Long time no talk. I know, it’s been almost four months since my last post, but it’s been quite the hectic fall/winter season, but the most wonderful/stressful/frustrating/awful/awesome time of the year is upon us. Well, watching these films are a visceral experience. Analyzing their awards potential, rewarding/not rewarding them, and seeing all this obnoxious campaigning (specifically whisper campaigning AGAINST certain films) is disgusting, but it’s part of the process… I guess.
Anyways, as a certain tradition of mine, I’ve chosen ten performances that I felt were unmatched. I kind of cheated combining some a few performances, but who cares. Here are my ten favorite performances of 2014.
MICHAEL KEATON (Birdman)
Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson in BIRDMAN is a revelation, divulging into an extremely flawed, egotistical, and overtly ambitious man child who looks for meaning and fulfillment through praise and adoration. For how artistically driven the film is, this entire thing would’ve crumbled if Keaton was anything less than prolific and completely devoted. This is one of those performances where you have very little reason to appreciate the character on paper, but through the moving image, Keaton brings out the emotions and the flaws that we all suffer from — just on a more upscale level. He drips with insecurity and confusion, moving through the halls of the St. Regis Theatre unsure of where he’s walking towards and when it’ll end, just hoping… HOPING he becomes what he desires to become. Keaton kills it here, and though this is an ensemble piece with an excellent visual execution, Keaton is the beating heart of BIRDMAN.
MARION COTILLARD (Two Days, One Night)
Premiering at Cannes at steamrolling through Telluride and Toronto, the latest film from the Dardenne Brothers encapsulates a simple narrative of a hopeless and weak person turning into an example of strength and will. Similar to Birdman, TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT fails if they don’t nail the central figure, Sandra, a wife and mother of two who tries to retain her job by convincing each co-worker to not accept their bonus. Cotillard’s performance is quiet, but doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful and gutting, expressing her depression and attitude through incredible facial expressions and body language. This is a risky film, though being small, mainly because it’s hinged on our attachment to the main character, and if we don’t bond with her, empathize with her, understand her battle, then it all fails. But thankfully, it magnificently works with plenty of credit going to Cotillard.
J.K. SIMMONS (Whiplash)
This image above is everything you need to know about WHIPLASH, J.K. Simmons’ award winning performance, and pretty much the thesis behind the brilliant film of 29 year old Damien Chazelle (yes, that’s correct). Simmons is the grim reaper of all music instructors, a dark world that’s brutal and violent but rarely ever gets a spotlight on, pushing his students in ways that is criminal… but also rewarding. I can’t imagine anyone else that could pull this role off the way Simmons does. His mannerisms, his bulging biceps in a tight black shirt who soaks in darkness, and his execution of obscene language that’s both awful but yet artistic. He’s so respectable and pulls of this tight rope act of making us appreciate his persona even though he emotionally and physically violates these young, hopeful students. Simmons will win Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars and rightfully so cause he’ll go down as one of the greatest villains/instructors/inspirations/motivators/devilish characters of all time.
TILDA SWINTON (Snowpiercer)
Tilda Swinton is the pinnacle of coolness. She’s too good for all of us and human kind in general, and I’m so thankful I live in the age of Swinton as her choices and performances are precise and brilliant, always pushing the envelope for what she can do. In SNOWPIERCER, she turned a male role into probably the most memorable element in the entire film, which says a lot considering the movie itself is a marvel. Every second of Swinton is a masterpiece, and she’s pretty much unrecognizable here, though that’s true for almost all her performances. Just like any auteur filmmaker, we should anticipate a Swinton film because she’s a gem in today’s entertainment world.
EDDIE REDMAYNE (Theory of Everything)
Watching Eddie Redmayne play Stephen Hawking in THEORY OF EVERYTHING was an indescribable experience, mainly seeing an actor speak less and less and evolve into an individual limited physically but mentally boundless. So much in the mind, so much to express, so much to seek and understand, but unable to do the basic of human behaviors because of an unfortunate case of ALS. I can’t imagine the preparation and technique that went into playing Hawking, saying so much through his eyes, his positions, his crouched stillness on his wheelchair. It’s things like that where a performance is earned, and Redmayne deserves all the credit he’s receiving.
