December 21, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST

Just nine months after topping the box office with February’s action thriller Safe House, the legendary star of The Hurricane and Training Day created yet another unforgettable character in a career already full of them: Whip Whitaker, the alcoholic pilot in Flight who heroically crash-lands a plane by flying it upside down. Whip isn’t just a cookie-cutter flawed hero. The pain, frustration, and gallows humor of addiction all come through in every line Washington delivers. The actor, 57, credits the movie’s screenplay, written by John Gatins, for persuading him to tackle such an emotionally demanding part. ”It was just one of those scripts that touches you,” he says. ”It touched me. I felt like, Wow.” Anyone who’s seen his performance can certainly relate.

Best undead performance (runner-up): Lana Del Rey’s rendition of ”Video Games” on Saturday Night Live

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