2014 Yearbook: Great Performances

The FOTS team name 20 of their favorite performances from this past year: heroes, villains, cops, criminals, actors, and everything in between.


Peter Capaldi, Doctor Who
How do you reinvent a 50 year-old character? The answer, apparently, is to cast Peter Capaldi. Reversing a trend of hip – dare I say sexy? –  young men who’ve recently played the Doctor, Capaldi’s older, colder, pricklier take on “The Last of the Time Lords” is a breath of fresh air. Letting his trademark eyebrows do some heavy lifting, Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor harkens back to an earlier era when the character was an alien madman with telephone box. Sure, he can still save the galaxy, but you’d never make the mistake of thinking he wants to cuddle. It makes his rare moments of compassion all the more touching. —Chase


Marion Cotillard, The Immigrant
I described Marion Cotillard’s performance in The Immigrant as an “open wound” in my initial review.  Raw emotion just pours out of this actress, but she never reverts to histrionics; instead she digs deep inside her soul to find the quiet, devastating truth within any given moment.  She has the face of a silver-screened silent film angel, but has been given the power of one of the most honest voices working in film today.  Marion Cotillard’s Ewa in The Immigrant speaks to the hardship endured by the thousands who still come here in search of a better life, and never think to give up hope in even the darkest of situations. –Sean


Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
The cherry on top of Wes Anderson’s delightful confection is Fiennes’s go-for-broke performance as M. Gustave, the concierge of the titular hotel. He may be vain and lascivious, but Fiennes’s unflappable grace and charisma were a joy to watch, and his comedic timing was in perfect alignment with Anderson’s idiosyncratic rhythms. (It’s hard to pick a favorite scene, but I may lean towards the train car early on, where he becomes bored with his own long-windedness.) Gustave was a man preserving the standards and austerity of an era that was quickly passing him by, but Fiennes did it without ever once letting us see him sweat. Truly wonderful, darling. –David


Martin Freeman, The Hobbit / Fargo / Sherlock
Martin Freeman shone on the small screen this year in both Fargo (for which he was nominated for a lead actor Emmy) and Sherlock (for which he won a supporting actor Emmy), but it is his final performance as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies for which his popularity will endure.  No, Bilbo may not be the star of the last film, but his moments count and drive the dramatic and emotional beats home.  Whether dreaming of the Shire, stealing the Arkenstone, or sharing a heartfelt goodbye with his dwarvish friends, Freeman’s humor, enthusiasm, and heart pierce through the CGI bombardment.  Much like Elijah Wood in The Lord of the Rings, Freeman’s simple little hobbit holds this whole new trilogy together with great care and affection, and he makes it all look easy. –Sean


Brendan Gleeson, Calvary
This is the forgotten great performance of the year. In a culture that frequently casts priests as evil secret-hiders, Calvary aims to explore the idea of a good man struggling against a world gone wrong. Brendan Gleeson’s Father James is the good priest, a weary man still pursuing the righteous path despite a congregation that openly mocks him and his faith. But that faith isn’t a cover Father James is hiding behind — it’s a light that turns back the darkness. Gleeson’s priest isn’t a perfect man, but he’s a noble one, soldiering on because he knows that some men will still find comfort in the gospel, and that’s an effort worth making even as he stares down his own mortality. —Chase


Tom Hardy, Locke
It’s only just that Hardy is here, for a little-seen, somewhat experimental British independent film, because Hardy was the only actor that appeared in that film. In Locke, he played a family man–and successful contractor–whose life unravels over the course of a single 80-minute drive. We hear voices over his hands-free car phone, of course, and director Steven Wright keeps things visually interesting, but the film doesn’t work without Hardy at the center of this one-man show. As Ivan Locke’s confidence slowly erodes, angrily bursts forth, then erodes again, our esteem of Hardy’s dramatic chops only grow. –David


Ethan Hawke & Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Richard Linklater’s 12 years-in-the-making rumination on growing up in Texas was always going to be a huge gamble, and he would need naturalistic actors to hold it together.  He got that in spades with both Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, who are never less than sincere in their portrayal of divorced parents trying to raise their kids as best as they know how.  Arquette’s motherly affection and naked bittersweet emotional breakdown near the film’s end have been getting the lion’s share of praise, but Hawke is every bit as good playing the opposite end of the spectrum.  His failed musician Dad could have easily been portrayed as a washed up loser, but instead Hawke carries the character with integrity and wit. Arquette and Hawke come off as real people in the end, struggling to be the parents we all think we deserve with all the regrets and mistakes of the past firmly in place. –Sean


