By Kit Bowen

Year after year, there has always been an overabundance of great performances in the Best Actor category – as opposed to the Best Actress category, in which it’s sometimes tough to find five. It’s just a fact of film life that many of the great movie roles are for men – and the last 10 years of Academy winners proves that. As such, it was a little more difficult to rank the performances one through 10, since they were all pretty damn good.

This is the general consensus from us folks at AwardsPicks:

10. Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart (2009): Average score of 7.00
9. Denzel Washington, Training Day (2001): Average score of 6.57
8. Russell Crowe, Gladiator (2000): Average score of 6.57
7. Sean Penn, Mystic River (2003): Average score of 5.86
6. Adrien Brody, The Pianist (2002): Average score of 5.57
5. Jamie Foxx, Ray (2004): Average score of 5.43
4. Sean Penn, Milk (2008): Average score of 5.29
3. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Capote (2005): Average score of 5.00
2. Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland (2006): Average score of 4.00
1. Daniel Day-Lewis (2007): Average score of 3.70

[NOTE: Staff writers who voted included Paul Popiel, Steve Neumann, Bryce Van Kooten, Ayinde Waring, Kit Bowen and Jeremy Martin. Not as many AwardsPicks staff saw the Best Actor performances of the last decade as they did the movies. Come on, guys, gotta keep up!]

I, like Best Picture analyst Adam Spunberg, am proud to say that my personal list for the Best Actor ranks very close to the what the majority picked, save for a few variances here and there (and I, too, added clips and trailers):

10. Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart

Aw, I really hate to rank Bridges in 10th place, because I was so very glad to see the actor finally win the big prize, but I think I can speak for my fellow AwardsPicks colleagues in saying that Bridges’ win as the down-and-out country singer in Crazy Heart was definitely more of a career award than it was his best performance. I’ve said before my favorite Bridges’ turn was in Fearless, as a man who survives a plane crash. Others might say it was his work in The Fabulous Baker Boys or even The Big Lebowski. Regardless of how he won the Oscar, Bridges still deserved an award.

9. and 8. Denzel Washington in Training Day and Russell Crowe in Gladiator

These two tied in ninth and  eighth place, respectively, both on my list and with our esteemed staff writers – probably for a good reason. Neither one of them really stretched themselves in their Oscar-winning roles. Sure, Washington plays a bad guy for the first time – and a pretty scary one at that – but we all know it was another career win, since he had dug in so much deeper in films such as The Hurricane. While Crowe simply played the epic hero with the stoicism he’s known for. Actually, his nominated turns in A Beautiful Mind and The Insider showed much more range. Here he is in Gladiator:

And Washington in Training Day:

7. Sean Penn in Mystic River

I, too, place Penn’s performance as the tortured father of a slain teenage daughter in seventh. It was the actor’s first win after having been nominated three times before. He probably should have won for his turn in Dead Man Walking, but instead he won for a portrayal that didn’t seem that difficult for Penn to tap into. Plus, he stole it away from the guy I really wanted to win that year: Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. No doubt Penn is a phenomenal actor, but his work in Milk (see below) was more impressive to me than in Mystic River. Here’s a clip of him when his character finds out his daughter has been killed, the “Academy Award moment,” as they say:

6. Adrien Brody in The Pianist

This was a surprise win. Most betting pools had odds-on favorite Daniel Day-Lewis winning for Gangs of New York. But alas, Day-Lewis time was yet to come, with his amazing turn in There Will Be Blood (more on that later). I rank Brody as No. 5 because once you study it, you see it was a masterful turn by the actor – and a heart-wrenching one at that, especially since he lost a ton of weight to play the Jewish classic pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, who barely survives the Holocaust. The icing on the cake, however, was the big old smooch he gave Halle Berry before his acceptance speech. Here’s The Pianist trailer:

5. Jamie Foxx in Ray

Foxx is No. 4 on my list. The actor really didn’t have much competition, easily outshining the other nominees in the category with his stellar portrayal of jazz great Ray Charles. It is one of the roles Foxx seemed born to play – capturing all of Charles’ nuances as well as singing the songs with such soul. Foxx may never get that kind of opportunity again, but he certainly deserved all the accolades he received. Here’s the trailer:

4. Sean Penn in Milk

Penn ranks second on my list because, for me, seeing the actor give a cheerful, upbeat performance – his first, I think, since he played the stoner Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High – was just so damn refreshing. As the late Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician from San Francisco, who fought hard for gay rights but was assassinated by the disgruntled city supervisor Dan White in 1978, Penn shows an exuberance, a joie de vivre as it were, that he rarely displays – as well as some mad skills at nailing the influential politician. It’s nice to know Penn can still let loose.

3. Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote

This is the one I varied a bit on since I put Hoffman as sixth on my list. Don’t get me wrong. Hoffman is brilliant as Truman Capote, playing the late author during his heyday, writing the non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood, that would define him – and ultimately destroy him. But that year at the Oscars, Hoffman was also up against Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain and Terence Howard in Hustle & Flow, two other incredibly worthy Best Actor contenders who could have easily won the prize. And then a year later the film Infamous came out, in which Toby Jones played Capote during the same time – and, to be honest, I thought Jones was a better Capote. So that has tainted my view. Anyway, here’s the trailer for Capote:

2. Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland

I rank Whitaker as No. 3 on my list, but it’s close enough. For me, I think it is seeing the always good Whitaker finally get the opportunity to sink his teeth into a role worthy of him. As the  real-life monster Idi Amin, the actor conveys a man so completely drunk with power yet conflicted by his madness, who has as much pathos as he does pure evilness. The performance is definitely a tour de force – and I’m not sure Whitaker will ever find that perfect storm again. It’s just a shame James McAvoy, who is really the main character, didn’t get more recognition. Here’s the trailer:

1. Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood.

There’s no question in my mind that Day-Lewis gave the best performance of the last 10 years as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood – and I’m happy to see that I’m not alone in that assessment. It’s really no surprise the British actor could turn in such an amazing performance, given the fact he had already won the Best Actor prize, playing the real-life, cerebral palsy-sticken Irish painter Christy Brown. But as Plainview, Day-Lewis simply stuns you as the morally corrupt, greedy oil man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. In this clip, he must kowtow to the weasly young preacher, played also brilliantly by Paul Dano, in order to secure more land and more oil rights. Seriously, Day-Lewis is so good in this, it makes your teeth ache.

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