Monday, January 6, 2014

Top 15 “Background” Performances of 2013

I love actors. All actors. Even the ones who only appear on screen for a matter of seconds. With this list, I use the term background loosely as I hope to draw attention to some very impactful supporting roles that captured my eye last year. Here are a handful of actors from 2013 who stepped out of the background and asserted themselves as scene stealing players.

The (first) cold wife in 12 Years a Slave
Played by Liza J. Bennett

“Your children will soon be forgotten.” It’s the most shocking line in the most devastating film of the year, delivered to haunting perfection.

The young lovers in Before Midnight
Played by Ariane Labed and Yiannis Papadopoulos

Hey, look, there’s Jesse and Celine, 18 years younger, practical, in love, uninhibited with happiness, not yet aware of the bitterness of love.

The airplane passenger in Blue Jasmine
Played by Joy Carlin

Carlin gave us the first great laugh of Blue Jasmine, not to mention our first insight into the delusions of the complex title character.

The corpsman in Captain Phillips
Played by Danielle Albert

They did it twice. The first time, Albert, a Navy corpsman in real life, couldn’t succumb her stage fright. When they rolled for a second take, Albert nailed it. She helped deliver the scene of the year with precision, accuracy, and compassion.

The L.A. douchebag in Enough Said
Played by Christopher Nicholas Smith

The first time Julia Louis-Dreyfus struggled to walk up the stairs to a client’s apartment in Enough Said, I stared at the douchebag waiting for her and thought, “Holy shit, that dude is so L.A.”

The racist cop in Fruitvale Station
played by Kevin Durand

He’s a white cop who seemed to enjoy busting a bunch of black kids a little too much. But after tragedy struck, Durrand’s shift from aggressor to shocked defender was startling.

The SexyKitten in Her
Voiced by Kristen Wiig

Her hasn’t been released in too many theaters yet, so I don’t want to spoil Wiig’s contribution to it. But just you wait. She earns one of the year’s best laughs.

The little girl in The Hunt
Played by Annika Wedderkopp

Perhaps the best child performance of the year, little Klara wasn’t a monster, she was young and confused, entangled in a lie.

The alleyway bruiser in Inside Llewyn Davis
Played by Stephen Payne

You only find guys like this in Coen brothers movies: lean, dark, quiet, scary, funny – what a perfect way to own two minutes of screen time.

The cousins in Nebraska
Played by Devin Ratray & Tim Driscoll

The funniest bit in Nebraska? Ratray and Driscoll giving Will Forte endless amounts of crap for taking so long to drive to their house. Priceless.

The police captain in Prisoners
Played by Wayne Duvall

Duvall’s interactions with Jake Gyllenhaal in Prisoners were so remarkable in their accuracy. I totally believed that’s how they actually talked to each other.

The young, angry rapper in Short Term 12
Played by Keith Stanfield

Stanfield’s impromptu bedside rap was one of the most moving moments of 2013. The sound engineer who worked on my latest film also captured sound for Short Term 12. He said they shot this scene once (with two cameras), and by the end, everyone on set was crying. I love that Stanfield’s performance has been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.

The creeper in To the Wonder
Played by Danyeil Inman

I’ll never forget the woman peering in through the priest’s window, eerily taunting him. This moment so beautifully captures the inner torment of Javier Bardem’s character.

The Sampler in Upstream Color
Played by Andrew Sensenig

There are so many questions surrounding Sensenig’s poignant portrayal of The Sampler. How does he know to go to a field and wait for people to come to him? How long did it take him to figure out the process? And why? Why does this man do what he does? Such captivating work.

The aunt in The Wolf of Wall Street
Played by Joanna Lumley
Easily one of my favorite performances from Martin Scorsese’s frantic new film. Look at her eyes. Watch them. THAT’S acting.

2013 in Review
Top 10 Films of 2013

58 comments:

  1. RESPECT for your inclusion of Annika Wedderkopp from The Hunt. She had the second most important role of the film, and was absolutely perfect for the part. It wouldn't have been half as good without her.

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    1. Such an important role. Really dedicated child acting there. I wonder if she knew what the film was actually about?

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  2. The young lovers were nothing like Celine and Jesse. They were horrible people. I hated them so much. Thank god for the nice old lady who speaks afterwards.

    I saw Short Term 12 yesterday and that scene was soooo great. I swear, if it was a year with lesser number of fantastic performances (39 and counting), the guy would have definitely made my list.

    And yes, though I wanted the little girl in The Hunt to die while I watching the film, she really was incredible. And a bit creepy, as all kids are.

    As for any choices of my own, even though it wasn't so much for his acting, I can only think of the guy who played the younger version of the protagonist in The Great Beauty. He was gorgeous and I literally sat through most of the movie thinking he'll come back. And he was there for like 5 seconds but it almost made the visual assault of that movie worth it. Oh and the guy who gets beheaded in This Is The End. So funny.

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    1. Whoa. This is the most pessimistic/intense comment I've ever read from you. Is everything like... okay?

