The King's Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010)
The King's Speech is a showcase for Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, yes, but when I saw the film I was more stunned by Guy Pearce's performances as King Edward VIII. He plays the abdicative King as a loose cannon, but grounds him in his love for Wallis Simpson. He emanates with desire to leave the royal family and steal away with his love, and plays this disdain for the public eye completely different than Firth's. It's a virtuoso performance with zero scenery-chewing, but it's just as effective as any supporting performance I'd seen on screen in 2010.
Factory Girl (George Hickenlooper, 2006)
I may in the minority in my admiration for the performances in Hickenlooper's Factory Girl. Besides Sienna Miller's on-point and suprisingly dimensional Edie Sedgwick, Pearce is there in the background--as with most of his performances--providing something remarkable. His Andy Warhol isn't perfect by any means and easily could be cartoonish since Warhol's look and personality is so iconic. Pearce plays off this possibility for failure by visibly having a great time on-screen, and this energy seeps through the screen and brings Warhol to life. It's great fun and desperately needed in a film that focuses so heavily on the crash and burn of Sedgwick's life.
The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005)
Something Guy Pearce doesn't get to do enough of is bring the crazy. Since Pearce is such a grounded and warm actor he plays quirk alot but not enough batshit-insanity. I had seen bits and pieces of Hillcoat's The Proposition on IFC TV for many years before finally sitting down to watch it two summers ago, and besides loving the film I really adored seeing Pearce get to stretch his acting chops a bit. As one part of a crazy criminal family Pearce's Charlie Burns is unpredictable dynamite. So unhinged is his character that the audience can't help but get nervous every time he appears on-screen. The best part about the crazy is that it isn't hair-pulling, screaming, scene-stealing crazy but a volatile ticking time-bomb of crazy. He has his loud moments but for the most part grounds it in a reality that is made ever scarier by his propensity to explode.
Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
I've already written much about Memento recently, but I'm always struck by the way Pearce is the anchor of that film. As I've said prior in this post, he's an actor who emanates so much energy and vulnerability in his performances that grasps the audience from the moment he comes into the picture. It's the presence of the X-factor of course, and in Memento it's his performance just as much as it's Nolan's direction and screenplay that has made the film such a stand-out from a banner time in cinema.
The Adventures of Priscilla, the Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliott, 1994)
There are two reasons why I picked this performance as my favorite. First is that Pearce's Adam/Felicia is the comic stand-out of an already quite-funny film. It's no wonder that this was his breakthrough performance because it's everything about Pearce's subsequent performance rolled into one: energy, lived-in, dimensional, fun, grounded, and reliably fantastic. The other reason is that he is so effiing salty in this film. The guy is beautiful and it's nice to have the combo of a great performance and amazing eye-candy. Yum indeed.