2014 was undoubtedly one of the best years in recent memory, not only for films, but for the achievements in film by actors and actresses. This was the year of Michael Keaton’s comeback in “Birdman.” Steve Carell showed audiences he could go deeper than ever expected in “Foxcatcher.”
2014 was also the year that people were suckered by a great marketing campaign for “American Sniper.” As you read this list, look at the male nominees who would have been eligible for Best Actor, or even the honorable mentions, all of whom are better than Bradley Cooper. Cooper is a fine actor in his own right, though. 2014 was also a year in which we had seen so many great leading and supporting performances. Here are some of the standouts:
30. Ethan Hawke – “Boyhood”
Richard Linklater’s film takes place over the course of its characters’ real lives. Actually filmed over the twelve year period that occurs in the film, viewers see how each person changes throughout the course of the film.
No one is affected more by this change than the father character played by Ethan Hawke. He is a guy who starts out extremely distrustful of everyone and the government, he hates Republicans, and he tries to instill these values into his young children. By the end, he is a man who has been altered by the circumstances in his life. Hawke plays it wild-eyed and oddly perplexing at times. Another terrific turn from a veteran actor.
29. Keira Knightley – “The Imitation Game”
Keira Knightley is one of those actresses who has been unfairly disparaged by audiences and film critics alike. Some say she spends her time pushing out her bottom lip and really moping more than acting. We disagree. Here is an actress who rarely, if ever, gives a performance this is not otherworldly. She delivers a striking turn as the real-life Joan Clarke who helped Alan Turing and his cohorts break the Nazi code in order to win the war several years earlier.
It is estimated that they probably saved tens of millions of lives by doing so. Knightley gives force to this woman who is surrounded by men at a time during which women were not allowed to be held in the same regard.
28. Felicity Jones – “The Theory of Everything”
Felicity Jones has quietly built a string of strong performances in her short career. Here she is first wife of Stephen Hawking, Jane. Jane Hawking endured years of mental and physical anguish because of her husband’s affliction with Lou Gehrig’s disease. She watched as it slowly took his body, but not his mind. Jones gives a heartwarmingly affectionate performance as a woman overcome with obstacles.
It is hard to react to and interact with someone who is limited in his movements and ability as Eddie Redmayne was required to be in his role as Stephen Hawking. Jones does just that though. Upping her game and clearly honing the skills with which she has been blessed, Jones takes her character to another level. While most may have played it for melodrama, she does just the opposite.
27. Essie Davis – “The Babadook”
Horror is such a subjective genre of filmmaking. However, “The Babadook” may just be one of the most hard to describe horror flicks that have been released in recent memory. Essie Davis plays a young mother who has recently lost her husband. Both her son and she are dealing with the loss in different ways. Tiptoeing the line between sanity and insanity, she finds herself pushed to the brink after her son discovers a children’s book describing an eater of children, the Babadook.
Convinced that the Babadook is after him and his mother, he begins to create ways of self-protection. Soon the mother starts to see the Babadook herself, and terror ensues. Essie Davis takes on a role that many could have lost in being over the top, but she delivers the best female performance of the year.
26. Macon Blair – “Blue Ruin”
This criminally underseen indie thriller delivers the goods straight from the onset. Macon Blair plays a man who is completely broken down by a tragedy that took place when he was just a child. Now an adult for which nothing in his life is worth living, he is given a chance at revenge and redemption. What follows is not you’re the usual revenge thriller. It is tense, taught, nerve-wracking, and completely original.
Blair plays it straight from the get-go and really goes for it here. The film is also not the usual revenge thriller fare. There is a scene early on that will put any lover of cinema immediately on the edge of their seat and unable to move for the entire remainder of the film. Macon Blair is a talent to look out for.
25. Jennifer Aniston – “Cake”
Despite having been on “Friends” and in a ton of those overly predictable romantic comedies, Aniston is also an accomplished actress. Having followed her work for years, one can see that she has evolved throughout her career into one of the most dependable actresses today. In “Cake,” she plays a woman who is dealing with the loss of everything she once held so dear. She is psychologically broken, drugged out, and lost in her own depression and guilt.
Aniston ranges in emotions from sad to bleakly broken. There is a scene involving a picture that alone should have gotten her some sort of awards recognition. We have to be honest, who thought she had a performance like this in her? It screams to be seen.
24. Ben Affleck – “Gone Girl”
Here is an actor who has been ridiculed for years and undeservedly so. Check out his work in “Hollywoodland,” “Chasing Amy,” “The Company Men,” “Dogma,” “The Town,” “Argo,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Extract,” and “State of Play.” One will find a vastly different set of performances here. Sure, he has made some awful choices in choosing roles and films in the past.
Having said that, the man is an Oscar winning director/writer, and he is also an extremely talented actor. Who isn’t looking forward to his take on Batman? In “Gone Girl,” David Fincher’s adaption of the novel of the same name, Ben Affleck plays a husband accused of murdering his missing wife. Affleck channels his inner Scott Peterson here, playing his role ranging between sympathetic and absolute sliminess.
23. James Gandolfini – “The Drop”
Sadly, Tony Soprano is no longer with us. James Gandolfini was one of the greatest modern character actors who anchored and elevated everything with which he was involved, and in this film, he is no different. He plays a man who once was the king of his neighborhood, who is now relegated to following orders and handling drop offs for the Mob, who controls the area now.
Feeling like life has passed him by, and his legacy is tarnished, he feels the need to make one last push at those who pushed first all those years ago. Portrayinga man who gave up everything he worked for so easily, and now regrets that decision after the years have passed him by, this is a role that is a million miles away from his work on the Sopranos. “The Drop” is really some of the best work Gandolfini has ever done.
22. Philip Seymour Hoffman – “A Most Wanted Man”
Philip Seymour Hoffman is another great actor we lost in the recent past, this one to an unfortunate reoccurring addiction to the drug heroin. Sadly, “A Most Wanted Man” is one of the last performances that we will ever see from Philip Seymour Hoffman. One of the greatest acting talents, not of just this era, but of any.
This film will hold an interesting place in the annals of film history as being the last great Hoffman performance and also the one in which you can see the wear and tear of his personal life coming through in the performance, as well in his appearance. It is quite clear in watching this film that Hoffman was not well at all while filming t. Having stated that, he gives one of the most nuanced and commanding performances of his career. His style of acting is perfect for John le Carre’s source material.
21. Tom Hardy – “The Drop”
Tom Hardy is slowly gathering up quite a credits list. With rising turns in “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Bronson,” “Locke,” “Lawless,” Inception,” and “Layer Cake,” he has worked with some of the most talented writers and directors working today, Michaël R. Roskam, director of “The Drop,” being no exception.
Roskam is a rising talent who needs to be noticed, and Tom Hardy just continues to impress with each subsequent performance. This guy gives it 110% in every role with nothing to show for it each awards season. Now, awards may not be the most important of things in the grand scheme of things, but, by golly, Tom Hardy deserves something. He plays it cool, calculated, fierce, and so amazingly understated here. We cannot wait to see his work in George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.”