Michael Keaton, Birdman
Michael Keaton is so much more than just the actor playing Riggan Thomson. The character is a fictionalized version of his own past, and Keaton draws on his own experience as a former superhero actor fallen on hard times to bring Riggan to life. This is an open vein put on celluloid. This rare synthesis of actor and role is pure, unadulterated movie magic, and it’s really impossible to imagine Birdman being made if Keaton hadn’t been available. Birdman is a chance for us to remember that Keaton was once considered one of our great actors, and realize the greatness we’ve missed by having forgotten. —Chase


Logan Lerman, Fury
Young actors frequently get the short end of the stick in lists like these.  The thought is that no matter how good the performance, they are still growing, and if they are worth their salt they will deliver something better down the line.  Hogwash.  A great performance is a great performance, and very few actors this year matched the intensity Logan Lerman brought to the screen in Fury.  His task was almost impossible as written – go from green pacifist to battle-hardened killing machine by the film’s end; that he is able to pull it off is nothing short of remarkable. Even when the script stretches credibility, Lerman is never less than 100 percent committed as he carries the devastating emotional weight of the entire film on his shoulders.  As his star continues to rise, his role in Fury will be remembered as one of his best no matter his age. –Sean

orphan black

Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
I doubt anyone would call Orphan Black’s sophomore season a complete success; that being said, Maslany undoubtedly gave the most diverse and complex performance of the year. I am constantly confused by her omission on ballots for Best Actress (I’m looking at you, Emmy voters). Each member of the clone club has a distinct personality, way of walk, cadence of speech; it is quite possible to forget you are watching the same actress, often in the same scene. Look for her to continue her dominance next year when Orphan Black returns; furthermore, I expect to see her to reign supreme on the big screen, beginning in 2015 with Woman in Gold. –Rachel


Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Okay, okay; it is reasonable to label Still Alice, a film about an intellectual experiencing early onset Alzheimer’s, as Oscar-bait. Make no mistake, however, Moore deserves her spot on that stage. Alice was one of those characters that could have easily wound up as a victim or, alternately, a Norma Rae tough-as-nails heroine; Moore is comfortable settling somewhere in between, adding the kind of authenticity so needed for such a woman. Alice could be your mom, your best friend, or You. Not a cautionary tale, Alice is simply a snapshot, a fully realized character with hopes that continue long after the credits roll. Moore’s portrayal haunted me for hours after I left my seat in the theatre, and frankly, for what more could you ask a performer? –Rachel


Pedro Pascal, Game of Thrones
[Spoilers ahoy!] If you had to choose only one actor from Thrones’s stacked deck for their contributions in 2014, who would it be? Peter Dinklage and Maisie Williams were their usual brilliant selves, and more than one other writer advocated for Charles Dance. But in the annals of television’s “one-season wonders,” Pedro Pascal’s Oberyn “The Red Viper” Martell will hold a special place. He swaggered into King’s Landing on a mission like a pansexual demigod, made a few enemies (and a few friends–watch his scene in Tyrion’s cell again for a master class in how to relay exposition), then went out in a blaze burst of blood-soaked near-glory. He was ferocious, he was irresistible, and he was doomed. –David


Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
In a world of Kardashian-inspired nasal vocals, Rosamund Pike’s dark, sultry voice is a revelation. It slaps your sense of expectation, letting you know that Amy Dunne isn’t your average Midwestern housewife. Pike really plays two roles in Gone Girl, one part sugar-coated dream-girl “Amazing Amy,” and the other as a brilliant, duplicitous femme fatale. Pike’s ability to play two sides of the same coin is a throwback to the days of film noir, and it’s amazingly effortless. It takes a special performance to steal a film away from the likes of Ben Affleck, Neil Patrick Harris, and Tyler Perry, but Pike is the one you’ll be talking about when you leave the theater – if your jaw isn’t stuck to the floor. —Chase


Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy / The LEGO Movie
2014 will likely go down as the “Year of Pratt,” and why not? The schlubby pratfall guy from Parks and Rec is now this generation’s Harrison Ford, striking gold first with LEGO, an extension of what he already does best, then reinventing himself for the year’s highest-grossing film. As Peter Quill, he danced and wisecracked his way into our hearts, the linchpin of his loveable group of misanthropes, mirroring Pratt’s own meteoric rise into the public consciousness. And since he’s proving to be just as charming off-screen as on, he’s positioned to enter the stratosphere with next year’s Jurassic World. Look, I predicted this last year, and now we’re all reaping the benefits. Go Pratt go. –David


Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You want to hear a bunch of disparate critics join together and go absolutely bananas over an actor’s craft?  Then get the Fellowship of the Screen staff in a (chat) room together and bring up Andy Serkis.  It was never a question of whether or not he would make this list, but of who would be choosing him. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Serkis’s Caesar is a performance for the ages.  All stout nobility and stately physicality, he commands the screen in complete silence, using his body and face as the ultimate forms of expression. Toby Kebbel provides a great personal foil for Caesar with an intense, hotheaded performance, only giving Serkis more to play off of.  The Master of Mo-Cap has truly outdone himself this time around.  So where exactly is that honorary Oscar?  –Sean


Jenny Slate, Obvious Child / Married
Through Jenny Slate’s impeccable performance, Obvious Child became so much more than a simple coming-of-age dramedy. No debate: Slate is one of the funniest actors working in comedy today, but the layers she showed propelled her into another realm. Alternately, her supporting role as Jess on the F/X comedy Married often steals the spotlight from the main characters. Speaking softly with intermittent giggles, her jokes land so quickly, it is sometimes hard to keep up. Who knew dropping the F-bomb on live television and subsequently being fired from Saturday Night Live would have been the best career move Slate could have made? –Rachel


Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive / Snowpiercer
One of our greatest character actresses had two mesmerizing performances in 2014, though the two couldn’t be less similar. As an ancient but inescapably cool vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive, she embodied an undead woman who’s seen the entire world and explored every culture. In Snowpiercer, her prosthetic-toothed schoolmarm of a bureaucrat has lived her entire life on the passenger cars of a single train. One craves enlightenment, the other worships the status quo. Swinton nails both roles, infusing each performance with just enough quirk and idiosyncrasy to make her characters jump off the screen – a testament to her skill. —Chase


Miles Teller & J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Perhaps the two best performances of the year came in Damien Chazelle’s delightfully frenetic Whiplash. Heaps of praise have been showered upon character actor Simmons for his turn as megalomaniac bandleader Fletcher, and deservedly so — but in a year of career-defining performances, Miles Teller has stood out as possibly the best, leaving blood all over the screen (literally!) as Andrew, the troubled ingénue seeking genius-status under Fletcher’s depraved tutelage. Simmons may have the experiences, and makes a frightening adversary, but Teller matches his wits and talents line by line, look by look. I’ve seen the film three times now and have noticed new layers each time to both performances. –Rachel


Allison Tolman, Fargo
Not content to be a Frances McDormand retread any more than Fargo the series wanted to be a retread of Fargo the film, Allison Tolman came out of nowhere (well, Chicago) to ground FX’s series, serving as our port of stability and humanity in a growing storm of evil. Impossible not to root for, Tolman’s Molly was a decent and hardworking woman who’d stare down an unrepentant killer just as easily as her ignorant captain, and though she may have been made to bend, she would never truly break. Tolman’s subtle, thoughtful performance hid a spine of steel, earning even more fans when the actress would shrug off pathetic online abuse for her body shape. Whatever she does next, I’ll be there to see it. –David


Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars
Cupid’s arrows abounded when Ansel Elgort dominated the screen in teeny-bopper fare this year; however, frequent co-star Shailene Woodley (once again) proved her worth, giving little girls a talented role model. Though she appeared in one of my least favorite films of the year (shudder) she did so admirably, her work never wavering in the bleak material. It was in this year’s Love Story, The Fault in Our Stars, where she shone brightest. As cancer patient/first time lover Hazel, Woodley never fell victim to melodrama or over-acting. Continuing a streak of strong work from her turns in The Descendants, The Spectacular Now, and White Bird in a Blizzard, Woodley will no longer be known as “that girl from The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” –Rachel


For more of our Best of 2014 lists, click here!

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