this is something you do a billion years late, or not at all — unordered (as always), uncategorised and, as always, unedited for wordy excess; but at least, we hope, unbothered by awards season rubber-stamping.
ann dowd, compliance
essentially a decent woman, but nevertheless utterly complicit in a truly sickening crime, few performances this year unnerved like ann dowd’s in the chilling sociological study compliance. her sandra may epitomize what’s so frustrating about the exercise to so many viewers, but given that there’s actually a real figure behind this travesty, dowd provides an ever important channel into dissecting motivations and influences. ostensibly resolute in her convictions, but allowing them to sway her toward moral quandary regardless, why exactly sandra lets matters progress to their ugly tipping point bears no easy answer, but the slippery layers of complexity – her steadfast beliefs, her strident professionalism, her quiet grudges – are all factored into dowd’s terrifying achievement — judah.
james gandolfini, killing them softly
slimy, spent and repugnant, gandolfini’s would-be mob hitman mickey epitomised the moral desertion at the heart of dominik’s criminally underrated killing them softly. the eternal cloud of tony soprano looms over gandolfini in any role he undertakes, and it’s difficult not to imagine this is where tony would end up had the sopranos charged onward for more seasons. it’s all here: the nuanced self-loathing, the troubling love of his own myth.
anne hathaway, the dark knight rises
the actress nobody wanted to play the role that no one hoped would be written into the nolanology, i refuse to not give hathaway and nolan credit for re-imagineering a catwoman grounded in a 21st century ideal of femininity. headstrong bordering on arrogant, a determination scarcely concealing the scaredy cat inside, hathaway’s selina kyle is unfussed about using her sexuality and any predefined gender assumptions about her to her advantage (case in point, that early scene in a bar in which hathaway ranges hardass conniver to pathetic damsell in distress, on a millisecond-to-millisecond response to the actions around her.)
samuel l. jackson, django unchained
—why is you lyin’ to me?
—then why is you cryin’?
—you’re scarin’ me.
—why is i’m scarin’ you?
denis lavant, holy motors
the sheer quantity of variant portrayals denis lavant offers to holy motors will surely prove the most obvious point of praise, with his chameleonic turns providing high-powered businessmen, motion-capture stuntmen, frail beggars, demonic trolls, meek dads and a slew of other memorable support players. but it’s the honed focus with which each role is tackled that enriches each to something all of its own; suffused with unusual physicality, brash humor or human tragedy, driving leos carax’s batshit odyssey through each detour with an entirely singular character and dexterity — judah.
matthew mcconaughey, killer joe
it would be a shame not to involve this year’s renaissance man in any conversation on the year’s best performances. in a picture knowingly dipping into the world of cartoon, mcconaughey remained deliciously and really scary, his character’s practised and methodical approach to task echoed in his own efforts in front of camera. nevertheless, mcconaughey’s bright, prismatic charisma is undimmed by friedkin’s self-parodying darkness, rendering killer joe grossly likeable all the way through.
joaquin phoenix, the master
probably the best take i’ve read on joaquin phoenix’s combustive performance in the master (where exactly i read it escapes me) likened his awkward posturing and snarling demeanour to a man wearing his body like a suit that doesn’t quite fit him (ironically assisted by actual suits that don’t fit him). it’s the most effective bridge into freddie, a man who’s savage, animalistic tendencies are in constant conflict in adapting to his surroundings, and in the few moments where phoenix offers raw, unsettling glimpses beneath the armour (the informal processing scene, case and point), you’d be hard pressed to find more pure, inhabited acting in this, or any, year — judah.
emmanuelle riva, amour
i believe it’s now commonly-known trivia that if 85-year old french starlet emmanuelle riva takes out an oscar next month, she’ll be the oldest actress ever to do so. what role would be better suited to celebrate then than her delicate, wrenching performance in haneke’s amour, a piece about age exactly; a quiet reminder of the rich, abundant lifetimes lived before time’s corrosive hands begin to squeeze. matched in poignant humanity only by her equally superlative co-star jean-louis trintignant, it’s that sobering self-awareness that riva brings prior to the suffering that makes her crushingly-realized decline such a devastating piece of work — judah.
laura soveral, tabu
this year an octogenerian, it’s struck me compiling the imagery to match these words the physical likedness between riva and soveral, but the same can be said for neither their films nor performances. rightly, both women are losing their minds, but soveral’s lived-through regret starkly differs from riva’s blissful contentment. where riva’s portrayal of anne delivered a deathly, direct truth, soveral’s aurora danced around the whimsicality of creation – eccentric and abjectly funny to the last.
quvenzhane wallis, beasts of the southern wild:
on the flipside to riva’s potential record above, if the vote were to swing the entirely opposite way, it would honour pint-size first-timer quvenzhané wallis as the youngest recipient in the tradition’s history. yet there’s enough similarities between the pair to make each their own tantalizing fantasy wildcard. each performance leans heavily on another (in wallis’ case, on the crackling energy of dwight henry’s hothead) and each uses this balance to say something specifically resonant about their age bracket. but where riva’s is enriched by history, wallis’ is invigorating for its lack thereof. devoid of trained, actorly habits, her hushpuppy is pure authenticity; grounding the film’s surreal tendencies with a human vulnerability, whilst still providing a cocky assuredness in her best moments of an age and experience twice hers — judah.