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This article first appeared in part at InContention.com on May 24, 2011. It seemed like a good time to re-purpose it for new readers here at HitFix with the release of "To the Wonder" on the horizon.
Director Terrence Malick is not often considered an "actor's director" in any classic sense, so a list of the best performances in his films reads as an odd way, for some, to recognize his work. Perhaps no film to date props up that assumption more than his latest, "To the Wonder." Therein, Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams "aren't performers so much as motifs", Guy wrote in his Venice review. (Though for a smart take on why that might be, read Bilge Ebiri's analysis of the film as the ballet Malick has always wanted to make.)
Nevertheless, I disagree with the oft-repeated notion about Malick and his players. For as many actors who may be disenchanted with how their work ended up represented in this or that film, there are as many or more lining up to work with the director. He can, in my opinion, drive out some stunning and unexpected portrayals.
Malick films contain a wide array of performances, all of them proving to be singular feathers in the caps of many actors. Indeed, when an actor stars in a Malick film, he or she is met with direction unique to any other experience. Naturalism and a sense of authenticity are hallmarks of these portrayals, as the filmmaker likes to scrape away the dishonesty of “performance” and get to something truer, with all the imperfection that comes with it.
For my money, the following 10 represent the best of the lot. Feel free to chalk up your own in the comments section below. More on Malick and "To the Wonder" tomorrow.