By Luther Elmo
As promised on Monday, here are the top 20 performances in film for 2014. Like the films themselves, there was a very strong lot from which to select, but unsurprisingly, most of these were drawn from films that I highlighted previously (proving that in most cases, it’s the characters we respond to, and not the story or premise). Anyway, on to the selectees…
20. Essie Davis (The Babadook): Davis is excellent in her transition from exhausted mother, exasperated from her misbehaving child and drained by the loss of her husband, to the lioness protecting her cub.
19. Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin): Johansson’s quiet performance rings true as an alien succubus, attractive but detached.
18. Iko Uwais (The Raid 2): As the honest cop forced to be a crime family’s enforcer, Uwais hits all the right notes of expression (perhaps without tremendous range), but truly shines in the martial arts scenes where he is the film’s primary actor and choreographer.
17. Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills): Healy, always showing the desperation of Craig, but leaving us to believe that he always has choices (when maybe he never did).
16. Macon Blair (Blue Ruin): Macon Blair is neither memorable or charismatic as a social misfit who seeks revenge for his family. He has a strong screen presence in spite of his “nobody” demeanor.
15. Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive): Looking at Tilda Swinton now, I don’t think I can ever imagine her as anything but a centuries-old vampire. Regardless with whomever she shares the screen, she will dominate your attention.
14. Michael Keaton (Birdman): Keaton gives an Oscar nominated performance as an aging actor trying to gain the respect that his superhero movie star career never gave him, while he’s been failing at everything else in life.
13. Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice): Doped-up “Doc” Sportello, sporting sideburns and outfits to die for, meanders his way through a convoluted mystery set in ’70s Los Angeles, at his funniest when reacting to Josh Brolin, at his most honest in the intimate scenes with Katherine Waterston.
12. Tom Hardy (Locke): In a tour-de-force, Hardy displays incredible emotional range, desperation, and integrity all from the front seat of his BMW in literally a one-man show.
11. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (A Most Wanted Man): Hoffman is the kind of actor that whether he is screaming at the sky or arching an eyebrow over a drink, it is profound and of consequence.
10. Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska (Ida): As young Trzebuchowska learns of the atrocities of WWII, her aunt Kulesza is reminded of everything that she lost. This film won Best Foreign Film at the 2015 Oscars.
9. Tony Kebbell and Andy Serkis (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes): As the apes, Koba and Caesar respectively, Kebbell and Serkis portray as riveting a struggle for power and dominance as has been seen in recent film. Kudos to the special effects team for having each actor/ape, not only life-like, but nuanced in portraying emotion.
8. Emmanuelle Seigner (Venus in Fur): Seigner is dynamic in moving from Vanda the actress, to Vanda the character, and finally, to Venus the Goddess. Her transitions are so subtle, you suddenly realize she has switched roles moments ago.
7. Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night): What’s shocking here is that the Dardenne brothers released a film that I didn’t have in the top 20 of the year. What is not shocking here is that the Dardenne brothers take an “Oscar-winning movie star” and have her deliver the performance of her career in this social-realist drama within the working class of Belgium.
6. The Boyhood Ensemble — Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Patricia Arquette, and Ethan Hawke (Boyhood): Kudos to this group for committing to a project that would take over eleven years to complete. All are strong, all show emotional depth, and fortunately Patricia Arquette won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
5. Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl): Yea, Gone Girl is actually more about media frenzy than any comment on marriage, but Pike’s performance should scare the bejeezus out of any man thinking of giving their partner a reason for revenge.
4. J.K. Simmons (Whiplash): Simmons’ abusive tirades are both frightening and hilarious in one fell swoop and the climax of the film is achieved with just a change in the expression of his eyes. But really, in today’s society would we expect him to last more than 15 minutes on the job.
3. Julianne Moore (Still Alice): Tremendously strong and heartbreaking performance as we watch Moore battle Alzheimer’s. This is the most powerful horror movie of the year.
2. Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel): Who knew that Fiennes, who played the evil Nazi leader in Schindler’s List and Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films — had such impeccable comedic timing and ability. As M. Gustave is the force that keep The Grand Budapest Hotel running, Fiennes is the force that keeps The Grand Budapest Hotel film doing the same.
1. Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler): Deep down, I think Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom says something about America between being a borderline sociopath, hyper-success oriented, and essentially without a moral compass. The most memorable portrayal I saw this year.