The Most Underrated Performances of 2009

12/26/2009 Posted by Admin

The Most Underrated Performances of 2009

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

Christoph Waltz. George Clooney. Colin Firth. All names you'll be hearing a great deal in the next few months as awards season comes around, and to be sure those folks are well deserving of the praised they've received. But what about those who've given incredible performances this year that won't be receiving so much attention--if any at all?  What follows are five performances from this year that I believe haven't been given the attention they deserve and that you very likely won't be seeing on any awards shows come February and March.

Kristen Stewart as Em Lewin ("Adventureland")

Chances are slim you don't know who Kristen Stewart is--she's a household name among teenage girls for her portrayal of Bella Swan in the "Twilight" films, and that talk has led to plenty of media coverage as well. But Stewart isn't just Bella Swan. She's been putting out laudable work in independent films for nearly the entire decade, and she gave one of her best performances and one of the best female performances of the year in Greg Mottola's post-college angst comedy "Adventureland." Stewart perfectly conveys the neurosis and apathy of her troubled character, who eventually serves as an impetus for Jesse Eisenberg's protagonist to work out his life. She is absolutely wonderful and it's a shame so many will instead remember her this year for "New Moon."

Seth Rogen as Ronnie Barnhard ("Observe and Report")

In what is surely one of the greatest comic performances of the year (second only to Matt Damon in "The Informant," which thankfully has received some awards attention), Seth Rogen plays the bipolar and anti-social psychopath Ronnie, the head security guard at his local mall who takes it upon himself to solve the crimes in his small jurisdiction by any means necessary. Violent, racist and generally frightening, Rogen took a big leap from his ordinary goofy everyman roles to portray Ronnie, and though he (and the film) received little attention, it was well worth it, as his performance is masterful and one of the funniest and most off-the-wall of the year.

Stephen McHattie as Grant Mazzy ("Pontypool")

Bruce McDonald's brilliant and underseen horror film, "Pontypool," would hardly have succeeded so thoroughly without the subtle and career-topping performance Stephen McHattie gave as its protagonist--radio host Grant Mazzy--who finds himself stuck in his radio booth with his producer and assistant on the eve of an apocalyptic outbreak of language-based zombification (i.e., the virus is spread through speech instead of blood, a very creative twist on the genre). McHattie's performance is unbelievable, combining an often hilarious portrayal of a radio host (and his voice really suits such a role, and for the first couple minutes of the film his voice is all we hear or see on-screen) with that of a genuinely frightened man just trying to figure out what's going on around him with few resources to do so. If there's any one performance I'd recommend for anyone to see, it's this one.

Charlotte Gainsbourg as She ("Antichrist")

All right, underrated is a little bit of an overstatement in Gainsbourg's case--after all, she won the award for best female performance at Cannes this year and she received a good deal of attention upon the film's premiere. But since then (Cannes 2009 was in May), I've heard little about her, and I simply cannot stand for such disinterest in what easily is the greatest female performance of the past few years. Gainsbourg portrays a woman stricken by grief after the death of her infant son, and when she and her husband (played by Willem Defoe) go away to their cottage in the woods, she starts to go mad. Gainsbourg's performance is raw, unsettling, super-sexual and, most importantly, it's terrifying. Thoughts regarding the film tend to be split between those who believe it's brilliant and those who think it's pretentious, boring and misogynist. I fall in the former category, and not least of all for Gainsbourg's powerful performance. It's not too late, Academy. Give this woman the Oscar she deserves!

Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker ("In the Loop")

Leave it to the United Kingdom to produce the most brutally honest and soul-crushing comedy of the year, which features countless fantastic performances from actors both British and American, the best coming from Scottish character actor Peter Capaldi as furious, foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker, a man working for the Prime Minister of the UK, who must prevent any poor media attention regarding an impending war in the Middle East. Obviously, in its attempt to explore the inner workings of political circles during the early days of the Iraq War, "In the Loop" is to this decade what "Dr. Strangelove" was for its era--revelatory, relentlessly mocking, and hysterical. Capaldi's performance only supports, but when he's onscreen, he steals the show.  A moment near the end of the film between him and James Gandolfini (who plays an American lieutenant) is one of the most heavy and powerful scenes this year, almost entirely due to Capaldi's outstanding performance.

Honorable Mentions:

Nicolas Cage ("Bad Lieutenant")
Billy Crudup ("Watchmen")
Tom Hollander ("In the Loop")
Zoe Saldana ("Avatar")
Willem Defoe ("Antichrist")

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