Now with the awards out of the way it’s time to look at the Best Performances of 2014. I like to think myself as a gentleman so ladies first. As is the case with most years there were a lot of great performances to choose from. One thing that was unique of 2014 was the amount of strong performances that occurred in unlikely places. Genre films really represented in 2014 and this list is proof of that.
I think Mia Wasikowska is one or two roles away from really breaking out to something big. Last year she was phenomenal in Stoker and this year in Tracks she showed some true dedicated acting considering the brutal conditions she had to endure. Beyond that she portrayed a unique character that was quiet yet always compelling. It is the type of performance that favors nuance over Oscar bait moments.
Emma Stone does not get a long of screen time in Birdman, but of what she does she makes the most of it. Her standout moment is of course her brutal beat down of her father’s artistic beliefs that showed just how hostile she can be. We all know Stone can be charming on screen so it was a treat to see her play against type with this role.
Playing a version of yourself is a tricky venture. People tend to think it is easy, but more often than not it is harder than it looks, especially when half of your performance is done through voice acting. Wright has a cold sympathy to her that is best displayed in her final acting performance, which is also one of my favorite scenes of the entire year.
Best Supporting Performances:
Carrie Coon played the moral compass of Gone Girl and did it wonderfully. Thinking back to the movie I realized I enjoyed the movie more when she was on screen. She had a decency to her that was needed to make the movie work. For an actress I was rather unaware of before this year she had a seasoned presence that makes me certain even greater things are ahead.
At first Rene Russo seems like that classic cutthroat business woman we have seen countless times before. Gradually that persona begins to crack and we see she is much more venerable than she leads on. Jake Gyllenhaal deserves the praise he is getting for his performance, but to truly make his part work he needed someone like Russo to interact with. She has the to keep up with his madness.
Easily the most fun performance on the entire list. Not many actresses could make the line, “Be a shoe” seem convincing but Tilda Swinton can. As cliché as it sounds she escapes into this character. Yes there is an element of being over the top, but its over-the–top in the best ways possible. Tilda Swinton is clearly living by the motto, “Go big or go home”.
In a way I feel odd calling Agata Kulesza‘s a supporting actress in Ida as her role is perhaps even more vital than the actual lead. She is always on the brink of becoming emotionally unhinged, but there is a fearlessness to her as she is unafraid to confront those she feels have opposed her and her kind. Kulesza gives a truly remarkable example of how to play a complicated character.
Sometimes it is great to be proven wrong. I never saw Patricia Arquette as that great of an actress, but perhaps that was just due to my limited knowledge of her career. The one word that comes to my mind when thinking of her performance in Boyhood is honest. There are no frills about what she is doing—just a true to life realistic representation. Thinking back the one moment that comes to mind is her final goodbye as her son leaves for college. Her sudden break is so bittersweet to witness.
Best Leading Performances:
Jenny Slate went from someone I never heard of to someone I can’t wait to see in more projects after her role in Obvious Child. She is the ultimate answer to the cliché romantic comedy character without being too indie girl quirky. She is like a modern day Woody Allen character that knows how to be funny and dramatic.
Speaking of breakout roles Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything nearly stole the show away from Eddie Redmayne, which is saying a great deal. She may not have the physical demands that he did, but she was the vice that made the struggle real. Without her and Redmayne The Theory of Everything would not be much more than a television special.
When I first saw Under the Skin I did not fully appreciate what Johansson was doing. Under the Skin is commenting on a lot and her deadpan delivery is clearly a response to the way Hollywood has chosen to use Johansson—more of a figure of beauty than a true actress. Her she is an embodiment of that persona that gradually gains a sense of humanity.
Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl is one cold and deadly vixen. It is akin to a classic Hitchock character that takes tropes you would more commonly associate with a character from a Soap Opera and adds a level of legitimacy to them. She is crazy in all the best B movie ways. One of my favorite villain characters of the entire year…well if you consider her a villain that is.
I never would have pictured my favorite performance of the year would come from a horror movie, but Essie Davis deserves the honor. Her portrayal of this distraught single mom demands you sympathy. At times the stigma of the genre can hinder how seriously people take your performance. Essie Davis reminds us that it does not matter if the performance is in an Academy Award winning drama, summer blockbuster, or horror film, because a great performance is a great performance.