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A Star is Born: 10 of the Most Unforgettable Movie Performances of 2011

Updated on May 12, 2012
Bridesmaids Poster
Bridesmaids Poster
Crazy, Stupid, Love Poster
Crazy, Stupid, Love Poster
A Dangerous Method Poster
A Dangerous Method Poster
The Descendants Poster
The Descendants Poster
Drive Poster
Drive Poster
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Poster
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Poster
The Help Poster
The Help Poster
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol Poster
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol Poster
My Week With Marilyn Poster
My Week With Marilyn Poster
Shame Poster
Shame Poster

In Hollywood, when one star rises rapidly in the course of one breakthrough performance. At the same time, many others fall just as quickly. One could have a stellar year on the big screen and the next be a complete disaster. Success is fleeting and is more erratic than Charlie Sheen's more recent behavior. Many thought Lindsay Lohan would have a long career after Mean Girls, except they didn't think it would be as a tabloid mainstay instead of as an actress. It's hard to tell which movies and performances will be a hit and which ones flopped harder than Lindsay's last movie.

Let's take a look back on 2011's ten greatest film performances and see why they made a lasting impression long after the end credits started rolling. Some are well deserved, while others might be a little surprising. Read on to see if you agree or disagree. See if your favorite star or up and comer is on the list and which ones missed.

Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn- Marilyn was supposed to follow Ms. Monroe (Michelle Williams) and her journey during the production of The Prince and the Showgirl, but it transformed into a deeper examination of a tragic movie icon who died far too soon. Williams literally took painstaking lengths to embody Monroe down from her signature walk to her platinum blond hair. She also added a sense of vulnerability and a playful side that very few truly got to see. Not bad from someone who was once part of the cast of Dawson's Creek. Expect awards nominations to be pouring in by the truckload sooner rather than later.

Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids- 2011 was a definitely good year for McCarthy who won an Emmy this past fall for her work on the sitcom Mike & Molly. She also literally stole the show as the blunt bridesmaid Megan who always said what was on her mind, even when it made people cringe. Her best moment was of course the one during the dress fitting scene when everyone came down with food poisoning. McCarthy's simple but literal response made audiences roar with laughter. Let's toast McCarthy, because her star has finally arrived once and for all.

Emma Stone in Crazy, Stupid, Love- Stone has had a busy year in such films as Friends With Benefits, The Help and this hilarious film. She brought some realistic levity as the practical Hannah who didn't immediately embrace playboy Jacob (Ryan Gosling). Her hesitation made them form a genuine relationship and caused the audience to fall in love with the plucky Stone. We have her to thank for us seeing Gosling's stellar abs, which many women can watch repeatedly now on DVD. Thank goodness.

Jeremy Renner in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol- The Oscar nominated actor has made a niche in playing dangerously unpredictable characters (The Hurt Locker and The Town). He could easily headline his own blockbuster film series, but he chose the surprisingly good Mission Impossible sequel instead. Renner portrayed a fellow IMF agent who believed in his work and also had a hint of mystery that made it questionable whether he was really a bad guy in disguise. Let's hope not, because Renner's presence helped revive the once stale movie franchise for the better. He also has an upcoming part in next year's The Avengers that could lead to his own movie franchise if he played his cards right. Good luck.

Octavia Spencer in The Help- The Help had a huge challenge in making moviegoers embrace it just as much as they did the popular book it's based from. With the help of scene stealer Spencer, it was a mission definitely accomplished. Her turn as the sassy maid Minny delivered some of the film's funniest scenes as she defied her employer Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) by using her bathroom when she wasn't allowed to. What she could do with a pie alone was worth remembering, especially after someone crossed her. Spencer's rapport with the rest of the cast (Viola Davis and Emma Stone among them) helped breathe life into what could've been a one dimensional character. Rent The Help tonight to see what the fuss is about.

