Today I wrap up my look back at my favorite performances of 2014. The final category is Lead Actor and what a tough list to narrow down. There were so many incredible performances that I hated to leave off. But such is the nature of these things so without further ado let me introduce my choices for 2014’s best performances by a lead actor:
#5 – David Oyelowo (“Selma”)
There was a lot of pressure and responsibility weighing on the shoulders of British actor David Oyelowo. In “Selma” he was tasked with portraying Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many eyes would be on this performance and what they saw wasn’t merely acting. It was a man totally embodying a role. I was blown away from the start. Oyelowo completely loses himself in the character and throughout the film I felt I was hearing the actual words of Dr. King. The film trips over itself a bit, but Oyelowo never does. It’s a beautiful performance.
#4 – Macon Blair (“Blue Ruin”)
“Blue Ruin” was a wonderful surprise in 2014. So was the performance from its star Macon Blair. It is easily the quietest and most understated performance on this list. But that only makes sense. When you watch the film you realize that Blair’s timidity and uncertainty are key reasons the movie works. It’s a very unique and specific character requiring Blair to tell the audience just as much with his actions and expressions as with his dialogue. He nails every scene and helps make “Blue Ruin” the best thriller of the year. A great performance.
#3 – Ralph Fiennes (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”)
My gosh, Ralph Fiennes showed me something in 2014 that I never expected. I’ve always thought Fiennes was a fabulous actor, but he showed audiences a comedic side that I never knew he had. Starring in a Wes Anderson film automatically presents an interesting set of challenges, but Fiennes handles them with an unbelievable precision. His rapid-fire line readings, quirky mannerisms, and hedonistic style are simply perfect for the character of Gustave H. Fiennes is amazing and he has officially reached the ‘he can do ANYTHING’ stage.
#2 – Michael Keaton (“Birdman”)
Everyone is buzzing over Michael Keaton’s performance in the dark comedy “Birdman”. In fact, the performance has been so well received that many consider this a resuscitation of Keaton’s career. He is definitely the star of the movie and in typical Keaton style he gives us layers upon layers of his complex and off-beat character. Keaton has always been a talented actor. He just rarely got meaty and juicy roles that allowed him to show the many sides of his talent. “Birdman”gives him the opportunity and now the big awards are falling into his lap.
#1 – Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler”)
Most of you won’t realize what a shock this is for me. It has taken me a long time to get on board with Jake Gyllenhaal. I was always hesitant with calling him a good actor. But over the last few years he has made some fantastic choices perhaps none better than the role of Lou Bloom in “Nightcrawler”. He went all in to give us this weird, twisted, entrepreneurial sociopath. Gyllenhaal dropped close to 30 pounds and he has an uncomfortable appearance. But watching his expressions and seeing his warped ways of thinking is what makes him so unsettling. Simply put, this is a career performance for Gyllenhaal.
Let me add Chadwick Boseman from Get on Up, acting and singing.
I think that’s back-to-back biopic performances for him, right?
42, he may be playing Reagan in his next film.
Second that, Boseman did such a superb job, and I was hoping he would get more appreciation for it 😦 Great list Keith, and I agree with #1. Gyllenhaal is on another level right now.
I’m sold on Gyllenhaal now. The guy has some real acting chops. I didn’t give him the credit he deserved early on.
Still need to see all of these, plus JG’s other performance in Enemy. I was supposed to watch that one over the weekend. I’ll definitely see it this week. Possibly catching Selma later today so lots to look forward to. Great post.
Thanks. Definitely some movies worth checking out. It seems like the Best Actor category was the richest of last year. So many really strong performances.
Strong performances (though as I said the other day I haven’t seen Selma). Gyllenhaal was so good in Nightcrawler, Keaton brilliant in Birdman, and it’s nice to see Macon Blair get a shout; as you say it’s a very understated performance – the kind that doesn’t get noticed quite as easily as others – but he makes the film.
It’s really a shame, but Blair and his performance will go largely unnoticed. You’re exactly right, he is critical to that film. If we don’t buy into him the movie sinks.
