Now it is time to look at the best male performances of the year. I must say cutting down this list to five of the best supporting and leading performances was quite the challenge. It is a task trying to compare one performance to the next. How do you rank a performance that is more on the comedic spectrum to one that is far more serious? It’s an impossible question to answer really. The way I look at it is which performances stood out the most and had the greatest impact on the film they were in. How much range was shown and is it an example of an actor doing more than their norm. With those factors in mind this is what I came up with
Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance in The Fifth Estate is an example of when a performance is hurt by the quality of the movie it is in. If The Fifth Estate was a better film there is a good chance Cumberbatch would be garnering more award consideration. Cumberbatch is like a coiled snake as he plays one of the most notorious figures in media history. It is more than a plain imitation as he gets deeper into the character looking at what makes him tick.
For some reason Tom Hanks gets a lot of flak from people, and is often the recipient of the overrated card as they claim he plays the same role over and over again. In the last few years he has not done a huge amount, but this year he came out in a big way with his performances in Saving Mr. Banks and of course Captain Phillips. In Captain Phillips Hanks showed a side to him I do not believe we have ever seen, especially in the last ten minutes. That scene was an acting tour de force and one of the best moments of the year.
This was a hard performance to lead off. Bruhl was the best part of Rush, which was quite a good movie. He took on the character and added a great deal of flavor to it. Everything he did was meticulous and purposeful. His drive was unrelenting as he sought the unachievable trait of perfection. The same could be said for Bruhl’s performance itself. It is the type of performance that can launch Bruhl’s career to an entire new level.
Top 5 Supporting Performances:
“Look at all my sh*t”. Maybe the movie quote of the year for those who got to experience the oddity that was James Franco as Alien in Spring Breakers. Everything from the flowing dreadlocks to a grill that would make Master P. jealous to the crazy accent to the gangster lifestyle made Alien a figure that will never be forgotten. Franco is quite the enigma as a person. So his personality meshes perfectly with a character like Alien.
I will admit Stephen Dorff was not an actor I ever took very seriously. He was fine in his roles, but not someone I thought was capable of what he pulled off in Motel Life. It was a moving portrayal of a man of lost hope clinging to the dreams of a better life. He surprised me in nearly every scene. He put a lot of compassion into his character that could never catch a break. Dorff showed he is a true actor that deserves more respect than I was giving him.
I cannot think of an actor who has redefined his career to the level of Matthew McConaughey. This year with his performances in Dallas Buyers Club and Mud he made a name for himself as one of the best actors working today. Mud is a tangent storyteller who answers nearly every question with an elongated tale full of local colloquialisms. McConaughey gives the character this perfect soft edged temperament. On the surface he has a surprisingly welcoming persona that is clearly covering up a rougher interior. All of his workings make him an enigmatic figure full of intrigue.
Speaking of Dallas Buyers Club Jared Leto matched McConaughey’s brilliance and may have even surpassed it. At first glance his character was a tad bit cartoony—very audacious and full of laughs. When his strong personality begins to dissipate you begin to see who his character really is. A particular moment with an estranged family member said so much about his inner journey. Also you have to admire both McConaughey’s and his dedication to the role as they underwent quite the physical transformation.
Michael Fassbender is a great actor. I know stop the presses. I point that out because every year he seems to top himself again and again. This year in 12 Years a Slave he played a forbidding force of reckless abandoned. His unhinged persona made him this dreadful figure who was capable of audacious atrocities. Fassbender was mesmerizing in this role. He elicited fear like the antagonist of a horror film. At this point Fassbender can do no wrong.
Top 5 Leading Performances:
Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station has a charming persona that is difficult not to fall for. However, that charm can turn on a dime and he can quickly become hardened and full of rage. Jordan fits this complex character with a natural authenticity. There is a delicate balance of a young man who is still too immature to take on the responsibilities life has given. At the same time he has lived a hard life that has caused him to grow up too quickly. Those two sides are constantly struggling against one another, and Jordan portrays that struggle with true talent.
Mads Mikkelsen’s face deserves some sort of special award. He is a master of using expression to convey emotion. With his roles in Casino Royale and the television series Hannibal he has shown he can use that talent to express evil quite well. In The Hunt he uses that talent to garner a great deal of sympathy. He plays a teacher who is accused of sexual misconduct, and sees his home and the people he thought were his friends turn on him. Mikkelsen plays the role with a delicate energy. As the situation begins to worsen Mikkelsen transforms into a man longing for justice.
Robert Redford may have been given the hardest acting job of anyone on this list. He had no one to act against, and very little dialog to speak. For All is Lost to work at all he would need to give a captivating performance that draws your attention. He did just that. It was a reserved performance that showed frustration and fear at the right moments. When his calm demeanor changed to fright you knew the situation has gone from bad to worse.
This is the time when I am glad this is a written article so I do not have to run the risk of butchering the pronunciation of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s name. Ejiofor was tremendous as Solomon Northup. There is a running theme here, but he too had to do a great deal of acting simply through his eyes. His situation made it nearly impossible for him to express his anger towards the injustice he was facing. Watching him devolve from a noble gentlemen to a hallowed out soul of torment was heartbreaking to witness.
Now it has come down to my number one. Bruce Dern’s performance is not as emotionally devastating as some others on this list, but Dern’s skill in embodying this character is unsurpassed. From his disheveled look to his hunch over posture to his thousand yard stare you are never sure if he is fully there or just putting on an act. There is honesty to his performance, one that does not shy away from his faults. Dern becomes an unlikely hero you cannot help but route for. You’ll laugh, cry, and simply enjoy spending time with him. He welcomes you in and you are happy to stay.