Adam: I'm going to start with my favorite female performance of the year, which is Shailene Woodley in The Spectacular Now. Even though it’s a movie that has some problems, I keep feeling drawn back to it and much of that is due to Woodley's performance. She's really good at bringing out the naiveté of the character. She feels like a high school girl experiencing her first love in that she's way too forgiving of the Miles Teller character's behavior and her childish perception of what relationships are. She doesn't play the character like a person with any wisdom on relationships. She's just happy that someone looks at her in that way. If you compare Woodley in this movie to her performance in The Descendants, it shows her range. Both characters are quite different.
Patrick: She's terrific, isn't she? If only she was hot enough to play Mary Jane in Amazing Spider-Man 2.
I kid the misogynist internet commenter assholes. The Spectacular Now demonstrated that Shailene Woodley doesn't need a stupid tentpole movie for her career to take off (and that includes the terrible-looking Divergent). She and Miles Teller are so good and so sweet together that I found myself wishing the movie would just stick to them and get rid of all the drinking and family stuff. My biggest issue with the film is that its second half completely sidelines Woodley so that it can be a movie solely about Teller; she turns into a prop that exists just to love him no matter how much he fucks up. I get that it's part of her character. I just wish the movie would have spent some time with her as she makes those choices. The movie is still really good as an honest portrayal of young love, and a huge part of that is because of Woodley.
Upstream Color. What a difficult role she had to play -- not just because we have very little information about her as a character, but also because SHE has very little information about herself as a character. She's playing someone who's been made a blank slate, and Seimetz is so good at showing us her fear and her anger but still suggesting she's open to the possibility of love, even if she can't explain why she's feeling what she's feeling. There are so many ways Upstream Color could have lost us as an audience (and I think it maybe did lose you a little if I'm remembering correctly), but Seimetz's performance keeps us drawn in the whole time.
And she gets bonus points for having one of the biggest laughs in You're Next.
Adam: I couldn't believe the internet trolls got her fired off of Amazing Spider-Man 2 because she's not hot enough (which is doing her a favor in a shitty way). Did they not see her in The Descendants? She is worth buying flowers for!
I appreciate your choice of Amy Seimetz. The fact that she was able to sell the last scene of the movie and not have it be laughable is testament to how much she was able to connect her character's emotional struggles to the audience. I liked Upstream Color, but found it a challenging movie to sit through because it is basically like learning a new filmmaking language. I've never seen anything like it. Nothing wrong with that. You'll like her in Ti West’s next movie, The Sacrament. It's a really impactful performance.
Patrick: Listen, this discussion might be boring if it's all "Yes, I totally agree with your choice and subsequent explanation," but in this case I totally agree with your choice and subsequent explanation. I go back and forth on how I feel about Fruitvale Station, because it is very powerful but also very flawed, I think. But you're right -- Michael B. Jordan IS the movie. A lesser performance and there's nothing here. What's so great about his work is that he really tries to make Oscar Grant a real person -- not a hero, not even a tragic hero, but just a real person. He can be sweet, angry, confused, helpful, loving, resentful, and Jordan doesn't telegraph any of the emotions as THIS IS THE LAST TIME I WILL BE FEELING THESE THINGS. The movie does a lot of that, but Jordan is not to blame. It really is great work. Good for you, Wallace. Good for you.
I'm trying to avoid just picking performances from my 10 best of the year, so I'll name Michael Cera in This is the End for my next pick. He doesn't have a ton of screen time and the joke is a fairly obvious one -- that Mr. Sensitive Hoodie is a huge asshole in real life -- but Cera throws himself into it with such demonic glee that he practically steals the whole movie. It's one thing for him to be introduced doing cocaine or some pedestrian shit like that; it's quite another for him to enter the movie having his asshole eaten by some random fan. These kinds of inside-showbiz comedies have a long tradition of stars proving they have a great sense of humor about themselves by lampooning their image, but Michael Cera has raised the bar for everyone. And then some.
Adam: I've got a curveball for you. I don't like Michael Cera in This is the End. I don't want to shit on your choice, so I'll just chalk it up to the joke being subjective and that it didn't work for me.
