The 25 Best Movie Performances of 2012

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The 25 Best Movie Performances of 2012

Paste’s Best of 2012 series continues through Dec. 31 and is made possible by our friends at Tretorn.

Any year that includes a Daniel Day-Lewis movie is bound to be a great year for acting performances. But with heavyweights like Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jessica Chastain turning in great showings, the Irish legend had plenty of competition. Will his Lincoln win top Paste honors? Read on and find out.

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25. Channing Tatum in Magic Mike
Tatum famously drew from his own experiences as a male dancer to bring the character of Magic Mike to life. So you know the dancing and the anatomical scenery are going to be top-notch, and they don’t disappoint. But what may sneak up on you is the earnest sweetness that Tatum brings to the more-than-a-meathead role. You come for his abs, but you stay for his very real acting chops. —Michael Dunaway


24. Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained
Ruthless. Feckless. Disgusting. And completely transfixing. —Michael Dunaway


23. Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln
Tommy Lee Jones  at times steals the show as the hilarious and outspoken Pennsylvania Republican Representative Thaddeus Stevens, a grumpy old, wig-wearing politician who likes to name-call more than actually debate. —David Roark


22. Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook
Though Lawrence’s work in Winter’s Bone established her dramatic acting chops, and the Hunger Games and X-Men: First Class franchises displayed her action star potential, Silver Linings Playbook adds romantic lead to the résumé. It’s difficult to think of another young actress so ideally positioned to do whatever she damn well pleases in the coming years. —Michael Burgin


21. Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed
Playing drunk must have seemed easy to Winstead compared to the emotional ride that Kate takes to sobriety. She and Paul play brilliantly off each other. You feel that the characters are comfortable with one another—there’s an energy between them. The actors deftly let a sense of unease arise to break up that energy. —Jeremy Matthews


20. William H. Macy in The Sessions
You might think an indie film about a man on an iron lung seeking out a sex surrogate would be a tiresome, dark affair, but director Ben Lewin makes the story seem almost lighthearted at times. One of his major instruments is Macy, who’s simply wonderful as a father confessor with a wry sense of humor and an irreverent mouth. —Michael Dunaway


19. Javier Bardem in Skyfall
This time 007 has to follow the trail of a stolen list of undercover NATO operatives—dangerous information in the wrong hands. Those wrong hands belong to Mr. Silva (Javier Bardem), a nasty cyber-terrorist with a mad-on for MI6 in general and for its director, M, in particular. Bardem’s Silva is a throwback to a more traditional Bond villain, with equal parts creepy sensuality, intelligence and psychopathy, and a touch of physical deformity for good measure. —Dan Kaufman


17. Amy Adams in The Master
It’s no surprise to see Amy Adams disappear into a role—she’s done that consistently for the past seven years—but her performance as the matriarchal string-puller in The Master has an unexpected sinister quality to it. She creates a character who is methodical and calculating, yet whose past and motivations remain mysterious. —Jeremy Matthews

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17. Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea
The Deep Blue Sea is an exquisite showcase for Weisz. Hester is an emotional chameleon, shifting from tough and in control opposite her pining husband to delicate and grasping opposite the distant Freddie. Whether one or the other, it’s a credit to Weisz’s command of her character that audiences keep a rooting interest in Hester, hoping she finds the strength to stand on her own in a bleak, lovelorn world—before the final credits roll. —Jay Antani


16. Ann Dowd in Compliance
Upon first viewing, Dreama Walker’s raw performance is the one that stands out. But as the film implants itself in your mind, it’s Ann Dowd’s wonderfully nuanced portrayal of the “adult in charge” that you can’t get out of your head. —Michael Dunaway

15. Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained
It takes a lot to put in a restrained performance as a revenge-killing former slave, y’know? Especially in a Tarantino film. But to his great credit, Foxx knows the less is more, and the understatement he brings to the role just makes him more bad-assedly heroic in the end. Utterly surprising, and exhilarating.—Michael Dunaway


14. Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained
Can we just start the petition now for a Constitutional amendment requiring Tarantino to cast Christoph Waltz in every one of his films? The man was obviously born to speak QT’s writing. Bonus points for his smirk while saying one of the greatest character names in a film full of them.-Michael Dunaway


13. Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables
Jackman encounters some passages that don’t suit his voice. (Other songs, like “Bring Him Home,” suit it perfectly.) But he’s well aware of his limitations and how to work around them. Most importantly, he understands the emotions behind the music and is able to create a full character from it. —Jeremy Matthews


12. Melanie Lynskey in Hello I Must Be Going
Most recognizable for her recurring role on Two and a Half Men as Charlie’s stalker neighbor Rose, New Zealander Melanie Lynskey burst into film at age 16 with an award-winning turn in Peter Jackson’s exquisite Heavenly Creatures opposite Kate Winslet. Nearly three decades later, her career has taken a markedly different course from her costar’s—recognizable by face if not by name. As a result, she’s woefully underrated as an actress, for her work in Hello I Must Be Going is subtle and tender. —Michael Dunaway


11. Suraj Sharma in Life of Pi
Suraj Sharma’s heartfelt performance as Pi is all the more remarkable considering the rigorous physical demands of the role and all the time he likely had to spend reacting to empty air where the CGI tiger would later be inserted.—Michael Dunaway

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