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The 25 Best Movie Performances of 2011

December 31, 2011  |  8:30am

Award season won’t begin in earnest for a few more weeks, but regardless of who takes home statues, these were our favorite performances—lead, supporting, or in one case, motion-captured—of 2011. We limited one entry per actor, but we did include more than one actor per movie on a couple of occasions (including our Top 2). Here are the 25 Best Movie Performances of 2011.

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25. Jody Foster in Carnage
Any of the four lead performances in Carnage could have conceivably made the list, but Foster’s character is wound so tightly that every little bit we get to know her feels hard won.—Michael Dunaway

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24. Jean Dujardin in The Artist
Jean Dujardin reveals his impressive range in one of the year’s great performances, transforming from the happy-go-lucky chap who’s got the world by the tail to a dark, tormented soul who’s lost not only his career and his celebrity but his art.—Annlee Ellingson

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23. Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids
Kristen Wiig is brilliant as co-writer and star of one of the year’s funniest film. Her stock is more devoted to the doldrums of her character, but she carries the third act’s emotional climax, giving the film its staying power.—Ryan Carey

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22. Shailene Woodley in The Descendants
When a young actor puts in a great performance it can be hard to tell whether you’re watching the beginning of a great career or if the credit belongs as much to the writer and director. But the textures and nuance Woodley brings to her character and the way she plays between the lines leads me to believe we haven’t seen the last of her great roles.—Michael Dunaway

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21. John Hawkes in Martha Marcy May Marlene
If not for the strength of Elizabeth Olsen’s performance, Hawkes would have stolen the movie as Patrick, the patriarch of Martha’s family on the commune. He’s at once fatherly and authoritarian, warm and chilling. On his silver tongue, even an invitation to “be a part of things” or an acoustic serenade sounds like a threat. The performance cements Hawkes’ reputation as a consummate artist—commanding, charismatic, yet menacing from the first moment he appears on-screen.—Annlee Ellingson

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