2013 was an amazing year for performances. I had an especially tough time with this list because at one point, every movie I was saw had a performances I greatly loved or appreciated. Since this is a subjective list, I am going to go with my "favourite" performances over what may be considered the "best" performances, except my for number 1. That is THE best.
Honourable mentions- Well, my shortlist has 62 names and so if I were to name the ones that didn't make it into the final list, my honourable mentions will exceed the latter. I am cheating in this list as it is.
Bradley Cooper in American Hustle
In a movie where everyone is trying to out-act each other, Cooper's Richie is the only character that ends up feeling real. There is a sincerity that Cooper is able to bring to the role, even when Richie is going nuts. And man, those rollers.
Emma Watson in The Bling Ring
I don't think I have had more fun listening to a character this year as much as I did with Watson's Nicki Moore. That interview scene alone guaranteed her a place in this post.
Pauline Burlet in The Past
In both of Farhadi's movies that I have seen, I ended up feeling the worst for the children. They are subjected to the complex and perplexing workings of the adult world and the results are ruinous. When we first see Burlet's Lucie, we just think she's a moody teenager. But she is full of layers and the more we find out about her past and what she did, the more we feel for her. She is riddled with guilt and confusion and seeing her coming to terms with her actions is devastating.
Alden Ehrenreich in Beautiful Creatures
I really think Ehrenreich's performance in Beautiful Creatures puts him in the league of John Cusack in Say Anything. Playing the small-town boy with the big dreams, he is full of charm and intelligence and has fantastic charisma on screen. He also gets my vote for "breakthrough actor of the year".
Bruce Dern in Nebraska
Dern plays a man completely obsessed with his lottery win in Nebraska. There are so many ways this performance could have been a caricature but instead, it is the perfect mixture of sad and funny. He doesn't say much and often appears almost oblivious to everything around him, but that look in his eyes full of some kind of longing is enough to make him one of the most human characters of last year.
Julie Delpy in Before Midnight
As depressed as I was by the transformation of beautiful, inspiring Celine of the first two Before movies into this crazy, neurotic, argumentative person, one cannot deny the work that Delpy achieves here. She lets herself get ugly and awful, but this Celine is also the most fleshed out that we've ever seen her. And I do think she would be more attached to the character than all of us so to explore her unsavory side like she did here is commendable.
Matthew McConaughey in The Wolf of Wall Street, Mud and Dallas Buyers Club
The order of the pictures are given according to my favourite performances of Matty M. last year. Witnessing McConaissance has been a privilege and 2013 was another great year for one of the most shockingly (at least for me) versatile actors of this era. All his performances were excellent though that money chant really takes the cake.
Jake Gyllenhaal in Prisoners
This movie questions our ideas when it comes to what makes someone a hero and what makes them a villain. Captain Loki is not a likeable person but he is the good guy. From the blinking to the hair, Gyllenhaal makes Loki a very compelling character to watch.
Léa Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Colour
While watching Blue is the Warmest Colour, we are mesmerised by Adèle. And Adèle is mesmerised by Emma. Seydoux had to create a character that would justify this devotion because only then would the subsequent break up ravage the way it did, and she did so beautifully.
Matthew Goode in Stoker
There must have been a lot of pressure on Mr. Goode for playing a character based on one made famous by Joseph Cotten. But he more than matches up. He is the quintessential psychopath- attractive, disturbing and lethal. He has an iciness that creeps under your skin but goddamnit, you like it!
Shailene Woodley in The Spectacular Now
In very simple terms, Aimee is a good girl who falls for the (sorta) bad boy. It's kind of a cliché, but I've never seen anyone play it the way Woodley does. She is so sweet but so real at the same time that we feel almost angry seeing her go down that path as though she's someone we know. Woodley's natural charisma is the reason why.
Joaquin Phoenix in Her
Her is an incredible film for many reasons, one of the biggest being that a lot of it is, like the College Humour poster said, close-ups of Joaquin Phoenix's beautiful face as it registers the myriads of emotions that Theodore goes through. They are all so subtle and so precise. Phoenix probably has my favourite cinematic face and in my eyes, no one else could have played this role.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Enough Said
While we would expect it to be something purely comedic, JLD in Enough Said gives one of the most layered performances of the year. Yes, she is funny but in the humour, one can see elements of sadness, fear and confusion, which is what makes her so human.
Sandra Bullock in Gravity
I love films that are basically one-man or one-woman shows (See also: The Pianist, 127 Hours) and Gravity, in all its visual splendour, would not have worked if it didn't have one immensely strong lead performance. Bullock gives just that, and not only is her physical accomplishment praise-worthy but also the emotional depth she brings to the film.
Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips
Of course that ending is devastating, but it would not have had half its impact if Hanks didn't play his role with such a vulnerable self-control throughout most of the film. We can almost feel his fear but he IS the captain and he has to stay composed and brave at the face of adversity. And finally, he lets it all out. It is a masterclass in acting.
Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui in The Lunchbox
There is a certain pleasure you get in seeing two actors playing off each other. In the movie, in spite of his initial reluctance, Irrfan Khan's taciturn Sajan finds a friend in Sidiqui's openhearted Shaikh, and for the latter, the former becomes a sort of father/brother figure that he always wanted. This bond, though unusual, is strengthened throughout the film in an effortless manner because of the way both these actors play their characters. Khan, who also has a great cinematic face, reveals the inner grief of his character without saying much, and in contrast, Sidiqui's character is hilariously loquacious but he too has a poignancy to him.
