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!

Find more posts: Editorial, Looking Back



Beautiful performances from beautiful women.

DAVIDPD on Dec 23, 2013


Very true...

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


Eh, so I was mostly right. Very solid list. Can't wait to see the ones I've yet to experience.

mylesedwardhughes on Dec 23, 2013


Indeed, and much obliged...

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


Lupita Nyong'o? Just me?

Brady on Dec 23, 2013


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...

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


Yessss Woodley!

Chiroptera Exsanguination on Dec 23, 2013


Tremendous performance...

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


I'm gonna get laughed at for these I'm sure, but Scarlett Johansson in Don Jon and Olivia Wilde in Drinking Buddies.

Chiroptera Exsanguination on Dec 23, 2013


Nah, I actually mentioned Johansson's Don Jon performance while talking about Her and Olivia Wilde just barely missed my honorable mentions cut...

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


I really despised June Squibb's character in Nebraska. Felt so meaaan!

Greg dinskisk on Dec 23, 2013


Fair enough...

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


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...

Greg dinskisk on Dec 23, 2013


Very kind of you to say! Definitely appreciate it...

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


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!

Guest on Dec 23, 2013


It's all good, and I'm very appreciative of the complimentary words...

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


Sandra Bullock???

Alessandro Rodrigues on Dec 23, 2013


Just missed out on being an honorable mention...

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


Nice choices here too.

Kim on Dec 23, 2013


Thank you!

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


What does your combined top ten for performances look like?

Kim on Dec 28, 2013


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

Joey Magidson on Dec 29, 2013


Emma Thompson!!!!

PARANAM on Dec 23, 2013


Honestly, she didn't impress me that much, so she was never under consideration...

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


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.

Amani on Dec 23, 2013


Definitely, and thanks!

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


Well thought piece Joey. I Enjoyed it greatly.

Quanah on Dec 23, 2013


Thank you very much!

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


white washed much?

same on Dec 23, 2013


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...

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


The same for the men. Ever heard of Chiwetel Ejiofor?

same on Dec 23, 2013


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?

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


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.

same on Dec 23, 2013


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...

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


"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."

same on Dec 23, 2013


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...

Joey Magidson on Dec 23, 2013


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.

Christopher Hall on Dec 24, 2013


We certainly agree about Adele...

Joey Magidson on Dec 24, 2013


Shouldn't it be about the best?

Kim on Dec 24, 2013


That's my thinking...

Joey Magidson on Dec 24, 2013


Lea Seydoux Adèle Exarchopoulos Brie Larson Scarlett Johansson Shailene Woodley Amy Adams Jennifer Lawrence Margot Robbie Julie Delpy June Squibb

Ehsan Davodi on Dec 24, 2013


A solid ranking...

Joey Magidson on Dec 24, 2013


What the hell, no Sandra Bullock!

Daniel on Dec 24, 2013


She just missed the cut...

Joey Magidson on Dec 24, 2013


That's understandable considering all the great performances by beautiful women this year. Great list by the way!

Daniel on Dec 24, 2013


Indeed, I could have easily added another dozen or so with no problem. Thanks too!

Joey Magidson on Dec 24, 2013


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.

AJ on Dec 25, 2013


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...

Joey Magidson on Dec 25, 2013


Beautiful words about beautiful women giving beautiful performances!

Moriah Kreppein on Jan 11, 2014


Well said.

Joey Magidson on Jan 12, 2014


June Squibb looks a little out of place.

Marty on Jan 15, 2014


If you mean age wise, I suppose, but if we're talking quality of performance, she definitely belongs right where she is.

Joey Magidson on Jan 15, 2014


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.

Brian on Jan 17, 2014


I definitely recommend another viewing.

Joey Magidson on Jan 17, 2014

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