Looking Back: Joey Picks 10 Best Performances by an Actress in 2013

December 23, 2013

Best Performances by an Actress in 2013

This morning, we debuted my picks for the 10 Best Performances by an Actor in 2013. Now we're continuing the second part of my look at the best performances of 2013, by looking at the big screen turns from actresses. From foreign newcomers like Adèle Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color to veteran hands like June Squibb in Nebraska, wherever you looked, there was someone giving a performance for the ages. It was a pleasure to watch Exarchopoulos, Squibb, and many other actresses deliver performances we won't soon forget. This year was truly one filled with performances of great note.

As I mentioned in Part 1, something I noticed this year was, as we've seen in many years past, the male performances of note greatly outnumbered the female, at least in terms of the Oscar race. Best Actor and Supporting Actor are stacked races, while Actress and Supporting Actress are relatively lean. That being said, I had no problem coming up with way more than ten women that gave tremendous performances this year, so perhaps the Academy just isn't on the same page as folks like I am. In fact, my favorite performance of 2013 in general was given by a lovely lady, so there's that.

Below are the ten best female performances of the year, which along with my earlier list of the best male performances of the year basically makes up my 20 best performances of 2013 overall. I'll be very curious to see your favorite turns by an actress in the comments afterwards, but for now, let's get the show on the road!

#10. Margot Robbie - The Wolf of Wall Street

Margot Robbie

Supremely sexy but also very funny, Robbie has announced her presence on the scene with authority in The Wolf of Wall Street. This is one of Scorsese's best female roles in a long time. The so called "Duchess of Bay Ridge" is great here, turning in a performance that makes her more than just a trophy wife. The scene where she teases DiCaprio is an incredibly memorable one, for sure.

#9. Julie Delpy - Before Midnight

Julie Delpy

Delpy has always been tremendous in this role, but here she adds a new dynamic to things. Especially during her third act argument with Ethan Hawke, you get see her character in a whole new light. I don't want to say too much about where her character is and what's happened in case anyone still hasn't seen this film, but it's very different than the first two, I'll say that. Regardless, Delpy has never been better in the role than she is here in Before Midnight.

#8. Amy Adams - American Hustle (hat tip to Her)

Amy Adams

I don't think people realize just how good as year Adams has had. Between her key supporting turn in Her and especially her co-leading role in American Hustle, she's had a 2013 to remember. In the former, she's very good, but it's her flashy role in the latter that really deserves the acclaim. Affecting a fake British accent for about half the film, she's one big con in a film about cons and con artists. She's rarely been better than she is here in this likely Academy darling of a flick.

#7. Lea Seydoux - Blue is the Warmest Color

Lea Seydoux

Sure, her costar is rightly getting most of the awards chatter/attention (what little there's been), but Seydoux is still an integral part of why their film is successful. As the more mature of the two, Seydoux doesn't get to come of age in the same way, but during a pair of third act scenes, she really shows you an added bit of depth to her character. She may be second best in the movie, but it's still a top notch performance that you won't be able to forget, much like Blue is the Warmest Color on the whole.

#6. June Squibb - Nebraska

June Squibb

A total scene stealer, Squibb has most of the movie's funniest lines, particularly during a visit to a cemetery. Finally given a chance to shine (though many of you will recognize her from About Schmidt), Squibb holds her own with Dern and Forte in Nebraska, owning certain scenes in fact. She's on track for her first Academy Award nomination, and boy does she ever deserve it.

#5. Brie Larson - Short Term 12

Brie Larson

I enjoyed her Silent Bob-esque supporting turn in Don Jon as well, but it's her lead role here in Short Term 12 that really blew me away. As a caregiver at a center for at risk youths with a similar past to the young men and women she's helping, Larson delivers a complex and memorable performance that should work as a launching pad for her bright young career. This is the sort of role that many an actress would kill for, so it's delightful to see her just take the ball and absolutely run with it.

#4. Jennifer Lawrence - American Hustle

Jennifer Lawrence

A complete force of nature, Lawrence literally turns this film on its head whenever she comes on the screen. To some degree she functions as comic relief in American Hustle, but it's also a very sexy turn as well. Lawrence likely would be the frontrunner to win Best Supporting Actress this year if she hadn't already won Best Actress last year, but this is such a flashy performance that I wouldn't be shocked one bit if she managed to take home back to back Oscar statues.

#3. Shailene Woodley - The Spectacular Now

Shailene Woodley

An incredibly tender performance, Woodley is absolutely adorable here in The Spectacular Now. Playing much more than just a high school good girl/nerd, she essays a part that defies conventions while always feeling completely realistic. The ways that her character evolves and grows is incredibly compelling, due in no small part to her performance. In a more perfect world, she'd be headed for an Oscar nomination.

