Looking Back: Joey Picks 10 Best Performances by an Actor in 2013
by Joey Magidson
December 23, 2013
The year is almost over folks, and with that brings the deluge of lists that we all look forward to reading and agreeing/disagreeing with from fellow cinephiles. For my part, I'm delivering a two-part look at the Best Performances of 2013, split up between performances from actors and actresses. This was a year full of performances to rave about, so I'm thrilled to be able to give my personal favorites a moment in the sun, starting with just the actors here in this first part. From relative newcomers like Will Forte to old veterans like Bruce Dern (both in the same movie), wherever you looked, there was someone giving a performance for the ages, and it was a pleasure to watch all of them on the big screen throughout this year.
Something I noticed this year was that, as we've seen in many years past, the male performances of note greatly outnumber the female ones, at least in terms of the Oscar race. Best Actor and Supporting Actor are stacked races, while Actress and Supporting Actress are relatively lean. In some ways, that makes narrowing down this male list a bit tough, and a couple of future Academy Award nominees won't be showing up here.
Below are the ten best performances by an actor this year. When mixed with the best female performance list (coming later today), you'll have my top 20 performances of 2013. I'll be curious to see your favorites in the comments section afterwards when all is said and done, but for now, let's get the show on the road!
#10. Ryan Gosling - The Place Beyond the Pines
There's something about the way Gosling works with Derek Cianfrance that brings out an extra little X factor into his work. Here, he's more internalized that in Blue Valentine, but nearly as good playing a motorcycle stunt man driven (no pun intended) to rob banks in order to try and support his young son. Where the plot of The Place Beyond the Pines goes is best left unsaid, but his performance and character on the whole hangs over every single frame of the movie. It's an underrated performance and one well worth citing here on this list.
#9. Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club (hat tip to The Wolf of Wall Street)
Even more so than last year, 2013 has been the year of McConaughey impressing folks with his newfound versatility. From earlier this year in Mud to his scene stealing performance in The Wolf of Wall Street (had he gotten one more scene, I might have cited that as his main noteworthy role actually), McConaughey delivered. Especially with his Oscar bait performance in Dallas Buyers Club, the man showed off skills that few thought he had just a few short years ago. He perfectly conveys the transformation of a straight bigot with AIDS going from almost a lost cause to a hero. He's very deserving of that first Academy Award nomination likely headed his way soon.
#8. Will Forte - Nebraska
I was as shocked as you were that Forte was as good in this film as he turned out to be. Hardly the first choice for this part in Nebraska, he winds up being an incredibly pleasant surprise. Forte is your entryway into the story and the most relatable character Alexander Payne has shown us in a long time, and a lot of the credit is his. He completely buries himself in the role, never mugging for the camera, and showing us the talent that we all hope to see more of going forward in the future.
#7. Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club
It's hard to steal a film right out from under a powerhouse performance by McConaughey, but Leto was able to do just that in Dallas Buyers Club. As a transgender woman, Leto is almost unrecognizable, turning in an acting job that very well might be winning him an Oscar. Very much the heart and soul of the movie, Leto has the hardest role, yet he pulls it off brilliantly. One can only hope he's caught the acting bug again and won't solely concentrate on music going forward, since if this is what he has inside him, it'd be a crime to deprive audience of it in the years to come.
#6. Tom Hanks - Captain Phillips
Hanks is very solid as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, but it's his performance as Richard Phillips in this flick that reminded me why he's one of our best. Captain Phillips showcases Hanks at his everyman best, but it's not until his final scene where he's able to break down that you really see Hanks putting on a clinic. That might be one of his best individual acting moments ever, and it's the moment that stays with you long after the movie is over.
#5. Joaquin Phoenix - Her
Never before has Phoenix played so lovable a character as he does here in Her, and man was it a beautiful sight to see. Phoenix may look a bit like Leonard from "The Big Bang Theory" here, but his Theodore is a complex and unique creation. You feel for this man so much, and that's a credit to Phoenix. This is a performance different than he's ever done before, but it's one of his very best.
#4. Jake Gyllenhaal - Prisoners
A career best turn from Gyllenhaal, he helped elevate this thriller to the special level that it was able to reach. His Detective Loki is far from your normal cinematic cop in just about every way possible. Gyllenhaal plays him with the perfect combination of intensity and humanity, granting the character some extra pathos. It's a performance that's been forgotten a bit this year, especially during the precursors, and that's a real shame. He's the best part of Prisoners, for my money at least.
#3. Bruce Dern - Nebraska
Every year or two we get a crusty old veteran thrown back into the spotlight with a lead performance, but rarely are they as good as Dern is in this one. He's a real treasure here, showing you this ordinary man in a downright extraordinary way. Dern is happily in the Best Actor conversation for this cagey performance in Nebraska, but more importantly than that, we have the likely promise of more noteworthy roles from him.
#2. Leonardo DiCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street
Who knew that DiCaprio was an ace physical comedian? He's a comic genius here, delivering the best performance of his career in my humble little opinion. The Wolf of Wall Street is hilarious, with his performance one of the main reasons why. From one of his opening monologues about the drugs that he uses to his Quaalude-riddled attempt to open a car door, DiCaprio turns in the funniest performance ever in a Martin Scorsese film. It's also the comedic performance of 2013 for me, besides just being one of the best of the year overall.
#1. Oscar Isaac - Inside Llewyn Davis
The male performance of the year for me, Isaac doesn't just act his ass off, he sings his heart out as well. I don't think that this role would have been the same in anyone else's hands. Simply put, the movie wouldn't exist without Isaac. No one else could combine the acting skills and musical talent required to pull it off here in Inside Llewyn Davis. You love his character even when you shouldn't, and that's because of his work in the film. It's likely going to get ignored come Oscar time, no pun intended, but it wins top honors from me.
Honorable Mentions - Bradley Cooper - American Hustle/The Place Beyond the Pines, Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave, Michael B. Jordan - Fruitvale Station, Robert Redford - All is Lost, and Miles Teller - The Spectacular Now
There, my friends, are the best male performances of 2013 for me. My second part of the best performances of 2013, focusing solely on actresses will be arriving later today. Keep an eye out over the coming week for more of our year-end lists including my picks for the Best Scenes of 2013, in addition to other posts from our own Ethan Anderton about the Best Official Movie Posters of 2013 and more. In the meantime, I'm turning things over to you now though for some respectful back and forth. What were your favorite performances from actors in 2013? Did I mention most of them? Which ones did I miss? Sound off now!