Best Performances of 2014

An impressive year in terms of technical achievement (BoyhoodBirdman, et al), 2014 also showcased some of the best acting in recent memory. Most of my favorite performances didn't exactly follow the "Oscar-ready" format, but were rather idiosyncratic turns in films that either broke cinematic rules or simply paved the way for interesting conversations. Instead of categorizing them in terms of "lead" and "supporting", I've simply listed them as complete feats of thespian greatness. So, without further ado, here are 10 amazing performances that deserve to be fawned over!

by Jericho Cerrona February 9, 2015

BRONTIS JODOROWSKY The Dance of Reality
Playing the role of Jaime Jodorowsky, the grandfather of cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky in this semi-autobiographical tale about growing up in Chile, Brontis Jodorowsky goes full meta as a Stalin-obsessed tyrant who rules with an iron fist. The performance is infused with pain, anger, and undercurrents of emotional insecurity; a larger-than-life, melodramatic turn in a film that absolutely requires it soar.
JOAQUIN PHOENIX Inherent Vice
As stoner P.I. Doc Sportello in Paul Thomas Anderson's faithful adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel Inherent Vice, Joaquin Phoenix gives the loosest, most warmly resonant performance of his career. Moments of broad comedy are broken up by subtle reactions and half-muttered ramblings of a man desperately trying to keep up with the spiraling red herrings of the narrative-defying plot; all delivered in a brilliant state of stoned euphoria.
RALPH FIENNES The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ralph Fiennes is an absolute hoot as wealthy concierge Gustave H. in Wes Anderson's lively ode to 30s screwball farce; giving us a mischievous gentlemen out of step with his time. Fienne's way with a razor-sharp quip and knack for physical comedy is completely in tune with Anderson's playful direction, resulting in the year's most purely enjoyable performance.
TIMOTHY SPALL Mr. Turner
Timothy Spall's performance as British painter J.M.W. Turner in Mike Leigh's sprawling biopic is absolutely miraculous; a series of grunts, grimaces, and odd facial expressions that also makes room for startling emotional beats. Rather than play the enigmatic Turner in the kind of "Oscar-baiting" traditional manner, Spall gives us a warts and all depiction; full of self-loathing, sexual deviance, and a social awkwardness that transcends whatever preconceived notions we might have about troubled artists.
ED RYAN Soft in the Head
As Maury, a halfway house leader in Nathan Silver's fly-on-the-wall mosaic of being young and reckless in Brooklyn, Ed Ryan delivers a tender and empathetic performance that offsets the film's overall swirl of chaotic emotion. Ultimately, Ryan's work as a kind-hearted caregiver to those society has given up on is so naturalistically organic, that it's impossible not to be moved.
JESSE EISENBERG The Double / Night Moves
In Kelly Reichardt's slow-burn eco-terrorist/humanist drama Night Moves, Jesse Eisenberg gave the year's eeriest depiction of a sociopath (sorry Jake Gyllenhaal), while in Richard Ayoade's dark satire The Double, he combined the dickish confidence displayed in The Social Network with the nebbish timidity from The Squid and The Whale for a dual role of comedic/dramatic brilliance. 2014 may just have been the year of Eisenberg.
MACON BLAIR Blue Ruin
Writer/director Jeremy Sauliner's tightly constructed revenge thriller made waves on the festival circuit and for good reason, but much of that success is due to Macon Blair's terrific central performance as Dwight; a homeless man reeling from past trauma who takes it upon himself to exact revenge on a scuzzy redneck just released from prison. Unlike most genre movie protagonists, Blair plays Dwight as a lost soul simply trying to retain his sanity; an emotionally fraught, tense, steely-eyed piece of acting that completely upends expectations.
DAVID OYELOWO Selma
Ava DuVernay's searing portrait of a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement could have gone the way of the mawkish biopic route if the central performance wasn't on point, but David Oyelowo's performance as Martin Luther King Jr. is a wholly committed, towering achievement. The difficulty of crafting a vision of King that lives up to his magnetic presence is daunting, but Oyelowo brings various shades to the role; going beyond mere mimicry and giving us a fully-dimensional, flawed, but still entirely inspiring personality.
JACK O'CONNELL Starred Up
Jack O' Connell gives a tremendous, star-making performance as a violate 19-year-old transferred to an adult prison in David MacKenzie's unflinching prison drama. Cocky, aggressive, intense, and at times emotionally vulnerable, O' Connell gives us a vision of undisciplined youthful rage that never feels contrived or manipulative. A superlative piece of work that should skyrocket the actor to the stratosphere.
MICHAEL FASSBENDER Frank
The idea of casting a magnetic actor known for his good looks and thespian ability and then shielding his face under a papier-mâché helmet is a risky one, but Lenny Abrahamson does just that with Michael Fassbender in his disarming film Frank. As the elusive ringleader of a band of avant-garde musicians, Fassbender creates the year's most beguiling character. A physical, endearing, bizarre, and ultimately, extremely moving performance.