sharlto Copley’s relentlessly insane performance in Elysium, I might have led the charge to toss the film into the bargain bin ASAP (don’t worry, Copley isn’t on this list!). If a performance works for you, then that means part of the film works for you on some level since movies are typically centered on them. This is why you’ll notice that many of my favorite performances of all-time overlap with my favorite movies of all-time. My attachment to a movie comes, first and foremost, from the characters at the heart of them. I appreciate world-building, visuals and production value as much as the next cinephile, but characters are what entrap my emotions – they are what allow me to relate without reservation. Once one or more characters (guided by performances, of course) peel the exterior of my heart and climb inside, I’m in all the way, suspension of disbelief complete.
These ten distinguish themselves from rest because they’re one of the main reasons why a film is as treasured by me as it is, or because they’ve somehow changed the game of Hollywood for the better and still managed to entertain the socks off me. Either way, I am proud of my list and came up with my ten within a matter of five quick minutes of cycling through my brain. Since they made such an impact, it’s no surprise that their names were the first to spring to mind. So before this prologue turns into rambling (which there’ll be plenty of in the below commentary), I would just like to say thank you to the readership who keeps this site going strong, my editor Clayton Davis who’s allowed me to express my love for film in the most public and professional space imaginable, and my fellow colleagues who inspire me every day with their thoughts on film and all else life has to offer. It is now my privilege to present to you my Top Ten Greatest Performances of All-Time. Have at it!