YES on the three I have seen.
As for Gyllenhaal, I am glad you are finally on board. I have always enjoyed him. Trying to get my best friend to look into more of his work, he isn’t bad. Blair was absolutely fantastic in Blue Ruin, great little film, too. And Fiennes? I mean I know I love Fiennes and all but he DOMINATED The Grand Budapest Hotel, so even though it was not necessarily a favourite of mine, it was worth every second of seeing him on screen.
Fiennes was insanely good, wasn’t he? I mean the comedic timing, the perfect line deliveries, everything about that performance was brilliant. And I’m thrilled to hear from people who have seen Blue Ruin and appreciate Macon Blair’s work. He was so good in that flick.
❤ He was beyond amazing. It is possibly my favourite role of his at the moment, and I didn't see that coming.
That movie was INTENSE.
Have only seen your top 3, but can agree with those!
Thanks man. I now look at Gyllenhaal in a new light.
Nice to see the top 2! They are my numbers 1 and 4, but Fiennes was so good in Budapest too, he was the best thing about.Love it whenever he does comedies
I love Fiennes but he blew me away in Budapest. Razor sharp and spot-on comedic timing! Loved him.
Haven’t seen Selma yet but all the others are great choices. Fiennes and Gyllenhaal were definite Oscar snubs. Two superb performances and Macon Blair is also a wonderful choice.
Thanks for that man. Some strong performances in this category. Fiennes blew me away and Blair definitely deserves to have more people see his work. We have talked about it, but Blue Ruin was fantastic.
Great choices. I still need to see Selma though.
Selma is good. Oyelowo is great. That guy can act!
It’s just come out here so I am hoping to get to it soon.
Thanks for the head’s up on Blue Ruin, never heard of it but now I’ll check it out.
Fantastic! Definitely give Blue Ruin a look. It’s a modest movie but I thought it was the best thriller of the year. And a great performance from Blair. If you see it be sure to tell me what you think.
Wahoo!!! Nice to see David Oyelowo (“Selma”) in this!! I’ve been a fan of his work in bit parts here and there and finally he gets a starring role and he certainly did not waste it! He has such a quiet grace about him, much like the real Dr King I’d imagine. He totally disappear into the role and has a strong screen presence that conveys strength as well as vulnerability. I’m truly bummed he wasn’t nominated but I do hope for a long career for him in Hollywood and beyond!
You touch on why I loved Oyelowo’s performance. It’s not that he gives us great acting. He certainly does that. But I was stunned at how he completely embodied the character. From his dialogue to his voice to his mannerisms to his physical appearance. Every facet of his performance hits the spot. Fine, fine work.
Indeed! I was reading about MLK earlier today & included some of his quotes on my latest post, and Oyelowo seems to get his mannerism pretty well. I think even his American accent is pretty flawless too, but that seems to be expected from a Brit.
Completely agreed. He embodied the character; he didn’t just do an impression of MLK.
So true. He could have botched it badly but that’s not the case at all.
Yay for Macon Blair! And agreed on Gyllenhaal’s performance being #1 of the year.
I love hearing from people who appreciate Macon Blair’s performance. It’s so good and it’s a key reason that movie works so well. More people need to see it.
I’ve seen only the top three on your list, but I’m sure I would be adding all three to my top list. Especially Jake Gyllenhaal. What a turn in Nightcrawler! And I’m with you on Ralph Fiennes – he’s so hilariously wonderful in The Grand Budapest Hotel. I would probably add Steve Carell’s performance from Foxcatcher to my list as well. And I’ve yet to see Selma!
Carell was good but I’m the only person who didn’t really see him as the lead actor. I guess he was but I thought Tatum was the lead. Selma is a good movie, not great. Oyelowo is great though. Amazing performance.
Now that you mention it, I could see that. Tatum really was the heart of the movie. But it seems like he got put in the “you’re younger, less respected actor” corner, so it was marketed with Carell as the lead.
And now that you mention it I think Steve Carell may have gotten top billing. And he’s definitely being nominated in the lead performance categories.