Thursday, January 8, 2015

Top 15 Male Performances of 2014

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
Of all the maniacs who occupied Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, Josh Brolin seemed to be having the most fun. The hair helped, sure, but Bigfoot was batshit bonkers in all the best ways. “Hai. Hai. Hai! HAI!”

14. Patrick d’Assumçao – Stranger by the Lake
as Henri
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
Chris Kyle is the antithesis of a Bradley Cooper performance. Control, nuance, emotion, they all took center frame to Cooper’s oft dependency of smartassery and frantic energy. This is by far Cooper’s finest performance to date.

11. Michael Fassbender – Frank
as 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
as Mike Shiner
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
What’s not to love about Louis Bloom? Sure, he may be a manipulative, psychotic madman motivated as much by greed as he is by fame, but what fun it is to watch him. Lou Bloom is Gyllenhaal at his most unhinged. We’re so used to seeing hyper-articulate, wildly intelligent film characters be portrayed as wiseass good guys. Nightcrawler is about one such person, who just may happen to be fucking insane. What fun, indeed.

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
as John Eleuthère du Pont, Mark Schultz and Dave Schultz
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


  1. Ooo fantastic list. Sooo happy to see O'Connell here. I'm totally fangirling over him.

    I'm going to cheat in my list too and put Gyllenhaal for both/all three of his performances at top (but below Pike).

    I think the way you feel about Keaton's performance, I feel about Norton's. I loved it SOOO fucking much! Like I was so sure no one will beat Simmons in terms of supporting actor for me but then I saw Norton and remembered why he's one of my favourite actors ever.

    Also love Fiennes and the Foxcatcher people and Spall and Fassy and Hawke and happy to see Stranger by the Lake here too.

    I'd only add Brendan Gleeson in Calvary. He's still in my top 10.

    1. Thanks Nik! I really loved Norton in Birdman as well. Supporting Actor is insane this year. Four of the ones likely to be nominated are on my list, which is awesome. So glad you like so many of my picks!

  2. I love the mention of Ethan Hawke in Boyhood. That scene with the car is such a great example of moments that appear throughout the film. What surprised me was finding Mason Sr. sort of pathetic in the beginning and then enjoying his scenes more with each appearance. Part of it is also comparing him to the other "dads" in the film. His characters goes to a much different place than I expected.

    1. Yes, exactly. Love this comment, couldn't agree more. You really got to know that guy, flaws and all. Loved what Hawke did with the character.

  3. What a great, great list. So many fantastic performances this year, it was such a pleasure to watch them all. When Michael Keaton and J.K. Simmons win their Oscars, I'm going to be cheering loudly. I'll make sure to keep my eye out for Frank and Stranger by the Lake!

    My own top 15, lead and supporting.

    1. Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
    2. Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner
    3. John Lithgow & Alfred Molina, Love is Strange
    4. Michael Keaton, Birdman
    5. David Oyelowo, Selma
    6. Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice
    7. Jake Gyllenhaal, Enemy & Nightcrawler
    8. Brendan Gleeson, Calvary
    9. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
    10. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
    11. Haluk Bilginer, Winter Sleep
    12. Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher
    13. Miles Teller, Whiplash
    14. Jack O'Connell, Starred Up, '71 & Unbroken
    15. Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood

    1. J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
    2. Edward Norton, Birdman
    3. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
    4. Bill Nighy, Pride
    5. Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
    6. Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice
    7. Riz Ahmed, Nightcrawler
    8. Evan Bird, Maps to the Stars
    9. Jeffrey Wright, Only Lovers Left Alive
    10. Andrew Scott, Pride
    11. Benicio Del Toro, Inherent Vice
    12. Ben Mendelsohn, Starred Up
    13. Marco Perella, Boyhood
    14. Zach Galifianakis, Birdman
    15. Brad Hawkins, Boyhood

    1. Benicio was so good in Inherent Vice. That dude should be in so many more movies. I adore him.

      Great lists all around. Love that Simmons comes in first for you in supporting as well. Wright was my favorite part of Only Lovers Left Alive. He's always been one of my favorites. Such a strong actor.

