If there was a common theme among my favorite female performances of the year, it was women who so perfectly hid their character’s intentions from the audience. There were so many half-truths, lies and innuendos surrounding women of cinema in 2013, in addition to the heartfelt and the heartbroken ladies that graced the screen as well. I hope you enjoy my picks, do feel free to share some of your favorites.
15. Léa Seydoux – Blue is the Warmest Color
I was never sure about Emma. I didn’t know if her wholesome intentions were actually real. I didn’t know if she actually loved Adèle, or if she was just, well... trying to get laid. Emma’s earnestness made for one of the most painful character arcs of the year. She was a young woman in love, never believing hardships could be near.
14. Shailene Woodley – The Spectacular Now
as Aimee Finecky
As Aimee, Woodley delivered one of the most sincere Girl Next Door roles I’ve ever seen. I loved Aimee more than words, I just hope she goes on to make the right decisions.
13. Rooney Mara – Side Effects
Emily was an enigma disguised as one thing and pretending to be another. Seriously, who is this woman, and why did she go to such great lengths to, well… you know.
12. June Squibb – Nebraska
as Kate Grant
Bruce Dern has been garnering most of the acclaim surrounding this film (and for damn good reason), but Squibb was the showstopper for me. Every time her bitter, feisty Kate graced the screen, I perched up and waited for her to attack.
11. Octavia Spencer – Fruitvale Station
The way Spencer handled her scenes in the hospital was atypical and utterly shattering. Wanda is the finest acting Spencer has ever done. Period.
10. Naomi Watts – Adore
I still don’t know what to make of Lil. Should I be repulsed by her? Understanding of her plight? Watts made a very complex character wholly captivating – impossible to hate, but difficult to defend. You could just feel this woman’s pain.
9. Margot Robbie – The Wolf of Wall Street
Robbie’s fearless work as Naomi was one of the biggest surprises of the year. She was forced to go scream for scream, pound for pound with the most famous actor in the world, and she nailed it. I’m baffled that she hasn’t generated any awards attention.
8. Sarah Paulson – 12 Years a Slave
as Mistress Epps
The most unflinching, ruthless bitch of the year was Paulson’s ice-cold incarnation of Mistress Epps. As the wife of a sadistic plantation owner, Paulson quickly proved that the master of the house wasn’t the only person slaves need fear. A truly shocking performance.
7. Julie Delpy – Before Midnight
The beauty of Before Midnight’s central, extended argument is that we never know who to root for. Is Celine right to accuse Jesse (Ethan Hawke) of spending too much time away? Is Jesse right to accuse Celine of being too quick to judge? We can’t answer, because there is no answer. Few play the contempt of an angry lover better than Julie Delpy.
6. Cate Blanchett & Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
I’m putting these two performances together because they deserve to be lauded equally. Both Blanchett and Hawkins were excellent in the film individually, and great when on screen together, but no matter who’s lead or supporting, both of these women warrant equal praise.
5. Amy Adams – American Hustle
as Sydney Prosser
Of all the swindlers in American Hustle, I most enjoyed being fooled by Sydney. I honestly hadn’t a clue what she was up to, and kept wondering if she even knew herself. This was Adams at her most sensual and ferocious, and I loved every minute of it.
4. Bérénice Bejo – The Past
A great, late-game surprise of the year was Asghar Farhadi’s The Past. At its center was the angered and conflicted Marie, who, over the course of a few days, has to atone for all the mistakes she has made and caused. Basically, Marie is the antithesis of Bejo’s bubbly character from The Artist. So angry, so helpless, so beautiful.
3. Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Where the hell did Lupita Nyong’o come from? She entered 12 Years a Slave unannounced and delivered the most devastating portrayal of an American slave ever caught on film. I don’t know what resources Nyong’o used to “get there” during her many excruciating scenes, but my God, what power this young woman bestows. Here’s to hoping she has a fair shot at the Oscar.
2. Amy Seimetz – Upstream Color
The conviction of Upstream Color rests solely on the shoulders of indie darling Amy Seimetz. Upstream Color was my favorite film of 2013, but I’ll be the first to admit that its complexities can be overwhelming. To persevere, we must believe in Kris’ struggle. We must accept that she’s in hell – completely unaware of how she got there, utterly dumbfounded as to how she’ll crawl out. If we believe her, then we believe the film. Well, I believe Upstream Color, and I love Amy Seimetz for selling it so convincingly.
1. Adèle Exarchopoulos – Blue is the Warmest Color
The best performance of 2013 was Adèle Exarchopoulos’ gut wrenching, fearless work in Blue is the Warmest Color. There was no character from any movie this year that I was compelled to follow more. Her transition from timid, confused teen to empowered, independent woman was so elegant, that it made her reckless behavior later in the film that much more heartbreaking.
There’s so much about this performance to respect. The film’s director, Abdellatif Kechiche, is said to be incessant in his vision. He routinely forced Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux to do at least 100 takes of every shot, causing production to go months overschedule. In addition, Kechiche would literally follow Exarchopoulos around with a camera, even when they weren’t filming. Once Kechiche started incorporating this unscripted footage into his film, he allowed Exarchopoulos to change her character’s name from Clementine to Adèle. My point is, Exarchopoulos was always on. She wasn’t Adèle, the actress, or Adèle, the character. She was Adèle. Perhaps “was” is inaccurate. “Is” seems more appropriate. Adèle Exarchopoulos is Adèle, and I will never tire of watching her slowly walk through her journey of self-discovery.