Top 5 Performances of 2013 – Lead Actor

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

This is it – the final ‘Best of’ list for the 2013 movie year. For me, narrowing down this particular category to just five was the most difficult of any of these best performance lists. It pained me to leave off so many great performances from 2013, but someone decided that Top 5 lists can only feature five picks so I’m sticking to it. No need to drag this out any further. Here are my five favorite performances from a lead actor:

#5 – Robert Redford – “All is Lost


All is Lost” may be a film that feels too familiar for some but I felt it had more to it than you may first perceive. But regardless of that, no one can doubt the incredible work from 77-year old Robert Redford. It’s such a physically demanding role and we immediately notice Redford’s 100% commitment. But being he is the only cast member, he is tasked with having the audience invest in him and he definitely succeeds. Considering there are only three lines of dialogue in the entire film, it is amazing how much he tells us through expressions and gestures. It’s just brilliant work.

#4 – Bruce Dern – “Nebraska


What a joy is was to watch the great Bruce Dern in Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska“. Dern’s career started in 1960 and since then he has shown a wide range of mostly supporting roles. But here he gives one of the saddest yet most endearing performances of the year. His character isn’t the warmest or the nicest. Yet over time you begin to sense he’s more than we may think. Payne’s script brilliantly hides little details about the character and the audience gets to put the pieces together as we go. But it’s Dern that keeps us fixated and invested. With so many big and showy performances this year Dern probably won’t take home an award. But he’s certainly worthy of one.

#3 – Oscar Isaac – “Inside Llewyn Davis


I’ve always been a fan of Oscar Isaac and I was thrilled to see him get the lead role in the Coen brothers film “Inside Llewyn Davis“. He certainly didn’t disappoint. There are so many things I loved about Isaac’s work. First, he’s the perfect fit for the Coen’s signature unique and slightly offbeat lead character. But Llewyn Davis is much more than that and Isaac masterfully peels back all of these layers. Another beautiful element to this performance can be found in the music. Isaac performed all of his own songs and the musical scenes in the film were all recorded live, never dubbed. It’s just another reason this performance was so good.

#2 – Chiwetel Ejiofor – “12 Years a Slave

12 years

Perhaps the most daring and courageous performance of the year came from British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. What tremendous work he does in Steve McQueen’s gripping and bold “12 Years a Slave“. There is nothing disingenuous or halfhearted about Ejiofor’s depiction of Solomon Northup. With amazing commitment and a ton of emotion he brings this reflective and unsettling story to life. There are so many scenes that will cut deep and stay with you well after the credits role. You immediately connect with him. You root for him. You hurt with him. If done poorly this role could have sunk the whole film. Ejiofor never allows that to happen.

#1 – Mads Mikkelsen – “The Hunt


Regardless of the criminal omissions by the Award types, Mads Mikkelsen’s performance in “The Hunt” was my favorite of the year. The story itself is tough and unsettling and it needed a good actor to give the film the gut-punch it was looking for. Mikkelsen is the perfect guy. It is painful to watch what his character endures both physically and emotionally. Mikkelsen’s performance invests us in this man’s story, his plight, and his emotional state as things unfold. We watch and shutter as this man’s life is changed forever. This is an immensely crowded field full of great actors and performances. It says a lot that Mads Mikkelsen is at the top of that field. Brilliant work. HONORABLE MENTIONS: Tom Hanks (“Captain Phillips“), Hugh Jackman (“Prisoners“), Christian Bale (“American Hustle“), Joaquin Phoenix (“Her“), Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale Station“), Ben Stiller (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty“), Jude Law (“Side Effects“) So what do you think? Who did I miss or who did I rate too high? Please take time to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

38 thoughts on “Top 5 Performances of 2013 – Lead Actor

  1. This is a hard category to pick this year. Very. I don’t think you’ve gone wrong with your selections.

    My top two are. Hanks and McConaughey, but it’s splitting hairs, really. So many terrific performances.

    • It’s criminal isn’t it? Does the Academy have such little love for foreign pictures? I know Emmanuelle Riva was nominated last year for “Amour” and deservedly so. But Mikkelsen should have been too!

  2. I’m super impressed to learn Issac did his recordings live. I love his singing and performance. Chiwetel Ejiofor expresses so much pain and sorrow through his eyes, it’s a powerful performance. I haven’t see The Hunt yet, but I hope to get around to it some time. Great post!

  3. All solid picks Keith. Still haven’t seen The Hunt so I can’t comment on Mikkelson, but the rest are, in my eyes, virtually interchangeable. As you noted, this was a year crammed to the brim with excellent male leads. This was a tough list for me to conjure up, and I allowed twice the amount! 😀 Kudos to you, sir.

    • Thanks man. I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Hunt and especially Mikkelsen’s performance. I think he’s tremendous. Unfortunately the Academy stiffs showed him no love whatsoever.

  4. Ejiofor, Isaac and Dern are my favourites from your list Keith – all three were excellent in very different ways. For me it’s a shame both Inside Llewyn Davis and Nebraska haven’t received many awards so far, both were excellent in my opinion.

    • I’m so with you on Nebraska and Llewyn Davis. Of course Llewyn didn’t even get recognized from the Academy in any of the big Oscar categories and Nebraska has no real chance to win. What a shame. Like you, I loved both of those films and think they are deserving.

      Thanks for the comments!

  5. Some brilliant choices here Keith. Haven’t seen All is Lost or Nebraska but I thought Mikkelsen, Ejiofor and Isaacs were all great. Real shame that Mads wasn’t nominated at the Oscars. I also loved Hanks’ performance in Captain Phillips.

    • Hanks was great. That’s why he topped my Honorable Mentions. Really surprised he didn’t get an Oscar nomination. The snub of Mads is even more egregious to me. He was just phenomenal.

      Thanks as always for the comments. Appreciate you man!

    • Several others had mentioned him. I thought he was good in DBC but my favorite performance of his was in Mud. I recognized it as my favorite supporting actor performance of the year.

  6. Awesome picks, Keith! The only one I haven’t seen is Redford’s performance but he’s a solid actor so I’d take your word for it. For me, I’d sub Redford with Joaquin Phoenix. Glad to see he makes your Honorable Mentions 😀

    • Thanks a bunch Ruth. So much incredible work in this category. It was really difficult to narrow it down. And even then I could probably swap out one or two with my honorable mentions!

  7. Good picks! Mads (and Dern) is a very pleasant surprise on the list and I need to see those 2 films they are in. I really enjoy Mads’ work, though. He isn’t as recognized as much as he should be and of course, Redford! Glad to see some love for him. Good job, Keith!

  8. So nice to see Mads on the top! He was my number 1 until I saw Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club and Wolf, but if I could I’d give 4 best actor wins, him included. I haven’t seen number 3-5 but I hopefully will do so soon.

    • MADS IS DA MAN!!!! It was such a strong year for this category. I mean so many names could have made this list. Hopefully you can see Llewyn Davis soon. Oscar Isaac is really, really good!

  9. Some great performances there Keith. I was particularly impressed with Bruce Dern. He’s still got “it” decades after he started acting. But then again Alexander Payne is a terrific director who often gets the best out of people (ie. Paul Giamatti in Sideways, Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt, and Reese Witherspoon in Election).

    • Thanks man! And Dern’s performance is so drastically different than any of the others. It’s a bit reserved but it’s perfect for what the film needed. I know he won’t win the Oscar but he really deserves the recognition!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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