Top 5 Performances of 2013 – Lead Actress

A light painting of the year 2013 written against a black background

Today I’m continuing my look at the best performances from the 2013 movie year. I’ve already shared my favorite supporting performances so today we start looking at the leads. Last year the ladies provided us with such a strong and diverse body of work that spanned a variety of genres. Narrowing it down to just five was excruciating but it had to be done. So without further delay, here are my five favorite 2013 performances by a female in a leading role:

#5 – Greta Gerwig – “Frances Ha


Greta Gerwig is an actress that has drawn a wide variety of reactions. Some don’t care for her very peculiar style of acting. Others (like myself) really appreciate her work and find her to be really good in the right role. This is a perfect role for her. The way Gerwig captures the awkward and slightly neurotic nature of Frances is brilliant and without her strong performance the entire film would fall apart. Gerwig makes us laugh but also sympathize with her lack of direction. This is a small film that some may not respond to. I really liked it and Gerwig was the main reason for that.

#4 – Sophie Nélisse – “The Book Thief


Yet another performance from “The Book Thief” makes one of my lists. Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush were fantastic in supporting roles but the movie would never work without the amazing lead performance from 13-year old Sophie Nélisse. The Canadian teen actress not only steals our heart but she shows an amazing level of acting talent. Nélisse will amaze you with how she masters a German accent and with how she is able to express raw emotion in a film that is dependent on it. Leonard Maltin called her a “revelation” and that she “is mature beyond her years”. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

#3 – Amy Seimetz – “Upstream Color”


This is probably the one performance on my list that most people have yet to see. Well trust me, you need to watch “Upstream Color” to appreciate the amazing work from Amy Seimetz. This is a film unlike anything else that came out in 2013 and Seimetz is asked to do so many difficult and challenging things by writer and director Shane Carruth. She is the heart and soul of this complex and layered film. So much of the story unfolds through her performance and so many clues to the film’s deeper mysteries are directly tied into what she projects on the screen. It’s an incredibly demanding performance and Seimetz doesn’t miss a step.

#2 – Amy Acker – “Much Ado About Nothing


I understand that ‘awards time’ is almost custom fitted for certain actors and actresses and Amy Acker didn’t have a chance at gaining a nomination. But I still believe she gives one of the best performances of the year in Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing“. It was a special challenge to take the Shakespearian language and bring it to a modern setting but Acker doesn’t struggle a bit. She projects such warmth from her character while also being quite funny when the scene calls for it. It’s such a well-rounded performance and one that I hope gains her more attention and more starring roles. She deserves it.

#1 – Cate Blanchett – “Blue Jasmine


Again, this may be the obvious pick but for me it’s the right one. All of us who love and follow movies know that Cate Blanchett is a great actress. Yet considering all of her wonderful work, this may be her best. In Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” she plays a woman who has fallen from a rich socialite to a penniless destitute and who moves in with her blue-collar sister. She is an emotional wreck and the way Blanchett displays it amazed me. This character has so many self-destructive emotional levels that we vividly see in this committed performance. It’s unforgettable and one of the real standouts of 2013.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Enough Said“), Sandra Bullock (“Gravity“), Catherine Frot (“Haute Cuisine“)

So there are my favorite performances by a lead actress. Only the lead actors remain. What lead actress performance would you have included? See one here you disagree with? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

31 thoughts on “Top 5 Performances of 2013 – Lead Actress

  1. Well I can’t disagree because there are four here I have not seen. Cate Blanchett is very good in a film I did not love but I did respect. Sandra Bullock for me was the performance of the year regardless of gender. It looks like I have some fine performances to look forward to catching up with.

    • I thought Blanchett was sublime. Very tricky character to pull off. Gerwig is probably the more polarizing pick on here. Bullock could have easily taken her spot though. I’ve seen Gravity three times now and I respect her performance more with each viewing!

  2. Wonderful picks man, and especially an interesting one with Amy Seimetz there, I have Upstream Color in my Netflix cue right now. Eagerly awaiting to experience that performance. The rest are pretty logical, esp. Jasmine. Despite me hating that film, Blanchett was astounding, and basically because I despised her person, that’s a testament to her power. I hope she takes home the top prize this year. It’s almost a shoe-in, like Chiwetel is. 😀

    • Interesting! You think Chiwetel will beat McConaughey for the Best Actor Oscar? I would have no problems with that at all! But everything seems to be pointing to MM. I kinda hope you’re right. I do think Blanchett has hers wrapped up.

  3. These are all great performances. My top 5 females look a touch different, but I do not quibble with a single name on this list, and – in fact – all of them appeared on mine, as well, at one point or another. Great write up!

  4. It’s refreshing to see Amy Acker so high on your list; I’ve heard very little about her in year-end coverage, and she does such a good job in Much Ado About Nothing. I also think Greta Gerwig was great in Frances Ha, and Amy Seimetz was the best part of Upstream Color. If Julie Delpy was in there, this list might be just perfect. Even so, it’s very strong.

    • Thanks! Glad to hear that someone else really appreciates Acker’s work. She was SO good! I did think about Delpy. I loved Sunrise and Sunset. I liked Midnight but had some issues with it.

  5. I’ve only seen Sophie Nélisse’s performance on this list. She won’t make my top 10 though, as I think she was ok, not great. Without having seen Blue Jasmine, I’m glad to see Blanchett on this list, I LOVE that woman, she’s perhaps THE best actress of her generation if I may boldly say. I hope to see that film soon, and only because she’s in it.

    • Thanks Ruth! I’m a big fan of Nélisse’s performance and I think Maltin’s comments touch on why I liked her so much. It’s not the most polished work on the same level as Blanchett’s, that’s for sure.

      Have you seen “Much Ado”? It was #10 on my year end list. It’s a film that really stuck with me and Acker was marvelous.

  6. I really need to check Book Thief out, it kinda fell under a radar this Oscar season and it looks lovely. So glad to see Blanchett on top of the list, her work in the movie was just incredible!

    • The Book Thief hasn’t received much love from critics or viewers. People are pretty “meh” about it. Personally I thought it was really good and well worth seeing. As for Blanchett, she’s the only right choice for #1 in my book. Loved her work in Blue Jasmine.

  7. It’s nice to see Sophie Nélisse get some love for “The Book Thief“. I agree she was extraordinary. The movie definitely heralds the rise of a stunning new talent. She had a small but pivotal role in Monsieur Lazhar in 2011.

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