Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Top Ten Performers of 2014 (So Far)

With summer movie season coming to a close this past weekend and the fall movie season already ramping up, it's the perfect time to take stock at my top 10 favorite performances of the year (so far). These would only be coming from the 37 theatrical releases that I have seen, which is much less than last year, but more than the year prior so go figure. A few 2014 films still on my to-watch list include Obvious Child, Lucy, Chef, The Immigrant, Maleficent, Frank, What If, etc. I've been known to "cheat" with my numbering in the past, but other than my top pick, I kept it pretty narrow this time around.

1. The cast of Boyhood - And I do mean the entire cast of this 12-year in the making intimate epic of a film from Ellar Coltrane to "No Obama Man." Of course I'd be remiss to not call out the three principal actors along for the ride with Coltrane--Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, and Lorelei Linklater--as they all quite literally lived into their roles for more than a decade. Seeing them all age is quite a novelty and yet they all were able to develop all of these characters so organically and genuinely that in the end you realize you've watched something special.

2. Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff (Winter Soldier) and as Alien (Under the Skin) - Johansson seemed like she was born to play Black Widow and even though it's her third time in the role, it almost feels like she's slowly taking ownership of it in her own kick-ass way. Then of course there's her striking turn in Under the Skin, which I briefly talked about here. She's equal parts seductive, dangerous, alien, and human all at once. As I said above, I didn't get to see Lucy, but she's apparently quite fun in it and its success is making me side-eye Marvel's indecision regarding a stand-alone Black Widow film.

3. Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke (Locke) - The entire film is just Hardy inside a car talking on the phone with a bunch of unseen people. The script does a lot of the heavy lifting, but if Hardy wasn't as good as he was (and with his glorious accent to boot), the movie would've completely missed the mark. It's also refreshing to see him in a more subdued role that still manages to convey the intensity he brings to many of his roles.

4. Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle (Belle) - The movie was a breath of fresh air this summer movie season as was Mbatha-Raw's performance. What I love most about what she did with her role was that her main character could've easily been one-note or overplayed, but instead she showed great complexity and tremendous restraint in portraying Dido's fascinating life story.

5. Chris Pratt as Peter Quill (Guardians of the Galaxy) and as Emmet Brickowoski (The LEGO Movie) - Sweet, affable Andy Dwyer is now a Hollywood super star and I'm just so happy for him! He's just fine in the voiceover work in The LEGO Movie, but he just absolutely shined as Star Lord in Marvel's latest film which highlighted his penchant to play brodude characters with immense heart and humor. He's obviously buoyed by one of the most fun scripts of the year as well as a fantastic ensemble which includes a talking tree (Vin Diesel) and a gun-toting raccoon (Bradley Cooper) who were also *this* close to making my shortlist.

6. Andy Serkis as Caesar (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) - I've called him out before for the exact same role and if it's possible, he seems to have gotten even better that last time. Certainly the character has much more to do this time around and Serkis is up to the task in delivering such a heartfelt performance in collaboration with the many people involved in bringing Caesar and the other apes to life. Shout out to Toby Kebbell, who played Koba, who really went toe to toe with Serkis' Caesar.

7. Tilda Swinton as Mason (Snowpiercer) and as Eve (Only Lovers Left Alive) - The best quality of being an actor is excelling in many different kinds of roles and Swinton is a master at this especially in offbeat roles as evident by what she has done this year not only in the two films I've cited here, but also in her brief cameo as an old lady in The Grand Budapest Hotel. She was obviously perfectly cast as a vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive and brought just the right amount of anime villain quality in Snowpiercer that made her character so memorable.

8. Emily Blunt as Rita (Edge of Tomorrow) - When I think of a kick-ass heroine, my mind doesn't immediately think Emily Blunt, that is until I saw this film and now I'm a lifetime convert. The film is more fun that it had any right to be and Cruise still has enough star power to headline this sort of movie, but Blunt to me was the film's MVP as she took the title "Full Metal Bitch" and owned it completely.

9. Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave (The Grand Budapest Hotel) - It's almost always a treat when Fiennes tries his hands in comedy, especially ones that has a bit of an edge or in this case, whimsical edge that only Wes Anderson can deliver. Even though this is the first time the two have collaborated, Fiennes seemed perfectly at home in Anderson's world delivering an energetic and sometimes even campy performance that's thoroughly entertaining and dare I say one of his best.

10. Chris Evans as Curtis (Snowpiercer) and as Steve Rogers (Winter Soldier) - He beat out James McAvoy for this final spot, but both hit it out of the park this year headlining a superhero film with gusto as well as appearing in indie films that not many may have seen, but showcased their versatility as actors. Like many of his Marvel colleagues, Evans was perfectly cast as Captain America and he has just gotten better in the role with every film. But it's in Snowpiercer, playing the reluctant hero with a very dark burden, where he showed he could also deliver a quiet heart-wrenching performance.

Honorable Mentions: James McAvoy (Filth, X-Men: Days of Future Past), John Lithgow and Alfred Molina (Love is Strange), Shailenne Woodley (Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars), Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars), Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill (22 Jump Street), Pierre Deladonchamps (Strangers by the Lake), Rose Byrne (Neighbors), James Corden (Begin Again), and Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield* (Amazing Spider-Man 2)

*Almost didn't include these two, because the majority of the film that didn't include the two of them together were really not good. But then I keep remembering how fun and full of chemistry they had with each other whenever they shared screen. If the entire movie was just them going on a date, it would be one of my favorite movies of the year probably.

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