Gotta say, this was by far the toughest one for me to narrow down this year. There are at least ten or eleven absolutely terrific performances that would be welcome here, and the quality of this year's leading men is well represented by the Oscar lineup as well. But tough decisions have to be made, so the five that I chose are:
What's remarkable is the uncanny ease with which Cooper shifts from dramatic pathos to wry comedy and everything in between as his character struggles to gain command of his mood swings. He creates a hero worth rooting for in spite of his abrasive personality.
Hawkes is brilliant in evoking the understated tragedy of a great mind trapped inside his own body. He brings an endearing wit but naive vulnerability to O'Brien, fully inhabiting the nervous fear and rapturous ecstasy that his sexual exploration brings him.
The raging yang to Hoffman's sober yin, Phoenix crafts a glowering, seething man-animal with which to perform the film's masculine ballet. His elemental, PTS-suffering vet is a fully committed and galvanized characterization.
Trintignant is the emotional core of Amour; moving and painfully authentic. He demonstrates great refinement in his ability to tap into deep feelings of love and loss through quiet gestures and minimalist expression.
Washington offers up arguably the finest work of his career, evoking a tragic yet compelling figure whose arrogance and denial makes him as pitiable as he is detestable. His accomplishment is in persuading us to root for such a selfish yet tragically human character.
Just missed: Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master, Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables, Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Liam Neeson in The Grey