This year has been a strong year in film, allowing a plethora of heartbreaking, illuminating and awe inspiring performances. I’ve already spoken about Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry, but who else deserve award attention and why?
Keira Knightley, Jude Law & Matthew Macfadyen – Anna Karenina
Keira Knightley gives the best performance of her career in director Joe Wright’s visionary film based on the novel, Anna Karenina. She’s beautifully sophisticated with an astute awareness of her physicality. Simultaneously articulate, all the while, she openly allows her façade to crumble as well as her psyche due to the societal pressure of a woman of her day. She plays it all with a silent strength and an open fragility.
Jude Law has made a great deal of effort in the past few years to climb back to the top of his game, and this performance is the one that solidifies his acting prowess in the industry. He allows his character to not fall to the wayside as simply being one note. At face value, you could label the character as simply a pushover or a controlling husband. Instead, he plays him as a man of old values, trying his best to sustain a family and a relationship with a woman whom he thought he knew and is coming to realize is the exact opposite. He’s subtly heartbreaking, and his performance has a lasting effect.
Matthew Macfadyen is something of an enigma in this film. Outwardly jovial and warm-hearted as a serial cheater, always disregarding his wife’s feelings, is impulsive and slightly immature and yet so charming and insanely watchable. For a man of his size the opening scene in which the deteriorating stage disappears and sets up around him, his balletic motions are even more impressive. His performance is pure charisma, and his last shot with him mourning is so moving because it’s such a stark difference from the man we’ve come to know.
Emily Blunt – Looper
This movie has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle, and with it, Emily Blunt’s fantastic and emotive performance as a struggling mother desperately trying to protect her son, no matter the grievances and threats placed before her. She fully embodies the desperate strength of a woman putting everything on the line for the one she loves the most. Joseph Gordon Levitt’s make-up may have pulled focus, but it was her engaging warmth and ferocity that grounds the sci-fi narrative in reality.
Suraj Sharma – Life of Pi
Out of all of the talent showcased in this year’s films, his is the one that deserves the most praise, and sadly he isn’t getting it. He (a first time actor) is so emotionally invested and open that it’s like an open wound- sensitive, vulnerable and pulsing with life. Impossibly earnest, he manages on his first go of it to master the art of physicality as well as being the heart of such a momentous and overwhelming film.
Melanie Lynskey- Hello I Must Be Going
This performance is likened to a master class in subtlety, grace and compatibility with a character. An actress that has been knocking at the door of a breakthrough for years, Lynskey is one of the most reliable actresses out there and with this film finally gets a moment to stand center stage. She’s a mess without being unlikable, broken yet not breakable, pretty but not over-sexualized. She’s a true character, so relatable, so recognizable, that’s it’s damn near astounding to think of how effortless she made it all look.
Rosemarie DeWitt- Your Sister’s Sister
I have an inkling that she gets overlooked so much because of how natural she appears to be. There are no obvious acting ticks, no overwrought moments where she’s intentionally drawing attention to herself, she is simply being. It’s a superbly nuanced actress simply telling a story of a fascinating character.
Jack Black – Bernie
I have an interesting curiosity of Jack Black. I have a feeling his movie choices don’t often represent the full range of his capabilities, which is why this film worked so well in his favor. He’s allowed to keep all of his quirks but dialed back so that his acting shines rather than his antics. Bernie is a character that very easily could have been turned into a caricature; yet Jack Black’s performance keeps it grounded, allowing the absurdities and quirks of the character not to overwhelm the narrative.
Jake Gyllenhaal & Michael Pena – End of Watch
This is, arguably, the most authentic, naturalistic performance of the year (well he and his costars). Jake Gyllenhaal has, and always has had, a magnetic sensibility and boyhood-like charm that keeps your eyes glued to him. This trait is only enhanced by his intimidating range of versatility. In this film alone, he jumps continuously from garnering laughs from his well-timed facial expressions to pulling on heartstrings that make you wonder how it’s the same actor.
Michael Pena’s screen presence is massively impressive and is half of the driving force of this talented duo. It’s their combined chemistry that elevates this film from being simply another “buddy cop” film. His often times stoic and composed physical demeanor is relied on during the more trying aspects of the film, allowing his presence, and his chemistry with Gyllenhaal to carry a truly fantastic and moving film.