The Top 20 Film Performances of 2013

17 Jan

2014-oscar-predictions-best-actor-actress-1252013-124706Hey, everyone. Welcome to the first installment of my 2013 Year-End Lists, which will be doled out over the next few weeks. I never understood the reasoning behind doing these halfway through December, so I’m starting out now. Enjoy. Today, we’ll be looking at the Top 20 Film Performances of 2013. Note: This list is unranked; I have no idea how I’d rank these performances.

See my top 15 television performances of 2013 list here:

*Yes, there are 21 performances on this list, and technically 22. I just couldn’t take anyone off.

CHIWETEL EJIOFOR, “12 YEARS A SLAVE”: Ejiofor’s portrayal of Solomon Northup in “12 Years A Slave” is one for the ages. Whether we’re watching him play a violin, take a beating, or ruminate by himself, we always feel connected to his character, connected to his journey down a dark and unflinching road.

SCARLETT JOHANSSON, “HER”: Sadly, she’s viewed as “ineligible” for many awards, which is a damn shame; with just her voice, she conveys heartbreak, seduction, and genuine emotion, and her work is absolutely brilliant. Samantha seems like she’s truly human.

BRIE LARSON, “SHORT TERM 12”: Larson is absolutely magnificent here, delivering a heartfelt performance that helps us sympathize with her in every scene. She perfectly captures the need to maintain a tough exterior while a whirlwind of emotions are bubbling up inside, and Grace’s relationship with Kaitlyn Dever’s Jayden is beautiful.

LUPITA NYONG’O, “12 YEARS A SLAVE”: In a film of truly excellent performances, Nyong’o plays a young slave named Patsey subjected to the beatings and sexual abuse of her master, Epps (played by the fantastic Michael Fassbender). It’s a layered and complex performance that showcases an actress who we’ll hear a lot about over the coming years.

ROBERT REDFORD, “ALL IS LOST”: In a one-man film, Redford is impeccable, delivering a performance almost completely devoid of dialogue; we see his story through his mannerisms and emotions expressed on his face, as well as in his body language.

MICHAEL B. JORDAN, “FRUITVALE STATION”: Jordan, of “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights” fame, plays Oscar Grant, a young man shot by BART Police in 2009. It’s an incredibly compelling performance; the film takes us through his last 24 hours, and Jordan’s especially wonderful when interacting with the supporting cast.

GRETA GERWIG, “FRANCES HA”: Gerwig is such an endearing actress, and her portrayal of a 27-year old dancer living in Brooklyn is fantastic. She’s a bit irritating, but that’s part of the charm; we can see how significantly she grows as a character, and Gerwig plays it beautifully.

AMY ADAMS, “AMERICAN HUSTLE”: Adams has always been great, and “American Hustle” brings with it a role that is probably the hardest to pull off. Sydney is a con woman losing control of her life, and there’s just enough subtlety in the performance under the cleavage and the outfits (not that I’m complaining) to help her connect with us.

SANDRA BULLOCK, “GRAVITY”: In what is essentially another one-person role, Bullock portrays Ryan Stone, brilliantly conveying the truly terrifying feelings that accompany isolation.

TOM HANKS, “CAPTAIN PHILLIPS”: One of the most consistent actors in Hollywood delivers a fantastic performance as Captain Phillips, and the role transcends normal cliches with its cathartic, heartbreaking, and magnificently acted final scene.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREETLEONARDO DICAPRIO, “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”: This is an exhilarating, bombastic, and compelling performance by someone’s who’s consistently churned out brilliance. DiCaprio’s turn as Jordan Belfort draws us in, and look no further than the famous Lemmon 751 Quaaludes sequence, one of the greatest physical acting set pieces of all time.

JOAQUIN PHOENIX, “HER”: Phoenix delivers a more toned-down performance after his turn in “The Master”, but it’s every bit as brilliant. Like with Johansson, the raw, genuine emotion finds its way on screen, and it’s a marvel to watch. The “human in love with an OS” storyline is tough to pull off, but Phoenix does it.

JENNIFER LAWRENCE, “THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE”: Lawrence is getting all the attention for her role in “American Hustle”, but I think there’s a lot more to be seen in her portrayal of Katniss in the second film of the Hunger Games trilogy. She carries this film, especially in the movie’s stellar first half, an unflinching character study of a young woman caught in the clutches of an institution.

CATE BLANCHETT, “BLUE JASMINE”: Unfulfillment, love, longing: Blanchett gets across all of these emotions while portraying a woman trying to transcend the limbo of her current life.

OSCAR ISAAC, “INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS”: Isaac perfectly captures the melancholy, circuitous nature of life and the inherent difficulty of making it as a folk singer. He’s so watchable and so believable, and he also has a great voice.

MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, “DALLAS BUYERS CLUB”: Well, what a turnaround for McConaughey this year. In “Dallas”, he plays an AIDS-stricken man carving a purpose for himself, and he’s mesmerizing; in particular, his interactions with Rayon are top notch. *I’d also like to give a shout-out to McConaughey’s “Mud” performance and “The Wolf of Wall Street” cameo.

JARED LETO, “DALLAS BUYERS CLUB”: Leto’s performance as Rayon, an AIDS positive transgender woman, is heart-wrenching–in particular, when she goes to see her dad–and he and McConaughey are the heart of this film.

BRUCE DERN, “NEBRASKA”: Dern is Woody Grant, an elderly, unfulfilled man who seems to have a skewed version of reality. He’s not a caricature; he’s a fully fleshed out human being.

ADELE EXARCHOPOULOS, “BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR”: In an emotionally honest coming-of-age story, French actress Adele Exarchopolous is magnificent, dealing with the concepts of identity and desire.

JAMES FRANCO, “SPRING BREAKERS”: While the film itself has divided the public–I didn’t care for it–Franco’s performance has been lauded, and rightfully so. His portrayal of Alien, rapper-gangster with that famous “Spring Breaaaaaaak” drawl, is exhilarating and hilarious, and he’s a bright spot in this movie.

ETHAN HAWKE/JULIE DELPY, “BEFORE MIDNIGHT”: Okay, so I cheated a bit here, but whenever I think of Celine and Jesse, they’re one to me. Each makes the other better, and they’re pros at portraying both love and conflict. Look no further than that perfect fight scene at the end of the episode; more on that in my “Best scenes of 2013” list.

HONORABLE MENTION: Miles Teller/Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now: This duo creates one of the most honest, endearing young relationships ever depicted on screen. They take us through heartbreak, love, and turmoil, and you can’t help but fall in love with the two yourself. 


-Amy Seimetz, Upstream Color

-Brie Larson, The Spectacular Now

-Kaitlyn Dever, Short Term 12

-Daniel Bruhl, Rush

-Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

-Mia Wasikowska, Stoker

-Christian Bale, American Hustle

-Simon Pegg, The World’s End

-Hugh Jackman, Prisoners

-James Gandolfini, Enough Said

-Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

-Bradley Cooper, The Place Beyond the Pines

-Amy Adams, Her

-Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

Photo credits: The Wolf of Wall Street,

One Response to “The Top 20 Film Performances of 2013”


  1. Saturday Night Live “Drake” Live Blog/Review (39×11) | Polar Bears Watch TV - January 19, 2014

    […] Check out my “Top 20 Film Performances of 2013″ List here: […]

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