10. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Eddie Redymane certainly got a showy role as Stephen Hawking, but he never allowed it to be a hammy performance. Instead, he brought a great deal of authenticity.
9. J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
J.K. Simmons’ Terence Fletcher is certainly in the running for character of the year, and a lot of what made him so iconic was the fantastic and commanding performance behind the character.
8. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Ethan Hawke seems to get left behind in the shadow of Patricia Arquette’s showier and more central performance, but Hawke brought so much realness and subtlety to his performance that it is difficult not to forget it.
7. Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar
It’s astounding that Matthew McConaughey is being overlooked in this awards season for a much more complete and raw performance than the one he won an Oscar for a year ago.
6. Michael Keaton, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
In an ensemble film such as Birdman, the lead normally takes a back seat to the much more eccentric cast of supporting players. That does not happen to Michael Keaton as he delivers an energetic performance that powers the entire film.
5. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Boyhood could have easily been titled Parenthood, and that is mostly thanks to a performance from Patricia Arquette that subtly captures the intricacies of life while always finding a way to stay in the forefront.
4. Rose Byrne, Neighbors
One of the most unheralded performances of the year belongs to Rose Byrne who has never been funnier than in Neighbors, where she finds time to stick out in a male heavy bro-comedy.
3. Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin
I’ve never been fond of Scarlett Johansson as an actress, but 2014 was the year in which she proved me wrong. She was a lot of fun in her blockbusters (especially Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and really excelled in Under the Skin in a performance that required so much subtlety that many experienced actors would have had trouble carrying a film as much as Johansson did.
2. Tom Hardy, Locke
In Locke, Tom Hardy delivers a performance that would make the most acclaimed Shakespearean (a clear inspiration for this film) actors jealous.
1. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
I’ve seen a lot of people complain that Channing Tatum deserves much more praise for his work in Foxcatcher than his co-star Steve Carell. Half say its because Carell is too hammy while the other half seem to think it’s because he’s too one-note and boring. It’s this mix of reactions that just goes to show how much people are missing the forest for the trees. Carell’s portrayal of John du Pont is highly complex. It’s a performance that needs to be monotone and different from anything that Carell has done before (which is where so many of these complaints are coming from), but if you actually look a bit closer you will notice that Carell brings so many small things to the performance (such as how he slowly and quietly reveals why he does things in the eccentric ways that he does) that turn it into one of the most three-dimensional performances you will ever see.