2013 was a banner year for films, specifically the movement to push the artistic emphasis in an industry that forces super heroes and comic book films down our throats. Though studios are becoming more cynical and asinine with their ignorance in quality character films, it has created this new culture of indie inspired second-hand production companies and studios, like Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Films. Taking the risk of losing money and general audiences for better and deeper stories, this is the bright spot that gives future writers, producers, and filmmakers the hope and motivation to keep creating moving, smart, and fascinating works of art.
2013 gave us some amazing and beautiful performances, mainly because filmmakers provided characters and stories that allowed for it. As the film culture continues to progress, one can only hope that the daring and brave new attitude that has unfolded continues to prosper.
This list is truly impossible to create, and there are many more performances that are so fulfilling and genius, but these are my 12 favorite performances of 2013.
Adele Exarchopolous (Blue Is The Warmest Colour)
A moving and incredibly honest portrayal of a high school student lost in their struggle to find peace, love, and identity, Adele Exarchopolous’ performance as the lost Adele (same name as the character) is raw, beautiful, and important. The film is invested in Adele’s ability to showcase these emotions and feelings as every scene contains Adele, and without her utmost investment in the story and the character, this film simply wouldn’t work. We absorb and soak in her world, the search for her own self and what fulfills her happiness. Whatever one may think about the director’s manipulation of the lead, it’s ignores the notion that Adele’s exceptional performance had to be executed, and anyone who has watched this film cannot ignore her power.
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
There are so many noteworthy performances in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, from Jonah Hill to the worldwide introduction of Margot Robbie, who will undoubtedly rise and start her own illustrious career, but this film doesn’t work without DiCaprio’s sheer nastiness and despicable nature as Jordan Belfort. He is the part, immersing his talent and charisma into a mind-blowing act, never letting go of the attitude those Wall Street criminals have committed throughout time. It’s over-the-top, obnoxious, and borderline insane, and that’s exactly the way Scorsese would’ve wanted it. This is by far DiCaprio’s best performance in his career, and if it wasn’t for McConaughey or Ejiofor, he deserves an Oscar for this rambunctious performance.
Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
It’s always hard to play an intriguing, wondrous asshole who plays the lead, but in INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, Llewyn, played by the multi-talented Oscar Isaac, who sings and plays the guitar live in every song, fulfills both the protagonist and the antagonist roles, limiting his success through his lack of sympathy and respect for himself and others. Some may find the film dismissive, but The Coen Brothers make polarizing films. But regardless of what one may think about the film as a whole, you cannot deny the intricate relationship you create with Llewyn, and how you much you despise his antics but respect his ambitions. As a folk singer when folk music isn’t really known, success is very difficult to come by, but Llewyn’s problems are strictly related to his inner self, and his inability to collaborate, communicate, and live like an honest, open human being. Oscar Isaac delivers a rich and beautiful song, extended through the whole film, and it never gets old.
Lupita N’yongo (12 Years A Slave)
Another film that is full of incredible performances is 12 YEARS A SLAVE, with its ensemble piece easily the best of the year. But one of two performances that stand out is Lupita N’yongo, playing the saddening role of real life Patsey. This being her first major role in any film period, it’s unbelievable how seamless and easy she makes it look, which I’m sure is far from the truth. To play a character that’s been brutalized and contorted physically and emotionally is nothing short of mental angst, but N’yongo does it with grace and beauty. What you see on screen is a ravaged soul looking for any motivation to live, but the world she’s seen is lacking of any sort of hope and light. She makes this pivotal character a revelation, and is an integrate part of the film.
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Ignoring the polarizing reputation Jared Leto has, his performance as Rayon in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is of large part why the film works. It’s a beautiful character that provides an unfortunate tale of helplessness but positivity, and Leto walks that very thin line with exuberance. Nothing short of mesmerizing, Leto’s devotion to his character is obvious, losing 30 pounds for the role, but what really works is his humanity, his acceptance of defeat, and his conscious understanding that life is coming to an end. Though he constantly displays a sense of prosperity and glee, inside Rayon truly knows his time is up, and Leto is very aware, being complete with this mindset and nature. He’s going to win an Oscar for this role, and there’s not one ounce of doubt that he deserves it.
