The 12 Best Performances of 2012

Meet our new awards expert Joe Reid — keep up with his column for the predictions, news and opinions you’ll need to sound well-informed at parties for the entire awards season.

These aren't the most likely to show up on the Oscar nomination list, necessarily. But they're my picks for the most impressive performances of the year, irrespective of genre, release date, or Oscar buzz. Take them as a "For Your Consideration," if you will. Most of them could use the attention.

Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln"

It's honestly become so completely boring talking about how brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis is. Oh, he's done it again. Created another singular, indelible character that will echo in film history probably forever. Once again. This time he does it with a historical figure. THE historical figure, really. The most iconic figure in American history, and Daniel Day-Lewis just made him completely his own. Who even DOES that? Who just shows up and decides to swipe Americana itself right out from under us, with the quintessential American director behind the camera, no less?

Dane DeHaan in "Chronicle"

We live in an age where skinny, sleepy-eyed teenage misfits mired in sadness don't stay that way for very long. They're cast in superhero movies, put on a training regimen, get a cool haircut and a starlet girlfriend, and before you know it, that weird kid who played Donnie Darko is the Prince of Persia with 50 pounds of solid muscle on him. I really hope that doesn't happen to Dane DeHaan now that he's been tapped as the new Harry Osborn in the next "Spider-Man" movie. (His predecessor in the role, James Franco, was started along that road before he took a hard left into art-school weirdness, which I guess is a victory?) The best thing about "Chronicle" was that it let DeHaan to the superhero thing while remaining a sleepy-eyed teenage misfit. He played that guarded pain creeping into simmering rage so, so well, anchoring the film's wild final act with honest emotion.

Kirsten Dunst in "Bachelorette"

It's not just that Dunst had a blast wilding out as a steel-eyed bitch in charge of an unspooling pre-wedding disaster. ...Okay, it's partly that. After watching Dunst mope and melt away so effectively last year in "Melancholia," it was nice to see that she could project something OUT into the universe instead of taking it all in. And she does, like a hurricane of can-do psychosis and unspoken threats. But she's also Kirsten Dunst, and she's been doing this a long time for someone still so young, and she's skilled enough to first knock you off-balance with the hurricane stuff and then really hit you with that unexpected peek into her soul. So much going on with such a deceptively simple "bitchy" performance.

Salma Hayek in "Savages"

It's there when she puts on her wig, when addresses the amateur gringo drug dealers over the phone, and especially when she looks at poor, pathetic Blake Lively. Salma Hayek has got your number. She knows exactly what you're in this movie for, and she feels just a little bit sorry for you. But not so much that she's not going to give it to you anyway: the wigs, the threats, the exaggerated persona. Everything that's great about "Savages" can be boiled down to that dinner table scene with Lively, where Hayek sizes this little girl up in about five seconds and then spends the rest of the scene alternating between masticating that delectable lamb chop (literally) and masticating that delectable lamb chop (metaphorically). She pokes at her like a tiger at a mouse, trying to explain her whole life to a girl who doesn't want to get it. I could watch it a hundred times.

Tommy Lee Jones in "Hope Springs" and "Lincoln"

Craggy, crotchety, don't-give-a-damn stubbornness, you've got yourself a proud poster boy for 2012. But what impressed me about Tommy Lee Jones basically playing The Tommy Lee Jones Role in both these movies was in how differently he played them. In "Hope Springs," he's in a duet with Meryl Streep, and their divergent styles have to meet in the middle while also delivering a story where the whole point is that the characters CAN'T meet in the middle. In "Lincoln," he wields his grumpiness like a cudgel, his best weapon for wearing down Presidents and freshman Congressmen just the same. The exception: that crackling scene with Sally Field where he encounters the one person immune to his lack of charm.

Keira Knightley in "Anna Karenina"

For as much effort as Knightley put into trying VERY hard to be tortured in last year's "A Dangerous Method," I think I prefer the chances she takes in tandem with Joe Wright. He knows how to use that beautiful face of hers to disarm the audience into thinking they're getting one thing before swapping it out for something else. Think of that passion that turned so fraudulent in "Atonement." In "Anna," it's a serene wisdom she projects that turns out to be a lie, a performance like any other in this ultra-theatrical take on the classic novel.

Jennifer Lawrence in "Silver Linings Playbook"

I love how Lawrence plays her big breakout I Am a Sexual Creature Now role without any of those capital letters I just used. Tiffany's sexuality is a weapon, and she knows it, and she's wary about using it, and Lawrence plays it all so intelligently. Playing an intuitive character with that degree of intelligence is a tricky balance, and it's a big reason why her performance is so impressive.

Brit Marling in "Sound of My Voice"

Maybe it's those extra-sharp canine teeth of hers that make Marling's angelic face look so secretly malicious. Whatever it is, it works. Swaddled in plain white robes and scarves, her cult leader character plays with softness and sharpness so openly that you'd think it would take away some of her power. But the whole point is that she never lets you know how much power she's got, and that's the scariest thing of all. After "Another Earth" fizzled and she was decidedly okay in "Arbitrage," I'd given up on the Brit Marling thing happening, but I was so happy to have been wrong.

Sarah Silverman in "Take This Waltz"

During the first 2/3 of "Take This Waltz," Silverman is a breath of assured air in a movie that is rapidly filling up with Michelle Williams's anxieties. She's not spouting sarcasm at various targets -- not playing herself, in other words -- but she's so welcome and so sane. The nature of her character guarantees us it won't last, but just when we expect her to fall apart in front of us, she delivers a wallop of a final scene. "You think everything can be worked out if you make the right move," she tells Williams's Margot. "That must be thrilling." That scene surely is.

Channing Tatum in "21 Jump Street" and "Magic Mike"

I've been saying for years that Channing Tatum knows what he's doing, and in 2012 everybody else caught up with me. Magic Mike pushed him over the top with most people, who finally had to knuckle under and admit that the guy can put the weight of a really good movie on his broad shoulders. But if you waited 'til "Magic Mike" to get it, that means you missed his even more impressive feat: delivering a crack comedic performance in the shockingly good "21 Jump Steet." The guy knows how to play a likeably goofy meathead, and his mounting frustration at what passes for "cool" in this movie only gets funnier.

This year’s personal best movie performance picks come from the eerily prescient mind of our awards expert, Joe Reid.