Best Performances of 2014

An impressive year in terms of technical achievement (Boyhood, Birdman, 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

Scarlett Johansson's revelatory turn as an alien being sent to collect male specimens in Jonathan Glazer's extraordinary sci-fi parable is a performance utilizing understated facial expressions and a vacant stare to brilliant effect. An unfussy, understated performance so effectively detached it may largely go unnoticed, proving Johansson as more than just a pretty face.
ELEANORE PIENTA See You Next Tuesday
There's a streak of psychological horror running throughout Drew Tobia's black comedy that's reinforced by Eleanore Pienta's brashly committed performance as Mona, a 20-something pregnant train-wreck living in Brooklyn. A bold and at times alienating embodiment of a woman trapped inside her own body, Pienta reveals layers of self-doubt and insecurity that creates an emotionally devastating impact.
TESSA THOMPSON Dear White People
As Sam, the tenacious DJ who runs the button-pushing titular radio show in Justin Simien's razor-sharp debut about racial tolerance, Tessa Thompson is absolutely luminous, giving her fiercely intelligent character a wounded vulnerability that simmers beneath a sarcastic veneer. A star-making performance if there ever was one; simultaneously confident and fragile.
ELISABETH MOSS Listen Up Phillip
One of director Alex Ross Perry's most incisive decisions in his acidic satire about egotistical New York writers is to break the narrative up halfway through to focus on Elisabeth's Moss long-suffering girlfriend. Though Jason Schwartzman is pitch-perfect as a narcissistic wannabe Philip Roth stand-in, Moss is ultimately the heart of the film; bringing pangs of vulnerability to the role and in one particularly jaw-dropping scene, staging a tour-de-force of conflicting emotions that hits you right in the gut.
Three stand-out performances from child actors is a rarity, but what's even more impressive about the trio of pubescent girls in Lukas Moodysson's adorable coming-of-age romp is just how natural and winning they are without ever being cloying. There's nothing contrived about the work of Barhammer, Grosin, and leMoyne here; just a tactile sense of playfulness, tension, and female camaraderie that's always attune to the moment.
In Stewart Thorndike's creepily effective feminist twist on Rosemary's Baby, Gabby Hoffman plays a pregnant woman whose mental state is deteriorating due to past trauma. A bundle of frayed nerves, paranoia, and heightened emotions, Hoffman is in nearly every frame and absolutely commands the screen; never devolving into over-acting or cheap "horror"-esque melodrama. Instead, her motherly sense of fear is intensely unnerving and surprisingly moving.
Showcasing both the awkwardness of sexual awakening as well as the possible dangers of growing up too fast, Gina Piersanti's acting debut in Eliza Hittman's lyrical coming-of-age tale is a revelation. Piersanti is so adept at projecting both a yearning for acceptance as well as confusion regarding her sexual urges, that her performance ultimately takes on a heartbreaking dimension that lingers.
MARION COTILLARD The Immigrant / Two Days, One Night
As a Polish native forced into prostitution in James Gray's intimate epic The Immigrant, Marion Cotillard uses her haunted gaze in order to distill the confusion, fear, and torment of coming to America with no prospects. It's a great performance made up mostly of gestures and held in the eyes; while in The Dardenne's social drama Two Days, One Night, she is similarly heartbreaking as a factory owner fighting to keep her job. If 2015 was indeed the year of Eisenberg, Marion Cotillard easily takes top honors on the female side.
Playing the titular female loves in Denis Côté's unnerving domestic drama, Pierrette Robitaille and Romane Bohringer deliver indelible performances that are noteworthy for portraying women of a certain age in complex terms. Their co-dependent relationship is the heart of the film; with Robitaille revealing Vic as a haunted, deeply damaged individual and Bohrringer giving the younger Flo shades of wounded fragility. No matter how far Côté goes to mess with genre, it's these two performances that hold the whole thing together.
As a frazzled mother who feels pity (or middle-class guilt) for a bearded homeless man seeking to take a bath in her upscale home, Hadewych Minis effortlessly becomes an audience conduit in Alex van Warmerdam's deadpan black satire. Going through a variety of emotions; concern, confusion, fear, desire etc, Minis creates a wholly devastating portrait of a woman suffocated by bourgeoisie complacency.