The Top 15 Film Performances of 2014

19 Feb


HONORABLE MENTIONS/OTHERS CONSIDERED: Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year), Philip Seymour Hoffman (A Most Wanted Man), Carrie Coon & Tyler Perry (Gone Girl), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Tom Hardy (Locke), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Mark Ruffalo & Steve Carell & Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar), Miles Teller (Whiplash), Amy Adams (Big Eyes), Reese Witherspoon & Laura Dern (Wild), Tom Hiddleston (Only Lovers Left Alive), Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Emma Stone (Birdman), Rene Russo (Nightcrawler), Andy Serkis & Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Josh Brolin & Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice), Johannes Kuhnke & Lisa Loven Kongsli (Force Majeure)

Man, that’s a pretty damn good “Honorable Mentions” list. What a year for performances.

Haven’t seen: Elisabeth Moss in Listen Up Philip, Jenny Slate in Obvious Child, Michael Fassbender in Frank, Charlotte Gainsbourg in Nymphomaniac, Agata Kulesza in Ida

Note: I cheated by mentioning two performances each for Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, and Tilda Swinton.

Special “I was in everything again” award: Jessica Chastain

Special mention #2: The puppy from “John Wick”


15. Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”

14. Michael Keaton, “Birdman”


13. Edward Norton, “Birdman”

12. Macon Blair, “Blue Ruin”

11. Brendan Gleeson, “Calvary” 

10. Joaquin Phoenix, “Inherent Vice” and “The Immigrant”

Last year’s Her was my favorite movie of 2013, and Joaquin Phoenix was one of the biggest reasons why. With Inherent Vice and The Immigrant in 2014, Phoenix continued to cement himself as one of the top–if not the top–actors working today, and both performances were brilliant in their own, unique ways. In the former, Phoenix was able to convey the feeling of being in a movie-long, drug-induced haze without relying on cute visual tricks, and in the latter, he found a darker side to his character and threw himself into it with aplomb. His performance in The Immigrant is being overshadowed by his performance in Inherent Vice, but both should be recognized.


9. Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Fiennes was near perfect as Monsieur Gustave H., the dapper, quick-witted concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, and the Wes Anderson dialogue felt like it belonged with Fiennes all along. His rapid-fire delivery was endlessly hilarious, and he was even able to find the pathos in the character as the movie progressed.

8. David Oyelowo, “Selma”

One of the big stories around the Academy Award nominations was the snubbing of David Oyelowo for his work as Martin Luther King, Jr., and I have to say that the anger was justified. In Selma, he didn’t just impersonate King; yes, he adopted the same mannerisms and styles, but he accomplished the very difficult task of making the character human. Whether King was giving a big speech or discussing his infidelities with his wife or leading a march, Oyelowo was absolutely fantastic.

7. Scarlett Johansson, “Under the Skin”

Try to watch this and Her back to back. As an alien who preys on men in Scotland, Johansson delivered the best work of her career thus far in Under the Skin. The film was a haunting, immersive experience, and that was due largely to the work of Johansson in the leading role; she could be seductive and chilling all at once, and the ideas of loneliness explored came through her at every turn, enriched after being handled by her fascinating character.


6. Tilda Swinton, “Snowpiercer” and “Only Lovers Left Alive”

The versatility of this actress is astounding, and her performances in the above movies illustrated that fact front and center, if you didn’t know already. As Mason in Snowpiercer, Swinton showed us her range by delivering both the desperate human and the manipulative political stand-in, and as Eve in Only Lovers Left Alive, she expertly conveyed the amusing, yet deeply reflective nature of her character.

5. Essie Davis, “The Babadook”

The horror movie acting formula is simple these days: Be Good-Looking + Act Scared = Gory Movie Death. Along came The Babadook this year, though, which was a breath of fresh air in the horror genre. A lot of its excellence rested upon the shoulders of Australian actress Essie Davis, who really threw herself into her role and plumbed the depths of the psychological aspects of her character. As Amelia’s world began slipping away, Davis simply got better and better, and by the time the ending rolled around, we were left breathless as we watched a truly amazing performance crafted before our very eyes.


4. Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”

What a thrilling, delightfully creepy, and thoroughly compelling performance this was. As Amy Dunne, Pike was the shining star in a cast full of excellent actors and actresses, and she was an indelible presence in a movie that sustained a chilling, yet entertaining, mood throughout. By the time we got to the Cool Girl monologue, I knew this was going to be one of my favorite performances of the year, and the ending sequence of scenes solidified that.

3. Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night” and “The Immigrant”

Give Cotillard the simplest premise possible, and she’ll still find some way to transcend the material through the sheer brilliance of her performance. That’s what we learned with Two Days, One Night, a simultaneously heartbreaking and empowering look at a woman who has to ask for votes from her coworkers in order to keep her job. With The Immigrant, we saw a Cotillard performance that was every bit as good, and we were able to relate with Ewa in one way or another, every step of the way.


2. Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler” 

I saw Nightcrawler and Whiplash within a week of each other, and I instantly knew that Gyllenhaal’s and Simmons’s performances were ones for the ages. In Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal was impeccable as Lou Bloom, and he was easily the biggest Oscar snub this year. He delivered one of the most convincing depictions of a sociopath I’ve ever seen, and there were multiple scenes in this movie that will go down as some of the greatest in Gyllenhaal’s acting history: e.g., the dinner scene with Rene Russo’s Nina and the “What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them?” monologue. Entertaining and charming at first, yet revealed to be despicable and chilling later on.


