Dame Helen Mirren in "The Queen" — can't leave her out. She's peerless. Even as a monarch whose face is a regal mask, she's so expressive it's uncanny.
I can't omit that other Dame, Judi Dench. She's magnificently creepy as a gargoyle roiling with passion for the breathtaking Cate Blanchett in the psychodrama "Notes on a Scandal."
Maggie Gyllenhaal is this year's Gyllenhaal — her brother Jake of "Brokeback Mountain" was last year's — and she's amazingly vivid in the indie movie "Sherrybaby." She's a sexpot who gets out of rehab; and she can't be a mother to her young daughter when she's still acting like daddy's (sexually abused) little girl.
Another childish druggie — it's a theme this year — is played by Ryan Gosling in "Half Nelson." He's a crackhead alcoholic inner-city junior high teacher who has lost the thread between his idealistic politics and screwed-up life, and he's so raw you can read every twitch of his wiry frame.
Forest Whitaker has won a lot of critics' awards for his Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland," and it's easy to see why. He finally gets to seize the space and show us how he can rage.
Naomi Watts plays a desperately bored flapper type in the W. Somerset Maugham adaptation "The Painted Veil." It's a good movie but she's great — even when she's petulant she has soul, and she's transcendentally pretty.
I'm going to cheat on number seven, so sue me. The cast of "Little Miss Sunshine" is a crack team: Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Abigail Breslin, Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano. They're all playing losers, and they're all "Best in Show."
Remember Jackie Earl Haley, the delinquent from the first "Bad News Bears"? Thirty years later he's a pedophile in the black comedy "Little Children," and you can't completely loathe him. One moment he's like a vampire trying to satisfy an insatiable thirst, the next he's a helpless little boy.
Number ten: Well, this was a tough one. Catherine O'Hara? Gretchen Moll? Jennifer Hudson? I'm going to go with the year's most surprising performance: Al Gore, in "An Inconvenient Truth." He's so much less stiff than during his presidential run; someone obviously taught him not to drone. It's a great role, too — a guy delivering very, very bad news about the future of the planet.
Oh, wait, it's not a role … Bummer.
Jennifer Hudson in "Dreamgirls," now there's a performance!