My next choice is Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color. I usually hate when critics dub something as a "brave performance," but I'm struggling for another way to describe her in this movie. Aside from the graphic love scenes, there is a scene towards the end that shows the desperation of a person in love and she is so good in that scene! Her behavior is humiliating and desperate but you can tell by that point it is this woman's only choice. She exists for this relationship and nothing else fulfills her. Then when you compare her arc to early in the movie where she's discovering her sexual preferences and feelings about being in love and lust, you realize what a transition the character has gone through and how the actress playing her seems completely natural throughout. And she gets naked a lot, which is pretty great. Seriously though, the only thing keeping Blue is the Warmest Color from being Rochelle Rochelle is Adele Exarchopoulos. She's so great here that it makes the movie more than just a pervy curiosity.
Patrick: I'll go the complete opposite end of the arthouse spectrum and name Christian Pitre from Bounty Killer. Genre performances often get overlooked in these kinds of year-end wrap ups, which is a shame because they can be interesting and exciting in different but equal ways. Bounty Killer is a frantic, busy, scrappy low-budget exploitation movie, and Pitre is the Sun around whom the rest of the movie revolves. She's not doing, like, Cate-Blanchett-in-Blue-Jasmine caliber work, but she is physical and tough, sweet and feminine and feels like she comes out of the thing a movie star. Pitre is asked to do a lot in the movie, but it's the kind of character work that can be ignored because it gets lost in all the shootouts and exploding heads. But Pitre elevates the whole movie with her performance. That should count for something.
Patrick: Aaagh. I haven't seen The Best Man Holiday, but I know you were a fan. I feel like the first Best Man in '99 was the movie that first put Terrence Howard on my radar -- he had such a different energy than everyone else in the movie, and I wasn't sure if I was supposed to trust him. I know you're not the biggest fan of the Iron Man movies, but every time I rewatch the first film I get bummed out that he didn't continue on playing Rhodes. I like Don Cheadle and everything, but I just love the way Terrence Howard plays the part and interacts with Robert Downey Jr. They seem like they might really get into trouble together, whereas Don Cheadle seems like a square.
Tom Hanks' performance in Captain Phillips was my favorite thing about the movie -- his last scene is some of the best, most honest acting I've ever seen -- but I feel like I need to call out Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the lead pirate. He's getting some recognition from critics' groups and will probably get an Oscar nomination, and it's very well deserved. He's another actor who has to play so many different emotions and motivations and hides all of them behind his enormous expressive eyes; I was afraid of him in one minute and my heart broke for him in the next. What makes his work even more incredible is that (I'm pretty sure) he is a total amateur. He was working as a chauffeur when he was cast in the film. So I'm clearly wasting my life.
Adam: I'm super happy you picked Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi from Captain Phillips, because those guys were on my list too! Abdi, I heard, was living in Minnesota, so my question is - why was he not in Jingle All The Way? Kidding aside, you said it perfectly regarding his performance. I also really like that he's portrayed as intelligent and almost a manager/supervisor to the other kidnappers. As for Hanks, I will cite a tweet I saw from Ti West regarding Hanks' performance (I'm paraphrasing) - "Hanks is channeling some next level shit in that last scene." I can't remember seeing another person play someone in shock better than Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips.
True Romance - now that is range! There is so much I like about his performance in Enough Said: the fact that he is a TV nerd who loves his job at a Television History type of organization, that he is sensitive but also not a pussy and his great reaction when he realizes he had a dick slip on his date with Julia Louis Dreyfus. I loved every part of Enough Said that did not have Catherine Keener or Toni Collette. It's such a good movie and I'm glad that James Gandolfini got to show another side of his personality on film before his untimely passing.
Patrick: Gandolfini was my favorite part of Enough Said, which I thought was pleasant but mostly disappointing coming from Nicole Holofcener, a director whose every previous movie I've really loved. Like you, I'm really glad that his last performance is something different than we were used to seeing him do. It would have been easy for him to play tough guys and thugs for his whole career, but he was too talented for that. The relationship between him and Julia-Louis Dreyfus is so good (Dreyfus' delivery of "I'm tired of being funny" is one of the best moments of the year) that I wish Holofcener would have gotten rid of all the stupid "lying about being friend with the ex-wife" subplot. That's some leftover shit from a Kate Hudson movie, not one of the sharpest and most observant writer/directors working today.