1. J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

This is one of my favorite performances I have ever seen. In the past, Simmons never was able to sink his teeth into a role as meaty as this one, but he was always likable in whatever role–or commercial–he might have found himself in. He should have no trouble finding starring roles after this, as I can’t find one bad thing to say about his performance as Terence Fletcher. Simmons was a foul-mouthed and imposing delight throughout the movie, and his instant chemistry with Miles Teller helped him craft the best movie performance of 2014.

*We’re a month and a half late, but check in soon for my Best Film Scenes of 2014 and my Best Films of 2014 lists. Hey, at least it’s better than rushing to get year end lists up in early December, right?

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16 Responses to “The Top 15 Film Performances of 2014”

  1. Veronika Zakonjšek February 19, 2015 at 3:52 am #

    This is unbelievable, I would rank the performances in the exact same way! Maybe I would add Agata Kulesza instead of Brendan Gleeson, but this is probably the only thing that I would change… fantastic stuff. Anyway, I hope you soon get to see Ida and Obvious Child! 🙂

    • polarbears16 February 19, 2015 at 9:35 am #

      Oh, wow! Usually these lists are very different, but I guess great minds think alike. 🙂

  2. Mark V. February 19, 2015 at 4:49 am #

    Weird. Guy Pearce (from The Rover) is in your featured image collage, but he isn’t anywhere in the list. Either way, great list; I agree with everything except both of Cotilard’s performances as I haven’t watched either “Two Days, One Night” or “The Immigrant”. Really need to get around to that.

    • polarbears16 February 19, 2015 at 9:34 am #

      Haha yeah, I just took an image collage from elsewhere. And you should definitely get around to both those movies.

  3. Douchebag Batman February 19, 2015 at 10:13 am #

    Honestly just glad to see Tyler Perry get credit for Gone GIrl. It’s easy to crap on the dude for his movies (deservingly so) but dude was really good in it. I’d add Chris Rock from Top Five but I can see not including him for basically playing himself.

    • polarbears16 February 19, 2015 at 11:22 am #

      Yeah, he was one of the more pleasant surprises of the year. Great performance.

  4. hutchwp February 19, 2015 at 10:36 am #

    Great article! Really enjoyed JK Simmons in Whiplash. Should get an Oscar!

    • polarbears16 February 19, 2015 at 11:21 am #

      Thanks! And he definitely will get it.

  5. killkenny16 February 19, 2015 at 5:29 pm #

    I’m surprised to see Michael Keaton so low, but even the big Birdman fanboy that I am can still see Gyllenhaal and Simmons’ performances and admit that it’s pretty hard to argue against them being at the top. If J.K. Simmons doesn’t come away with the Oscar, it may do irreparable damage to my already shakened faith in the Academy.

    However, a mere special mention for the dog from John Wick? How dare you.

    • polarbears16 February 19, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

      Honestly, I was really surprised to see Keaton so low as well when the list came together. Just so many great performances that I kept thinking of, but still, Keaton’s was one of my favorites of the year. I have a feeling Eddie Redmayne is going to beat out Keaton for Lead Actor, which is completely wrong in my opinion.

      Just think of the “special mention” as meaning “I transcend this list”. 🙂

  6. mymoviemoods February 19, 2015 at 8:18 pm #

    Pretty cool selections. I love seeing Essie Davis so high on the list. Rosamund Pike was NOT a good fit for that role. She played it way too weird and not smart enough. The film would have been really far more interesting if she’d been less vacant and more complex. Here are the tops from your Honorable Mention list: Tom Hardy (for Locke AND The Drop); Benedict Cumberbatch; Bradley Cooper; Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum; Eddie Redmayne; Miles Teller; Julianne Moore; Andy Serkis; and Josh Brolin

    • polarbears16 February 21, 2015 at 11:27 am #

      Ah yes, still need to see The Drop. And I disagree about Pike, but I can see where you’re coming from.

  7. davecrewe February 20, 2015 at 3:22 am #

    I liked your number 1 and 2 a lot, but Cotillard all the way! Nice list 🙂

  8. MovieManJackson February 21, 2015 at 6:32 pm #

    Wonderful list! I’d also throw Chadwick Boseman’s James Brown on that list as well. Underrated performance.

    • #peggyatthemovies February 21, 2015 at 10:09 pm #

      Now this I can get behind…From the moment I saw Chadwick in that movie I thought he should get a nom for it..though the movie itself wasn’t that great..but ssshhhh I didn’t say that outloud as a friend of mine made it. eeek!! ha! But yeah..add Tom Hardy for Locke to this and I’m REALLY in!

  9. #peggyatthemovies February 21, 2015 at 10:06 pm #

    While I like some of it..we totally and completely disagree on Joaquin Phoenix & Marion Cotillard for both movies you listed. The Immigrant was awful.. Inherent Vice..well you know what happened there! hahaha and Two Days One thank you.. 🙂 I do however really like your #1 #whooohoooo

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