  4. I just watched both Birdman and Whiplash today so my top 3 are exactly the same as yours (well, i had Steve Carell in my third spot at least), but two performances from this year that don't get talked about nearly enough i think are Brendan Gleeson in Calvary and Nicolas Cage in Joe. Those are also two of my favorite performances of the year and they get overlooked almost everywhere i feel. It's a damn shame because Joe could have been somewhat of a comeback for Cage, but instead he went back to making movies like Left Behind right after it. He can be a fantastic actor when given the right material.

    1. Couldn't agree more about Cage in Joe. The marketing is what screwed that movie. I mean, they just dumped it with no push whatsoever; really a shame. It was his strongest work in years, but you have to make be aware so they can see the damn thing. Also a big fan of Gleeson in Calvary. I agree, a sadly overlooked performance.

  5. Great list good sir (in both this and your female casts)! I totally agree with your points on Simmons. Dude just kills it and reveals so much more to that character that if people think it's all just yelling and giving tirades I have a hard time talking to them. Seriously, he fucking kills that movie and brings that character to life. (I love other things you wrote but that was the one that I like the most in this article lol).

    1. Jake Gyllenhaal - Enemy, Nightcrawler
    2. J.K. Simmons. - Whiplash
    3. Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
    4. Michael Keaton - Birdman
    5. Jack O'Connell - Starred Up, '71, Unbroken
    6. Lee Kang-Sheng - Stray Dogs
    7. Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
    8. Viggo Mortensen - Jauja
    9. Guy Pearce - The Rover
    10. Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel
    11. Tom Hiddleston - Only Lovers Left Alive
    12. Timothy Spall - Mr. Turner
    13. Michael Fassbender - Frank
    14. Haluk Bilginer - Winter Sleep
    15. Matthew McConaughey - Interstellar

    1. Marion Cotillard - The Immigrant, Two Days, One Night
    2. Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
    3. Julianne Moore - Maps to the Stars, Still Alice
    4. Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl
    5. Scarlett Johansson - Under The Skin, Lucy
    6. Rene Russo - Nightcrawler
    7. Jacqueline Bisset - Welcome to New York
    8. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin - Nymphomaniac
    9. Mia Wasikowska - The Double, Maps to the Stars, Tracks
    10. Felicity Jones - Breathe In, The Theory of Everything
    11. Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace Moretz - Clouds of Sils Maria
    12. Essie Davis - The Babadook
    13. Zoe Kazan - In Your Eyes, The Pretty One
    14. Aubrey Plaza - About Alex
    15. Gugu Mbatha-Raw - Belle

    Also congrats on your success with Wait thus far! Can't wait to finally see it!

    1. These lists roooock. I keep seeing tweets about how Simmons' work in Whiplash is "one note," and, well, if that's how people feel, then I guess we watched different movies.

      Love that Marion tops your female list. She's so damn strong in everything. I can't wait to see what she does with Lady Macbeth, holy shit.

      Thanks for your kind words about Wait! Really excited to get it out there.

  6. I saw Birdman today and it quite effortlessly became my fav movie of 2014 and jumped right into my top 30 of all time. I saw Whiplash on Monday and I was like, yeah JK is my win and then I saw Norton today and I'm like, yeah JK is not my win. I loved all the layers to Fletcher but for me Norton as an actor disappeared completely into his character, I saw this dude in countless movies and not once watching him as Mike did I think I was watching an actor play a role, I was thinking in terms of him being this character.

    And Keaton was just fearless and he is also my win. As is director. And cinematography. And the quote - the candle one about Emma Stone. I can't wait to start reviewing this. It's like Black Swan meets Enter the Void meets Fight Club and it has the most perfect balance of giving us enough and not too much so that you can literally interpret the movie in dozens of ways and choose the one you relate to the most and it still works.

    And Lindsay Duncan! I loved her in Rome. It was so great seeing her here and that scene and that whole bit where she put the flower back in his hand was brilliant.

    1. Sooo happy you loved Birdman that much. I saw it three times in the theater, couldn't get enough of it. Everyone involved in that film was working at their highest level. It's just fucking outstanding.

      Also glad you dug that scene with the critic. I thought it was so hilarious (read: pathetic) to read "professional" film critics bitch and moan tirelessly about that scene.

