Friday, January 3, 2014

Top 15 Female Performances of 2013

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
as Emma

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
as Emily

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
as Wanda

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
as Lil

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
as Naomi

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
as Celine

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
as Jasmine & Ginger
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
as Marie

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
as Patsey

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
as Kris

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
as Adèle

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. 


  1. For me as of right now....

    1. Adele Exarchopolous-Blue is the Warmest Color
    2. Sandra Bullock-Gravity
    3. Julie Delpy-Before Midnight
    4. Zhang Ziyi-The Grandmaster
    5. Cate Blanchett & Sally Hawkins-Blue Jasmine
    6. Amy Adams-American Hustle
    7. Lupita Nyong'o-12 Years a Slave
    8. Emma Watson-The Bling Ring
    9. Lea Seydoux-Blue is the Warmest Color
    10. Octavia Spencer-Fruitvale Station

    Honorable mentions for June Squibb-Nebraska, Jena Malone-The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Debbie Reynolds-Behind the Candelabra, Rooney Mara-Side Effects, Margot Robbie & Joanna Lumley-The Wolf of Wall Street, Sarah Paulson-12 Years a Slave, and Carey Mulligan-Inside Llewyn Davis

    It's been a great year so far.

    1. Oh shit man, that's a great list. I like that we have so many in common. Definitely been a great year.

      I really wanted to include Watson, but she just didn't make the cut. I LOVED her in that film.

  2. Oh man love your list and thanks freaking God for no Lawrence, I see her on one more list I'll scream. Love your number one pick but in all honesty all that additional footage kinda makes me think Adele managed to create something that felt so natural because well, no one saw her in other roles and she did feel like a regular girl. She didn't even need to act in some scenes, just be, so it's hard for me to praise her work as 'performance' completely.

    Love your Paulson inclusion on the list. She is my win for Supporting Actress. I think that all the slaves didn't need to fear her - just the ones who caught her husband eye. Her work is so laced with jealousy and bitterness she hides under the cruelty.

    I also nominate Kidman for Stoker and Johansson for Don Jon, in lead Bullock for Gravity and Farmiga for Conjuring, but I still have Blue Jasmine, Nebraska, Wolf of Wall Street and Her to see.

    1. Like I said on your site, I too am surprised by all the attention Lawrence has been getting. I really hope she doesn't beat out Paulson or Nyong’o. I'm with you about Paulson... not all slaves needed to fear her, just the ones that she was intimidated by in some way. Rarely is cruelty played so effectively. Wow.

      I like your additional picks. Kidman was excellent in Stoker.

  3. A major high five for including Margot Robbie on here - she's probably one of my favourite performers from last year. Sure, that's kinda helped by the fact I used to watch her every weekday on Neighbours and it's weird that she's made it this far, but man, that scene where she is throwing water on Leo...just perfect. Also love the inclusion of Berenice Bejo and Rooney Mara, definitely two of my favourites. Ooh and also combining both Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins. They were so great in Blue Jasmine, equally. Really hope that Sally pulls through with an Oscar nomination!

    1. Robbie was perfect in that film. So commanding. Love hearing that you're a fan of Bejo's work in The Past. That film floored me. She was so... ah, just such a mess, and I loved her.

      God, I hope Sally gets a nom as well. What more does the woman have to do?!

  4. Alex, it's cool to see Delpy mentioned here. I assumed that she was a shoo-in for lots of awards after seeing Before Midnight. She's had a few nods, but not nearly as much as I'd expect. I also really like what Mara did in Side Effects with a tricky role.

    1. Oh I'm right there with you, I'm stunned that Delpy hasn't garnered more awards attention. The WGA nom today was nice, but I certainly hope her chances for a Best Actress nom aren't dead. She was so good in that film.

  5. Aww no Gerwig :( It's between her and Exarchopoulos for the top spot for me. Like I totally believe Exarchopoulos IS the best performer of the year, but Gerwig is my favourite.

