10. Steve Carell – “Foxcatcher”
Transformative, chameleon-like, haunting, frightening… these are just a few of the words that come to mind while watching Steve Carell as John Du Pont in Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher.” Carell is known as the funnyman by most for his ridiculously comic turns on “The Office” and the Anchorman films. However, he has also turned in terrific semi-dramatic work in films such as “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “Dan, In Real Life,” and certainly showed it at times playing the endearingly clueless Michael Scott on “The Office.”
Here though, Carell goes deeper than most would have thought possible and delivers a quiet, scary, and subdued performance as real life multimillionaire/murderer John Du Pont. He is so good that he actually garnered an Academy Award nomination for this performance. It is much deserved.
9. Matthew McConaughey – “Interstellar”
In 2013, McConaughey gave two of the greatest performances in his career, and of all time, in HBO’s “True Detective” and in the film “Dallas Buyer’s Club.” Late last season, Christopher Nolan’s modern sci-fi masterpiece “Interstellar” hit theaters, giving us not only one of the best films of the year, and in the genre itself, but also possibly McConaughey’s most emotional, powerful performance to date. He plays a former astronaut, who now lives on a dirt-ridden farm with his two children and their grandfather while the planet is dying, and something or someone is trying to save us.
With Christopher Nolan doing his best to pay homage to Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick, and knocking it out of the park, there is McConaughey as the compass who guides the audience through the story, and one cannot think of anyone more suited for the task.
8. Oscar Isaac – “A Most Violent Year”
We must admit that a love for slow burning ‘70s thrillers propelled this performance high up onto the list. Oscar Isaac has begun to assert himself as quite possibly one of the most talented actors of his generation, and with each performance, he comes closer to exploding into the mainstream world. We are most certain “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens” will help with this.
In “A Most Violent Year,” he plays an immigrant whose oil business has grown greatly in the years since he received ownership from his father-in-law, an immigrant who has come to this country and built an honorable business full of potential. By doing things the right way and with business growing, an uneasiness begins to form when the competitors around him begin to possibly rip him. Should he react with violence or stay the course? Isaac’s character spends the film’s running time trying so hard to keep his business afloat, while carrying an heir of self-righteousness, which many of his competitors have long since abandoned.
What builds is a slow, taut thriller anchored by great performances, none as fascinating as Isaac’s. After his performance in last year’s Coen brothers film “Inside Llewyn Davis” and now this, how can this guy not be ready for stardom?
7. Brendan Gleeson – “Calvary”
Dependable and tough would be how most could describe Brendan Gleeson’s work throughout his career, an actor who has built a career of playing gruff types. He is an actor’s actor. In recent years he has been afforded the opportunity to be a part of creating some of his best characterizations to date. In films such as “In Bruges” and “The Guard,” Gleeson shows why he has been such a sought after actor for all these years.
In John Michael McDonagh’s Irish film “Calvary,” he plays a priest in a small Ireland town who is threatened in confessional by an unknown man who promises to kill him in a week’s time because of the past priest’s sins of the father. Gleeson embodies the soul of this man greater than anyone possibly could have in a film which asks big questions and responds with even bigger answers. This truly is an overlooked masterpiece of a film and a performance that should be talked about for years to come.
6. Eddie Redmayne – “The Theory of Everything”
Eddie Redmayne joins the legendary Daniel Day-Lewis in the realm of actors who have portrayed real-life people with debilitating diseases.
Playing a man who is afflicted with Lou Gehrig’s disease is no easy task. However, Redmayne is up for the challenge, and in probably one of the most effective performances of the season, he stars as Stephen Hawking. Hawking was/is one of the most influential minds in the world of science. Redmayne captures the level of severity the disease inflicts with great courage. One of the best of the year by far.
5. Rosamund Pike – “Gone Girl”
David Fincher is no stranger to the weird and sexually perverse world which surrounds us and is within us, whether most want to admit it or not. He also does not shy away from making films that are a direct social commentary on the society in which we live. Gone Girl is one such film. Our obsessions with seeing how others live, die, destroy, and completely rob themselves of what little humanity they have left in turn has eroded the very core of what humanity should truly be about. We, as a society, live for the anguish and despair of others. We Americans can say, we love a good murder.
Rosamund Pike is an actress who completely turned her career on edge with a performance that will most assuredly be admired for some time. As Amy Dunne, the wife of Ben Affleck’s character, Nick Dunne, she has everything: the perfect husband, job, house, friends, and life, it would seem. However, underneath the surface is a dark reality that screams to be released into the public eye. It does just that once she has been apparently murdered, possibly by the husband? Pike goes for broke here. She lays it all out on the line and gives a rousing, shocking, and vibrant performance.
4. J.K Simmons – “Whiplash”
The man has one of those faces that is friendly, calming even some would say. He has been a go-to actor for character roles for probably the last fifteen or twenty years. The work has been steady, great, and never has he delivered a performance worthy of criticizing. If anything, J.K. Simmons may have been too safe at times, but not here in “Whiplash,” in a performance which surely will get him the est Supporting Actor.