Berenice Bejo (The Past)
Known for her work in The Artist, Berenice Bejo takes a 180 degree turn in THE PAST, directed by the brilliant Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi. A simple tale of a self-destructive family perplexed with difficult situations and a dark dynamic, Marie is the sole connector between all the individuals at play, and her tug-of-war between her ex-husband and her future, her children, and herself is the focus here. This kind of role is very easy for talent to overact and try to overreach character’s true nature, but Bejo beautifully understands that there is a subtleness within the individual, a painful fight within, and at the precise moment, we see it being too much to bear, and it’s done perfectly. Bejo deserves much attention for her performance, and is the driving force in THE PAST.
Julie Delpy (Before Midnight)
The BEFORE Trilogy is an example of great and daring filmmaking, breaking so many structure rules and being completely grounded on its dialogue and characters. Though Ethan Hawke turns in very memorable performances throughout, Julie Delpy’s Celine is a large part of the charm and moving factor of why BEFORE MIDNIGHT works so well. She’s the most confused and overwhelmed character, being a mother of twins, finally being with a man she’s loved for 18 years, and also building a relationship with that man’s son in America. Also being a careerist and an individual fueled with passion for much of the world, she has difficulties juggling all these priorities, stressing the ability to live life but feeling restricted by many different factors. Delpy as Celine is a revelation, a true form of realness. I loved BEFORE MIDNIGHT, and much of it is credited to the writing (which Delpy is also involved with), but one cannot ignore the greatness of Celine, a character that has been molded through Delpy’s delicate hands.
Matthew McConaughey (Mud/Dallas Buyers Club)
The McConnaisance continues, and it’s pretty amazing to see Matthew McConaughey’s career take a clear turn, in a great way. He delivers not one, but two excellent performances in MUD and DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, with the latter being a potential Oscar win. That would mark quite an achievement considering he was once regarded the epitome of rom-com material. Playing two very different characters in two very different films, he delivers in both without seeing McConaughey, but witnessing his characters. Both films rely heavily on his abilities, and he accomplishes and creates noteworthy characters, pulling the audience into the journey. He deserves all the credit that’s going to his way, and the reputation that followed him prior will eventually be abolished.
Brie Larson (Short Term 12)
The little move that could, SHORT TERM 12 is an opportunity for Brie Larson to showcase her immense talent, showcasing a tortured and victimized character struggling to live a normal life. Surround her with kids who struggle with the same exact kind of torment, and you have a film that is purely raw and truthful. But much of this film doesn’t work without Larson’s commitment to making sure Grace isn’t your prototypical disturbed young woman. She has qualities that exemplify strength, patience, and an ability to understand, yet she doesn’t use these qualities for her own self, restricting progression and moving forward from the pain experienced as a child. Such a difficult character to pinpoint, Larson becomes Grace in ways you forget her prior roles and believe that his is who she really is.
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave)
Being Solomon Northup is no easy task, and the difficulty of understanding one’s mind through 12 years of slavery and suddenly transitioning oneself from free to enslaved is such a difficult and excruciating job, but Chiwetel Ejiofor, a usual supporting actor, bursts onto lead status with this haunting performance. The hardest part of the role, in my opinion, is the character arc, mixing all these emotions from hope and faith to disbelief and helplessness. Much of this must be shown through facial and body language, and the overall capacity a human experiences in such tragic situations is one that’s very undefinable, but Ejiofor delivers a convincing portrayal, and shines through the entire journey. Deserving of all accolades, this is a defying performance that will become of legendary status.
Scarlett Johansson (Her)
There’s something to a powerful performance when you technically aren’t in the film at all. But Scarlett Johansson as Samantha in HER is a wonder, as her presence is felt throughout even though it is not seen. She extends her wide range of emotions, feelings, and intellect through her tones and voice, and as viewers, we totally buy the film itself because of how good Johansson is. Though you can credit the always brilliant Spike Jonze for his screenplay, that quality of writing isn’t transferable without an incredible performance, and though she won’t receive the credit it deserves, the film is possible because of Samantha.
Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12)
Outside of Brie Larson’s Grace, another actor emerges from this excellent film, and it’s Keith Stanfield as Marcus that strikes the most emotional toll. The torment that’s clearly visible in his eyes, in the way he speaks, and in the way he goes about himself is true and present, never questioning his motives, but sympathizing and caring for his well-being. It’s the most gut wrenching aspect of SHORT TERM 12, and Stanfield pulls of the roller coaster character in a smooth and gentle approach. He’s got quite a career ahead of him if he continues to tackle these kinds of roles, and as you can see from the scene below, he’s a talent that we should watch for in the foreseeable future.
*NEXT IS THE TOP FILMS OF 2013 (#20-11).