    I'll release a mixed list, but my top 10 females so far would also include Scarlett Johansson for Don Jon, Lea Seydoux, Emma Watson, Suzanne Clement, Shailene Woodley, Sandra Bullock, Pauline Burlet (who I liked so much more than Bejo).

    I would also like to mention Delpy, Jennifer Lawrence, Melissa McCarthy and Paulson, all of whom I think might make it into my final list.

    1. I forgot to be Shailene Woodley in my honorable mentions list while Greta Gerwig would be Best Actress 2012 pick since the film did premiere in Toronto that year. Still, I hope Gergwig gets an Oscar nod as far-fetched as it would be.

    2. Oh I loved Gerwig, she just (barely) didn't make the cut. It really felt like she was that character. I was This. Close. to putting Burlet and Bejo together, but I didn't want to get into a habit of that. No matter, Burlet was a quiet sensation in The Past.

  6. Again quite a few I haven't seen but great to see Adams mentioned(obviously). I just saw The Past last week(BTW, favourite of the year so far) and Bejo truly was amazing. Amy Seimetz was standout in Upstream as well.

    I am most happy to see Woodley make an appearance though. I did have a small problem with her character in the end but I genuinely cared for her throughout the movie and for Miler Teller's character as well.

    Few that probably will receive some mention in my list would be Veerle Baetens(Broken Circle Breakdown), Greta Gerwig(Frances Ha) and Amy Acker(Much Ado about Nothing).

    1. Awesome man, loving hearing some praise for The Past. Such a small and powerful film. I love Farhadi's style of unveiling a story.

      I really need to see Broken Circle huh?!

  7. Great list.
    Totally agree with your no. 1 choice & you describe your reasons for her so well.
    I would add Gerwig to the list, she was Frances Ha.
    Recently watched Stoker & thought Kidman was very good.
    Blue Jasmine & August:Osage County are 2 films I haven't seen yet & I'm keen to see what performances come out of it.

    1. Thanks! I hope you like the acting in Blue Jasmine... I found it truly spellbinding. August has some great performances (namely Margo Martindale). A tough film to appreciate though.

  8. Yes for Naomi Watts being on the list! She was my standout performance of the year. All of your choices (that I've seen) are excellent. I'm so please to see Berenice Bejo so high too. It's criminal how she has garnered so much less attention than Blanchett and Bullock!

    1. Love to Watts!! Honestly, I'm stunned that Bejo hasn't garnered more awards attention. Considering she's a prior nominee... it's just a damn shame that her work for The Past hasn't been recognized. I loved her in that film.

  9. I haven't seen a lot of these but man, do I agree! Adèle Exarchopoulos was clearly my #1 female performance of the year.

    I also loved Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Shailene Woodley who I think would make up my top 5, but I haven't seen Squibb, Blanchett or Robbie yet. So pumped for Nebraska and Wolf!

    1. You gotta love Adèle. I'll be curious to hear what you think of Nebraska and Wolf. Two very good, but completely different, films there.

  10. "Perhaps “was” is inaccurate. “Is” seems more appropriate." Ha! PERFECTLY said. Truth, truth and more truth. 2013: year of Adele.

    Also, thanks for putting Blanchett & Hawkins together. More truth. And for singling out Amy Adams in "American Hustle." (And "The Past" really needs to hurry up & get to Chicago, because I feel left out of the conversation on that one.)

    1. Adèle. Man. She hasn't left my head since I saw that film. Such pain and beauty and passion. I love her.

      Ohh I think you'll really appreciate The Past. That one is all about the importance of the words. Every word. It's a very complex and fantastic film.

  11. Great stuff. Adele killed it, for sure. Really love seeing Delpy, Robbie and Watts in the top 10 as well.

    1. Thanks man. So many excellent female performances this year. I love it.

  12. Basically this is simply a list of female performances I NEED to see!

  13. Wow man, I love your blog. Seriously. I only discovered a few weeks back and now it's nearly at the top of my Favourites list.
    I think all the entries are very interesting (love what you do with "X things that I love about ---- and that nobody talks about") and i love that you make lists.
    Seriously, I'm gonna watch all the movies in your TOPs of this and previous years. For what I've seen, we like the same type of cinema.
    Keep up the good work.