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    2. I think I've expressed all these opinions separately before but never all together like this.

      Yes, I'm fine, Alex. Thanks for the concern :)

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    3. Ah gotcha. I really liked that couple's practical take on young love. What they said was sad but very common.

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  3. So pleased you mentioned the little girl in The Hunt and the woman in that scene from Captain Phillips, the latter in particular was just a stunning, stunning scene.

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    1. Wasn't it? She really captured what is necessary in a moment like that: short, clear sentences, no emotion. So, so real.

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  4. Great list again Alex. It's surprising to see Joanna Lumley in there. She's quite well know for her tv and comedy work in the UK. Glad to see it though. Can't wait to see the film.

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    1. Thanks Mark! I don't remember seeing Lumley in anything else, but man, she is perfect in Wolf. A small role, but such a character.

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  5. Great list. A few of these films I haven't seen yet so I'm going to look for these little performances when I finally get around to them. Another performance I was blown away by that very few people talked about is Mana Ashida's performance in Pacific Rim. She's the little girl that plays Young Mako in the flashback sequences. She's on screen for a total of like five minutes, but it's one of the more convincing performances from a child I have seen in awhile. Points should be given to her as well for reacting to practically nothing, given how much CGI there is.

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    1. Ohhh dude, Ashida is a GREAT choice. Really solid pull there. Her scene was easily my favorite part of that film. Del Toro knows how to direct child so well.

      Thanks for reading!

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  6. So glad to see some of these small-but-vital performances recognized. Of the ones I've seen so far, I particularly loved "The Sampler" and Lumley's Aunt Emma.

    I'm curious what your thoughts are on Alfre Woodard in 12 Years. I had expected to see her in your "15 female" list, but figured it was "too small" for consideration. For me, her's one of the most wrenching performances of the year--and one of a half dozen great female roles in that film alone.

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    1. Woodard stunned me in that film. Like so many performances in 12 Years, Woodard's role is a great demonstration of what a truly great actor can do with just one scene. She was so startling in her delivery. I loved everything about it.

      So glad to see some props for The Sampler!

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  7. I love that you included Annika Wedderkopp! She gave a wonderful little performance.

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    1. Didn't she? I was mesmerized by her confusion.

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  8. Haven't had the chance to see "Her" or "Upstream Color" yet, but these are some real stand-out performances. Joanna Lumley is delectable in "The Wolf of Wall Street"....but when is she anything but wonderful? Yes, I do own the entire "Absolutely Fabulous" series! Great job!

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    1. It's so funny, I can't recall seeing her in anything else. But still, I loved her in Wolf so much!

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    2. Other than the British series "Absolutely Fabulous", she was a Bond girl in the 60s, had a cute series with David McCallum-"Sapphire and Steele" and did some great voicework for Tim Burton. Wonderful actress with an insane ability for physical comedy!

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    3. Ohhhh On Her Majesty's Secret Service?! I remember now. That's so cool!

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    4. Yes....1969, I believe. She started as a model....could still work as one now--beautiful lady.

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  9. Great little list here (I will post my best of on here as soon as I've seen more of what I've wanted to). So happy to see love for The Hunt on here though, if I hadn't seen it last year it easily would have been one of my favorites and am so glad you enjoyed (though perhaps that might not be the best word to use to describe it) the film. This list is very cool though. Definitely agree with Wiig's cameo in Her and the performances in Nebraska, TWoWS, Blue Jasmine, and Prisoners - such great small roles.

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    1. Glad you dig the list! I know what you mean about "enjoying" The Hunt. I definitely appreciate the hell out of it, that's for sure.

      Look forward to your Best Of list!

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  10. Awesome, AWESOME list. I'd have included Angela McEwan from Nebraska. Just one scene, but it's one that really hits the film's themes, and she nails it.

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    1. Thanks man! Great call with McEwan, she really was perfect in that film. I loved that scene.

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  11. Oh, Joanna Lumley was great in The Wolf of Wall Street. That one scene she had w/ Leo was fucking gold. The cousins in Nebraska were amazing. One of them was Buzz from the Home Alone movies. I remember that douche in Enough Said. I was like "are you going to fucking help or what you asshole?"

    There's another character in The Wolf of Wall Street I think deserves a mention and that is Stephanie Kurtzuba as Kimmie Belzer. She stood out for me as a lady who is like one of the guys. She didn't take shit from anyone and how Jordan mentioned her as someone who needed help and he did and she was grateful for that. She was great in that.

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    1. You gotta love Payne for giving Buzz a shot. I thought he was great in Nebraska.

      GREAT call with Kurtzuba. That was a brief but very strong performance. Shit made me tear up.

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  12. That wife from 12YaS was actually a lot more evil than Paulson's character, I think. There was a shot of her drinking tea while Solomon was hanging, right? Horrible.

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    1. Yep, sure was. Horrible indeed. Can you imagine just watching someone go through that?

