20 Best Acting Performances of the 2000s

Narrowing down a decades worth of performances to a meager 20 was difficult and tedious. Many good performances had to be left off for sake of keeping the list short.

Here are my 20 favorite performances of the 2000s, in no particular order. Clips/trailers included.

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Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood (2007)

Daniel Plainview: A (severely) misanthropic and greedy oil tycoon.

“There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking.”

Why: Simply amazing; the best acting performance I have ever seen, full of earnestness and obsession. Regardless of what’s occurring on-screen, Day-Lewis demands your attention and commands your respect.


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Peter Capaldi – In the Loop (2009)

Malcolm Tucker: U.K. Prime Minister’s Director of Communications; an enforcer with colorful language and a venomous tongue.

“You stay detached, or else that’s what I’ll do to your retinas.”

Why: The swearing;  his profanity laced rants are brilliantly lyrical, almost poetic. Peter Capaldi has immaculate comedic timing and an absolutely flawless delivery. Every tirade that rockets out of his mouth is golden and quotable.

IMDB quote page.

*Warning*: Spectacular profanity

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Marion Cotillard – Le Vie en Rose (2007)

Edith Piaf: The life, success, and hardships of the French singer.

“I can’t? Then what’s the point of being Edith Piaf? ”

Why: I wasn’t going to include any biopic performances, but this is the exception. Marion Cotillard truly became Edith Piaf; she nailed the look, the mannerisms, and (most importantly) the emotions. You can’t help but feel connected like a passenger alongside her, experiencing her life’s rollercoaster journey.

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Guy Pearce – Memento (2000)

Leonard Shelby: A man suffering from anterograde amnesia seeks his wife’s murderer.

We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are. I’m no different. ”

Why: In what’s is essentially a difficult and often confusing film to follow, Guy Pearce shapes Leonard into a constantly sympathetic and aggrieved character. Even when engaging in appalling acts, he maintains the audience’s loyalty and support.

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Robert Downey Jr – Tropic Thunder (2008)

Kirk Lazarus: An Australian actor who controversially plays a black soldier in the movie-within-a-movie.

“I don’t read the script. The script reads me.”

Why: Controversial, racist, and … who really gives a shit? Robert Downey Jr is hilarious as a parody of ‘method’ actors who deliberately (ignorantly) take on tactless, implausible roles.

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Ellen Page – Juno (2007)

Juno MacGuff: An eccentric high school junior gets pregnant and struggles to cope with the consequences.

“I mean, I’m already pregnant, so what other kind of shenanigans could I get into?”

Why: Ellen Page is perfect as a sassy and intelligent, yet naïve, teen faced with an unwanted pregnancy.

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Catalina Sandino Moreno – Maria Full of Grace (2004)

María Álvarez: A pregnant Colombian teen desperately turns to drug trafficking in an attempt to help her poor family, herself, and her unborn child.

“You’re going to marry someone you don’t love?”

Why: Making her acting debut, Moreno craftily plays a teen desperately seeking a better life, a way out. Maria is torn between tradition (family,) risky drug money, and the wellbeing of her unborn child and herself. Her sullen eyes and expressions tell a story of desperation and yearning in which words alone would not suffice.

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Ulrich Mühe – Das Leben der Anderen [The Lives of Others] (2006)

Gerd Wiesler: A devoted, by-the-book Stasi Captain who begins questioning his profession, alliances, and life.

“The best way to establish guilt or innocence is non-stop interrogation.”

Why: Wiesler’s transition from cold-and-calculated to uncertain and precarious is handled masterfully by the late Ulrich Mühe. Brilliantly underplayed, his silence and subtleties speak volumes.

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Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Col. Hans Landa: Infamous Nazi ‘Jew hunter’ extraordinaire.

“I love rumors! Facts can be so misleading, where rumors, true or false, are often revealing.”

Why: Hans Landa is possibly the most charming and captivating, yet despicable, character ever filmed. Flawlessly delivering lines in multiple languages with astonishing charisma, Christoph Waltz crafts an illogically likable villain.

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Audrey Tautou – Amélie (2001)

Amélie Poulain: A quirky Parisian waitress intent on spreading joy to everyone she meets playfully pursues the possible love of her life.

“I am nobody’s little weasel.”

Why: Delightful is the first word that comes to mind to describe Audrey Tautou performance. Playing one of the most easily likable characters, Amélie enchants viewers from the very first scene with her charming eccentricity and innocence.

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Christian Bale – American Psycho (2000)

Patrick Bateman: Part-time egotistical investment banker, part-time psychopathic serial killer.

“I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip.”

Why: Christian Bale’s best performance, complete with his distinctive intensity and antipathy. Completely vile as a banker and captivating as a murderer, it’s difficult to determine which side of Patrick Bateman is worse.

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Billy Bob Thornton – Bad Santa (2003)

Willie (Santa): A persistently drunken thief who poses as a department store Santa to gain access to it’s safe.