But yes, Gandolfini is great in the movie, and even if I had a lot of problems with it I'm glad we got it at all.
I'll go with Dwayne Johnson in Pain & Gain, a movie I mostly loathed and have avoided thinking about until a number of critics started putting it on their "10 Best" lists, much to my surprise/suicidal depression. Johnson was maybe the only thing about that film I liked -- he had incredible comic timing, created a real character and actually committed to it. If the rest of the movie had been half as good as Johnson's performance, it would have easily been Michael Bay's best.
This was my least favorite of the MANY Dwayne Johnson movies this year (I liked it even less than G.I. Joe: Retaliation), but my favorite performance of his. The world is indeed a rainbow.
Adam: The best Dwayne Johnson moments for me this year were his awkward bromance moments with Toretto, but I agree he's very funny in Pain & Gain. I can't believe that headache of a movie is making top 10 lists either. It's always on lists of critics who have crazy obscure movies making up seven of their 10, and then they throw the Elois their Pain & Gain to keep street cred. Puh-lease. Go sit on a Film Comment magazine, elitist critics!
Next, I will go with Rooney Mara in Side Effects. This actress basically hypnotizes me. She is pretty but very spooky at the same time. That duplicity is perfect for a movie like Side Effects, where you expect this doe-eyed woman to be one thing and she may be something else entirely. Is Mara becoming the go-to actress for thrillers? If so, I'd be fine with that. And have you seen that shot of her holding a baby in the trailer for Her? She was made to hold babies. My baby.
Patrick: She's very good! I can't wait to see her in a movie I actually like.
Ok, that's not fair, because Side Effects was decent (I might like it more if I wasn't measuring it as Steven Soderbergh's final film) and she was in The Social Network, though I wouldn't really call that a Rooney Mara Joint. And I haven't seen Her yet. So I guess I'm just taking a shit on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the Nightmare on Elm Street remake.
Adam: Yeah, Short Term 12 is a movie I can basically see being workshopped at the Sundance institute while I watch it (which is ironic because it debuted at SXSW). It's fine and effective, but I'm never going to want to watch it again. Brie Larson is very good in it. She's an actress that makes me want to see a movie more because she's in it.
This is getting tough because I, like you, decided to not name performances that go along with my top 10 movies of the year but I have a few more, so next I will pick Ryan Gosling playing James Dean in The Place Beyond the Pines. As much as I don't want to like Ryan Gosling, I do like Ryan Gosling. Between this movie and Drive, he seems to have a knack for playing an iconic type of character. I really like his choices in the bank robbery scenes because instead of playing it cool he is shrieking and having a hissy fit like the unprofessional thief that he is. Come to think of it, Gosling is a little bit like Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station: he's a guy who is intelligent enough to stay out of trouble, but doesn't have the temperament to not make things difficult on himself.
Patrick: I was just about to say the same thing -- it's getting harder and harder to avoid naming actors who appear in what I THINK will be my Top 10 (I haven't actually made the list yet). So I'll name a performance from a movie that only MIGHT be in my Top 10, but probably won't be.
But first, I want to respond to what you said about Ryan Gosling. I found The Place Beyond the Pines to be such a frustrating movie, because there is a lot of greatness in it, but it's like the greatness remains just out of the film's grasp to the very end. But the Gosling stuff is the best stuff in the movie, not just because it's the most compelling and tense, but because he really is an interesting actor. I thought this year's Only God Forgives tried to get too much mileage out of his sad-eyed silence, but The Place Beyond the Pines does it just right. And I love what you say about his "bank robbery" voice; so often, we see criminal characters who seem informed only by other movies, and it was refreshing to watch someone commit a robbery for what felt like the first time.
Prisoners. I did not expect to like the movie at all, and I ended up liking it a whole lot. Much of that has to do with Gyllenhaal's turn as Detective Loki (man, I wish they gave him a different name). I don't know how much of the character was on the page and how much Gyllenhaal brought to it, but it was a performance that avoided almost every cop movie cliché and became something so much more interesting. I love the physicality of what he does -- the way he blinks too much and kind of twitches. His body is so on edge that it practically hums, and we're never quite filled in as to why. Is it that he doesn't sleep? Is he using some sort of stimulant? Is he just an obsessive? Or is it something else, something that's hinted at in his past? Prisoners creates characters by hinting at their back stories (usually) without insulting us by spelling it all out. I think the movie is worth seeing just for Gyllenhaal's performance.