  7. Wow! What a great list! We have a lot of the same picks and even the same number 1:

    1. Michael Keaton- Birdman
    2. Ben Mendelsohn- Starred Up
    3. Jake Gyllenhaal- Nightcrawler
    4. Foxcatcher guys
    5. Tom Hardy- Locke
    6. Jack O'Connell- Starred Up
    7. Ethan Hawke- Boyhood
    8. J.K. Simmons- Whiplash
    9. Brendan Gleeson- Calvary
    10. Pierre Deladonchamps- Stranger By The Lake
    11. Edward Norton- Birdman
    12. Matthew McConaughey- Interstellar
    13. Ralph Fiennes- Grand Budapest Hotel
    14. Ben Affleck- Gone Girl
    15. Michael Fassbender- Frank

    1. Thanks! Gotta love Keaton, man. Never better. So happy Simmons makes your list as well. And Affleck... I really wanted to include him, because I did love his work in that film. Just barely didn't make the cut.

  8. Great work, as always. Surprised not seeing David Oyelowo. I haven't seen Selma, but he keeps turning up on other lists on this topic. I did see Gone Girl and feel like Affleck is geting overlooked. Its my fave performance of his. I'll be watching Enemy this week. Can't wait to see what JG pulls off. Finally, can a brother get some Andy Serkis love? I thought he was phenomenal in Apes.

    1. Thanks man. Serkis... no one does it like him, you know? That dude is practically his own damn brand. What a talented guy. I've made a point to not talk about this a lot, but, to be brief, Selma was not for me. I appreciate it's noble intentions, but I couldn't get into it.

  9. This is going to be tough as I'm finally going to see Inherent Vice this weekend as there's going to be some serious changes in my actors list. So far in my top 10 it's...

    1. Michael Keaton-Birdman
    2. Ralph Fiennes-The Grand Budapest Hotel
    3. Michael Fassbender-Frank
    4. Jake Gyllenhaal-Nightcrawler
    5. Mark Ruffalo-Foxcatcher
    6. Ethan Hawke-Boyhood
    7. Andy Serkis-Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    8. Ellar Coltrane-Boyhood
    9. Tony Revolori-The Grand Budapest Hotel
    10. Steve Carell-Foxcatcher

    1. Great list. Very curious to see how those men from Inherent Vice stack up for you. Love that Keaton comes in at number one.

  10. So much good stuff on your list, I love it! For starters J.K. Simmons, I don't really need to say much to justify any sort of love for him in Whiplash.

    Super happy about the Foxcatcher crew, even though I still haven't seen it, it still speaks very highly of the film, and it just increases the want to see it.

    Double Gyllenhaal, yesssssss!

    Edward Norton, I'm really happy he had a good year, and thought due to all the talk he would finally get the long deserved Oscar, but that was until I saw Whiplash, in which I'll be very happy if Simmons gets the supporting Oscar, but I'll also be happy if Norton does (assuming they both get nominations). So really great list!

    And real quick congratulations on the winning of the film festival and your acceptance to the other one as well, that's so great! I got a good feeling that you're going to win that one as well. Glad Wait is so successful so far, can't wait to see it!

    1. Thanks man! Your comments are always so kind! I would love for Simmons to win Best Supporting Actor, but I would not be mad at all if Norton or Ruffalo took it (or Hawke, for that matter). What a strong category this year.

      Thanks for the nice words about Wait! It's a whirlwind man. I still can't believe it is happening. I'm so thrilled.

  11. I couldn't agree more with your number 1, Norton also quite genius. Also, I thought the same thing with Fassbender, what can't he do? You make me want to watch American Sniper.

    Interesting that you put Jake Gylenhaal with two roles next to each other, he's such a bold actor now.

    I've got to see Foxcatcher!

    1. I actually tired to find a way to separate those Gylenhaal performances, but the list falls how to falls haha! Fassbender is a genius. Can't wait for Macbeth.

  12. lol, I'm okay with your Foxcatcher cheat. My theater gets that movie next weekend and I can't wait to see it. Excellent list, as always.

    Side note - I need to find new adjectives to describe your lists because I always love them so much. lol

    1. Aww thanks so much, Brittani! You're so kind. Foxcatcher is so damn good, and those 3 men absolutely kill it. Tatum, man. Who knew?

  13. I've seen five, and I liked them all, loved four of them (I'm just not high on Boyhood in any way) and cannot wait to see every other one noted here!

    1. Good stuff man! I hope you have a chance to see them soon.

  14. The battle is between two actors (who both played comic book characters): Michael Keaton (I swear, I die to see Birdman) and J.K. Simmons (again, I die); who both will win an Oscar. Chris Evans was very good in Snowpiercer. Jake Gyllenhaal IS the best actor of the year with three great roles in one year.