    1. Wow, thanks so much for the comment, it really means a lot! So happy to hear that you like the site and that we seem to have similar tastes. Feel free to stop by anytime, I always appreciate it!

  14. Cate Blanchett is phenomenal in Blue Jasmine. And I agree about Adele, she was brilliant, one of my top performances of 2013.

    1. Adèle was such a knockout, wasn't she? What fearless work there.

  15. This is such a strong list! I love it. And you don't even have some of the other big ones on there like Sandra Bullock, Emma Thompson, or Meryl & Julia (have you seen August Osage County yet?). It has yet again reinforced that I NEED to see Blue is the Warmest Color. It's at the top of my Netflix queue but currently has a long wait.

    1. Thanks! I have seen August: Osage County, and while I appreciated all the work in it (particularly that of Margo Martindale... I love that woman), some of them just barely didn't make the cut here. Still, strong stuff all around.

      Blue will be out on Criterion DVD in late Feb, in case Netflix doesn't come through by then ;)

  16. Thank you for having Adele at first. Really. Thank you so much, my friend.

    1. So glad you like her work in that as much as me.

  17. Can't argue with Adèle Exarchopoulos, she was amazing in Blue is the Warmest Color. I hope that role will launch her career. If not, she'll always have the Palme d'Or on her mantle piece :)

    1. Oh same here. I think she'll be around for a great long while. But yeah, a Palme d'Or at 19 ain't half bad.

  18. Shailene Woodley is definitely stringing together a few tp performances. One to watch out for in the next year or so - big things I'm guessing.

    Naomi Watts obviously saved up all her creative juices for Adore, leaving nothing for Diana..!

    1. I adore Shailene Woodley. I thought she was, well... spectacular in that film.

      I skipped Diana... didn't sound worth it in the slightest. Damn shame.

  19. Glad that Shailene Woodley made your list, I thought she was excellent.
    No one can top Blanchett for me though.

    1. I loved that final scene of Blue Jasmine. Jesus, it still haunts me. Blanchett is just sensational.

  20. This is a very strong list, Alex! I was truly amazed by the work done by women this year and I feel that all the performances mentioned in this page are more than awards-worthy. My personal Top 15 goes like this:

    1) Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
    2) Adèle Exarchopoulos, "Blue is the warmest color"
    3) Amy Adams, "American Hustle"
    4) Judi Dench, "Philomena"
    5) Brie Larson, "Short term 12"
    6) Lupita Nyong'o, "12 years a slave"
    7) Julia Roberts, "August: Osage County"
    8) Emma Thompson, "Saving Mr. Banks"
    9) Julie Delpy, "Before Midnight"
    10) Kathryn Hahn, "Afternoon delight"
    11) Robin Wright, "Adore"
    12) Jennifer Lawrence, "The Hunger Games: Catching fire"
    13) Greta Gerwig, "Frances Ha"
    14) Juno Temple, "Magic Magic"
    15) Naomi Watts, "Sunlight Jr."

    Exarchopoulos' performance was painfully honest, but there's no female performance this year that can match in my eyes the awe-inspiring tour de force of Cate Blanchett as Jasmine French. Her performance in Woody Allen's brilliant last film is a force of nature and deserves to go down in history among the greatest acting ever put on screen. I-M-P-E-C-C-A-B-L-E.

    1. Awesome man, love your list. So happy to see Adèle ranked so high. I really need to give Blue Jasmine another watch. I only saw it once, when it was released in theaters, but I haven't been able to get Blanchett out of my head since. What a fearless performance.

      You've gotta see Upstream Color. I'm dying to know what you'd think of it!