#2. Scarlett Johansson - Her

Scarlett Johansson

It's impossible not to understand how Theodore could fall in love with Samantha due to Johansson's brilliant voice work on display in the film. There's a reason why a movement has formed to get her the first ever voice only acting nomination in Oscar's history. I don't think she'll ultimately wind up in the Best Supporting Actress lineup, but she 100% deserves it. You can't help but fall for her character. Part of it is the voice, but it's also just the chemistry she has with Phoenix. It's all rather perfect, which is something I'd say about Her in general too.

#1. Adèle Exarchopoulos - Blue is the Warmest Color

Adèle Exarchopoulos

The best female performance of the year and also the best performance of 2013 in general, Exarchopoulos is absolutely outstanding in Blue is the Warmest Color. She really is incredible. Watching her character come of age is one of the heartbreakingly real events in cinema this year. From her first sex acts to her first real misery in life, it's all shown in such a way that you feel for her and feel like you know her. Especially with where the film leaves her, you just want to wrap her up in a big hug, and I'm not sure that you'd feel that way with someone else besides her in the part. A career worth watching has been birthed!

Honorable Mention - Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine, Greta Gerwig - Frances Ha, Sally Hawkins - Blue Jasmine, Kristen Scott Thomas - Only God Forgives, and Kate Winslet - Labor Day

And that's it for the best female performances of the year. Don't forget to check out my 10 Best Performances by an Actor in 2013 if you missed it earlier today. Tomorrow I'll be back with my picks for the Best Scenes of 2013, and our own Ethan Anderton has plenty more year-end retrospective pieces in store for posters and comedies, a list of the Best Horror films from The Golden Briefcase's Tim Buel, not to mention our picks for the Best Films of 2013. But now we turn the reigns over to you. What were your favorite performances by an actress in 2013? Did I name a lot of them? Did I miss any? Sound off below!

