40. Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
When the early buzz started for Hudson's performance, I was suspicious. I had been lead to believe a performance would be wonderful only to be disappointed many times. But Hudson lived up to and exceeded all expectations with her amazing voice and wonderful diva attitude. She certainly earned the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2007.
39. David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck
In the midst of everything that was happening in our nation in late 2005, this docudrama about Edward R. Murrow taking on Sen. Joseph McCarthy premiered and Strathairn completely embodied all the fabled characteristics of the legendary journalist. His powerful demeanor and voice brings gravitas to every scene in which he is in and commands the camera and respect from everyone watching. Strathairn earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in 2006 for this.
38. Sean Penn, Milk
When I first heard Sean Penn was going to play legendary gay-rights pioneer Harvey Milk, I was very nervous. Penn did not strike me as the right fit for Harvey, but after watching the film, it was clear that Penn had done a marvelous job in bringing Harvey to life. His portrayal of Harvey was the perfect way of showing exactly who he was, a smart-ass Jew from Long Island who made no apologies. This performance earned Penn his second Best Actor Oscar in 2009.
37. Sissy Spacek, In the Bedroom
As a mother coping with an unexpected and devastating tragedy Spacek is marvelous as a woman trying to keep everything in balance. But the parts that are really worth watching is when she finally cannot hold everything in any longer and the film takes a drastic turn. Spacek earned her sixth Oscar nomination for Best Actress for playing Ruth Fowler.
36. Charlize Theron, Monster
The initial thing to notice about Theron in this movie is the job the makeup artists did with her face. But after you get beyond how she looks, Theron draws you into the story of the deeply troubled Aileen Wuornos who became a rampant murderer in the state of Florida. Her touches of vulnerability that make you feel sympathy for this person are the reasons that her performance will remind that she is always more than just a pretty face. Theron took home the Best Actress Oscar in 2004 for her work in this film.
35. Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
The director, Kevin MacDonald, sets up Whitaker's entrance amazingly by showing everyone in a village dancing and celebrating Amin's ascension to power and when Amin finally takes to the stage, it's as if King Kong has been revealed for the first time. Whitaker brings Amin's charisma and his menacing paranoia to the screen in an unbelievable manner that demonstrates the true psychopath that Idi Amin was. Whitaker, deservedly won the 2007 Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the Ugandan dictator.
34. Helen Mirren, The Queen
Mirren has been a favorite of practically everyone for many years and finally got the awards to match it with her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II during the days following the death of Princess Diana. Mirren brought an amazing vulnerability to a person who has never really shown it and made us feel sympathy for a real live person by just playing her in a hypothetical way. As Mirren said when she accepted the Best Actress Oscar in 2007, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, The Queen!"
33. Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda
Cheadle has always had a wonderful reputation of bringing characters to life but when Cheadle got the chance to portray hotel owner Paul Rusesabagina, it was hard to just call him another character actor. As Rusesabagina, Cheadle shows how one of the most horrific genocides of all time can turn even the most neutral of men into heroes who rise to the occasion and end up being the kind of savior to thousands that was needed at the time. Cheadle walked away with an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in 2005.
32. Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
To say that Day-Lewis is an intense actor is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this actor. And Day-Lewis shows us just how crazy he can get with his portrayal of mad-man oil pioneer Daniel Plainview. Plainview is not just someone who is greedy. Plainview is the living embodiment of greed and lust and wealth. He is someone who only lives to make money and to conquer and will lay waste to anyone who tries to stop him, even if it's his own son. Lewis channels this character in such a way that every sylable comes out making you believe this is an actual person and that's what earned him his second Best Actor Oscar in 2008.
31. Chris Cooper, Adaptation
Cooper had always been a magnificent character actor, including playing the Marine neighbor in 1999's American Beauty but in playing the eccentric fugitive orchid cloner, Cooper resonated with audiences to an entirely different level. Even though the performance is most known for how over the top the character is, Cooper's scenes of emotional depth not only resonate with audiences but evoke enormous sympathy. His 2003 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor was much deserved.
30. Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
After winning her first Oscar for Boys Don't Cry, Swank seemed to have a tough time finding roles that suited her again. But then came the role of aspiring boxer Maggie Fitzgerald, whose persistance wins over Clint Eastwood's crusty old character and resonates with the dreamer in all of us. Swank would win another Best Actress Oscar for this role in 2005 and there was no argument about how much she deserved it.
29. Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men
While there are many aspects one can bring to a bone-chilling performance, being able to convey that characteristic through one's eyes is a very tough ability. But within the first 10 minutes of this masterpiece by the Coen brothers, we see Bardem bring this to life as he chokes a police officer to death with the handcuffs the officer had arrested him with. Bardem's cool demeanor in how he portrays Anton Chigurh (along with that hideous haircut) makes the character all the more frightening. His sweep of the Supporting Actor awards (including the Golden Globe and Academy Award) in 2008 almost feels like all the voting members were afraid he'd use shotgun with a silencer on them if he didn't win.
28. Robin Williams, One Hour Photo
Williams has continually proven himself to be an amazing actor, but no performance in the last decade truly demonstrates that ability than as lonely photo developer Sy Parrish, who begins attaching himself to the lives a seemingly perfect family. His subtlety and nuances in his performance, from the way he blends in to the store he works at to his demeanor in a moment where he's just standing by himself, bring all too much to life a man who has never had a connection with anyone and is so desperate to have one.
27. Nicholas Cage, Adaptation
Right before Adaptation came out, everyone thought to themselves, "What happened to Nic Cage?" Here was a guy who was in so many great movies and won an Oscar in 1996 as a failed writer drinking himself to death in Leaving Las Vegas and then suddenly did a lot of crappy action movies. Everyone was ready to give up on him and then stunned us all by playing Donald Kaufman and Charlie Kaufman in this crazy exploration of the Hollywood system. Cage brings both these characters to life as distinctly different people, so even though you know trick photography is being used, the performance always feels genuine. He earned an Oscar nod in 2002 and then somehow went back to doing bad action movies. Maybe the Academy just shouldn't nominate Cage and that way, he'll keep doing good movies.
26. Ellen Page, Hard Candy
Before she was on everyone's radar as the quick-witted pregnant teenager Juno, Page broke out on the indie scene as a girl who turns the tables on sex predator in a horrendous way. After going back to the home of a man she met online, Page proceeds to psychologically and physically torture this man (Patrick Wilson) for the actions he has committed over his life. Her vicious nature makes you feel sorry for this monster she's going after and from that moment, we all knew that Page would be a force to be reckoned with as a young actress.
25. Joseph Gordon Levitt, Mysterious Skin
Levitt had already made his mark as a teenage alien on 3rd Rock From the Sun but at the very young age of 23, took a risk that most young actors would never think of doing. He took on the role of a teenage hustler trying to escape his small hometown in Gregg Araki's sterling movie. The pain and anguish he communicates in every scene makes one feel as if they are watching a royal veteran who had been trained at the finest of institutions. He carries us on a journey of revelation and one that's not always comfortable to watch but is always compelling.
24. Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Hathaway showed what she was potential of with her underrated performance in Brokeback Mountain and in this Jonathan Demme indie, got to show everything that she is capable of. In playing Kym, a recovering junkie who exits a mental hospital just in time for her sister's wedding, Hathaway channels a woman still living with inner torment even though she's not at an emotional maturity to handle everything that's going on around her. Her breakdowns are phenomenal and her reaction toher sister's news ("That's not fair!") is even a little funny. It makes me eager for whatever may come next from her.
23. Mo'Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
Mo'Nique's career as an actress hadn't been that extensive with her work doing drama being even shorter. But in playing Mary Jones, the titular character's unbelievably abusive mother, she raised herself up to the level that has been reached by only a few, in becoming a professional comedian who has gone on to win an Oscar for a dramatic performance. The viciousness with which she plays Mary is shocking at first but Mo'Nique's delivery of her final monologue in showing her character's true pathetic nature is nothing short of brilliance.
22. Viola Davis, Doubt
While this parable with four characters was expanded in a big way with it's film adaptation, the role of Mrs. Miller, the mother of a boy who might be being abused by the main priest, was kept exactly the same. And with Viola Davis's performance she gave that 12 minute role the same level of mastery that audiences saw when it was performed on Broadway. While the mother might be likened in her actions to the one mentioned above, her conviction that allowing what's going might just be for the best is what's truly amazing and her level of ignorance is something that haunts us throughout the rest of the movie. Nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2009.
21. Tom Hanks, Cast Away
Hanks is quite simply just a superb actor. Does this label get tossed around a bit too much? Yeah, probably. But all the evidence of these claims can be found in this movie about a lone plane crash survivor, living on a deserted island. While some performers have to carry a movie, Hanks had to do it in the most literal of terms and every moment he spends on screen struggling to stay alive, he keeps the movie interesting and also makes us feel for every big of agony he deals with in his journey into isolationism. A special shout out must be given to Hanks's co-star, Wilson the volleyball who should have also received an Oscar nomination along with Hanks's leading nod.