Adam: You did it again, Bromley! I had Jake Gyllenhaal from Prisoners on my list, too. Honestly, I could have him on my list of favorite performances virtually every year, because he might be the most underrated actor working today. I respect him so much for his quality control -- almost all of his movies are worth watching at the very least. Just compare him to Hugh Jackman in Prisoners and it shows what a great actor he is. I got more out of the Gyllenhaal performance (which is cranked way down) than Jackman, who is coughing up a dramatic lung. I don't hate Jackman in Prisoners (he is most interesting playing up the survivalist angle), but he's definitely Grieving Wolverine in that movie. I think the thing I like about Gyllenhaal is that he has this innate sincerity or boy scout quality to him which makes for a great counterpoint in his dark thrillers.
So instead of him I will pick a performance that I just saw last night, and that's Jason Bateman in Disconnect. The movie is only half good (half really, really bad), but anything related to the Bateman sections is pretty strong. It's a bit of an "I'm sad as indicated by my beard" performance, but I found it really moving. He plays the father of a teen who is victimized by cyber bullying. It's difficult to play a dad without falling into stereotype, and Bateman is never going for the big moment. He plays it as realistically as I can imagine a father in that situation would. It's especially impressive to me because none of the usual Bateman sarcasm is present. He's not winking at the story or his character. It was a great way to make myself forget Identity Thief, if just for a couple of hours.
Patrick: I still haven't seen Identity Thief, and I think I'm going to live my life having not seen Identity Thief. I haven't seen Disconnect, either, but it's nice to hear Jason Bateman getting some credit for being a really good actor. He's so good that he makes that horrible semen comedy The Switch tolerable. He's so sincere in the movie it's like he's acting in an indie drama.
Funny that you bring up the difference between Jackman and Gyllenhaal in Prisoners. I can't blame Hugh Jackman -- he's fine as a guy driven crazy by the disappearance of his kid -- but he plays the part exactly the way anyone expects him to play it. If only he had done something unpredictable or if the part had been played by an actor we knew was really capable of doing some terrible, terrible things. But Jake Gyllenhaal is really great, so it's nice that we are both totally right about everything we think and/or say all of the time.
What number are we at? I can't remember. I'll just bring out the big guns finally and name Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. It's not one of my favorite movies this year (I liked it), but I don't think there's a better performance. I know Woody Allen has been criticized for being tone deaf about the lives and language of the working class, but I don't think it even matters. Cate Blanchett is so good in every scene of the movie, and it's not an easy part to play -- part victim, part monster, mostly pathetic. She's on another planet.
Adam: No arguments here on Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. I think she's perfectly cast in that movie.
I'll close out with two final picks: Amy Adams in American Hustle and Scarlett Johansson in Don Jon. Both are making some big choices in these movies and I think it works to both of their benefits. For Adams (who is always good), she plays a dual role almost in the way Leonardo DiCaprio did in The Departed. In both movies, the pressure of not being able to be real gives the character a poignancy that provides an emotional element to material that is first and foremost pretty slick. Johansson, on the other hand, had lost her uniqueness in recent years. Remember how great she was when she was just starting out in movies like Ghost World and Lost in Translation? She got sidetracked by supporting roles and blockbusters for several years, and I feel like in Don Jon she is finally enjoying herself again onscreen. It's a funny performance that reminded me of that relic of the '90s, Debi Mazar.
Plus, American Hustle featured my REAL favorite performance of the year: Amy Adams' dresses. Holy shit.
Adam: Yeah, no trouble with the curve there. Bradley Cooper imitating Louis C.K. is 30 of my favorite seconds of a movie this year. Jennifer Lawrence basically haunts me in American Hustle, but I think I finally nailed what it is about that performance: she’s June Squibb in Nebraska for me. I love Jennifer Lawrence so much (even in American Hustle) but it’s a performance that works at the detriment of the movie it’s in. It's overwritten so it can have big moments. Also, I’m starting to think Jennifer Lawrence is the female Tom Hanks. She represents everything that is great about America. I think Brad L. and Sol would agree.