Monday, May 5, 2014

Late-Ish 2013 Retrospective: Top 15 Female Performances

If you've been following ze blog for a few years, you know that I don't deal well with watching movies from the year before until we're halfway through the next year. Hence my top lists of 2011 happening in July 2012 and my top lists of 2012 happening in August 2013. However, this year has been kinda different: I spent a lot more time watching good stuff (because I had so little time I didn't want to waste it) and I moved to a place with a cinema three months ago which meant I could catch up with a lot more. I haven't seen films like Nebraska, Saving Mr Banks or August: Osage County, but I'm pretty confident with the lists I have at the moment. So over the next few days/weeks/whenever I sit down at my laptop and actually blog for once, I'll be unleashing my top lists of 2013, beginning with my Top 15 Female Performances. Usually I don't go for 15 in the list, but there was so much goodness in 2013 that I didn't want anyone to miss out. People still missed out though. Which sucks, but hey, yay for cinema! 

Honourable mentions: Berenice Bejo - The Past, Amy Adams - Her, Amy Adams - American Hustle, Jennifer Lawrence - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Jena Malone - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Judi Dench - Philomena, Sarah Paulson - 12 Years a Slave, Carey Mulligan - Inside Llewyn Davis, Brie Larson - The Spectacular Now, Olivia Wilde - Drinking Buddies, Lake Bell - In a World..., Amanda Seyfried - Lovelace, Scarlett Johansson - Don Jon, Melonie Diaz - Fruitvale Station, Octavia Spencer - Fruitvale Station, Onata Aprile - What Maisie Knew, Greta Gerwig - Frances Ha.

15. Andrea Riseborough as Nina Dunham in Disconnect
Disconnect is one of those films that works well mostly on the basis of the solid acting from an ensemble cast that includes Jason Bateman, Paula Patton, Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Nyqvist, but no one stands out as much as Andrea Riseborough. I've long been a fan of Andrea's work since her brief role in the oft-forgotten Never Let Me Go, and she's pulled in some great work since in otherwise dull films like W.E. and Shadow Dancer. In Disconnect, though, she plays the part of an over-ambitious news reporter terrifyingly well, with the role fitting into her oeuvre perfectly - does she have one of the most underrated filmographies ever? She literally walks into this film and lights up the screen, even as her character goes through some pretty dark stuff. And yet, even as it becomes apparent that perhaps her character's storyline isn't the most exciting in the multi-stranded plot, she makes the plot last until the very end. Seriously, someone needs to line her and Rosamund Pike up and get them some great roles.

14. Sally Hawkins as Ginger in Blue Jasmine
Another ever-dependable performer, and definitely someone who turns a relatively thin role into a layered, beautiful performance. Blue Jasmine works on the merits of its pairing of Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins, who compliment each other in a way that I couldn't imagine any other actresses doing a better job of. Ginger is fiery, flighty, the exact opposite to Jasmine, and Sally is able to nail every single thing about the character that makes her different from Jasmine.

13. Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Eva in Enough Said
You know that feeling you get when you feel like you're watching a character that is the real deal? Julia Louis-Dreyfus does exactly that in Enough Said. Bolstered by a pretty perfect script from Nicole Holofcener, Julia gives us a big screen leading lady debut that just feels very much like a real person. And the special kind of comedic realism that Julia is so perfect at in this film is something that is severely underrated by Hollywood.

12. Scarlett Johansson as Samantha in Her
If only because Samantha never felt like the voice of a computer. She felt like a real person. It really felt like she was there. No wonder Theodore fell in love with her.

11. Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby
I will champion this performance (and this film) until the end of time. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Jordan Baker was by far my favourite character in the book and Elizabeth gets every single thing about her perfect. From the very beginning, her performance perfectly mirrors what Fizgerald originally wrote about the character, which is a bit of a rarity in the otherwise bold and brash Baz Luhrmann take on an otherwise subtle novel. The biggest crime was that she wasn't given more screen time, because she actually takes the film and runs away with it. Hollywood, listen up: here's your next big thing, please give her literally all the roles. 

