Here are my favorite male performances from 2014. There were many to choose from, so do feel free to share yours as well.
Oh and due to some confusion on my Top Female Performances of 2014 post, I only include films that were distributed in America in 2014. If a film premiered at a festival in 2013, but wasn’t released in the U.S. until 2014, it counts. Inversely, if a film premiered at a festival in 2014, but is being distributed in 2015, it does not count.
15. Josh Brolin – Inherent Vice
as Lt. Det. Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen
14. Patrick d’Assumçao – Stranger by the Lake
|Patrick d’Assumçao, left|
There were a lot of mysterious men in Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake. Odd then that my favorite character in the film was the only seemingly normal one, a kind, plump, and lonely gent named Henri. According to IMDb, d’Assumçao hasn’t had many roles. That’s fitting, because in Stranger by the Lake, he felt like a real guy who just happened to be sitting in the same place on the same beach every day. Sitting and waiting and hoping.
13. Timothy Spall – Mr. Turner
as J.M.W. Turner
Timothy Spall always gives excellent performances, particularly in his collaborations with Mike Leigh. But I’m not sure he’s ever been better than he was here. I knew very little about the real man when I started this film, but upon finishing it, I feel as though I have a full and balanced idea of who J.M.W. Turner was.
12. Bradley Cooper – American Sniper
as Chris Kyle
11. Michael Fassbender – Frank
Because even when he’s wearing a giant papier-mâché mask, Michael Fassbender proves that he’s one of our finest living actors. Seriously, what can’t this man do?
10. Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel
as Monsieur Gustave H.
Did anyone enjoy themselves more in a movie this year than Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel? You could just tell he had a blast frantically running through Wes Anderson’s world. For a guy best known for playing evil men, Fiennes effortlessly captured the essence of Anderson’s playfulness.
9. Jack O’Connell – Starred Up
as Eric Love
Jack O’Connell is perhaps better known for playing Louis Zamperini in Unbroken, but his ferocious turn in Starred Up was his crowning achievement of 2014. O’Connell gave everything as Eric Love, a kid whose explosive temper has landed him in an adult prison. There was fire and fury in every line spoken and every punch thrown. What power.
8. Oscar Isaac – A Most Violent Year
as Abel Morales
Oscar Isaac delivered one of the best movie speeches of the year as Abel Morales. It was a grand statement, a proclamation that succinctly captured who Abel is and, if pushed, what he’ll do.
“Stop,” Abel quietly urges during a key scene in the film. That’s it. “Stop.” Admittedly, Abel does say a bit more, but the moment I watched Isaac sum up his character with one single word, I sat in complete awe of an actor at the top of his game.
7. Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
as Mason Sr.
One of my favorite things in Boyhood is something that never actually happens. Late in the film, Ethan Hawke’s character tells his son, Mason Jr., that he recently sold his vintage GTO. Jr. gets upset, reminding his dad that they both agreed Jr. could have the car when he was old enough. Mason Sr. struggles to remember their agreement, before finally telling his son something to the effect of, “Tough shit, it was my car, I needed the money.”
Now, because this conversation takes place on Mason Jr.’s birthday, I assumed that in the next scene, Mason Sr. would unveil the unsold GTO, much to his son’s surprise and gratitude. But that didn’t happen. Mason Sr. actually sold the car. And that’s the way it goes. Sometimes we want more from our parents than they can give us. And sometimes they’re there for us when we never knew we needed them. That’s Mason Sr., the flawed and real man encapsulated so perfectly by Hawke.
6. Edward Norton – Birdman
Edward Norton has a mistaken reputation of being a hot-tempered and demanding method actor, so I love that he embraced that persona by playing Mike Shiner, a hot-tempered and demanding Broadway method actor. Whether he was boozing on stage, flirting with Emma Stone or wrestling with Michael Keaton, Norton excised any and all inhibitions and delivered one of the best, most intentionally absurd performances of the year.
5. Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler
as Louis Bloom
4. Jake Gyllenhaal – Enemy
as Adam Bell & Anthony Claire
Look, I’m not going to argue if you think Gyllenhaal was better in Nightcrawler. That’s a misuse of time. What’s important is that Gyllenhaal delivered not one but two (or, really, three) magnificent performances in 2014. Enemy is a transfixing experience, and much of the film’s success rests on Gyllenhaal’s ability to immerse himself into his characters. Whether he was on screen as the schlubby and confused Adam, or the confident and controlling Anthony (or both at the same time), I completely forgot that I was watching the work of one man. Gyllenhaal disappeared in broad daylight in this film.
3. Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
An admitted cheat (but one that makes room for more performances), but the point remains: Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo all delivered towering, career-best performances in Foxcatcher. And the kicker is, all of these roles are great for drastically different reasons. Who knew Steve Carell could morph so seamlessly into a grotesque creep? Who knew Channing Tatum had the emotive ability to play a bull trapped in a cage?
What Mark Ruffalo did as Dave is something we hardly see anymore. He made him a real man. Perhaps more than any film character of 2014, I could look at Ruffalo’s Dave Schultz and say, “Yeah, I know that guy.” We’ve all known a Dave Schultz. And while that may come off as faint praise, believe me, playing real is the hardest thing an actor can do.
2. J.K. Simmons – Whiplash
as Terence Fletcher
To those who think J.K. Simmons’ work in Whiplash amounts to mere verbal tirades, I offer you Simmons’ penultimate scene in the film. Where the subtle art of manipulation is executed in a small jazz bar.
It’s a love scene, really. Albeit a devious and nonconsensual one. Fletcher is tricking Andrew into caring about him. Into understanding and trusting him. But what we soon learn is that this is all a game to Fletcher. One where the only reasonable outcome is to make sure Andrew gets fucked. When you think about the psychology of Fletcher in this moment, it really opens up Simmons’ performance beyond ranting and raving. The instant Fletcher spots Andrew in that bar, he’s scheming. Payback shall be his, until, perhaps, it isn’t.
1. Michael Keaton – Birdman
as Riggan Thomson
I don’t know what I got more of a kick out of this year: watching Riggan Thomson bitch out a New York Times theatre critic (played by renowned theatre actress Lindsay Duncan) in Birdman, or reading real life critical upheaval over Riggan Thomson bitching out a New York Times theatre critic in Birdman. That scene was the highlight of the film for me. Throughout the movie, Michael Keaton is always just on the edge of pushing too far. And in that scene, with Riggan drunk and angry and looking for a fight, Keaton comes closest to becoming the joke, as opposed to being in on it. It’s such a risky thing to do – to blur the line between public perception and a fictional character. And instead of shying away from it, Keaton embraced the chaos.
Keaton’s work in Birdman the most enjoyable performance of 2014. What a thrill it was to watch one of my favorite actors deliver career-best work. By diving into such unique material, Keaton managed to reinvent himself, all while maintaining the best assets of his acting style. Birdman is back, baby. Flying high above us all.
More Best Of 2014 Posts