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Sunday, May 10, 2015

2014 in Review: Best Performances

After a particularly long post-Oscar hiatus, I'm back with a wrap-up of 2014 (yes, even though we're almost halfway through 2015).   I'll start with my favorite performances of last year. Look for my Top 10 of 2014 soon!

Best Actress

Martion Cotillard (The Immigrant)

For my money, the two best performances of last year were given by Cotillard, in The Immigrant and in Two Days, One Night (which landed her a nomination).  I debated between which to pick for my nominations, but in the end went with The Immigrant. Cotillard plays a Polish immigrant exploited and forgotten when she gets to America. Cotillard never lets her character succumb to victimization, though, playing a fierce integrity and passion throughout the movie. The scene in the confessional booth is one for the ages.

Essie Davis (The Babadook)

The Babadook is an Australian horror movie that plays on both supernatural horror and the everyday horror of having a child you can't understand and sometimes don't like.  Without giving spoilers, let's just say actres Davis (unknown to me before this film) has to play an incredible swath of emotions and volumes.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights)

Mbatha-Raw is simply luminescent in this highly enjoyable and moving melodrama which didn't find the audience it should have.  She plays a R & B singer who hits bottom and finds her own way out.  I can't wait to see what else Mbatha-Raw has in store as an actress.

Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Moore won an Oscar for this performance, and she's incredible as always. As Alice, a professor dealing with early onset Alzheimers, Moore uses her incredible skill to show the slow decline that happens and easily maps the emotions at each moment. While the movie around her isn't amazing, there's no denying the power of her performance.

Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

A brave, stripped-down performance from Reese, which just may be her best (give or take Election). Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, who deals with her mother's death and her own downward spiral through a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Witherspoon is on screen just about every moment, and she is unafraid to show all sides of this story which is both inspiring and painful.

My Pick: Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant)
Second: Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

Runners-Up: Emily Blunt (Looper), Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin), Lindsay Duncan (Le Week-end), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Jenny Slate (Obvious Child)

Matches with Oscar: They also went with Moore, Witherspoon, and Cotillard (although for Two Days, One Night).  Felicity Jones is in my runners-up list in a very good performance. The fifth slot went to Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl, a performance I can't make up my mind on in a movie I really like.

Best Actor

Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

An all-time great comedic performance, perfectly witty and charming the whole way through as M. Gustav, a preserver of old world manners in a rapidly changing world.  How did the Academy love this movie, give it 4 Oscar wins, and yet ignore the amazing performance at the center? Inexplicable.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)

Gyllenhaal is Lou Bloom, a smiling, amoral opportunist. Gyllenhaal is doing something very different than he's ever done before, and it's fascinating to watch, even when the script becomes too obvious.

Michael Keaton (Birdman)

What an amazing comeback for Keaton! Playing on his past as Batman, Keaton gives a kinetic, physical performance that carries you with wild abandon through the film. I was rooting for him all through Oscar season.

David Oyelowo (Selma)

Is there more intimidating figure to play than MLK? I think not, and Oyelowo does a flawless job. Without simple physical or vocal mimicry, Oyelowo gets at the thoughtful soul of a man leading a movement. Another performance inexplicably overlooked by Oscar.

Miles Teller (Whiplash)

JK Simmons got most of the acting attention for Whiplash this year, but Teller is just as integral to the success of Whiplahs. As a driven young drummer, Teller throws his blood, sweat, and tears (literally.... all of these) into this character.

Runners-Up: Jesse Eisenberg (Night Moves), Brendan Gleeson (Calvary), Alfred Molina (Love is Strange), Jack O'Connell (Starred Up), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything),

My Pick: Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Second: Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Matches with Oscar: Just Keaton.  With so many great performances to choose from, Oscar went a little bland this year. Redmayne is on my runners up list. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) was good but not great, Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) pretty good in a terrible movie, and I found Steve Carrell the weakest performance of the three men in Foxcatcher.

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

The movie is called Boyhood, but it wouldn't be 1/10 as affecting without the mother's story at its core. Arquette plays Olivia, a struggling single mother with questionable choice in men.  She loves her children fiercely, but also follows her own path towards fulfillment. Arquette's performance, filmed over 12 years, digs deep into the joys and pains of motherhood.

Agata Kulezca, Ida

Few characters were as fascinating to me this year as Wanda, a judge in communist-era Poland reconnecting with her niece and digging up a painful past. Kulezca plays the hard exterior well, and gradually reveals the pain underneath.

Rene Russo, Nightcrawler

The best scenes in Nightcrawler all involve Russo as Nina, a jaded news producer who falls into a strange alliance with Jake Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom. It's the kind of career redefining performance that should lead to a renaissance for an actress many had forgotten about.

Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer

Is there anything Swinton can't do?  In the sci-fi Snowpiercer, Swinton is equal parts Adolf Hitler and Margaret Thatcher as Mason, an authoritarian figure so ridiculous she's chilling.  She also gets perhaps the best line of the year: "Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe."

Naomi Watts, Birdman

You could literally fill this whole category with the women of Birdman. My favorite was Naomi Watts as an actress dealing with her egotistical actor partner (Edward Norton) while getting a big shot on Broadway. Watts has been one of my favorite actors since Mulholland Drive, and she delivers another riveting performance here.

Runners-Up: Carrie Coon (Gone Girl), Laura Dern (Wild), Carmen Ejogo (Selma), Emma Stone (Birdman), Marisa Tomei (Love is Strange)

My Favorite: Patricia Arquette
Second Place: Agata Kulezka

Matches with Oscar: Just the winner (Arquette).  Oscar went with my runner-ups Emma Stone (Birdman) and Laura Dern (Wild). They also picked Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), who was strong in an unremarkable role, and Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), who was good in a role that ends up being a bit one-note.

Best Supporting Actor

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Hawke and director Richard Linklater go hand in hand, and this might be Hawke's best performance. His character starts out as the prototypical absent disappointing dad, but soon morphs into something much more complex, showing how kids aren't the only ones that change over 12 years.

Edward Norton, Birdman

Norton gets some of the biggest laughs of the year as vain actor Mike Shiner.  Norton has never been this funny before, bouncing his character off Michael Keaton's with effortless grace.

Tony Revilori, The Grand Budapest Hotel

In his major movie debut, Revilori is charming as lobby boy Zero, the mentee to M. Gustav. His young charm and physical performance are right at home in Wes Anderson's world.

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

The best moments of Foxcatcher belong to Mark Ruffalo's Dave Schultz, the wrestler pulled into the Dupont dysfunction by his brother Mark. Ruffalo's performance keeps the movie naturalistic and grounded, making sure we see the real brotherly love and not just the prevading creepiness that consumes so much of the movie.

J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Simmons dominated the awards circuit, and it's easy to see why. His music teacher Terrence Fletcher is a terrifying character, ripping through his students' ego and dignity in the search for greatness. A great standout role for this longtime character actor.

Runners-Up: Zach Galifanakis (Birdman), Jeff Goldblum (Le Week-end), Charlie Tahan (Love is Strange), Tyler Perry (Gone Girl), Peter Saarsgard (Night Moves)

My Favorite: Edward Norton
Second Place: Mark Ruffalo

Matches with Oscar: 4! All but Revilori. Oscar went with Robert Duvall in The Judge, a movie I have no intention of seeing. A rare instance where Oscar gets a category almost exactly right.