Continuing my rundown of my favorites of 2013, here are the best leading performances. Both categories are ridiculously packed with great performances. I can't believe I had to leave off performances as great as Greta Gerwig, Tom Hanks, Amy Adams, and Michael B. Jordan. Here are the 10 that rose to the top!
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Cate swept this awards season for a major reason-this is one of the all-time great performances. Blanchett absolutely owns this movie as Jasmine, a delusional modern-day Blanche Dubois unaccustomed to an ordinary life. Blanchett fully commits to the role, and her slow breakdown is unforgettable.
Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Over the course of this trilogy (Before Sunrise-Before Sunset-Before Midnight), Delpy has given a performance for the ages as a smart, prickly intellectual navigating love with an American man. Delpy lets us see how her Celine has grown and changed over the past 18 years, and this is the feistiest she's been.
Adele Exarchopolous, Blue is the Warmest Color
In French it's called "La Vie d'Adele," and it's the perfect title as the movie immerses us in every aspect of Adele's life. Over this 3-hour movie, Adele almost never leaves the screen. We see her grow form a gangly teen discovering herself to a young woman forging her own adult path in life. Since I've seen the movie, I've often thought about her as if she was a real person I knew-the mark of a great naturalistic performance.
Brie Larson, Short Term 12
Larson plays Grace, a supervisor at a residential home for troubled teens. Grace has an amazing empathy and touch with these teens, but also her own demons that get in the way of her growth. It's a soulful, bravura performance.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said
Louis-Dreyfuss brings her trademark sitcom brilliance into a performance and movie that achieves the perfect mix of comedy and heartfelt emotion. As a single mom embarking on a new relationship, Louis-Dreyfuss is completely believable and relatable.
My Pick: Cate Blanchett
Second Choice: Adele Exarchopolous
Runners-Up: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), Rooney Mara (Side Effects)
Matches with Oscar: Just 1-Cate! Although I also loved Adams, Bullock, and Dench who all made my runners-up list and would have made it in another year. I also thought Meryl Streep was lots of fun and lots of scary in August: Osage County, but she didn't crack my list. A banner year for actresses.
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
I saw echoes of both of my grandfathers in Dern's Woody Grant, an old man from a silent generation. We think Woody isn't watching or listening, but then we see a piece of his painful past come through, particularly in a heart-wrenching scene returning to his childhood come. Dern combines the comedy and pathos perfectly throughout the film, and exists as the sole of Nebraska.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Wolf of Wall Street
An audience couldn't stand this 3-hours of excess without a charismatic anti-hero (or villain?) taking us through the whole thing. I think this may be DiCaprio's most dynamic performance-showing the audience what drew people to Jordan Belfort, and the moral rot living inside of him.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
There wasn't a more expressive face this year, nor one used so well, as Ejiofor. Ejiofor inhabits the very soul of Solomon Northrup, skipping historical platitudes and going straight for emotional power as we see Solomon's harrowing journey as embodied by Ejiofor's voice, body, and eyes. Just watch how much he expresses in this scene with so few words.
Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
It's tough playing a character with such contradictions, and Isaac pulls it off effortlessly. He's unafraid to show the dark (and sometimes nasty) side of Llewyn's artistic purity, yet he also shows us the strands of real beauty, particularly when he opens his mouth and sings. Perfect.
Joaquin Phoenix, Her
A perfect match of actor for role as the very odd Joaquin Phoenix plays the awkward Theodore Twombly, a man who can only have a fulfilling relationship with his OS. This performance is even more amazing when you think of how many scenes Phoenix had to play with just himself in the frame.
My Pick: Bruce Dern
Second Choice: Oscar Isaac
Runners-Up: Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Tye Sheridan (Mud), Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now)
Matches with Oscar: 3-Dern, DiCaprio, and Ejiofor. McConaughey (the winner), made my runner-up list, although I think he was even better in Mud. Christian Bale (American Hustle) was solid, but probably my least favorite of the four central performances in Hustle.