20. Rene Russo – “Nightcrawler”
Rene Russo has worked with everyone in the business over the years, from Pierce Brosnan to Mel Gibson, and although she has always had great chemistry with her leading men, none will ever come close to that which she has with Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler.” Their chemistry is key in order for the unlikely relationship to form and work.
Russo does her best work in this film, playing a woman obsessed with ratings who works for a bottom of the barrel television station. Her character looks for anything that can put her over the top and is willing to do anything in order for that to materialize. It is absolutely mind-blowing that she was not even nominated for what will surely be the best performance of her career.
19. Emma Stone – “Birdman”
How many people could have envisioned the career the young Emma Stone would have at this point in her new career? From “Zombieland” to “Birdman” is quite an interesting run. Working with great director after great director (most recently Woody Allen), she has amassed quite a string of performances.
She is one of the most talented young actresses working today and shows it again in the film “Birdman.” Playing the somewhat estranged daughter of Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thomson. She displays a range previously untapped onscreen beforehand in any of her other roles.
18. Bill Murray – “St. Vincent”
Bill Murray, or the “Murricane,” as he is sometimes called, is quite possibly the funniest man who has ever lived. You can make the case for many others, but few have the career and performances to back it up like Murray. The guy is a comedic genius. He also happens to be one of the most successful dramatic actors of the last fifteen years or so, piling up a terrific resume full of sad, lonely, isolated, but often still funny characters. “Lost in Translation” should have gotten him the Oscar, but how did Sean Penn win again for “Milk”?
Here he plays a role that most certainly had to have been written solely with Murray in mind, for we can think of no one else who could have played the role this well. Murray plays a Vietnam vet who is probably the worst neighbor imaginable, though he does show a softer side at times throughout the film. The wide range of emotions on display here could not have been calculated well by anyone else but the Murricane. Plus, how many people can actually keep you in your seat as the credits are rolling, while they sing Bob Dylan’s “Shelter in the Storm”? Only Murray by our calculations.
17. Guy Pearce – “The Rover”
Guy Pearce should be a bigger star. How do we live in a cinematic world in which Liam Hemsworth is a star, and Guy Pearce is not? That is an absolute travesty. In “The Rover,” Guy Pearce stars as a man who simply wants his car back. As he treks on in the open, desolate, and broken landscape of Australia’s outback searching for his car, we learn just enough along the way to get a feel for this character.
The world has been brought down by some form of economic disaster, and here is a man who has lost everything with only his car left. Why is the car so important? It is best that the less revealed the better. Pearce gives a haunting turn in the film, one that is worthy of award consideration and of making him the star that he deserves to be.
16. Edward Norton – “Birdman”
Known for being a troublesome actor at times to deal with, Edward Norton sends up himself somewhat as an absolutely unbearable actor in “Birdman.” Giving probably the best performance in the film outside of Michael Keaton, Norton delivers a fiery performance that rivals anything the master thespian has done in the past.
Edward Norton, an actor, who at one time was being heralded as the De Niro of his generation, shows just why those claims were made all those years ago. It is a performance that should catapult him back into the stratosphere of actors whom everyone would be crazy not to want to work with.
15. Mark Ruffalo – “Foxcatcher”
One cannot help but like Mark Ruffalo,and what a year he has had in 2014, with good performances in HBO’s “The Normal Heart,” “Begin Again,” “Thanks for Sharing,” and his best turn coming in “Foxcatcher” as Olympian David Schultz.
David Schultz only wanted to see his little brother Mark (Channing Tatum) succeed in the same way he did: through tough work, sweat, blood, and support. Ruffalo captures the essence and spirit of the former Olympian and gives a quietly striking turn as a man whose ill-fated end rocked the Olympic community for some time afterwards.
14. Anne Hathaway – “Interstellar”
Anne Hathaway may be disliked by a few people who claim to be huge cinema fans out there. However, it would seem that maybe they are missing the forest for the trees, because here is one of the best actresses working today who is on the top of her game. Honestly, who would have thought it was possible for her to top the performance she gave in her Oscar-winning turn from “Les Miserables”? But she did it.
Christopher Nolan has been accused in the past of not getting the best out of his female actresses. While some of that may be true, it is probably because of how those characters are written and displayed. Most have been cold or naïve women, and in stark contrast, here is a tough-minded but vulnerable woman who is searching for a chance to save humanity and herself. Few could have given a performance such as the one on display by Hathaway here.
13. Marion Cotillard – “Two Days, One Night”
Marion Cotillard has really established herself a niche as one of those actresses that can always be depended on to give a great performance no matter what the quality of film. Here, it just so happens that the film and the performance match each other in greatness.
Playing a woman who unwittingly discovers that she will be fired because of a significant bonus, which her colleagues will earn if she no longer works with them, she embarks on a quest to convince her colleagues she should remain and that the money is not worth the loss of one’s soul. The film itself is striking, as is Cotillard and her performance.
12. Ralph Fiennes – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Wes Anderson’s films are certainly not for everyone, and those people live sad, boring lives filled with joyless, empty moments. Anderson takes us back to what it was like to be a kid and first discovering truths within ourselves, about the world, and just gives us films that make us understand why we started a love affair with cinema in the first place. Ralph Fiennes is one of the actors who also continuously does that to us as cinema lovers as well. Fiennes has a magical quality about him in this film that really propels the story forward.
In a film full of fantastic actors and ingenuous performances, it is Fiennes who stands tall above the rest. As Gustave H., the concierge of a famous hotel in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, Fiennes’ character finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery, young love, and a love of much older women. It is a wonder how this deviously funny performance which evokes a tad bit of the Marx Brothers, along with Peter Sellars, did not garner Fiennes a much-deserved nomination from the Academy.
11. Julianne Moore – “Still Alice”
She has lived a career of ups and downs, but always seems to give her best at every juncture. Julianne Moore is one of the greatest actresses of all time. One cannot express enough positivity about her performances, and “Still Alice” is no t exception. In fact, “Maps to the Stars” was probably an equal performance, but the edge goes to “Still Alice.” Moore plays a woman who is the perfect linguist in all of the collegiate world, who is suddenly afflicted with severe memory loss. Soon it is discovered that she is developing early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
For anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one due to this terrible affliction, the performance will certainly hit home. Watching a brilliant, kind, and beautiful person drift away from this world and the people who loved them is one of the hardest things one can ever endure. The performance is a testament to what many have gone through with this disease. It is a heartbreakingtribute to those who have lost loved ones to Alzheimer’s disease just the same.