Summer Superlatives ’09: Best Performances by a Male Actor

Summer is the time for the action blockbusters and the year’s best comedies, which despite our society’s many gender reforms, means more roles for men, so putting together the top five acting performances by a male actor was a tougher endeavor than for the ladies.

 To sort things out, I chose quality dramatic acting over comedy in a majority of these cases, shying away from the heroes in the summer’s blockbusters. No Hugh Jackman or Shia LaBeouf in these here rankings. These performances all really caught my attention this summer (I did see all these movies, fyi, and their reviews, if not posted already, will be posted coinciding with the DVD releases).



 5. Johnny Depp – “Public Enemies”


We’ve seen Johnny Depp do better, but that’s like watching an uneventful Chicago Bulls game in the ‘90s and saying Michael Jordan could’ve done better. He’s still Michael Bleepin’ Jordan and this is still Johnny Friggin’ Depp. Depp works in all his charms as notorious ‘30s gangster John Dillinger while still being a cutthroat bank-robbing criminal. It wouldn’t be off to say he was sort of a clean-shaven and mostly sober Jack Sparrow with also more brains. This is Johnny being Johnny, flexing his many skills as an actor who masters quirks.


4. Zach Galifianakis – “The Hangover”

I gave Zach his due the other day ago, but he still fits right up here in the top five for his best comedic performance by an actor all summer. His character Alan was so convincingly dumb, perverse, naïve and sweet all at the same time. He simply got fits out of audiences who often went more than once to get a repeat dose of the laughs that just coat “The Hangover.” There might not be a movie from this summer I’m more looking forward to on DVD than “The Hangover” and I pray there’s commentary featuring Galifianakis.



3. Sam Rockwell – “Moon”


In “Tropic Thunder,” Robert Downey Jr. warns never to go full retard. The next closest thing on that list of what never to do is a role where you have to act out a scene with yourself. We’re not talking Edward Norton “Fight Club” here, we’re talking Sam Rockwell talking for minutes on end with another Sam Rockwell. The guy has balls and he does it pretty darn well despite the fact that “Moon” as a film didn’t exactly have me convinced. Rockwell plays a lone space worker operating machines that harvest moon rocks alongside only a Kevin Spacey-voiced computer named GERTY. He misses his woman and wants to go home and he has to fight off the solitude and dangers of space. Rockwell gets credit, even if he’s not enough to make this movie into something good.



2. Jeremy Renner – “The Hurt Locker”


Unknown actor Jeremy Renner lucked into playing a character as complex as Sgt. Will James, a man who truly craves the intensity of war and thrives off his adrenaline. He gets to be reckless but also fight some inner demons and a longing for home he’s pretty sure he has. That’s not meant to take anything away from Renner. He brings all that home for us, challenges those perceptions we have about war, and hopefully he’ll get recognized for the achievement by landing bigger parts down the road.



1. Christoph Waltz – “Inglourious Basterds”

I still can’t believe how intimidated I am by Waltz’s Col. Hans “the Jew Hunter” Landa. Forget me being Jewish and despising Nazi characters — Waltz’s performance was completely bewitching. His charm, language finesse and conniving methods just steal the breath out of you in every scene. It’s a great character, but not everyone could carry the aura of it like Waltz, not everyone could work it so deeply in every scene that your attention is completely on his next move. Talk about the role of a lifetime for Waltz. Too bad it had to be while playing a Nazi, but someone’s gotta do it.



Honorable Mentions: Chris Pine (“Star Trek”), Brad Pitt (“Inglourious Basterds”), Sacha Baren Cohen (“Bruno”), Jim Broadbent (“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”), Hugh Jackman (“Wolverine”), Adam Sandler (“Funny People”).


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