Sunday, January 25, 2015

Top 20 Acting Performances of 2014

This list of acting performances perfectly encapsulates the intriguing year that was 2014. It was a year where my top performances and top films felt even more divorced from each other than usual. It just proves that film is a complex artform, where even some of the most underwhelming films can feature outstanding performances. In the end, there was a bounty of great work to choose from, making this once again the most agonizing year-end list to compile. There was a lot of talk about it being a weak year for actresses but I didn't find that to be the case. While it wasn't as impressive as 2013's banner year of female roles, I still ended up with an even split of male-female performances.

On this list you'll see many of the usual suspects, while some of the others may surprise you. If you've seen some of my previous lists, you'll know that I always aim to be honest about which performances impacted me most, regardless of consensus opinion. With that said, I hope you enjoy reading my take of the Top 20 Acting Performances of 2014.

N.B. - Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant) was already featured on my 2013 list. Likewise, I decided to consider Mia Wasikowska's performance (Tracks) as 2013 as well. #BlameHarveyWeinstein

20. Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin
Mesmerizing, magnetic, unnervingly enticing.

19. Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights
If there was a sexier, more surprising, more disarming performance in 2014, then I didn't see it.

18. Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar
This deeply emotional performance proved to be just as essential as Interstellar's grand spectacle and intellect.

17. Maggie Gyllenhaal in Frank
I delighted in every second of this scene-stealing, delicious performance.

16. Robert Duvall in The Judge
The film may be creakily outdated, but Duvall's old-school character building won me over.

15. Samiya Mumtaz in Dukhtar
This graceful actress gave the year's most beautiful portrayal of motherly love.

14. Russell Crowe in Noah
A perfectly conflicted, tortured performance that challenges our glorified interpretations of this biblical figure.

13. Jessica Chastain in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
Elusive and enigmatic...until she aims straight for your heart. 

12. Jenny Slate in Obvious Child
A darling breakthrough performance that's heartfelt, daring and hilarious in equal measure.

11. Ethan Hawke in Boyhood
Once again, a Linklater collaboration brings forth his mastery of naturalistic brilliance.

10. Patricia Arquette in Boyhood
A performance that's thoroughly unvarnished, but is all the more "real" and impactful because of it.

9. Don Johnson in Alex of Venice
A moving portrait of a man grasping for dignity against the dying light.

8. Shailene Woodley in The Fault in Our Stars
I tried to fight the tears, but I was no match for this utterly heartbreaking performance.

7. Brendan Gleeson in Calvary
Gleeson delivers another excellent performance, gravely serious yet instinctively unfussy.

6. Chadwick Boseman in Get On Up
A fireball performance that signals the arrival of a true thespian.

5. Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man
A fitting career-end tribute that captures his trademark physicality and chameleonic skill.

4. James McAvoy in X-Men: Days of Future Past
No performance caught me more off guard than seeing Professor X this battered and bruised.

3. Agata Kulesza in Ida
Kulesza's tremendous performance is the much-needed earthy foil for Ida's more ethereal inclinations.

2. Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel
An exemplary performance that's both riotously funny and immaculately elegant

1. Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
Even as a fan, I wasn't prepared for the thrilling complexity of Pike's one-of-a-kind Amy Dunne.


  1. Oh, great list Shane. Love that Rosamund tops the list, she's my favorite too. Good to see Woodley here, she's in my top 5 female performers this year. Honestly, I thought I'd see J.K. Simmons here, haha

    1. J.K. Simmons was great but the competition was tough. There are so many fantastic performances that just missed my Top 20.

  2. Glad to see Scarlett there for Under the Skin. What a hell of a film! She was mesmerizing, indeed.

  3. Your description of Jessica Chastain in Eleanor Rigby is PERFECT. What a compelling performance.

  4. I haven't seen some of these but we do have many in common! Really happy to see Woodley in there.