    2. Oh, man, I've seen it. In fact, I've seen it twice. We've talked a little bit about it in your "Top 10 Films of 2013" post, remember? Once again, I really loved it, even if I wasn't impressed by it as much as you obviously were. I found the exploration of some ideas too cryptic for its own good and perhaps a little rushed, yet again I think it was a thought-provoking, original and visually innovative little film, the kind of films that dare to move on its own, wonderfully weird and experimental ways and subvert the conventions of a film's narrative. I liked it a lot and much more than "Primer", Carruth's previous film. As for Amy Seimetz, she was simply astonishing and deserving of multiple awards. She barely didn't make the cut for my list. As I've said, there were too many great performances by women this year. Sandra Bullock in "Gravity", Margot Robbie for "The wolf of Wall Street", Olivia Wilde for "Drinking buddies", they're all similar examples. I've loved them, but they just didn't make it to my list this year. I was stunned by Rooney Mara's work in both "Ain't them bodies saints" and "Side effects" (personally, especially in the former) and by Saoirse Ronan's performance in "Byzantium". I think Jennifer Lawrence was amazing in "American Hustle" and I was shocked by the work done by Octavia Spencer and Léa Seydoux and in "Fruitvale Station" and "Blue is the warmest color", respectively. Speaking of the latter, there's no question that Adèle would be my number 1 if it wasn't for Blanchett's "bigger than life" performance in "Blue Jasmine". It's just this unfair thing for everyone else that compared to her, there's almost no competition. But Adèle's performance was otherworldly. I haven't seen such a raw performance in a very long time. That being said, Blanchett gives the female PERFORMANCE of the year and I don't mean that in a pretentious "actress-y" way. All I'm saying is that she combines technique with emotion in a way that's just phenomenal. They can take her performance and show it to every aspiring actor every day! I can't blame the great Jessica Chastain for saying that she "was walking out of the theatre", after watching "Blue Jasmine", "feeling like a snow bed willow next to Cate’s sequoia". It's an iconic performance that will be praised for years to come. Literally, a performance for the ages. Anyway, you can tell my "Honorable mentions" section would be huge. Carey Mulligan in "Inside Llewyn Davis" or Sarah Paulson in "12 years a slave"... My God, such a great year for women in cinema, indeed. The only performance included in your list that personally I find a little overrated was June Squibb's in "Nebraska". Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed her performance as Kate. She was feisty and hilarious and all of that but in a year like this, I think she was praised much more than she deserved. Just my opinion, though. Your list rocks, that's for sure.

    3. Ahh yes, yes of course, my mistake. Was so happy that you liked that one.

      One of the best things about 2013 was that it was such a strong year for women. Women deserves much larger, more substantial and all around BETTER roles, period. I too could've kept going on and on with this list.

    4. I couldn't agree more with you in that women in cinema deserve better roles indeed. I liked a lot the fact that Cate Blanchett pointed that out at her Oscars speech. Let's hope the industry gets some sense concerning that.

  21. Great list! If I may, I'd love to share my own top 15:

    1. Adele Exarchopoulos- BITWC
    2. Cate Blanchett- Blue Jasmine
    3. Lupita Nyong'o- 12 Years A Slave
    4. Sally Hawkins- Blue Jasmine
    5. Emma Thompson- Saving Mr. Banks
    6. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said
    7. Lea Seydoux- BITWC
    8. Scarlett Johansson- Her
    9. Amy Adams- American Hustle
    10. Eva Mendes- The Place Beyond The Pines
    11. Margot Robbie- Wolf of Wall
    12. Nicole Kidman- Stoker
    13. Jennifer Lawrence- The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
    14. Sandra Bullock- Gravity
    15. Judi Dench- Philomena

    1. Great list. It's gotta be Adele, right? So perfect.

      LOVE that Eva Mendes cracks your Top 10. She was my favorite part about Pines. There's something about her aged melancholy that I find so endearing.

    2. Yeah, and there was actually another performance I really wanted to include but forgot to: Melissa Leo for Prisoners. Every time she was on screen, she made my skin crawl because of how unsure I was of her.

    3. Another great performance. She's really a chameleon. And I absolutely love her.

  22. Amy Adams in American Hustle is too overrated. I know, she tries something different that I really appreciate and like. But Amy Adams in Her have a much more better performance.

    1. Interesting, and fair.. I could actually stand to give Her a rewatch. I've only seen it once. Wonder how it'd grab me now.