    1. I really hope both Keaton and Simmons win Oscars. Loved those performances so much.

  15. Awesome list. Love it that we have the same No. 1:

    1) Michael Keaton - Birdman
    2) Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
    3) Jake Gyllenhaal - Enemy
    4) Tom Hardy - Locke
    5) Timothy Spall - Mr. Turner
    6) J.K. Simmons - Whiplash
    7) Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel
    8) Edward Norton - Birdman
    9) Bill Murray - St. Vincent
    10) Eddie Redmayne - The Theory Of Everything
    11) Jack O'Connell - Starred Up
    12) Steve Carell - Foxcatcher
    13) Michael Fassbender - Frank
    14) Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler
    15) Josh Brolin - Inherent Vice

    1. Great stuff buddy, so cool that we have so many in common. Keaton, for the win!

  16. Great stuff man! I just rewatched Boyhood (didn't love it as much, but I still like it), and Hawke is best in show for me. Love the Gyllenhaal double mention. He's had a great run lately. Really looking forward to seeing the work from Simmons, Spall, Cooper, Isaac, and the Foxcatcher guys.

    My favorites right now are:


    1. Philip Seymour Hoffman, A Most Wanted Man
    2. Michael Keaton, Birdman
    3. Brendan Gleeson, Calvary
    4. Tom Hardy, Locke
    5. Jack O'Connell, Starred Up
    6. Jude Law, Dom Hemingway
    7. James McAvoy, Filth
    8. Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins
    9. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
    10. Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel

    HM - Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice & The Immigrant


    1. Ben Mendelsohn, Starred Up
    2. Edward Norton, Birdman
    3. Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice
    4. James Gandolfini, The Drop
    5. Shia LaBeouf, Fury
    6. Kool Shen, Abuse of Weakness
    7. James Corden, Begin Again
    8. Michael Fassbender, Frank
    9. Tye Sheridan, Joe
    10. Robert Pattinson, The Rover

    1. Great stuff man. I saw your Boyhood tweets the other day. Sad news for me, but hey, we like what we like. So cool that we have so many in common. Hoffman was excellent in that film. Such a strong performance, and a sad reminder that he's gone.

    2. Thanks pal. Oh, I still *like* Boyhood, but I had a few problems with the second half on a rewatch. I'd give it an A- upon reflection, though it's not even in my top 20. Still, I'm a fan, just not as much as I was when I first saw it. Love that Linklater is getting his moment. Hope he wins Best Director at the very least. :)

    3. Me too! I mean, what an unlikely guy to win it, you know? I think it'd be huge for the Academy to give it to him.

  17. Killer list man, I agree with everything here. 2014 was a great year for acting, acting, acting! J.K. Simmons was such a force in Whiplash, makes you tremble, it's a shame that Miles Teller's great performance may find itself eclipsed by his. I was happy to see Fassbender's Frank on here, really underrated performance, the guy always delivers...except for Centurion haha.

    But hey, I think we can all agree that 2014 was very much the Year of the Jake. Enemy and Nighcrawler, this dude is acting the shit out of everyone. More Jake, always Jake! Michel Keaton was awesome in Birdman as was Ed Norton, I really enjoyed Zach's performance too.

    The guys are only matched by how top drawer the female performances were this year. Good post, sorry for the mountain of text haha

    1. Thanks buddy! Don't ever apologize for leaving a long comment! I'm so happy that you take the time to read my posts and comment.

      The Year of the Jake, no doubt. Dude is killing it lately. Teller was so good in Whiplash as well. He just barely didn't make my cut here. Still, a damn committed performance.

  18. Great description of Keaton's work. "Right on the edge." I like it. I'll be rooting for him come Oscar night. And I like that scene you chose to summarize Hawke and your analysis of it.

    1. Thanks man. Keaton, for the win! And that scene with Hawke was one of the film's best moments for me. I mean, who hasn't experienced something like that?

  19. I love that you included all three performances from Foxcatcher. All three of those guys killed it, and they were always captivating even when they weren't saying anything at all. And Simmons, man, his performance was fucking terrifying.

    1. Nice man, glad you agree. Those Foxcatcher men crushed it for sure. And Simmons, I'm so happy he might very well win the Oscar. So well deserved.