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    2. She really captured the mentality of a monster in such a short period of time.

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  13. Brilliant list! Keith Stanfield could get an Oscar nom for that song. It's a long shot, but it'd be amazing. Glad to see Annika Wedderkopp on here too. She definitely gives one of the best child performances of the year. My pick would be Conner Chapman in The Selfish Giant.

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    1. There's The Selfish Giant again. I gotta see it!

      Stanfield was so remarkable in that film. Imagine if he landed an Oscar nom. Wow.

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  14. What a cool idea for a list! I watched Prince Avalanche recently (great film) and the truck driver Lance LeGault stole every scene he was in.

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    1. Thanks! That guy really did steal his scenes, didn't he? I considered the old lady from that film as well. That was a solid performance.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  15. This is a great idea. Little things like the airplane passenger in Blue Jasmine deserve recognition!

    Haven't seen a lot of these films at this stage still (Her, Llewyn, Wolf + Nebraska) so had to quickly scroll past some haha

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    1. Thanks Alex! I love giving credit to actors of all kinds. I loved that woman in Blue Jasmine. She was a hoot.

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  16. Dat spike jonze cameo man

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    1. So great. He's a good little actor, isn't he?

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  17. Alex, it's great to see a mention of the lovers in Before Midnight. The extra characters added some much-needed depth to the story. I'm also intrigued by the Sampler in Upstream Color. I like how the mystery remains with him throughout the movie.

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    1. Oh I agree, those lovers really helped shed a light on what love really can be, in all its practical not-working-out-ness.

      The Sampler was such a mystery. I loved Sensenig's work.

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  18. Great to see another bit of love for The Hunt! Looking forward to seeing Joanna Lumley in TWOWS and Kevin Durand in Fruitvale!

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    1. Durand is furious in Fruitvale. Really enthralling work. He's such a fine actor.

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  19. Love this list, Alex. I really, really do. I love that you focus on these performances. Of all the haunting things in "Lleweyn Davis" I think what has haunted me the most is Payne's voice saying "Fucking cesspool. You can have it." There's just something so dismissive of the entire culture, the entire civilization, that the film presents in those lines. And the L.A. douchebag. Yeah, the L.A. douchebag.

    My background performance of the year was Brie Larson in Don Jon. But you knew that.

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    1. Oh man, I was this close to including Larson here. I loved what she did in Don Jon. Your review of that film was so spot on.

      Payne's performance in Lleweyn Davis was so important, for all the reasons you mentioned. The Coens can be so concise with what they're trying to say.

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  20. "The L.A. douchebag in Enough Said" -- hah, love it! Brilliant list all around, man. You really have an eye for the less-appreciated performances.

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    1. Thanks Eric! I really do love ALL actors. Wasn't that douchebag a trip?

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  21. Your end of the year posts and especially this one (weird maybe, but Kevin Durand is frequently my favorite part of anything I see him in) convinced me to finally watch Fruitvale Station, which I guess I kinda dismissed when it came out. And I liked it a lot! So thanks for that.

    And also, I think the guy from Short Term 12 was named Marcus maybe? And he was absolutely amazing.

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    1. Awesome man, so glad you liked Fruitvale. Wasn't Durand just great? Very commanding performance there. And Keith Stanfield... absolutely amazing indeed.

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  22. I saw Wolf yesterday - loved it btw - and yes, Aunt Emma's eyes - Good God I don't think I've ever thought that of an actress but she literally had sex in her eyes in every single scene.

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    1. YES! Exactly. Even in her first scene, with that "Enjoy the day," line... there's a flicker in her eyes that is so captivating. Really looking forward to your Wolf review!

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  23. GREAT post here. I'm watching Short Term 12 tonight, and I can't wait to come across the scene you listed. All of the mentions here are memorable performances albeit most are brief.

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    1. Thanks! That scene in Short Term 12 just kills me. I really hope you like that film. It's something special.

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  24. Really great to see To The Wonder mentioned here, I found that actress' contribution to be innumerable in driving home the theme of loneliness and the listless nature of all the characters involved. That movie sure did get slept on, I thought it was wonderful. Recently watched The Hunt and man, Wedderkopp is perfect. What a great film, holy shit.

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    1. Awesome man, I love hearing that you're a fan of that To the Wonder performance. I really thought that film was damn special, and deserving of more praise.

      Glad you appreciated The Hunt as well. Holy shit indeed.

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  25. Loved that you included Annika Wedderkopp. I too thought she gave the best performance by a child actor in 2013. But one background performance I would say stuck with me is by the actress who played the friend Adele got into a fight with in Blue Is The Warmest Color. I don't know her name, but she was brilliant yet despicable as Adele's friend who suddenly puts her down for being different, so to speak.

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    1. Dude that is a GREAT call about Adele's friend in Blue is the Warmest Color. Her transition from friend to enemy is swift and actually kind of terrifying. Nearly every single "out" friend I have has a story similar to that one. Goddamn shame.

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