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    Beautiful performances from beautiful women.
    • Joey Magidson
      Very true...
  • mylesedwardhughes
    Eh, so I was mostly right. Very solid list. Can't wait to see the ones I've yet to experience.
    • Joey Magidson
      Indeed, and much obliged...
  • Brady
    Lupita Nyong'o? Just me?
    • Joey Magidson
      I'm very much in the minority, but I wasn't blown away by her work in the film. It's good, but not great to me...
  • Chiroptera Exsanguination
    Yessss Woodley!
    • Joey Magidson
      Tremendous performance...
  • Chiroptera Exsanguination
    I'm gonna get laughed at for these I'm sure, but Scarlett Johansson in Don Jon and Olivia Wilde in Drinking Buddies.
    • Joey Magidson
      Nah, I actually mentioned Johansson's Don Jon performance while talking about Her and Olivia Wilde just barely missed my honorable mentions cut...
  • Greg dinskisk
    I really despised June Squibb's character in Nebraska. Felt so meaaan!
    • Joey Magidson
      Fair enough...
      • Greg dinskisk
        Sorry, forgot to mention on both of these lists that you did a great job! I may not agree with everything, but that doesn't matter. The discussion you're starting is what matters. Plus you phrase everything pretty well!!! Giving attention to lesser-acclaimed actors as well, which is always nice! Specifically Lea Seydoux who isn't being given half the attention she deserves. Great job with all of this! Must be tough, coming up with lists for the best performances...
        • Joey Magidson
          Very kind of you to say! Definitely appreciate it...
      • Guest
        Sorry, this came across a lot harsher than I intended. I really did enjoy reading both of these articles you have done. Although I definitely do not agree with all of the choices, that doesn't matter so much as the discussion you get started with them. You phrased everything quite eloquently, which is always a plus! It's also pretty great that you're giving credit to some people that aren't getting attention they deserve. Lea Seydoux comes to mind immediately. Great job with both of these lists, one helluva hard job you have had to do, narrowing down all of these fantastic performances from the year... Props to you!
        • Joey Magidson
          It's all good, and I'm very appreciative of the complimentary words...
  • Alessandro Rodrigues
    Sandra Bullock???
    • Joey Magidson
      Just missed out on being an honorable mention...
  • Kim
    Nice choices here too.
    • Joey Magidson
      Thank you!
      • Kim
        What does your combined top ten for performances look like?
        • Joey Magidson
          It looks like this: 10. Brie Larson 9. Jennifer Lawrence 8. Joaquin Phoenix 7. Shailene Woodley 6. Jake Gyllenhaal 5. Bruce Dern 4. Scarlett Johansson 3. Leonardo DiCaprio 2. Oscar Isaac 1. Adèle Exarchopoulos
    Emma Thompson!!!!
    • Joey Magidson
      Honestly, she didn't impress me that much, so she was never under consideration...
  • I 110% agree about Adele Exarchopoulos and I am still buzzing about her performance even though I saw the movie over a month ago. Great list.
    • Joey Magidson
      Definitely, and thanks!
  • Well thought piece Joey. I Enjoyed it greatly.
    • Joey Magidson
      Thank you very much!
  • same
    white washed much?
    • Joey Magidson
      Not intentionally so. I saw it when I finished the piece, but thought it would be disingenuous to remove someone I felt to be more deserving just to avoid that sort of comment, so I kept the list as such...
      • same
        The same for the men. Ever heard of Chiwetel Ejiofor?
        • Joey Magidson
          I did, and as you can see, he's on the honorable mention list, along with Michael B. Jordan. Again though, should someone's personal list be amended just to be more diverse? If I truly felt that Ejiofor was among the dozen best male performances of the year, but not the top ten, shouldn't I state just that?
          • same
            An honorable mention? Wow, that is funny. 3/4 of those men couldn't pull off what he did and I am not saying that because he is black actor portraying a free man being sold into slavery. Secondly, the fact that BOTH of your list don't mention any women or men of race beyond white, points (at least for me) to some inherent bias (conscious or sub-consciously) that you may have. Believe me when I say that I don't throw out the race card often or very rarely; however, my perception picked up on that very quick.
          • Joey Magidson
            Well, you can feel however you want, that's certainly your prerogative. Playing the race card, as you say, is a bit presumptuous though. The truth however, is that I went with the performances that I felt were the best, regardless of race. To me, that's the unbiased way to do it. Had I had some sort of quota or changed it after the fact just to diversify, that'd be incredibly phony to me. The simple truth is those ten men turned in better work to me than Ejiofor or Jordan and I've said all season long that Lupita Nyong'o didn't wow me like she did for most others. Had I included her just to please others, that'd defeat the purpose of me being employed to publish my analysis and (in this case) opinion...
          • same
            "Quota" - your words not mine. You are in the minority when it comes to "The simple truth is those ten men turned in better work to me than Ejiofor or Jordan and I've said all season long that Lupita Nyong'o didn't wow me like she did for most others."
          • Joey Magidson
            Never said I wasn't, but that's why more than one person in the critical community gets to put out lists like this. She didn't blow me away, but many others disagree...
          • Christopher Hall
            For the record I'm Black and i wasn't impressed with Ejiofor's performance in 12 Years a Slave either. I haven't seen much from this year but Adele's performance from BLUE IS THE WARMEST... was the best I saw, male or female.
          • Joey Magidson
            We certainly agree about Adele...
    • Kim
      Shouldn't it be about the best?
      • Joey Magidson
        That's my thinking...
  • Ehsan Davodi
    Lea Seydoux Adèle Exarchopoulos Brie Larson Scarlett Johansson Shailene Woodley Amy Adams Jennifer Lawrence Margot Robbie Julie Delpy June Squibb
    • Joey Magidson
      A solid ranking...
  • Daniel
    What the hell, no Sandra Bullock!
    • Joey Magidson
      She just missed the cut...
      • Daniel
        That's understandable considering all the great performances by beautiful women this year. Great list by the way!
        • Joey Magidson
          Indeed, I could have easily added another dozen or so with no problem. Thanks too!
  • AJ
    Did you even see Emma Thompson in "Saving Mr. Banks" or Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine"? There is no denying those two are the best performances of the year.
    • Joey Magidson
      Of course I did, as I wrote about them earlier this year. If you read the whole piece Blanchett shows up as an honorable mention. As for Thompson, I wasn't that impressed by her work, to be honest...
  • Moriah Kreppein
    Beautiful words about beautiful women giving beautiful performances!
    • Joey Magidson
      Well said.
  • Marty
    June Squibb looks a little out of place.
    • Joey Magidson
      If you mean age wise, I suppose, but if we're talking quality of performance, she definitely belongs right where she is.
  • Brian
    Loved Delpy in Before Midnight, would probably have her further on up the list. Also, I agree on the love for ScarJo in her. I actually think I need to see it again to fully comprehend how much I liked it.
    • Joey Magidson
      I definitely recommend another viewing.




Alex's Top 10 - 2016
1. La La Land
2. Paterson
3. Arrival
4. Captain Fantastic
5. 20th Cent. Women
6. Pete's Dragon
7. Jackie
8. Kubo & Two Strings
9. Everybody Wants
10. Wilderpeople
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Jeremy's Top 10 - 2016
1. Moonlight
2. The Handmaiden
3. High-Rise
4. Elle
5. Arrival
6. Kubo & Two Strings
7. 13th
8. Jackie
9. Toni Erdmann
10. The Witch
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