Every end of August, I try to take stock of the films I have seen so far in the year by picking my top 10 favorite performances. Unfortunately I haven't been able to see a few films that I really wanted to see such as Frances Ha, Short Term 12, Upstream Color, The Kings of Summer, The Spectacular Now, etc.. So if I don't list any year-best performances from those films, don't be shocked! Though in making this list I realized that I've apparently seen 43 theatrical releases from 2013, which is the most number of movies I've seen at this point in the year. As you would expect, narrowing down to my "10" wasn't easy so like in year's past, there may be a couple of cheats.
1. Julie Delpy as Céline Wallace and Ethan Hawke as Jesse Wallace (Before Midnight) - Already starting with my first cheat, but really it just makes sense to combine the dual powerhouse performances from these two actors who have been playing these characters together for nearly two decades. Individually they are fantastic of course, but the film is at its best when it's just the two of them interacting with one another. Simultaneously funny and poignant, their performances will be something that'll stay with me for quite some time.
2. Amy Acker as Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing) - Yes, I'm a Whedon fanboy, but I've also been a fan of Acker since her days on Angel and she just absolutely shines as the MVP in this small charming Whedon adaptation of Shakespeare's play. The cast is full of Whedon alums like Fran Kranz and Nathan Fillion who, like Acker, still seemed perfectly cast in their roles. Acker's performance just stuck with me more as she was able to show great depth at comedy, both physical and through the Bard's words, as well as the perfect balance of strength and vulnerability the role calls for. Someone make her a huge star already!
3. Cate Blanchett as Jasmine (Blue Jasmine) - Even prior to seeing the film, I had already heard from many people how great she was in Woody Allen's latest. I believed them since Blanchett is just that sort of actress, but I still was wary that it was all over-hype. Thankfully it wasn't because as the sharply acerbic Jasmine she really does put forth a performance for the ages. The ensemble deserves some praise as well, but it's Blanchett that dominate every scene she's in. That final shot in the film still haunts me.
4. Ryan Gosling as Luke (The Place Beyond the Pines) - My favorite part of this triptychcally structured film was the first part and not just because it was the more interesting story, but because it also featured Gosling at his quiet brooding best. People may be tired of this particular schtick from the actor, but there really is something to be said about being able to convey as much through silence. His performance also provided the much-needed emotional through-line for the film that made most of the third act, at least the part that had to do with Dane DeHaan's character, work for me.
6. Onata Aprile as Maisie (What Maisie Knew) - I'm not really qualified to judge child actors, so I really just go by gut feelings, but I think Aprile has given one of the best performances for me so far this year. The film itself is such a delicate portrait of a girl being pulled in so many directions and while the adults and a few details of the plot could sometimes be all over the place, the wonderful constant is Aprile's ability to generate just the right amount of chemistry with everyone in the cast. Without that, the film would've fallen apart. I'd be hardpress though not to mention the other child actors like Tye Sheridan (Mud) and Liam James (The Way, Way Back) who impressed me this year.
7. The cast of Now You See Me - One of the more pleasant surprises for me this summer was this film and while some of that had to do with their refreshing take on the heist genre, most of it was definitely due to the chemistry of the ensemble containing a mix of few A-listers and those not-so-much. I think the one weak link, and this is more a fault of the script rather than the actor, was Mélanie Laurent whose character seemed almost like an afterthought. But a definite yes on Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Common, and Michael Kelly for a job well done.
8. Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby) - Before I talk about how great I thought DiCaprio was, can I just say something really superficial i.e. how good he looked? I feel like it's been forever since DiCaprio has played someone so glamorous and attractive and by doing so here helped me to see DiCaprio with new eyes. Yes, as Gatsby he is still playing a tortured man, but he infuses the character with just the right amount of charm and quirks that worked well with the film's boisterous visual and aural elements.
9. David Oyelowo as Louis Gaines (Lee Daniels' The Butler) - First things first, the ensemble of this film was quite solid even the parade of celebrities doing their best imitations of presidents and first ladies, but to me the film shines when it focuses on the dynamics of the Gaines family. To me, that's where Forest Whitaker did his best work and Oprah Winfrey shined as the matriarch (almost made my list; such a hoot to watch). But for me, it's Oyelowo and his journey from doted eldest son to disappointing dark sheep to respected adult that left a lasting impression with me and wished more of the film was devoted to him.
10. Melissa McCarthy as Diana (Identity Thief) and as Mullins (The Heat) - While neither film is exactly Oscar material (though I'd argue The Heat deserves a few Golden Globe nominations), McCarthy's hilarious performance in both shows why she deserves all of the accolades she has and is currently getting. The first film is rather crude and one-dimensional in its humor, but McCarthy's character arc still managed to touch me. The second film does a much better job in utilizing McCarthy's skills especially in a fantastic tag-team effort with another gifted actress/comedienne Sandra Bullock. Really I just love how easily McCarthy is able to make you laugh in one scene and cry in the next.