Christian Bale, Sanda Bullock, Joaquin Phoenix, Oscar Isaac, Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Michael Fassbender, and Meryl Steep, because she’s Meryl Streep, have all had heaps of praise thrown their way this year by both fans and critics. They’ll continue to see even more acclaim in 2014 and beyond, but with all those fantastic movie star performances, not all of 2013’s best have gotten the attention they deserve.
That happens most every year, of course. Only so many performances can be nominated for statuettes. After all, even after listing these 13, another 13 could have easily followed (it was a good year). In that spirit, hopefully you’ll share your picks in the comments section, but for now, here are 13 performances from 2013 not to forget when someone else is being played off stage for making their acceptance speech too long.
Dennis Quaid – At Any Price
A weirdly overlooked film and performance. When Quaid fully invests in a role — or when it shows in the final product that he does — it results in Henry Whipple, a huckster who, somehow, you empathize with when everything goes wrong for his business and family.
It’s a despicable character you root for to make the right decisions, especially when Quaid and director Ramin Bahrani convey Henry is more than a cold businessman. This is Quaid at his most vulnerable and entertaining in a long time.
Joey King – Everything She Was In
What can’t Joey King do? She expressed terror in The Conjuring; convincingly played a wise child in White House Down; and charmed in Oz: The Great and Powerful. We’re in need for another Dakota Fanning, and King might be it.
Garrett Hedlund – Inside Llewyn Davis
Garrett Hedlund has gotten a lot of flack over the years. That’s a little unfair, because Tron: Legacy or Troy aren’t exactly about acting. When Hedlund has been cast in the right project that lets him stretch his muscles, he shows his true talent.
Both On the Road and Inside Llewyn Davis show wildly different sides of Hedlund, and his performances in both films will thankfully land him more interesting projects and roles. William Monahan’s forthcoming Mojave should be an excellent showcase for him.
Kyle Chandler – The Spectacular Now
Right behind Dennis Quaid, The Spectacular Now is the best example of subverting expectations when it comes to casting. Friday Night Lights built up an image of Kyle Chandler being that father you’ve always wanted, while The Spectacular Now has him playing the father you never wanted. It’s a nifty idea of casting Chandler, but more than that, it’s a transformation for Chandler done in small and effective ways. This is the type of role that could’ve been done with a bunch of easy tics and such, but it’s an effortlessly natural performance.
Olivia Wilde – Drinking Buddies
Like Garret Hedlund, Olivia Wilde hasn’t always had the most substantial material. She’s done her best under the circumstances, but even in an excellent movie like Rush, she’s given a role that doesn’t have much breathing room. Wilde’s part in Drinking Buddies gives her that room.
Her natural charms are put to good use in Joe Swanberg‘s movie about craft brews and difficult relationships because she plays a real person, not a plot device. Hopefully we see more work like this from Wilde in the future.
Matthew Goode – Stoker
Perhaps the most overlooked performance on this list. The scene where Charles Stoker (Matthew Goode) and Richard (Dermot Mulroney) are together in the car is both funny and dramatic, and that’s not an easy balance to play. You’re laughing, but not exactly laughing at Charlie. Goode plays him with vulnerability, charm, danger, and childishness, and all those ingredients make for the heart and darkness of Park Chan-wook‘s estranged thriller.
Bradley Cooper – The Place Beyond the Pines
With Bradley Cooper’s face watching the television, talking with the therapist, and reacting to his father, Cooper and director Derek Cianfrance tell you everything you have to know about his character Avery without exposition. It’s all in how Cooper handles himself in the role.
Playing the criminal with a heart of a gold is one thing, but Cooper had the tougher job: making you empathize with a selfish careerist haunted by a mistake. Cooper makes you feel the pain in Avery’s success.
Sean Penn – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
This is the Sean Penn we need more of. Over the past few years he has undergone wild transformations or played at big emotions, so it’s a real joy to see him come back to a performance that requires him not to yell, wear a wig, or chew up the scenery until there are no scraps left.
That’s not a diss on his bonkers turn in Gangster Squad, but The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has the quiet kind of performance from Penn that gives us a rest from the insanity. Penn doesn’t waste a second of his screen time to live up to the legend that is Sean O’Connell. By the end, he brings a much needed heft to the film.
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Great Gatsby
Leonardo DiCaprio is going to receive a ton nominations for The Wolf of Wall Street. All that acclaim is deserved, because he gives Martin Scorsese one of his best performances, but he also did the same for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. It’s a role that not even Robert Redford could pull off, but DiCaprio found the humanity in Gatsby. No matter how hyper Luhrmann and his camera got, DiCaprio still found the film’s heart, making Gatsby’s final minutes onscreen truly heartbreaking.
Adam Brody – Some Girl(s)
An oblivious, selfish, and pretentious character you can’t take your eyes off of. Adam Brody gives a magnetic performance in Some Girl(s), a Neil LaBute played adapted by LaBute himself. When we see the Man (Adam Brody) talking to his exes, you can understand the harm he caused them. There’s always something sinister going on underneath Brody’s performance, and that is fully expressed best by Brody in the film’s final shot.
Jeremy Renner – American Hustle
Most of American Hustle‘s cast has been lauded for stunning work. Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Amy Adams all found humanity underneath their characters’s eccentricities. They have the showiest roles, so obviously they’re going to see the spotlight.
That’s a bit of a shame because Jeremy Renner plays an awfully compelling straight man. Whenever an actor is surrounded by high energy performances like Bale or Cooper’s, it’s easy to get overshadowed, but that’s not the case for Renner here. Some of the film’s best drama is when Renner is onscreen, playing a nice guy in the wrong situation.
Carey Mulligan – Inside Llewyn Davis
Jean (Carey Mulligan) is a terrifically unlikable female character. She’s a total jerk, and yet, kind of the film’s moral compass. Whenever Jean appears, she’s there to put Llewyn in his place. There’s more to her than her coldness, though. She’s later revealed to have more going on than her disdain for Llewyn, and while credit goes to the Coen Brothers’ incredible script, Mulligan sells it. By the end, you love and hate Jean. Mostly hate.
Max Casella – Inside Llewyn Davis and Blue Jasmine
A character actor we must keep an eye on. Blue Jasmine and Inside Llewyn Davis are packed with laughs, but Max Casella gets the biggest laughs in both films. Whether he’s trying to woo Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) or is talking about Jean’s allure, Casella nails every beat and punch line for Woody Allen and The Coens. Casella had done good work over the years, but 2013 is the year of Casella.