Top 100 Acting Performances of the ’00s (40-21)

40. Gene Hackman – The Royal Tenenbaums

3 years from retirement Hackman gives one of his best performances as Royal Tenenbaum, the hipster douche-bag absentee father of the Tenenbaum clan. Hackman and comedy are not even close to be synonymous, but he really knocks it out of the park as a kind of sarcastic con artist who is trying to stave off the eff-the-world attitude that every Hackman character was destined to have.

39. Ray Liotta – Narc

Ray Liotta is one of those actors who feel like he should have been much bigger. He was really great in Goodfellas, and I expected there would be more for him beside a string of character actor roles. His role in Narc is the prestige role they give a character actor later in their career. It oozes with passion and sadness in a very uneasy way that effectively makes him a suspect in the mystery he is trying to solve.

38. Alec Baldwin – The Cooler

In The Cooler, Baldwin plays an old-school Las Vegas fixer who speaks as if he wishes he was a member of the Rat Pack. He is essentially an artifact of a previous version of Vegas, not afraid to get his hands dirty even though it is above his pay grade at this point in his career. Its an archetype that would usually be used as a hammer, but as he navigates the more touristy version of Vegas, he needs to get nuanced or die.

37. Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

I have had this list written for awhile. It is clear from this entry it has aged poorly. Moving on.

36. Paul Giamatti – American Splendor

American Splendor is a based on the comic of the same name, both being a Seinfeld-like story about nothing based on the life of its creator. Giamatti plays Harvey Pekar, the author and star of the comic. It is the perfect union of Giamatti’s sad-sack character actor schtick and his very funny comedic sidekick routine creating one of the unlikeliest leading man characters ever.

35. Jim Carey – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Jim Carey puts his trademark elastic face shenanigans away playing the sadsack to end all sadsacks, Joel. Joel is so sad that his entire existence was deleted from his ex-girlfriends memories, and he decides to do the same thing. No one told him though that he gets to relive each memory as it is being deleted as if it was a dream. The good times. The bad times. Knowing how they will end and that they can’t be changed. Carey delivers one of the most complex depictions of regret on film.

34. Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight

The site is called the House of Geekery. I just assume everyone has been reading this list counting down to when they first get to see Heath Ledger in the creepy face paint. And I am pretty much waiting for just about all of you to scream at me for not making him #1. But I digress. Ledger is a comedic thrill killer, a bomb waiting to blow, except you don’t know if it will be murderous rage or just a well-timed punchline about our own illusion of normal. It’s pretty scary stuff.

33. Owen Wilson – The Darjeeling Limited

Owen Wilson’s cloying verboseness is put to good use as the eldest of three brothers looking to reconnect by taking them on a cross-country trip in India. Usually, he talks circles around concepts in order to over explain, but he can never quite make it to the heart of the matter. He’s scared of it, ultimately, but he is full of sincerity.

32. Colin Farrell – In Bruges

What makes In Bruges such a good movie is that it looks like it will be a dry comedy in the beginning but slowly becomes something much sadder, and a lot of that is thanks to Colin Farrell. He handles the depression in such a way that he is confused about his feelings, and in that confusion, he is able to let a more clownish version of himself come forward. If there was ever a time you thought this dude in SWAT is boring, than In Bruges is a great place to start.

31. Melanie Laurent – Inglourious Basterds

The title of this film refers to the ragtag band of Allied brawlers who are sticking it to the Nazis something fierce, and they have their spotlight stolen from them by Eastern European actor, Christoph Waltz, as the most ruthless “cleanser” of Jewish people. At the heart of it though is Melanie Laurent as the victimized Shoshana, the only surviving member of a Jewish family gun-downed by aforementioned Nazi. The Basterds give us a lot of pulpy goodness, but Laurent gives the drama and action an emotional weight.

30 Belen Rueda – The Orphanage

How do you make a horror movie where nothing that scary actually happens? You cast an actor to freak out at everything including her own shadow, and if she is that good, then you will empathize with her the whole time. That what makes Rueda’s performance and The Orphanage so good.

29. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Aviator

As the real world inspiration for Tony Stark, DiCaprio (with help from Scorsese) peels back the celebrity veneer of filmmaker and aviation enthusiast, Howard Hughes. Transforming from the young thrillseeker into a stuttering shell of a man, I think DiCaprio does what a lot of other TV geniuses with personality conditions don’t and that’s dignify their gift of genius and struggle with their condition as unrelated to each other.

28. Maria Bello – The Cooler

It is hard for this role not to seem like a manic pixie dream girl trope because narratively that is the basis of the character, at least in the beginning. However, when she goes from paid-for arm-candy to William H. Macy’s casino ringer to sincere love interest, it doesn’t happen all at once. It is like a wave of chemistry that she accidentally nurtures and lets sweep her away. She forges an intimacy where she’s no longer a prop, and she makes it feel real.

27. Ed Norton – The 25th Hour

The 25th Hour may be the first truly post-911 movie. One that deals with the fallout of the event indirectly, as a piece of history. Norton’s small-time drug dealer needs to surrender himself to the authorities in the morning, so he sets out for the night of his life. While everyone is still seething at the giant hole left in New York City, Norton finds himself reflecting on his life and the deep-seeded anger festering inside of him, needing to be purged.

26. Bill Murray – Lost in Translation

Bill Murray has always been a better actor than people gave him credit for, but Lost in Translation seemed like such a divergence at the time. Looking back, I feel like it shouldn’t. Arguably playing a version of himself (mixed with a little Clooney), Murray finds himself feeling desperately alone in a city overflowing with people. I think many of his roles are tinged with a sense of loneliness. He’s been sharping that blade for so long, he finally gets to go for the kill.

25. Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men

Bardem’s cartel hitman is chaos personified under the delusion he is an agent of fate. He is a man of nuance. He barely flinches under any circumstance, which is more complicated than it sounds. A lesser actor would seem robotic or numb. Bardem is full of thought and motivation. It’s surgical.

24. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Departed

It is easy to write off The Departed as Martin Scorsese’s most mainstream, traditional narrative he has ever made. It gets a lot of flack for feeling like a run of the mill studio cop drama, but it is not worth dismissing the work of Leonardo DiCaprio. His anxiousness and fear in this movie are on a whole other level. The mystery and villainy in this movie are only as good as DiCaprio’s maddening reactions to them.

23. Viggo Mortensen – The Road

In what might be the darkest vision of the end of the world yet, Viggo is a rare beacon of light, but it is not obvious at first. He is hardened, cynical man. A survivor with a young son that he fights tooth and nail to protect. He is dirty, ugly, and guilty. But he is also the closest thing to human.

22. Viggo Mortensen – A History of Violence

As a rugged, borderline creepy killer, Viggo is certainly believable. It is a surprise when you see this sitcom dad routine. It is even more surprising on a rewatch when you realize you were tricked by the fake suburbia schtick and never saw him for the rugged, borderline creepy killer he is. Same performance, different interpretation. That’s impressive.

21. Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Capote

Anyone saddled with having to play famed writer, Truman Capote, is going to have to contend with one of the most eccentric voice patterns of all time. Hoffman makes the unnatural sound natural, taking on the voice and by extension that effeminate and pretentious aura of Capote, allowing what had just as much chance of being a bad impression live in the moment.