Tye Sheridan in Mud
Sheridan's Ellis just breaks my heart. We go through the film seeing the faith that Ellis has in the idea of true, everlasting, almost heroic love. He doesn't talk a lot but you can see this wonder in his eyes. When he finally comes face-to-face with the reality of the world, his reaction is shattering. There is such hurt and anguish. Like I said in my Making a Case post, "it is astonishing to see someone so young capture all these emotions with such intensity that even grown-ups sometimes can't." Really blew me away.
Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street and This is the End
Hill was definitely going to be in this list after playing the self-parody he does in This is the End, playing a cockier, crazier, possessed-er version of himself. And then I saw WoWS. Teeth, glasses, coke, fish, Fucksville- all of them would have been pointless if we didn't have a comic genius (yes, I totes believe that he is one now) playing such a character who makes it completely his own without letting all of that overpower him. Both these roles could have been mere caricatures but Hill makes them more than that.
Simon Pegg in The World's End
I think barring my number 1, no other performance this year has managed to surprise me the way Pegg's did here. Specifically, when we find out Gary King's "truth" at the end. There is such sadness and anger and disappointment that I was absolutely amazed by Pegg's acting abilities. That one scene then puts the rest of the movie in perspective. He is definitely hilarious in the film but under all that frenzy, there is a darkness that I didn't know Pegg was capable of portraying.
Scarlett Johansson in Don Jon and Her
I think ScarJo is an incredibly gifted actress and 2013 was the year when she showed all of her talents. In Don Jon, she went all va va voom on us with her Barbara. Like Hill earlier, she could have been just a farcical characterisation of a certain type of person, but she finds ways to give her character depths which are surprising. And man, that scene in the hallway. I remember whispering to my friend sitting next to me in the theatre, "I can't believe she just went there." Coming to her performance in Her, it is plain astounding the way she manages to make someone who is as real and as human as one can be through just her voice.
James Franco in Spring Breakers
Speaking of being stunned at someone "going there", remember when Franco's Alien fellates a gun? I can handle all of Franco's artistic nonsense if he continues to give performances like this one. It's not just the look but the utter conviction with which he pulls it off. From his extolling speech about all of his shit to the "Everytime" scene, Franco owns this motherfuckin' role.
Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
There is something of a tragedy about Jasmine. Then again, she's also awful, manipulative, greedy and crazy. Leave it to Blanchett for making a role so funny and so pitiable at the same time. Just listen to every time she starts talking about the song "Blue Moon". It is obviously hilarious, but at the same time, you can't help but feel for her misfortunes, not that she didn't deserve them but the way they have affected her is, well, tragic indeed. Oscar #2 could not have been received for a better performance than this one.
Adèle Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Colour
A part of me is unsure about how much of Exarchopoulos' performance is in fact a performance. Yet, I am equally impressed by an actor who would let someone film them so intimately. I actually feel it would be harder for someone to just be like the way Exarchopoulos is in the film. Every emotion, every tear, all the eating, all the feelings- we see everything and while she might frustrate us with her irrationality at times, we are ultimately transfixed by her.
Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha
Up until the new year, I was sure that no one will be able to replace Gerwig's performance as the struggling almost-grown up protagonist of Frances Ha from my top spot. I kind of adore her. Frances is flawed but Gerwig puts so much charm into this performance. It is effortlessly real and humorous and just endlessly relatable. It might not be the best performance of the year but it's definitely one of my most favourites.
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
And then there was Leo. I kind of don't want to say anything because there is just SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT THIS PERFORMANCE OH MY GOD!
Once upon a time I had written a post about how the majority of Leo's characters end up dead or mad or grieving and how I wanted him to tackle something lighter. Yes, WoWS has a terrifyingly dark reality to it, but it is also an outrageous and hilarious movie and much of this duality is thanks to Leo's performance as the wolf himself, Jordan Belfort. We don't realise when the three hours go by as we are completely entranced by the madness that is Belfort's existence and Leo sells every fucking minute of it. He plays a horrible human being but makes him insanely entertaining. The faces that he makes, my goodness! And then there is the physical comedy bit when he's suddenly doing straight-up slapstick. The drugs, the candle, the thumping, the flexing, the speeches, the curses- it is ridiculous the things that he does in the movie. But at the end of the day, it is the commitment to play so bold a role and do it using all of his gifts. I cannot tell you how happy it made me that Leo gave this performance looking the way he does. There are such set ideas about how appearances and "seriousness" in a role contributes to a better performance. Comic performances can be great performances too, as Leo proves here. Watch a clip of Jordan Belfort on Youtube and see how close a portrayal this is. And no, it is not simply funny. Though this film has no place for reflections, Leo still puts complexities into this role.
The first thing that had struck me about this performance was how it was simultaneously surprising and something I always knew Leo had in him. Oscar or no Oscar, this is the best performance of one of the most talented actors of our time and that is something to cherish. I don't know if Leo will ever be able to top this but I hope that he continues to dig into his comedic talents. Also, to really give a sense of how much I loved this performance, in case you were still unsure, it has definitely joined my top 5 male performances of all time.