“I beat the shit out of some kids today. But it was for a purpose. It made me feel good about myself.”

Why: Billy Bob Thornton was born to play this role, I can’t Imagine anyone else in his place. His performance is so natural and degraded it carries an otherwise generic holiday comedy into greatness.

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Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men (2007)

Anton Chigurh: An unstoppable, merciless hitman hunts the man who stole money from his employer.

“What’s the most you ever lost on a coin toss?”

Why: Possibly the most chilling villain performance ever filmed. Everything about Anton is unsettling, his raspy voice, strange diction (“friend-o”,) and bizarre haircut most of all. In what could have been an easy role to overact, Javier Bardem plays it with a quiet elegance and restraint; making Anton all the more zealous and horrifying.

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Naomi Watts – Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Betty Elms: A young Hollywood hopeful is drawn into a psychotic, life altering mystery.

“It’ll be just like in the movies. Pretending to be somebody else.”

Why: Naomi Watts essentially plays two contrasting parts; one innocent and promising, the other grimy and desperate. The transition is seamless and dynamic. Watts has an uncanny ability, on full display here, to play distraught and perturbed very convincingly; often results in here being cast as a victim.

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Jan Decleir – De zaak Alzheimer [The Memory of a Killer] (2003)

Angelo Ledda: An aging hitman suffering from Alzheimer’s must finish a personal job before his mind succumbs.

“I’m sure nobody will miss him. I didn’t.”

Why: Despite his age, Jan Decleir appears more than capable of kicking all kinds of ass and he knows it. This confidence translates well into his portrayal of hitman Angelo Ledda. His face and eyes tell a story far beyond what’s shown, a longing for salvation and closure.

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Will Ferrell – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

Ron Burgundy: A sophomoric, chauvinist news anchorman who feels threatened by the new female anchor.

“You are a smelly pirate hooker.”

Why: Will Ferrell’s best performance comes as anchorman Ron Burgundy. Ferrell fully becomes his character, nailing the look, attitude, and ego. Seemingly every joke hits the mark and his timing with the other actors is flawless.

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Ellen Burstyn – Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Sara Goldfarb: Lonely widowed mother of a heroin addict. She becomes addicted to weight loss pills, delusions and sadness follow.

“I’m alone. Your father’s gone, you’re gone. I got no one to care for. What have I got, Harry? I’m lonely. I’m old.”

Why: Heart retching portrayal of a woman whose lost hope and slowly succumbs to addiction and hallucinations. Her monologue (below) is sublime, full of sorrow and anguish. While giving perhaps the best performance of her acclaimed career, only to watch Julia Robert’s cleavage take home the Oscar.

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Colin Farrell – In Bruges (2008)

Ray: A young and reckless hitman is banished to Bruges by his employer for causing the death of a child.

“If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”

Why: Not being a fan of Colin Farrell, his performance in In Bruges is surprisingly clever and witty. Acting with his normal accent makes his speech much more ordinary and relaxed, whereas he seems rigid and unnatural in American films. Proving he can act, both comedically and dramatically, if given the right script and dialogue.

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Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (2008)

The Joker: Dark and sadistic take on Batman’s classic nemesis.

“Wanna know how I got these scars?”

Why: Although I believe his untimely death further idolized his performance, Heath Ledger’s Joker is definitive. Sinister and ruthless, he is the most frightening type of villain; one with no motives other than chaos and mayhem.

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Sacha Baron Cohen – Borat (2006)

Borat Sagdiyev: A supremely naïve Kazakhstani reporter sent to produce a documentary on American culture and tradition … and to marry Pamela Anderson.

“He is my neighbor Nursultan Tuliagby. He is pain in my assholes. I get a window from a glass, he must get a window from a glass. I get a step, he must get a step. I get a clock radio, he cannot afford. Great success!”

Why: In Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen created one of the most iconic comedic personas. His ability to stay in character is astonishing considering the situations he finds himself in. Unfortunately all his fame and popularity comes with a price, the ability to deceive high-profile targets; effectively eliminating the chances of a follow-up.

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About sebastianhaff
I'm Steve. 24 year old recent college grad. My love of films (and sheer boredom) lead me to begin this blog. My taste in movies is eclectic, although I tend to lean toward foreign and non-mainstream cinema. Feel free to contact me at: sebastianhaff@ymail.com

4 Responses to 20 Best Acting Performances of the 2000s

  1. Dominik says:

    You should do a ranking of the most spectacular death scenes ever. This gem should make it in there – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXXntgq6hTE&NR=1

  2. Jessa says:

    nice blog and thank you for the share

  3. I love this list. I was thinking which I thought were the best and when I looked on here, ALL of mine (with the exception of Charlize Theron, Monster/ and another for Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York, which he was robbed by Adrien Brody) were on there. I especially liked that you included Downey Jr.’s performance. I was satisfied that Ledger won because he did deserve it, Downey Jr.’s performance was equally as good.

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