10. Julie Delpy as Celine in Before Midnight
Sometimes I sit back and think, what would Julie Delpy do? It takes a special woman to create one of the most complicated women characters and let her stretch her legs in three films over the space of 18 years. The Celine in Before Midnight is definitely the most complicated Celine we've had, and it is the perfect showcase for a modern woman in all her glory. I definitely wouldn't be surprised if I continue asking myself in the future, what would Julie Delpy do?

9. Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave
We all fell in love with her through Oscar season. Lupita Nyong'o is somewhat of a rarity. She's a classically trained actress who somehow made her debut film role an Oscar winning one, all the while winning the hearts of the entire world. Not only is Lupita one of the most beautiful, graceful women to ever live, but her performance that introduced us to her was one of the most devastating roles of the year, or perhaps ever. Not many people could do this role with the quiet intensity that Lupita did. She could have descended into melodramatic overacting, but she's never too much. Her suffering feels very real, and I'm never quite sure of just how Lupita was able to convey that so well. 

8. Lea Seydoux as Emma in Blue is the Warmest Colour
Apparently Lea studied the mannerisms and posture of Marlon Brando and James Dean in order to play Emma, and you can definitely see that coming through. She goes through a complete transformation in this film, but we're never quite sure of exactly who Emma is. And that's quite refreshing, because Emma never has to answer for herself. The final scenes that she has are actually pretty heartbreaking, too.

7. Rooney Mara as Emily Taylor in Side Effects
Anyone who thinks that Rooney Mara is a one-trick pony should seriously reevaluate her career. Yes, Lisbeth Salander is a big role, and it's a big performance for her, and while whatever she does may remain under the shadow of that role, she's still creating some pretty perfect work. 2013 has been a pretty good year for her, with the Malickian drama Ain't Them Bodies Saints proving her power as a single mother trying to make her own way, and Her showing her as both the luminous lover and bitter divorcee. Side Effects is an entirely different beast, though. You're never quite sure of Emily's motives, which makes the ending so much better. Rooney nails the crippling effect of depression to Emily's crippling obsession with capitalism in one of the most interesting, underrated female characters of the year. Thankfully, Rooney's schedule is filling up and we get to see some more of her unique talent - and Side Effects definitely has me excited to see what height she can hit post-Lisbeth. 

6. Shailene Woodley as Aimee in The Spectacular Now
I can't tell whether I'm holding her in such high regard because Aimee Finicky actually is me or whether Shailene Woodley is practically perfect in the role. I think it is definitely both. Shailene doesn't ever make this character descend into the familiar "ah I'm a teenager and my life sucks" kind of thing, she makes Aimee a painfully real character. The way that she reacts when Sutter tells her that she's beautiful is a beautiful thing in itself - so natural, so real and so far away from being the floaty manic pixie dream girl that the character could have been. I just really hope that Aimee had a fantastic life after high school, because God knows she deserved it.

5. Margot Robbie as Naomi in The Wolf of Wall Street
It is still extremely shocking to me that Margot Robbie got next to no love for her perfect performance in The Wolf of Wall Street. For one thing, I watched this girl on Neighbours every weeknight at 5.30pm for years. And then I see her pop up in this film, going toe-to-toe with Leonardo DiCaprio, and it is hard to believe that this is the same person. Everything from her accent, to her Brooklyn barbie doll look to the scenes at the end where she fights for her children is electrifying and magnetic. You'd almost expect a 23 year old woman in a Martin Scorsese movie with Leonardo DiCaprio to wilt and fade into the background, but Robbie is a force of nature in this film. Not to throw around comparisons, but she did the whole wife of a conman thing so much better than Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle. Which is why I'm still baffled that it wasn't Robbie there getting her deserved Oscar nomination. 

