Top 25 Acting Performances of 2013

25. Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy-Eleanor Rigby and Connor Ludlow (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby)

The nice thing about having two separate films about the same story is that you can experiment with points of view. In the Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, both Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy play with the different sides of the story. When it’s their respective perspective (Her for Chastain, Him for McAvoy), they make their characters the center of attention, and it isn’t solely the work of the director and/or editor that achieves this effect. The highs are stronger, the lows are deeper. When it isn’t their film, they will be either underplayed or overplayed, to accent a specific moment or to let the main story teller shine. At all times, both Chastain and McAvoy are delightful, and their true performances make this experiment, one that asks what it would truly be like to see an event through different eyes, all the more real and successful.

24. Lee Pace-Thranduil (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)

In the second, and better, installment of the Tolkien series The Hobbit, we get some down time with the Wood Elves. We see a familiar face: Legolas. He’s different here. He feels less wise and more brutish. His younger self without the experience we are used to in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is fathered by the Elven King Thranduil, of whom possesses these qualities of grace and class. He may be intimidating, but Pace’s take on this powerful being is one that casts a spell on whatever surrounds him, as his poised voice and his cold stare showcase years of being on the throne and knowing how to handle others. He does have a soft side though, and Pace makes sure that he doesn’t make Thranduil too easily persuaded. His authoritative side still sticks, as it’s pretty much what he knows best. Lee Pace successfully made Thranduil a memorable character in Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films and one that I’m sure most of us will hope to see in the third film (he better be there, anyways).

23. James Franco-Alien (Spring Breakers)

I’ve always commended James Franco for his hard work, but it may not always show despite his best efforts. In his most unconventional role yet, James Franco is both out of his element yet perfectly at home. Oddly enough, his most farfetched character, the rapper Alien, is one of his best. He grimaces with such sleaze, he stares with such perversion, and you can smell the layers of cologne he puts on himself from here. When he is serious, he is scary. When he is trying to be playful, he is even more terrifying. Absolutely everything about Alien screams bad news because of the way Franco phrases his thoughts and his body language in general. The name Alien is very fitting because he is so far gone, and it’s difficult to successfully play a character who believably has some screws missing. James Franco helped make Spring Breakers even more uncomfortable with this unpredictable stranger.

22. Rooney Mara-Emily Taylor (Side Effects)

Rooney Mara has had quite a good year. She’s starred in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Her, and Steven Soderbergh’s 2013 drama Side Effects. This performance in particular is worth noting, because it shows Mara at her calculative best this year. Emily Taylor is a sneaky creature that twists and lies her way around people, and this often involves mental illness (she claims to have depression). We are never quite sure when she truly is upset and when she is faking it. Hell, I don’t think Emily herself knew by the end of the movie. The way Mara looks around and/or stares into dead space is concerning, and it is damn difficult to spot when she truly is out of her mind. The way she screams and reacts is quite primitive, so we do get to see Emily’s raw emotions at points in the film. In the end, Emily truly is a sick person. Rooney Mara, however, makes us question what kind of sickness she truly has.

21. Benedict Cumberbatch-Julien Assange (The Fifth Estate)

Benedict Cumberbatch himself has, too, had quite a year. He starred in Star Trek into Darkness, 12 Years a Slave, August: Osage County, and in The Fifth Estate: What could have, and should have been the biggest film on this list (but wasn’t even close). Nonetheless, despite the underwhelming film, we got another performance of Cumberbatch’s worth watching. As Julien Assange, Cumberbatch has the accent down pact, as well as the courage that made Assange take interest in shedding light on important matters. Cumberbatch has always been a master of dread, but here he creates a similar kind of impact that is more inviting than terrifying. Even when portraying a real person, Cumberbatch will install a large sense of mystery within a character. The end result is a character that is much deeper than the film, and a reason to watch the film in the first place.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.