ANNE DORVAL (Mommy)
I can’t rave enough about Xavier Dolan’s films, specifically I KILLED MY MOTHER and MOMMY, which of course has Anne Dorval starring in both. In MOMMY specifically, Dorval plays an immature and naive mother who slowly realizes that she’s unable to take care of her wild and emotionally uncontrollable son, and that experience of watching her coming to that realization is so painful and difficult. Dorval plays another flawed character (see the trend? Flaws are good) where she pulls off another work of magic with Dolan. I pray that she gets more exposure (maybe she doesn’t want it) and gets to play ripe roles where we see her breathtaking talent more and more.
STEVE CARRELL, CHANNING TATUM, & MARK RUFFALO (Foxcatcher)
I’m cheating, I know, but it’s too difficult to choose between the three in FOXCATCHER, where each performance is so greatly intertwined with the other two characters and their intimate and sensitive relationships with one another. It truly is a love triangle, all trying to manage quite carefully who the others are and what they’ll slowly become. This is a film driven by suppression, wealth, failure, disappointment, fulfillment, and irrevocable emotions, making this such a complex and dense work of art. And though I regard Bennett Miller as one of the great American directors, Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo round out this powerful film with their devotion to this unfortunate story. It sucks to see Tatum become so irrelevant in the discussions for best performances of the year with the other two getting appropriate praise. No individual sticks out from the rest in my opinion. All three are vital pieces that create a fascinating piece of human dilemma.
REESE WITHERSPOON & LAURA DERN (Wild)
Something about this film kills me within, and the more I think about it, the more I realize so much of it’s emotional stake is because of the relationship between Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) and her mother (Laura Dern) and how the loss of such an important life can impact our own journey. WILD works so well because of this relationship told in flashbacks, and much credit is given to Witherspoon for her courageous and revealing performance as a sex and drug addict who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, equal praise should be given to Dern who plays that motherly figure so well it makes me cry. Literally. She captures that gentle, tenderhearted soul in ways that makes you feel like she’s your mother, and realizing how this film is more about the discovery of self through the loss of loved ones rather than your typical escape through nature narrative, their performances have so much more weight now.
DAVID OYELOWO (Selma)
Excuse my language, but this fucking film is so damn good and David Oyelowo is damn good as MLK. This should be required viewing. Every school in the U.S. should put SELMA in their syllabus, making all students, Black, White, Asian, Hispanic watch this because it’s so important and artistically immaculate. Oyelowo kills it. Simply kills it. The speeches, the politics, the way he revolves around conflict and individuals, his relationship with his wife and the revealing of his flawed moments — it’s all there. This is a performance that should be reveled for years, and I can’t speak enough about how amazing Oyelowo, the rest of this cast, Ava Duvernay, and all involved are in this piece about American history. Arguably, this is probably one of the most important films on our country, being so relevant today and our fight for progress FOR ALL. I still can’t believe how Oyelowo pulled it off, and it easily goes down as one of the best performances of the year.
ROSAMUND PIKE (Gone Girl)
This look, this face, this image is EVERYTHING. I think GONE GIRL deserves such a huge conversation and study that covers a multitude of topics include American marriage, gender roles and expectations, Women in film, the definition of feminism, media fascination and exploitation, etc. That’s how great David Fincher is. He can throw a heavy amount of themes and elements and still make this film feel seamless and proficient. What else he does so well is get the best out of his actors, and I really can’t think of a performance that’s had such polarizing reaction and discussion other than Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne. Pike nails the complex state of Amazing Amy, stretching the blurred boundaries of who she actually is — from her narrations, her diary entries, her innocent & victimized self, or the violent, aggressive, and capitalist Amy, this is a role that requires one to explore the darkest of human capabilities. There’s nothing more cinematic and bone tingling in movies of 2014 than the “Cool Girl” monologue. The fact that that picture above is the fear of men everywhere across this country shows what kind of an affect this film has. This is the year of Rosamund Pike and GONE GIRL, and our true feelings of women, who women should be, who women actually are, and what women can be.