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1. Moneyball (2011) Strutting through Bennett Miller‘s fact-based comedy about baseball economics, Pitt, as Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane, is in glorious control of his leading-man powers. The performance is mellow, rhythmically alive and deeply felt — like a great jazz solo.
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2. The Tree of Life (2011)
Pitt could have turned the stern, authoritarian 1950s Texas father into the villain of Terrence Malick‘s metaphysical masterpiece. Instead, the actor makes him both threatening and needy, an almost iconic — but never less than human — vision of wounded American masculinity.
3. 12 Monkeys (1995)
Pitt plays a disheveled, wild-eyed, babbling mental patient in Terry Gilliam‘s time-travel sci-fi, channeling his movie-star magnetism and willingness to get weird into a plum character part. The electrifyingly hammy turn earned the actor his first Oscar nomination.
4. Seven (1995) Pitt’s low-key work as the cocky but likable detective in David Fincher‘s serial killer freak-out proved he could anchor a film without flaunting his abs. Meshing perfectly with co-star Morgan Freeman, he provides a center of calm amid the grisly chaos; when he loses his cool at the end, we do the same.
5. Thelma & Louise (1991)
Ridley Scott‘s now-seminal feminist road movie features Pitt as J.D., a Southern drifter with a mischievous grin, sculpted physique and a voice like honey. It’s a small role, but the actor’s swaggering charisma and sultry chemistry with Geena Davis landed him on Hollywood’s radar.
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