It's all really a matter of personal taste and I'm sure my list won't parallel the nominee list the Academy comes up with for the Best Actor Oscar, and it probably won't match most moviegoers. That said, my personal picks for the best performances by actors in 2004 range from the obvious - Jamie Foxx in "Ray" - to actors who don't have quite as much hype built up around their work, such as Gael Garcia Bernal in "Bad Education" and Mark Ruffalo in "We Don't Live Here Anymore."
Jamie Foxx positively nailed his performance in "Ray." As with his supporting role in "Collateral," Jamie Foxx has now proved he's got the dramatic chops necessary to sustain an acting career outside of comedy. As Ray Charles, Foxx pulled off a mesmerizing performance which, in my opinion, was the best of the year.
Jim Carrey frequently surprises us with his textured performances, but he's still got detractors who claim he just can't stop himself from hamming it up any time a camera is turned on. In "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," Carrey keeps it under control and delivers a stunning performance.
"The Sea Inside" is one of three movies that moved me to tears in 2004. Javier Bardem's portrayal of a quadriplegic who wants to die with dignity is all the more amazing when you take into account his ability to sell the role comes only from what he's able to communicate through his voice and facial expressions.
He may not look like Howard Hughes, but Leonardo DiCaprio is totally, completely believable in the lead role in Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator." The spirit of Hughes is there, so looks and the age difference can be set aside. Reuniting with his "Gangs of New York" director, DiCaprio's performance in "The Aviator" is one of his best.
Before taking on the lead role in "Batman Begins," Christian Bale dropped 60 pounds to play a delusional insomniac in "The Machinist." The movie itself is almost painful to watch because of Bale's gauntness, but you've got to give it up for a guy who goes that far in search of the truth of the character he's playing.
Naomi Watts, and Laura Dern, Mark Ruffalo gives yet another understated, solid performance in this relationship drama, directed by John Curran. Ruffalo's so natural and his style is so earthy, it's actually easy to overlook just how good he truly is.