10. Sam Rockwell, The Way, Way Back
In terms of mainstream audiences, Sam Rockwell is probably the most underrated actor on the planet. His role as a water park owner in The Way, Way Back would have been an un-noteworthy performance in lesser hands, but Rockwell steals the film with his charm and depth.
9. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Everyone was excited to see Leonardo DiCaprio take on a more comedic role in Django Unchained. Unfortunately, that was a rather one-note performance. Luckily, DiCaprio finally delivered the performance we have all been waiting for this year as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. DiCapio has the comedic chops to pull the role off, but he also takes command of a loud and in your face performance that is anything but in his hands.
8. Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
The breakthrough performance of the year belongs to Lupita Nyong’o as she delivers a truly brave performance as a slave fancied by the plantation’s unstable owner and despised by the plantation owner’s jealous wife. Nyong’o is clearly a talent that will be here for years to come.
7. Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man Three
It is quite easy to overlook Robert Downey Jr.’s return to the role of Tony Stark and many people have. However, RDJ has delivered one of the most complex performances in a blockbuster in recent memory. He is able to give Tony a vulnerable side while still maintaining the charm and arrogance that made the character so popular to begin with.
6. Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now
Miles Teller has been one great performance away from breaking out in a big way. Luckily for Teller his performance as a high school student that only cares about the now in The Spectacular Now is that performance. In many ways it’s a similar performance to what Robert Downey Jr. did, but with a meatier script, Teller is able to bring his performance to higher heights.
5. Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Hanks hasn’t received a meaty role on film in a while, so it was nice to see him finally get one again with Captain Phillips. It’s a strong performance for most of the film’s runtime, but Hanks takes it to the next level in one of the final scenes as his character finally succumbs to shock. Shock has never been portrayed so realistically onscreen before.
4. Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Some may dismiss Michael Fassbender’s role as the villainous plantation owner Epps as a one-not villain role, but those people are completely overlooking quite a complex performance. Fassbender makes for a great villain, but where he really makes this performance great is with the subtle hints of addiction he puts into his character (this is most obvious in his tearful whipping of the slave portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o).
3. Robert Redford, All is Lost
All is Lost can get pretty repetitive of many other survival films that have come out this year. Why then is the film so watchable? It’s because of Robert Redford’s incredible performance. Redford’s one-man show could have been gimmicky, but Redford makes sure you are truly invested in this man’s survival.
2. Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
I was going back and forth on whether to put Redford at second or Chiwetel Ejiofor’s powerful performance as freedman turned slave Solomon Northup here. Ejiofor’s performance is just as good as Redford’s as he perfectly interprets John Ridley’s script, but what gives him the upper hand is how different Ejiofor’s performance is from his recent work. Just look at his Golden Globe-nominated performance as a British musician in Dancing on the Edge. It’s such a completely different performance form Solomon Northup and just goes to show how much range Ejiofor has as an actor.
1. James Franco, Spring Breakers
2013 in film seemed to be a big year for the American dream gone wrong and that theme was not captured better than with James Franco’s performance as gangster-rapper Alien in Spring Breakers. Franco loses himself in the role as he is barely unrecognizable. However, it’s with the depth (including the character’s sad and broken core) that Franco brings to the character that truly makes his performance impressive.