Film And Television's 10 Best Performers Of 2013
For his Cannes Best Actor Winning performance, Mads Mikkelsen as mild-mannered schoolteacher Lucas is put in the impossible position of defending himself against accusations made by his best friend’s child—whose adoring affections he inadvertently and gently brushed aside. Completely undoing his fabulous Madsness, and slipping into everyman mode, Mikkelsen’s utter panic passes directly to us, as Lucas helplessly watches everyone he knows become suspicious and wary…and at turns, violent. Mads’ brilliance is in his quiet subtleties; all the more so for his transformative role as Hannibal Lecter. Very few actors could quickly dismiss Sir Anthony’s iconic and beloved take on Thomas Harris’ Dr. Lecter; from the moment Mads walked onscreen, he was Hannibal—suave, charming, beautiful, intelligent and deliciously evil. There has been none so simultaneously terrifying and seductive as Mads’ Lecter since Gary Oldman’s Dracula. From the way he struts his impeccably tailored suits, to the careful preparation of a lung or liver; from the flamboyant flip of his pan to a cocked head or a tear-filled eye, Mads Mikkelsen has flipped our notion of Hannibal on its severed and discarded ear. (Note: Though The Hunt was technically a 2012 film, it wasn’t released in the US until 2013.) — Cindy Davis
In making her case to be the next Parker Posey, the new Queen of Indie, Larson was featured in three of the year’s better movies, Don Jon (where she played a version of Silent Bob), as the ex-girlfriend in the spectacular Spectacular Now, and as the lead in one of the year’s very best films, Short Term 12. She’s great in all three, but in Short Term 12 she is luminous, delivering a sad, hopeful, heart-splatty performance that will crawl up inside your tear ducts and sweetly caress them until your shirt is wet with tears. She is so quiet, so subtle, and so real in Short Term 12 that you can’t help but to feel her character’s every emotion right along with her, from hope to heartbreak to rage and to epiphany. It’s a magnificent performance. — Dustin Rowles
Much has been said about Scarlett Johansson’s work in Her. Despite not showing her face for a single frame in the film, she’s been nominated for awards all over the place for voicing the OS Samantha. Deservedly so. But remember that it’s Joaquin Phoenix who’s stuck with the unenviable job of carrying almost an entire movie on the crags of his smile and the creases of his worried face. There are countless scenes of Phoenix reacting to nothing at all. It’s a phenomenal achievement. He walks he grins he sings he argues he falls in love with the empty air. It shouldn’t work, but he makes it work. It’s a love story you’ll fall hard for and it’s a portrait of loneliness and hope that you’ll never forget. (Honorable mention to Rooney Mara who achieves almost as much pathos in once scene and nearly soundless flashbacks.)
— Joanna Robinson
For four seasons, Mol has routinely delivered a devastating performance as Gillian Darmody, a woman forced to grow up far too quickly and who will do just about anything to survive. The actress had a banner season this year, what with the character kicking heroin and going to court to fight for custody of her grandchild. But Gillian’s past actions (read: murder) finally caught up with her at the end of season four, and Mol gave the scene of Gillian’s downfall her all. The con artist had finally been conned, and as she realized the happy future for herself was a fantasy and she was surely facing prison, Gillian literally kicked and screamed on her way down. She would only be taken by force, and you couldn’t help but admire not only this poor, severely damaged woman’s survival instinct, but Mol’s uncanny ability to make us care for such a woman. — Sarah Carlson
Folks have been flinging around the weird and delightful term “McConaussance” or “McConaugheyssance” for awhile now. It’s undeniable. The McConaughey of How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days and Fool’s Gold is long gone. Heck, even Wooderson is gone. After Magic Mike and Killer Joe we’d already suspected it was a brand new McConaughera, but with the trifecta of Mud, Dallas Buyers Club and a completely stolen scene in Wolf Of Wall Street, he blew the barn doors off the joint. Somehow, someone who was once stuck in rom-com purgatory has emerged as one of the finest actors working today. To see his usual Adonis physique go full Bale in Dallas Buyers Club was distressingly impressive enough. But he transformed himself from the boots up in that role and seemingly poured everything he had into Ron Woodruff. That he still had enough left in him to snatch a scene right from under Leo’s nose in WOWS is amazing, that this is the year we also got his incredibly haunting turn in Mud is a goddamn McConaughailmary. I don’t know. I can’t stop portmanteau-ing. We need to invent new words to talk about how incredible he has become.
Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke
Richard Linklater’s trilogy of relationship films perfectly sketches out the hope and heartbreak of the different life stages of its core couple, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. The first film, 1995’s Before Sunrise, is pure collegiate swooning, the kind of seize-the-day romance that seems to fuel life at that age but is rarely captured so well on screen. Before Sunset, from 2004, tempered that idealism with experience but was no less hopeful because of it. And this year’s Before Midnight might be the toughest but most rewarding yet, thanks to the stunning, mercurial, prickly, loving, stubborn, and fully committed characters that Delpy and Hawke bring to life. The actors are co-writers with Linklater, and that investment in the characters comes through in the film. From the body language that sells them as two old lovers, to the stunningly quick turns they take between arguing and laughing, their performances are so good you don’t even think of them as performances. They simply are these people, and their struggles look like our own. — Daniel Carlson
Oscar Isaac may not actually be in every single frame of the the Coen Brother’s latest masterpiece, Inside Llewyn Davis, but it sure feels like he is. Even when John Goodman or Carey Mulligan are trying to steal scenes, you’re always watching Isaac. As the title suggests, this film is almost singularly about Llewyn Davis and his journey, and it therefore lives or dies on Isaac’s performance. And Isaac is a god damned revelation in this film. It’s not just Isaac’s amazing hair and beard that he sports in the film. It’s not just that Isaac sings Llewyn Davis’ songs himself in a way that will make you adore the soundtrack even if you don’t care the least for folk music. And it’s not just that he performs those songs with such emotion and sadness that you believe these are his songs. Nor is it just that that Isaac can express as much thought and insight with his glance at a cat as he can with his verbal outburst in a beatnik bar. And it’s not just that Isaac is soulful and funny and able to make you hope for the best Llewyn Davis despite the fact that Llewyn may be relatively unlikeable but for his devotion to keeping his music honest. It’s all of these things. It seems implausible that an actor can steal a movie that he is tasked with carrying from the outset, yet that’s how good Oscar Isaac is. He steals the movie from himself. There were a lot of great performances this year, but I can’t think of another where the actor quite lived and breathed the character as much as Isaac does here. And now I can’t wait to see what he does next; this cat is in the big time now. — Seth Freilich
Janney has quietly put in three of the most remarkable performances in film and television in 2013, and what’s even more remarkable about them is how completely different the roles are from one another, and how seamlessly she transitioned from one to the next. In the summer’s The Way Way Back, Janney played a trashy, alcoholic busybody in supplying much of the film’s comic relief and its delightful obnoxiousness. Then she turned to Showtime’s new series, Masters of Sex, where she played the heartbreaking role of Margaret Scully, a woman who had not only been married to a closeted gay man for 30 years, but had never experienced an orgasm, and to see both her late-in-life sexual awakening and her emotional losses was brilliantly bittersweet. But maybe her finest performance of the year comes in Chuck Lorre’s Mom, not only because she makes a Lorre show watchable, but she actually injects a layer of real pathos in a laugh-track sitcom where she plays recovering alcoholic who relapses during the course of the season. She truly does transcend the material, bringing some spectacularly powerful moments to an otherwise mediocre sitcom (special notice, too, should go to her turn on Veep, where she played a bitchy, powerful trying to transform a puff piece into breaking news). — DR
The performances delivered by Elisabeth Moss in Mad Men’s sixth season and in the Sundance miniseries Top of the Lake are hard to compare. The latter presents a much darker tale than the former, but in both, Moss is understated and heartbreaking. From battling for recognition at work and against her feelings for a married man as Peggy Olsen in Men to refusing to give up on to solving the rape of 12-year-old girl as Robin Griffin in Lake, Moss filled both characters with a tenaciousness that was simply mesmerizing. Moss can deliver more emotion in one look than most actors can in a pageful of lines. Her Lake role was more of a stretch for her than the work, albeit great, seen on Men, and the raw and brutal performance carried the difficult series. Indeed, her days as President Bartlet’s awkward daughter on The West Wing are long gone. Elisabeth Moss is one of the more impressive leading ladies on TV today. — SC
The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t getting critically lauded the way it was expected to. And I can see why. In many ways, like the true story it tells, it’s a cacophony of debauchery and a paean to excess, a film some saw as a glorification of that which we would rather it demonize. But, if there is glory to behold in the evils of Jordan Belfort, that is entirely thanks to the performance of Leonardo DiCaprio. Because I didn’t know he had it in him. Talented, yes, but in terms of range, I’ve always found DiCaprio a fairly one-octave performer. And he played his one octave well. But, in this film, in this three-hour coke binge, we saw more notes than previously thought imaginable. Whether he’s anally suffering at the hands (and candles) of a prostitute named Venice, heinously gut-punching his wife or writhing on the floor in the midst of his “cerebral palsy stage” (at nearly five minutes, already past the two-hour mark of the film, I could have watched another hour of that scene alone), DiCaprio earns every ounce of praise he’s ever received. He did the impossible by making this monster almost likable, portraying a truly deplorable villain while still infusing the likely-real charm, the attractive sensibilities that made the real Belfort millions. Sure, dissenters can vilify the film for celebrating sheer society-destroying wickedness. And it’s entirely because of DiCaprio’s ability to throw himself into the role and party in the dreck. — Courtney Enlow
*We’re counting Dan’s as one because he cheated.