Top 10 Movie Performances of 2012: Who Gave Their Best?

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This has been a banner year for terrific performances turned in by some of the greatest performers working today. From Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln, Denzel Washington's troubled pilot safely landing a crashing airliner in Flight and Jessica Chastain chasing down Osama bin Laden, it has never been harder to not only narrow down the list of acting performances to 10, but to even put them in order!

As Movie Fanatic continues our best of 2012 series -- don't miss our Top 10 Horror Movies of 2012 and Top 10 Movie Franchises of 2012 -- we turn our spotlight on the performances themselves.

10. Denzel Washington in Flight

Flight Star Denzel Washington

Even though what he did was a felony, through Washington's powerful performance, we see him as the everyman and wish nothing but good things for him. Washington's recent salute with the Golden Globe nominations proves we are not alone in sharing our awe in Washington's Flight.

9. Matthew McConaughey in Killer Joe
McConaughey shocked the world with his take on a corrupt Texas cop and we get a side of the popular actor that is so horrible, you may need a shower after witnessing his work in Killer Joe. The actor had quite a year in 2012 with turns in Magic Mike, The Paperboy and Bernie, but as we say in our Killer Joe review, the man is astounding playing evil.

8. Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone
There is such a vast character arc required of Cotillard in Rust and Bone that only an actress of her caliber and sensitivity could have pulled it off. She goes from a triumphant killer whale trainer at a Sea World-type facility to a woman who has lost her legs and in many ways, her will to live.

When she meets a street fighter whose life is also not going so well, Cotillard takes the character that is right in her wheelhouse and creates her most breathtakingly real work to date. Some have even said she's the front-runner for Best Actress at the Oscars. We think she's right there, but it's still too close of a race to call.

7. John Hawkes in The Sessions
Hawkes notoriously loses himself in his roles. But The Sessions required a Herculean effort for the Oscar nominee to become a man stuck in an iron lung who decides it's time to lose his virginity. The way Hawkes not only physically contorts himself, but also brings a personality to his character is electric. Although he cannot move, his persona is huge. Hawkes is a marvel in that he can only use his face to convey emotion, when normally actors have their entire body as their toolbox.

6. Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty
As teased in this Zero Dark Thirty clip, Chastain commands every scene she's in in the film and it's easy to see why Kathryn Bigelow cast her as the CIA agent who spearheaded the decade-long effort to capture and kill Osama bin Laden. She is equally steely as she is sensitive and it is her heartbeat that drives the manhunt and the film itself. The actress had a stellar 2011 and she appears to only be getting better with each passing year.

Zero Dark Thirty Star Jessica Chastain

5. Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained
Foxx is Django in every sense of the word in Quentin Tarantino's latest. Django Unchained gets its title from the fact that Christoph Waltz's character has bought the slave and given him his freedom while the two work as bounty hunters across the American west. Django is driven by the desire to be reunited with his slave wife and in the hands of Foxx, the role is equal parts vengeance, personal discovery and all powerful.

It reminds us why Foxx already has a Best Actor trophy on his shelf!

4. Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables
Hathaway is a lock to take home the Best Supporting Actress trophy and as Movie Fanatic sees it, the award will be earned for pulling a Jennifer Hudson-type of move. No one in the world could have sung I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables with the power she did, much as Hudson earned her Supporting Actress Academy Award for her belting out I Am Telling You in Dreamgirls. No one else in the category stands a chance. At our Les Mis screening, there was not a dry eye in the house when she finished the song that catapulted Susan Boyle to fame.

3. Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild
Although only eight-years-old when Wallis filmed Beasts of the Southern Wild, she was acting like a pro with decades of experience. She owned the movie and is largely why the flick has become a phenomenon. The emotional range this talented little girl exhibits in the dramatic film is nothing short of a miracle. To think she never acted a moment in her life before filmmakers found her in Louisiana is nothing short of fate rearing its head and showing that everything happens for a reason.

Wallis is a find that we expect to continue to see great things from in the future. As you can see in our Quvenzhane Wallis exclusive interview, she is as shy in person as she is powerful onscreen!

2. Naomi Watts in The Impossible
There is a scene in The Impossible, after the tsunami has struck Naomi Watts' Thailand vacation paradise with her family where she is clinging to a palm tree and convulsing from weeping so hard. If she is nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, it is the scene Movie Fanatic hopes they show when the actresses all get their clip. It is a snapshot of the astounding work the Australian actress turns in for what could have easily been a performance that bordered on exploitation of a tragedy.

With Watts, her work on the film in fact carries it and it is through her eyes that the audience can most identify with the horror going on while thousands are affected by mass destruction and death.

1. Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln
Since we first saw photos of Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, he didn't have to utter a word to shoot to the top of performances of the year. But after witnessing the miracle that is his performance in Lincoln, it only further enhances that view. Is there anything that Lewis cannot do? It's beginning to look that way as the challenge that any actor would see tackling the greatest U.S. president of all-time, would make them run the other way. In Lewis' hands, the Great Emancipator comes to life in ways we could never have imagined. It is a study in pure excellence.

Lincoln Daniel Day Lewis

Honorable mentions: Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed, Seann William Scott in Goon, Seth MacFarlane in Ted, Helen Mirren in Hitchcock, Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street, Richard Gere in Arbitrage, James Spader in Lincoln, Ezra Miller in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock, Gina Carano in Haywire, Michael Pena in End of Watch, Jack Black in Bernie, Christopher Walken in The Late Quartet, Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games, Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook.

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