I’m nothing if not determined. So, as late as I am with completing my Review of 2013 in Film I will complete, and so here I am. As everyone else is obsessing over Emmy tragedies and offenses I’m still thinking about the previous year in film. Humour me by taking the trip back with me.
When last we met in April I was talking about my favourite writing of 2013. When I did my 2013 entry for the Supporting Actor Project I mentioned that I still hadn’t settled on my personal ballot for the category. Even now I have two favourite performances and then six fine turns from some actors who I'd all like to include in ballot, I knew that one or two of the actor Oscar nominees would make their way on to my ballot, but in what order? I was more intrigued by performances that were existing in haunts awards' bodies didn't care to look in. And ultimately my ballot revealed me to be smitten with two foreign performances, a quiet turn in prestige-films-that-could-not, a critic loved performance in a film too weird for Oscar, a forgotten performance in a film critics did love and ultimately a single Oscar nominee. Yes, I'm highlighting six performance (but the sixth is named, so you'll see what the five ballot looks like).
Bradley Cooper in American Hustle (as Richie DiMaso)
from my Supporting Actor Factor 2013 write-up: “Cooper is best-in-show not because he’s served great moments but because he manages to make those separate moments all a facet of the most significant, continuous, aspect of Richie’s character - his desperately desire to win. Even as he may be sincerely infatuated with Sidney/Edith he’s also thrilled to have a chance to one-up Irving, finally a chance to win. He’s the over-eager chump who’s so excited about the good hand he’s been dealt at in poker that he overplays his austere poker-face and betrays his excitement. It could be obnoxious but Cooper gets to the root of Richie’s childlike inclinations so his overzealous streaked when pitched just the right way becomes profoundly moving for the way it betrays a sincere case of arrested development. More so, when his fate at the end is sealed.”
Chris Cooper in August: Osage County (as Charlie Aiken)
This performance stuck with me in a way I didn’t anticipate. Charlie is quiet and like the other males he tends to get lost amidst the loudness of the women, so I kept questioning whether the performance could be a legitimately affecting one, when I don’t miss him when he’s off-screen. And yet, the moments where he does appear are exceptional. The entire performance is built on its HIGHLIGHT moments. The first at the dinner table where his sly line reading of “Everyone loves you here” precipitates Violet’s resentment by cutting into her ridiculous show. Even better is his outburst at Mattie Fae which offers a profound view into the kind of man he is, and the life they have lived. And, like his entire performance, in brief spurts offering us key insight into this silent but not unthinking man.
James Franco in Spring Breakers (as Alien)
For one, Franco's turn in Spring Breakers - weird, uninhibited, unexpected and sincere - is just so good, it's difficult not to be seduced by it just on that level. But it's working not just a level of entertainment but sees Franco giving arguably (?) his most incisive performance presenting a man who is almost too ridiculous to be taken seriously. His performance manages to avoid any lampooning of the character, or any inkling of judgement, instead giving us a seamless turn that manages to be sensitive and fun as much as it is profound and poignant. Alien shouldn't be charming, but the trick of the performance is we understand just why the girls find him to be such a curio.
HIGHLIGHT: Too difficult to chose, but how to avoid the loveliness of “Everytime”?
Jonathan Gallagher Jr. in Short Term 12 (as Mason)
Supporting or Leading? I kept having this conversation with myself as to where Gallagher's performance, straddling the line between the two would fall. He's there a lot, but often just in the corner. It's a performance easy to be lost amidst the more interesting people in the film, but it's what makes me like Gallagher's characterisation so much. Mason's stories land with a way that's earnest but appealing in its way, so we understand why Grace likes him. Mason is almost blandly regular person but it's a quality that feels real and lived in. It makes his performance work less when he's at the centre and more when he's on the fringes observing everyone. It's why, oddly, his HIGHLIGHT moment for me is not about him. His simple inability to respond to Marcus' rap works so well as the caretaker of these children, feeling for these children, hurting for them but unable to erase the past.
Tahar Rahim in The Past (as Samir)
So much of this performance, especially in the first hour, is made up of dejected glances and hurt glares and because he’s the last of the three main characters we spend significant time with it might feel as if the performance is one of posturing. But as little by little Farhadi gives us more and more of the melodramatic labyrinth at work, the narrative demands more of him and Samir’s seemingly petulant exterior gives way to an overwhelmingly heartbreaking turn.
HIGHLIGHT: The film flirts with rocky terrain when the melodrama threatens to overcome it all as we reach the denouement. The fact that everything works is as much about Farhadi's skill as a filmmakers as it s about Rahim in that confrontation with his worker making all the moving pieces realistic and affecting as the ought to be.
Max Riemelt in Free Fall (Kay Engel)
I debated long and hard on this one both because of the character's weird flatness and the film's own issues, but it's unfair to deny a performance that lingers because of the film. Reimelt is just on the cusp as my #6. A significant part of Riemelt's performance is just about the object of affection to Marc - the desirable, and enticing gay man leading the confused married man astray - but he's deftly avoiding any issues with message the film might have and even as Kay remains a character we don't quite know as the film ends Riemelt's leaves a lasting impression.
HIGHLIGHT: And so his best moments, become those where he's simply reacting to Marc. The excellent reaction shot to his I'm not gay speaks volumes.
FINALISTS: Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips for adding even more profound depth to this man making him so much more than just "evil pirate"; Gabriel Basso in The Kings of Summer, Basso is already one of my favourite teen actors right now so I’m predisposed to liking him. What’s great about his work here, though, is the slightly subversive take on the jock-in-training. Patrick’s role as the brawn of his relationship with his best friend and his peculiar family life, though played for laughs, are given legitimate consideration; Dane DeHaan in The Place Beyond the Pines for a brief turn that becomes the film's secret weapon; Tom Hanks in Saving Mr Banks, for selling the charm but also the potential for oiliness in the legend; Michael Zegen in Frances Ha, is given a sliver of a role but his awkwardness and the rapport he creates with Gerwig make the moments he appears on screen some of my favourite of the film.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Benedict Cumberbatch in August: Osage County; Colin Farrell in Saving Mr Banks; Ben Foster in Ain't Them Bodies Saints; Jason Flemying in Great Expectations; Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street; Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club; Tobey Maguire in The Great Gatsby; Rami Malek in Short Term 12; Keith Stanfield in Short Term 12
FURTHER JOURNEYS INTO THE BEST OF 2013: Opening Scenes / Supporting Actress / Actor / Sound and Music / Costume, Production Design, Editing, Visual Effects, Makeup / Cinematography / Writing