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5 best Brad Pitt performances

The Associated Press, Thursday, September 22, 2011, 1:34pm (PDT)

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Choosing Brad Pitt's five best performances was tough, but getting a chance to look back on his career was a joy.

Ever since his breakout role as the sexy and mysterious drifter J.D. in "Thelma & Louise" (1991), Pitt has repeatedly proven that he's so much more than just a pretty face. He's shown a knack for choosing meaty, intelligent films and working with the most respected directors, which has allowed him to explore every facet of his versatile talent.

This week he stars in "Moneyball" as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, a role that lets him be both charismatic and vulnerable. It's some of his best work; here are five other examples:

— "Fight Club" (1999): The first rule of Brad Pitt is, it's impossible not to talk about Brad Pitt. He's larger than life here, mythological almost, as Tyler Durden, the leader of the secret fight club and the key to Edward Norton's salvation — or so he initially thinks. Sinewy and swaggering, Pitt radiates sexy masculinity in an almost primal way. The fact that he also challenges the men who follow him on emotional and psychological levels makes him not just charismatic but downright frightening. This is one of several films Pitt has made with director David Fincher — and you might put "Se7en" or "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" on your list of his top performances — but this is the one that stands out most for me.

— "The Tree of Life" (2011): Between this and "Moneyball," Pitt is having a pretty great year. But the performances come in two films that couldn't be more different. Terrence Malick's hypnotic meditation on family, memory and the origin of life itself is full of mesmerizing imagery. But it also allowed Pitt to do some of the best work of his career as a husband and father of three in 1950s Texas. Pitt makes the character an intimidating figure, a capricious mix of toughness and tenderness. His actions may seem questionable, even abusive at times, but you get the sense that he's questioning, struggling, trying to figure out how to be the best man he can be without abandoning his traditional notions of manhood.

— "Inglourious Basterds" (2009): He's pretty much doing a bad impression of George W. Bush here — campy but irresistible — and it is always such a joy to watch him let go and goof off. Pitt tops a tremendous ensemble cast in Quentin Tarantino's daring, revisionist World War II saga as the twangy Tennessean Lt. Aldo Raine. He's the leader of a band of Jewish American soldiers who hunt Nazis with the goal of not just killing them but scalping them and sometimes carving swastikas into their foreheads. He offers a rousing mix of aw-shucks earnestness and slam-bang bravado.

— "Burn After Reading" (2008): Part of the beauty of Pitt is his willingness to toy with his own beautiful image. In the Coen brothers' comedy, he steals every scene he's in — and nearly walks away with the whole movie — as an overgrown child of a gym trainer whose bungled schemes get him in way over his head. Just his name alone, Chad Feldheimer, makes him sound like a first-class doofus, and one look at his blonde-streaked pouf tells you not to take him, or the film, too seriously. But Pitt brings an innocence to the role that makes him irresistible rather than obnoxious; with the shadow of superstardom looming so large, it's easy to forget he can be funny.

— "Snatch." (2000): Pitt went even deeper to play a weird, wild comic character here, going so far as to speak in an accent that made him completely unintelligible — but that's what made the performance hilarious. Guy Ritchie's comedy is full of his typically colorful characters, assorted British low-lifes and eccentrics. But Pitt steals the show as an Irish gypsy boxer who speaks in such a quick, mangled way, even the Brits can't understand him. In a recent Entertainment Weekly interview, he said he came up with the gibberish in a panic at the last minute when he couldn't quite nail the character's accent. But as with everything else, he made it look effortless.

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Think of any other examples? Share them with AP Movie Critic Christy Lemire through Twitter: http://twitter.com/christylemire.

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