Performances in 2014 That Were Overlooked or Underrated

Okay, so obviously the Oscars aren’t the end-all-be-all of cinema. A movie can be great without being an Oscar movie; a movie can be nominated for Best Picture and can subjectively be considered shit. Sometimes the Academy gets it right, but it also gets it wrong. Essentially, don’t just pick the movies you want to watch based on whether or not they have the Oscar stamped on the front, but rather because of what interests you, what seems authentic and what your mood is craving. All that being said, however, as a film fan sometimes all you want is a certain performer to get noticed or considered. The following actors all did tremendous work this year, and while they won’t be up for any Oscars they certainly deserve some attention.

Jenny Slate – Obvious Child

No, I’m sorry Golden Globes, SAG and Critics Choice Awards: I don’t see how Naomi Watts, Quvenzhane Wallis or Jennifer Aniston gave better performances than Jenny Slate in Obvious Child. This was a breakout role and she nailed it, being equal parts sweet, hilarious, relatable and charismatic. She didn’t deliver a false note and was yet another instance of a comedic performance that rivals any of the dramatic counterparts being largely and unfortunately overlooked.

Channing Tatum – Foxcatcher

People aren’t going to agree with me on this, but in my opinion, Foxcatcher was Channing Tatum’s film. He didn’t get the showiest role and he didn’t get the everyday man heart-of-the-film role, but he was all physicality and carefully restrained emotion to the point that when the dam broke it shattered. Tatum’s hulking presence mixed with his complete need for attention creates a gut-wrenching character. It’s a haunting one because you see the little hope he has in his eyes drained by the film’s end.


Mia Wasikowska – Tracks

Yet another actress I’m surprised is getting overlooked in what is supposedly a weak year for female roles. Mia Wasikowska is the primary focus of the entirety of this film and it’s never dull. She has a wonderfully odd screen presence and is atypical in much of her choices. It seems, though, that the “woman takes a perilous emotional journey through nature” slot has already been given to Reese Witherspoon for Wild.


Robin Wright – The Congress

There isn’t one performance this year that resembles Robin Wright’s in The Congress. She’s almost uncomfortably raw, whether she’s in her animated or live action state. She’s a downtrodden woman playing a character that plays on the expectations and exploitation of actresses’ livelihoods. It’s an unforgettable role destined to be forgotten in this year’s awards race.


Jack O’Connell – Starred Up

Unbroken is the movie that’s getting his name out into great public focus, but it’s his small, British prison drama Starred Up that in a just business would have him mentioned on every awards pundit site in the Best Actor discussion. I’ve seen a lot of movies this year, including all of the movies where the lead actors are getting attention, and I still don’t believe I’ve seen as good a performance as Jack O’Connell’s in this. Have you been waiting for another Tom Hardy-like performer? Well, here he is, and his portrayal of this damaged, feral and vulnerable kid shows that he is a force to be reckoned with.

Michelle Monaghan – Fort Bliss

Michelle Monaghan is a severely underrated actress, rarely turning in a dud performance. In Fort Bliss she straddles the line of tough military medic, determined mother and flirtatious young woman. She’s faced terrors, loss and betrayals, and little of it deters her need to be the best that she can be. Monaghan has the ability to portray an exterior emotion while allowing us to comprehend her inner struggles and that’s a subtle, beautiful trick for any actor to possess.

Jason Schwartzman – Listen Up Philip

This isn’t a likable performance – few of Jason Schwartzman’s characters are likable – but it’s certainly a powerhouse. He’s biting, irrational and insecure and allows that and a combination of his untested ego to get in the way of any type of relationship he could even possibly hope to achieve. He is the villain of the story, and even if it’s irritating you never want him to be off screen.

Ben Whishaw and Pei-pei Cheng – Lilting

I don’t think I could explain one without the other. His character lost a lover, hers lost a son, and the different ways in which they weave stages of grief is a masterclass of subtlety. Ben Whishaw is an expert at manipulating his face into showcasing the finite details of emotional fragility, and Pei-pei Cheng balances the strength and loss of a mother and her weakening endurance. It’s a character study of the two and the film couldn’t have picked two better actors.

Rose Byrne – Neighbors

Rose Byrne has a crazy range that people need to spend more time talking about. Neighbors was all together a decently enjoyable film, but it wouldn’t have been as good without Byrne, who isn’t afraid to go all out to get the laugh with big physical gestures, hammy faces and broad comedy. It’s a fantastic performance not easily contained and it’s yet another showcase for Byrne.

Ben Schnetzer – Pride

There are a lot of great performances in the British hit Pride, but few were as surprising as Ben Schnetzer who, as was also the case in The Book Thief, has instantly shown himself to be a chameleon performer. He’s essentially the lead in the enormously gifted ensemble and he effortlessly drives the plot forward, keeping the story exciting all the while giving it a rock ‘n’ roll edge.

Tony Revolori – The Grand Budapest Hotel

Sure it was Ralph Fiennes who truly stole the show, but the work Tony Revolori did as the dependable Lobby Boy Zero is equally affecting. He had fantastic delivery, played off of Fiennes wonderfully, and became a great character who we enjoyed watching even with more colorful characters surrounding him.

Gael Garcia Bernal – Rosewater

You’ll have a hard time convincing me that Gael Garcia Bernal isn’t one of the best working actors today, and Rosewater is clear proof of this. Despite this, it’s been a while since Bernal has gotten a role to truly sink his teeth into, but here he’s allowed suitable screen time to show off his extensive talents, ranging from infectious charm to emotional poignancy and gravitas. He uses his entire being to act.

Bill Hader – The Skeleton Twins

Bill Hader is this year’s Simon Pegg. A primarily comedic actor who takes a slight turn toward the dramatic, he does beautiful work and is ignored because it doesn’t fit into typical awards contention fare. The biggest difference is that we’ve never seen Hader like this before. Prior to this film he was always playing bit or sketch characters, but his character Milo in this film is possibly the realest character that I’ve seen this year – he feels human. Raw, insecure, loveable and funny, he’s a fully fleshed out person, making it very easy for us as an audience to support him. Hader does remarkable work but has been largely overlooked due to showier and more conventionally “big” performances. If we continue to get performances like this one and he continues to pick interesting films, I’ll be a happy fan.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw – Belle

Look, it’s simply criminal that Gugu Mbatha-Raw isn’t currently a serious threat to the Oscar competition this year either for her performance in Belle or Beyond the Lights. Her screen presence is magnetic and her performance in Belle is heartbreaking. She’s a strong figure in the movie, almost seemingly untouchable, and her grace and quiet power bring to life the titular character. With all of the mutterings of it being a year of slim pickings for female performances worthy of awards attention, you’d thing Raw would be headlining the conversation.


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