For taking broad strokes and giving them shading, texture and depth. More than charming mincing. The film's success (and it is successful in its goals) rests completely on Dujardin's shoulders. The reductive claim that his is the easiest of this year's lauded performances is ludicrous. What Jean Dujardin can convey with his face, without the benefit of dialogue is wondrous.
Michael Fassbender in Shame
Brandon is often written as blankly as the art direction that surrounds him. Fassbender digs into this character's tortured, ambiguously unpleasant backstory with fierce intensity. The moments of rage (particularly toward Sissy, but especially toward himself) are brilliant. Even more brilliant are the quieter moments (the date with Marianne) where its clear that this man may be incapable of being at peace. A stirring and accomplished performance through and through.
Ryan Gosling in Drive
As the unnamed driver, Gosling ramps up his charisma and the ferocity, while remaining relatively quiet and playing the character's cards close to the vest. The performances that look the easiest are often the trickier ones to nail as well as Gosling does it here. Not many actors could have sold the driver's tactical silence without seeming blank (paging Taylor Lautner). Gosling doesn't lean too heavily on the stylization of the film, but simply uses it to enhance the driver's intrigue. A great turn by a performer who is quickly becoming the gold standard in acting for his generation.
Ewan McGregor in Beginners
McGregor, who has had a career full of great turns, has not (for my money) been as good in years as he is here. So much of what is set up for his character here could have led to facile and trite indie-by-numbers character beats. McGregor instead imbues Oliver with specificity and a certain warmth that's slightly world-weary. He sells the character quirks while simultaneously remembering to infuse them with the character backstory. Very subtle and interesting work.
Brad Pitt – Moneyball
The star turn is an undervalued commodity in Hollywood, often taken for granted when they're as skillfully delivered as Brad Pitt's performance in Moneyball. He does some of his best work here (and it's not even his best performance this year!). Would that he could find more roles that suit his charisma and charm and allow him to fashion such an interesting character creation as he does here. Billy Beane has no huge arc to speak of. The team loses, his opinion of the sport does not markedly change (he approaches it as a tactician even before he meets up with Jonah Hill). And (not to go there, because this is about celebrating great acting), but as far as crying scenes go, he blows George Clooney out of the park. And with less tears.