I love this time of year. It’s when we look back at the movie year that was. In addition to my Top Films of 2013 list I like to break down the four major acting categories and list my five favorite performances of the year for each. And we start today with the ladies. I’m looking at the five phenomenal performances by actresses in a supporting role that really blew me away. There were many this year but these are the ones that top my list:
#5 – Elizabeth Debicki – “The Great Gatsby”
Talk about a movie that drew a mixed reaction! Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” was a fever dream built around some great source material and some good performances. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the performance from Australian newcomer Elizabeth Debicki. She played Jordan Baker, a beautiful yet mysterious woman whose playfulness is only trumped by her conceit. Much like the Nick character, I was fascinated with Debicki’s portrayal of Jordan. Unfortunately the script shortchanges the character a bit and Debicki isn’t given enough screen time. Personally I found her performance to be magnetic.
#4 – Allison Janney – “The Way, Way Back”
It’s funny, this is a performance that I liked a great deal after first seeing it but probably not enough to include it on a prestigious list like this. Yet over time Allison Janney’s work in “The Way, Way Back” has stuck with me. It’s definitely the wackiest performance on my list but it really is brilliant work. Janney plays a kooky, hard-drinking woman who will never win ‘Mother of the Year’. She has a number of funny lines but she never falls into a caricature. In fact there is a warmth to her despite her self-destructive malfunction and we see that because of Janney’s performance. It’s a role that could have went terribly wrong but Janney doesn’t allow that to happen.
#3 – Emily Watson – “The Book Thief”
I am a huge fan of “The Book Thief” and a big reason for that lies in the performances. From top to bottom the film’s cast is exceptional. Emily Watson plays a strict foster mother who at times comes across as detestable. But surprisingly the character has more depth than we first think and Watson’s shining performance brings her complexities to the surface. It’s not a showy or flashy performance that will naturally draw awards, but I believe she is a big part of one of the film’s key emotional threads. It’s great work from a wonderful actress who rarely gets her due.
#2 – Vera Farmiga – “The Conjuring”
This may be a small cheat. It could be argued that Farmiga is the lead in James Wan’s surprisingly good horror film “The Conjuring”. I think she could be considered either way so for my benefit I’m putting her here. Farmiga is a wonderful actress and this performance is no exception. There is an natural feel to her work in the film that mainly flows from the 100% commitment she gives to the material. As with many good characters, there is a complexity that draws our interest but it’s sometimes the performance that sparks that. Such was the case here. Farmiga had me from her first scene and I was connected all the way through.
#1 – Lupita Nyong’o – “12 Years a Slave”
I realize that this may be the obvious or popular pick but that doesn’t bother me. It’s also the right pick for me. I thought the performance from Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o was one of the most piercing things I saw in 2013. It’s a performance that comes across as raw and gushing with emotional power. But that is exactly what the character needed. It’s impossible not to be drawn to her and there are a number of her scenes that will stick in the back of your mind well after the movie is done. I fully expect Nyong’o to get an Oscar nomination and it would be well deserved. In fact, I say give her the statue. It was certainly my favorite supporting actress work of the year.
Thanks for reading. The supporting actors are next. What did you think of this list? Please take time to share your thoughts or your picks in the comments section below.