Simmons tears up the screen and everyone around him with a splendidly frightening portrayal of a man who will accept nothing short of perfection from his students. He plays an instructor at a prestigious music academy that boasts the sort of reputation of a place in which only the elite can survive. As Fletcher, Simmons is a monster onscreen, truly one of the scariest film characters to grace the screen, certainly the scariest bald screen villain since Ben Kingsley’s criminally underrated performance as Don Logan.
3. Joaquin Phoenix – “Inherent Vice”
Paul Thomas Anderson’s filmography is an odd sort, and all of his films are fascinating on some level or another. Much the same can be said for Joaquin Phoenix’s career as well. Having the two work together on one masterpiece in “The Master” was blessing enough, but again? Cinephiles are spoiled. In the film based on Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name (read it, trust me), it is 1970. The city is Los Angeles, and drug-fueled private detective Larry “Doc” Sportello is investigating the sudden disappearance of a former lover who had recently come back into his life.
To say too much about the plot would be a disservice to those who have yet to see it. Also, the film is such a psychedelic trip that one may just find himself hitting the playback button once he has finished watching it. It certainly opens itself up to repeated viewings. As Doc, Phoenix plays it as if he were the spawn of The Dude and Raoul Duke with a splash of Phillip Marlowe thrown in for good measure. It certainly is not a performance, or film for that matter, to be missed.
2. Jake Gyllenhaal – “Nightcrawler”
Jake Gyllenhaal is quickly becoming one of the few actors on whom we can count for a scene stealing performance in a film anymore. Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” is certainly no different. As Lou Bloom, Gyllenhaal takes on a physical transformation and brings this slimy bugger to life onscreen. Bloom is ambitious, tough minded, and possibly a sociopath.
Obsessed with idea of being able to leave a mark on this world at any means necessary, Bloom accidently stumbles upon wreckage on the freeway one night and finds that there is a side of tragedy that can be profitable for the right kind of person. Bloom is exactly that kind of person. To say more about the film than that would spoil all of the fun to be had. Gilroy paints the night sky in a way that few can, and Gyllenhaal gives the only performance even close to as good as Michael Keaton’s for 2014. What a tour de force from a rising thespian to certainly not be messed with.
1. Michael Keaton – “Birdman”
Surely when Michael Keaton read Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s ambitious script for “Birdman” he more than likely felt a slight bit of trepidation when thinking of the task on hand. A film that is shot as if in one take? What an exercise in patience if there ever has been one. Whatever doubts may have been there, or worries, certainly do not show onscreen. Or maybe they do?
Keaton playing his most interesting character in years, outside of “The Merry Gentleman”, goes for broke in the performance of his careeras Riggan Thomson, a washed-up, once great superstar whose biggest claim to fame was the comic book film character, Birdman, he played some years back. Now, years later he is fighting for notoriety, acceptance as a serious artist, and ultimately for his sanity as he puts together a planned Broadway production of Raymond Carver’s story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”
What precedes opening night is one of the most raw, engaging, funny, tragic, sad, and depressingly awesome performances from an actor who deserves all the accolades that are coming to him because of it; the performance is fearless and certainly mirrors Keaton’s own career in some respects. There is a master at work here. The performance of a career in the film of the year.
Honorable mentions: Patricia Arquette – “Boyhood,” David Oyelowo – “Selma,” Don Johnson – “Cold In July,” Jessica Chastain – “A Most Violent Year” & Interstellar,” Andy Serkis – “Dawn Of the Planet of the Apes, Scarlett Johansson – “Under The Skin”, Al Pacino – “The Humbling”, Reese Witherspoon – “Wild,” Nicolas Cage – “Joe,” Bill Hader – “The Skeleton Twins,” Channing Tatum – “Foxcatcher,” Robert Duvall – “The Judge,” Miles Teller – “Whiplash,” Christoph Waltz – “Big Eyes,” Martin Short – “Inherent Vice,” Amy Adams – “Big Eyes,” Kevin Kline – “My Old Lady,” Jeremy Renner – “Kill the Messenger,” John Lithgow – “Love Is Strange,” Julianne Moore – “Maps To The Stars,” Jaeden Lieberher – “St. Vincent,” Michael Parks –“Tusk,” Katherine Waterson – “Inherent Vice,” Michael Fassbender – Frank,” Emily Baldoni – “Coherence,” Noah Wiseman – “The Babadook,” Tom Hardy – “Locke,” Jake Gyllenhaal – “Enemy,” Patrick Stewart – “Match,” Tilda Swinton – “Snowpiercer,” Ben Mendelsohn – “Starred Up,” James McAvoy – “Filth,” Benedict Cumberbatch – “The Imitation Game,” Sam Rockwell – “Laggies,” Albert Brooks –“A Most Violent Year,” Josh Brolin – “Inherent Vice,” the entire cast of “What We Do In The Shadows,” and Alex Essoe – “Starry Eyes.”
Did we leave anyone out for 2014? Let us know below.