Michael Fassbender in Shame- 2011 has been a busy year for the no longer unknown actor. He started off the year with Jane Eyre and X-Men: First Class. He ends the years with turns in A Dangerous Method as a doctor exploring his sexuality in a complicated affair with his patient. What moviegoers will remember him more for is his soul and body bearing performance in Shame as a sex addict who turns to sex to cope with some past pain that reared its ugly head when his sister (Carey Mulligan) came to visit. He's already been nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance. Could an Oscar nomination be on the horizon as well?

Keira Knightley in A Dangerous Method- Many moviegoers see Knightley as an actress who focused on poise and refinement in her performances. For Method, Knightley transformed into a hysterical mental patient who challenge Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and managed to get under his skin. Not usually known for taking many performance risks, Knightley stepped out of her comfort zone to deliver a riveting performance that won't be soon forgotten.

Ryan Gosling in Drive- Can someone deliver a memorable performance with barely any dialogue? Gosling did in the modern day noir Drive as the nameless driver who didn't fit in with the rest of society until he got behind the wheel of a car. He operated in a dark underworld that suit him just fine until he met a girl (Carey Mulligan) who could lead him to a normal life. It's a shame that he got caught in the crosshairs of a violent gangster (Albert Brooks) with the desire to kill him. Brooks may have had the most shocking turns as the ruthless villain, but it was Gosling's turn as a James Dean type with everything to lose. Now that dangerous combination made him magnetic to watch onscreen. Check this movie out. It's an order.

George Clooney in The Descendants- Is it really possible to transform the usually suave Clooney into a dorky and clumsy father who made a lot of mistakes? Yes, it is with the help Director Alexander Payne who found a new muse in the Oscar Winner. Payne's film made Clooney transform onscreen as a man who pretended to have the answers when he had none. He made clueless father Matt relatable and heartbreaking at the same time as he learned to start over from scratch. No small feat indeed.

Rooney Mara in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo- Mara transformed herself from the once preppy girl who dumped Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network to the ultimate hacker in Lisbeth Salander. That was nothing short of a miracle. Mara embraced Salander's punk girl appearance. She literally embodied her fighting spirit and added a sense of vulnerability that only came from surviving the worst circumstances. A true survivor's tale that gets better with each scene. Expect Mara to make a big splash come 2012.

In the end, not every movie can succeed on a stellar script alone. If the casting is wrong, the whole movie falls apart because the actors can't sell the story properly. It also helps that they're able to have genuine chemistry with their leading ladies or men. Not one person can carry an entire movie on their shoulders alone, unless it's by design. Sure, it would've been hysterical to see Melissa McCarthy carry Bridesmaids, but it was with the help of the rest of the cast (Kristen Wiig etc) that made the film a total laugh riot. Fassbender gave a daring performance in Shame, but it wouldn't have made such an impact if Mulligan's character didn't show up to illustrate the cracks in Brandon's playboy veneer. Most performances are a mixture of give and take between the script and the rest of the cast. Without those things in place, many of the year's greatest performances would've been a disaster. Now, that would be a tragedy in itself. Something that Lindsay Lohan or the Twilight gang couldn't comprehend even if they tried.

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    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States

      What with the expense of going to the theater to watch movies, we watch most on DVD. I often complain, saying that oh this one or that one, we should have seen on the big screen. It can make such a difference. But I am looking forward to watching several of these when I get time. I love movies and so appreciate your insight.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Great hub! I agree with Melissa McCarthy being here too. I've liked her since the days of Gilmore Girls and she turned it up a notch on SNL too. I also enjoyed seeing Emma Stone in Crazy Stupid Love. Awesome job!

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

      Fantastic hub! Enjoyed every part of this. You have mentioned some good movies here, it will be interesting to see where all of these actors end up in the next year or two. I haven't seen the Michelle Williams movie but there seems to be a lot of buzz about it. I loved Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids (but not Kristin Wiig who i felt missed an opportunity here)and I am going to the cinema this week to see The Help, having read the book in the spring of 2011. Looking forward to reading more of your hubs, voted up.