4. Adele Exarchopoulos as Adele in Blue is the Warmest Colour
Like Shailene Woodley, Adele Exarchopoulos had the incomparable task of creating a realistic teen performance that wasn't alienating in any way. Not only that, but Adele had to chart her character from her young teens to her young adulthood and show all of the confusion throughout that time. Luckily, she did a pretty perfect job of it. It's such a raw performance that really requires her to let go a lot more than other actresses would probably want (or be allowed) to. 

3. Sandra Bullock as Ryan Stone in Gravity
I really would like to know how Sandra Bullock does it. How the hell could anyone be floating around in a green box for months, conveying every single emotion ever and not come up with a performance that verges on over-the-top self parody? Truth is, no-one could do this like Sandra did. It is a role that demands a lot of physical work, but the emotional work by her is what really carries the film and doesn't let it become a standard movie about floating around in space. 

2. Brie Larson as Grace in Short Term 12
How in heck's name this performance got so little love by awards season is completely beyond me. This performance is beyond perfect. The thing that got me about Short Term 12 was how little it actually felt like a movie. It was just so simple and straightforward, telling a simple and straightforward story without embellishing it with needless melodrama. Brie Larson's performance is an acute reflection of that. She never misses a beat in conveying a woman who is such a guardian angel to everyone else but doesn't listen to her own advice. What's impressive is that this isn't the only great performance that Brie had to her name in 2013: her supporting turns in The Spectacular Now and Don Jon were highlights of each of those films. Again, Hollywood: please cast her in everything. 

1. Cate Blanchett as Jasmine French in Blue Jasmine
This is one of those rare occasions where I agree with every single accolade that has been given to a particular film/performance. Watching Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine solidifies the fact that she may be one of the best, if not the best, working actress today. Just watch her face. Listen to her voice. It is possibly the most masterful female performance since Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire. I really can't say any clearer why I love this performance as much as I do, other than it is literal perfection and it's going to take a while before anyone can come close to topping it. 

What do you think of these choices? Who were your favourite female performers of 2013?


  1. Woodley's character was.. ugh.. I need to revisit that movie because it was so nice and adorable and real! It really was and I think it was because whilst in many movies nerds still look hot and stuff, Woodley kind of possesses this earthy vibe that never feels hot but simply.. beautiful in that kind of shy natural way. I agree with all your choices, or at least the ones I've seen myself, Top 3 is definitely my Top 3 as well.. maybe not in that order but probably still in that order.

    1. Shailene was absolutely gorgeous in The Spectacular Now because she was so natural. I'm fairly sure she wore no makeup for the majority of the film, and her wardrobe wasn't overly flash either. It was so refreshing to see someone like her in that movie!

  2. Ooo great list. We have many favourite performances in common- Blanchett, Exarchopoulos, Johansson, Seydoux, Delpy, Dreyfuss, Woodley (!), Bullock. Larson *just* missed out in my list but she was great too. My absolute favourige female performance of last year however was Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha. Just like you championed Debicki, I championed her. They both need to be bigger stars.

    1. Gerwig *just* missed my list also! She was so great in Frances Ha, though. And Debicki really needs to be a bigger star. She's so flawless.

  3. So glad to see Robbie on the list.She was so much better than Lawrence, she is actually my number 2 in supporting actress category right after Sarah Paulson.

    1. Robbie was so great, I just don't get how Lawrence got so much love considering her performance in American Hustle was practically her just being herself. Sarah Paulson was so great also, she only just missed out on my list!

  4. Oh, this is a fantastic list. I'm glad you put Jena in the honorable mentions list. For me, the best performance of 2013 is a tie between Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color & Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin.

    1. Jena was awesome in Catching Fire! Argh, I really really really want to see Under the Skin.

  5. Awesome list! So glad to see Rooney Mara on here. I loved her performance, and I couldn't even fit her on my top 50 performances list.

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