I’m going to do something a little different this year. There were too many great performances and it was hard to narrow it down to five but I managed to do it I think. The big issue, is how to rank them but I feel it’d be fair to all these great performances if I just listed the reasons why I picked them.
Benedict Cumberbatch - Alan Turning - The Imitation Game
Ever since I saw Benedict’s performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I knew this guy had a future in Hollywood. Even though Benedict was known for BBC’s Sherlock at the time, he’s built a huge fanbase in the past few years. He’s branched out to doing creative performances in Hollywood while still filming Sherlock and an oscar nod was inevitable. Cumberbatch usually plays strong characters but I’ve never seen him be vulnerable like this. His mannerisms, his speech, it’s all too perfect and his performance as Turning takes you out of the film’s element. It’s a powerful and heartbreaking performance to watch. Cumberbatch’s career will only go up from here.
Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom - Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaal has been on a roll lately and it’s safe to say the nice handsome guy persona is dead. Gyllenhaal has always been a great actor but his script choices have usually been questionable. There have been some hits like Zodiac & Donnie Darko but then there’s Prince of Persia. Gyllenhaal has been on a mission since 2011 with Source Code and not only are his performances get better, he’s picking complicated characters. Some of his film choices may still not resonate with viewers but he really makes those films something not to miss. Nightcrawler is probably his best performance to date. Even though the weight loss thing could be considered a hollywood gimmick, Gyllenhaal made the weight loss a part of his character. Prisoners felt like an audition for Batman and Nightcrawler feels like an audition for a crazed Batman villain. That’s how versatile the dude is. Louis Bloom is beyond creepy but yet so mesmerizing. Hard to see anyone playing this role better than Gyllenhaal. When people can’t decide if the movie was good due to the performance, or due to the direction, or story, that tells you something.
Steve Carrell as John Du Pont - Foxcatcher
Jim Carrey made it possible for slapstick comic actors to branch out as serious actors and he’s one of the best at it. Sadly Carrey has fallen off the ladder but Carrell has slowly risen to the top. Carrell was always a great actor. His performance in Little Miss Sunshine was award worthy and he was the bright spot of Dan in Real Life but people only remember Carrell for his comedic abilities and being one of the best improv actors out there but Foxcatcher is proof why Carrell is the all around package. He’s absolutely terrifying, creepy and pathetic. It’s beyond hard not to love Carrell in any of his performance. Yes even Trent in The Way Way Back was amusing to a point but Du Pont has no admirable qualities. Carrell makes you forget it’s him and instead you’re seeing the ghost of John Du Pont. There have been complaints about the make up but it just shows you the determination of how they wanted to get this character right & Carrell was the perfect actor for it. The biggest achievement of Foxcatcher is that Steve has made it possible for actors to play silly dumb roles at times but still be considered one of the best with roles like these.
Ralph Fiennes as Monsieur Gustave - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ralph Fiennes is awesome. It’s a fact. You can look it up. For mainstream cinema fans, most will recognize him as iconic villains. He’s kind of the go to guy for baddies and he’s awesome at them. He never repeats himself. The guy is super creative with his performances. Fiennes hasn’t always played villains and is breaking from the mold lately but Gustave is one of a kind . The character is pretty flawed and very sleazy but he’s also a sweetheart. Fiennes manages to embroider all these aspects as if it’s part of his daily habits He never once breaks character and it’s fun to watch. With so many strong actors and performances Fiennes refuses to be overshadowed. The one big problem with playing iconic characters is it’ll have audiences going hey that’s Batman or Obi Wan Kenobi even if it’s good performance. It’s a curse but Fiennes makes you forget he’s the guy who played Voldermort. From Gustave’s first appearance onscreen you’ll fall in love with him. Gustave was such a complex and hard to play character that Fiennes crafted a character that will never be forgotten in Wes Anderson lore or in film.
Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson - Birdman
Most young viewers don’t remember Michael Keaton. He was missing from the spotlight for over a decade but when he was a leading man, he was THE MAN. His Batman is still a fan favorite and his performance as Beetlejuice is astounding. Even in Jackie Brown he’s the highlight. The man always gives A plus work but Hollywood hasn’t been kind of enough in return. His last couple of films have been awful but what makes Birdman work is how meta it is. It’s a performance that comes from the heart and Keaton is so pleasant to watch. It’s one of the kookiest & truest performances of 2014. It’s a wonderful film to watch about acting and who best to give a lesson than Michael Keaton?
Eddie Redmayne - Stephen Hawking - The Theory of Everything
Matthew McConaughey - Joseph "Coop" Cooper - Interstellar
Joaquin Phoenix - Larry “Doc” Sportello - Inherent Vice
David Oyelowo - Martin Luther King Jr - Selma
Andy Serkis - Caesar - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes