Forget male, female, lead and supporting. Here are 10 people you couldn't take your eyes off, whether they were in every scene or just one.
1. julianne moore (Far From Heaven; The Hours)
She is the queen of all she surveys. Moore's two period performances conjured Eisenhower femininity back to life. It's a magic act accomplished in astonishing, rigorous detail. To be watched again and again.
2. isabelle huppert (The Piano Teacher; 8 Women)
Repression is harder than it looks. Huppert's two buttoned-down roles -- as a self-punishing teacher and a sour sister -- played primness first for heartbreak, then for laughs.
3. Daniel day-lewis (Gangs Of New York)
It's in the tension between the stiffness in his frame and the weird, warm timbre of his voice. As Bill the Butcher, Lewis exerts superhuman control over every bodily impulse. The role is cut from the same cloth as Martin Scorsese's other lonely, brutal men, and it's as committed as anything De Niro's done.
4. emily watson (Punch-Drunk Love; Red Dragon)
If there isn't already a Japanese cartoon built around Emily Watson's huge round eyes, there should be. Tender in Red Dragon and scary in Punch-Drunk Love, she's the woman you'd most want in your own private romantic tragedy.
5. chris cooper (Adaptation)
The stealth gem in so many movies, Cooper finally claimed a role that set his id free. As the orchid thief who's structurally twice filtered by author's voices in the film, Cooper's performance is wildly, perfectly fictional.
6. nicolas cage (Adaptation)
Cage and director Spike Jonze make the twin brother act look easy, but this is likely the year's most technically sophisticated acting job. That Cage can communicate so much fun in pulling it off is practically miraculous.
7. halle berry (Monster's Ball)
I love watching raw need on screen, and there was no performance more clinging than Berry's Oscar-winning turn. Far more meta than anything in Adaptation.
8. sylvia ivalu (Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner)
The sexiest performance of the year. Ivalu's role as the fought-over prize could have relied on mute beauty, but she brought along her own playfulness and a dangerously hot spark.
9. Voila Davis (Antwone Fisher; Solaris; Far From Heaven)
A 50s maid, a future scientist and a crack mom, Davis journeyed to the far reaches this year. In each case, she communicated so much between words, mostly with the fix of her gaze and the set of her mouth.
10. kieran culkin (Igby Goes Down)
He screws his godfather's girlfriend, resents his brother for his own selfish reasons and hates his mother and tells her so. Igby isn't a nice boy. Culkin found the human common ground in his teen-boy bitchiness. Sad, smudgy eyes help, but they're never enough.