John Cromwell and his 1950 melodrama Caged was at pains to stress the failings of a system that breeds criminals as much as it punishes them. Luciani, as "top dog" of Audiard's volatile milieu, is seminal to the French director's similar critique of law and order (allbeit with the addition of some shrewd gender switches), emphasising the importance of emulation and association within alpha power struggle. Arestrup roams his territory with the desperation of a canine but little impulsive aggression, appeasing people, dependent upon people, as much as he flaunts his own authority. He makes Luciani a rather sad disciple of a fading mafia hierarchy, failed by the disappearing sense of structure within criminality, and the new young breed of juvenile.
Peter Capaldi in In the Loop
Capaldi's Malcolm Tucker delivers scathing putdowns to whomever he deems his milquetoast bitch of the minute, such is his above-and-beyond role as a 'spin doctor' at the centre of interdependent departmental fuss, even as he exhibits far more independent thought than those that surround him. Capaldi is often 'in the zone', extrapolating his words violently and impulsively, punctuating the script's satirical praxes with the mechanics of his performance rather than distracting from them. Malcolm loses influence when the group cross the Atlantic, unable to exercise as much control as he mediates with men more powerful than he is, and while he noticeably concedes his aggression you can still see him sussing the situation out, deciding whether this ambassador, diplomat etc. is worthy of his time. When faced with the relative incompetence he otherwise bulldozes his true colours emerge, and Capaldi gives Malcolm a sense of superiority that is the elitist essence of political comment, in whatever form.
Woody Harrelson in The Messenger
The early exchanges between Captain Tony Stone and Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery are very one-sided, and a clearly elemental Woody Harrelson revels in projecting Stone's superiority over Will, vehemently outlining the protocol involved as a "messenger". The suggestion of a dillettante power trip always lingers (it's a staple of the army anyway, right?) yet Harrelson works to outline Tony's desire for convergence in his relationship with Will, managing their social exchanges in an attempt to co-erce the younger man into a friendship he would otherwise shun. Harrelson particularly excels in a drunken scene where he admits to not having seen a great deal of front-line action, cleverly bringing Tony's prioritisation of work to the forefront, and revealing just why he is such an intimidating presence in that environment. Intimidating but never threatening; a belligerent workaholic.
Tom Hollander in In the Loop
Don't be fooled, it's difficult difficult LEMON difficult to pull off a character as painfully unaware of his public image, and evidently clueless as to how to build a rapport with the political subjects hanging on his every word. Simon Foster is a silly figure of fun in a silly political satire, and Hollander's regal sentiment is a perfect buffer for Foster's hesitance towards the world of spin. He's self-important but can't back any of this up, thoroughly indoctrinated into prestige and power hangups, clamouring to exercise his status even as it burrows him into more sticky situations than one would care to entertain. The slow moments of realisation that pepper Hollander's meek, mousy demeanor are raucous entertainment, and ensure that he just can't be taken seriously. After all, people don't love Boris Johnson for his competence.
Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds
For what is occasionally plugged as a one-man show, Waltz certainly owes a lot to Tarantino's desire to make both heroes and villains of the piece self-indulgent; they're all "inglourious" to a fault. Furthermore, the multi-lingual nature of Col. Landa and his authoritative position within the narrative, gives him the kind of standout superiority that wins supporters. I'll be darned though if Waltz doesn't rise to this audacious challenge, completely attuned to what the film requires him to be. Landa never really pushes Solondz-style boundaries of support for his anti-semitic quest, but there's always a sense that Waltz is orchestrating everything (even up to his own downfall), tantalising in the film's opening scene, and again in the strudel face-off.
Winner: Christoph Waltz
Runner Up: Niels Arestrup
Best of the Rest:Jason Bateman's shamed politician in State of Play, Thomas Sangster's thoughtful Paul McCartney in Nowhere Boy. Scott Bakula is stellar in The Informant!, and Jose Luis Gomez has magic moments in Broken Embraces.
Other Delights:Andre Holland in Sugar, Bin Won in Mother, and Alec Baldwin in It's Complicated.