Previously, I talked about the ten films I'm most looking forward to in 2011. Now on to the specific performances that have got me most intrigued:
Bradley Cooper in Limitless
This isn't so much for the quality of the performance -- although the presence of director Neil Burger gives me hope that this will be a quality film -- but whether or not Cooper can establish himself as a leading-man star rather than the smirking heel he's been stuck playing as of late.
Saoirse Ronan in Hanna
Ronan has gained a reputation as a young actress to watch -- one that has put her at the top of a tall pyramid, since these days movie bloggers love nothing so much as heaping praise on little girls in movies, be they Chloe Moretzes or Hailee Steinfelds or Mia Wasikowskas. Saoirse has a chance to leave them all behind her if she nails the raised-to-be-an-assassin character under the directorial eye of Joe Wright, who guided her to an Oscar nomination in Atonement.
Chris Evans in Captain America: The First Avenger
Much like the bar mitzvah, a young actor's first superhero role is a sign that he is now, at last, a man. Evans has already suited up twice before -- as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies. But the Captain is a whole other matter, as he'll have to establish this franchise all on his own, and establish him well enough that he'll hold up to all the other Avengers come 2012. (Chris Hemsworth has to do the same thing in Thor, but I think his relative unknownness works in his favor in this regard.) Coming to the set looking like this helps Evans in his cause. Suffice it to say, I'm eager to see him try.
Emily Browning (and Carla Gugino) in Sucker Punch
You guys, I was SO fond of Emily Browning in the otherwise unmemorable Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (see what I mean about movie bloggers hyping young-girl performances?). After six years of nothing much, I was certainly excited to see her nail down a lead role in (for better or worse) visionary director Zack Snyder's new film. Too bad everything I've seen about the movie makes it look like a dumb girl-gang version of 300. I'd love for Emily to prove my original faith in her correct, but if not, this could at least be yet another movie that Carla Gugino steals from the sidelines.
Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin
Tilda Swinton is pretty much ALWAYS worth looking forward to, and especially so given the nature of this role (the mother of a teenage boy who went on a high-school killing spree -- no doubt left to answer the endless "But where were the parents??" questions) as well as the director, Lynne Ramsay, helming a feature film for the first time since the acclaimed Morvern Callar.
Viggo Mortenson and Michael Fassbender in A Dangerous Method
Director David Cronenberg has been on quite the hot streak with Viggo, after A History of Violence and Eastern Promises (even if Viggo got the Oscar nomination for the wrong performance). This movie ups the intrigue by casting Viggo opposite Michael Fassbender as rival psychoanalysts Freud and Jung. Not only because "the story of rival psychoanalysts" is fairly unexplored cinematic territory, but because Fassbender really seems to be Viggo's evolutionary descendant. I love a movie with a meta-commentary on the actors involved!
Michael Fassbender in Shame (and Haywire, and Jane Eyre, and At Swim-Two-Birds)
While we're on the subject, I should note that 2011 is going to be heavily festooned in slender, pale Irishmen. Or at least one in particular. It might seem odd that a man whose most familiar mainstream role was that of the fifth lead in Inglorious Basterds is suddenly the King of the Multiplex 2011. but obviously anyone with any kind of eye towards independent and British film knows all about this guy. In fact, he's so become the Sweet Babboo of the internet film community (to a degree which I have to admit I don't always fully understand), that I am slightly concerned that six movies in twelve months might well short some circuits. The most intriguing of these projects is Shame, which reunites Fassbender with his Hunger director Steve McQueen -- again, a film and performance where I never quite got the raves, but I'm willing to try again. Particularly when the story is centered on a man and his "myriad sexual escapades." Sexualizing male movie stars for once is the new black!
George Clooney in The Descendants
I don't know a whole lot about the character Clooney plays (a "land baron" looking to reconnect with his daughters -- shades of King Lear?) but the simple knowledge that this is Alexander Payne's first feature since Sideways has me all sorts of curious. From Reese Witherspoon in Election to Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt to Margo Martindale in his Paris Je T'Aime short, the man has a way with coaxing superlative performances out of his actors.
Ryan Gosling in The Ides of March
Speaking of Clooney, he's back behind the camera again, once again tackling politics, this time in a more contemporary setting with his adaptation of the recent stage play Farragut North. Gosling will play the idealistic young campaign staffer corrupted by the dirty political process. So...Primary Colors by way of (reportedly) Howard Dean? Gosling's star just keeps rising, and this could be a crucial mainstream opportunity for him.
Garrett Hedlund in On the Road
So, okay, the 2010 one-two punch of Tron: Legacy and Country Strong didn't exactly push this cute young thing over the hump into mainstream viability. But he gets a fine opportunity to make a mark with this take on Kerouac. Director Walter Salles did the road-movie thing successfully before with The Motorcycle Diaries, and Hedlund should have solid support from Amy Adams, Viggo Mortenson, and Kirsten Dunst.