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The 20 Best Film Performances of 2014

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The 20 Best Film Performances of 2014

Ironically, for an awards program meant to highlight standout performances, the Academy Awards have turned into the 800-pound gorilla of fall and winter entertainment coverage, stomping out other movie news to deposit mounds of hype about a relatively small group of “frontrunners.” Some of our favorite performances of the year were in movies that are being talked up for Oscars, but many were in films too quirky or dark or subtitled for the Academy of Arts and Sciences’s taste, and it would be a shame if that consigned them to the shadows. With this list, we hope to shine a little light on these brilliant, touching, often funny performances, which enrich our understanding of what it means to be human. Elise Nakhnikian

The 20 Best Film Performances of 2014

Marion Cotillard in The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night

A master of realistic acting whose talents would have also flourished in the silent era, Marion Cotillard conveys more in a glance than most actors can with a whole page of dialogue. With eloquent body language and bruised-looking circles beneath her big, blue-gray eyes, the actress infuses a heartbreaking mixture of dignity, vulnerability, and strength into her two latest entries in a gallery of ordinary women under extraordinary pressure.  Nakhnikian

The 20 Best Film Performances of 2014

Essie Davis in The Babadook

In Jennifer Kent’s extraordinary The Babadook, Essie Davis makes an art of expressing the exhaustion of single motherhood and the horror of uncertainty almost entirely through her eyes. Sometimes her character’s thousand-yard stare drowsily drifts to the side of the frame, a sign of her wanting to escape the needs of her screaming son. And once she’s metaphorically possessed by the titular demon, her eyes twitch and swell with rage. Wounded and empowered, terrified and terrifying, Davis’s triumph is giving full expression to the dualities of being a mother.  Glenn Heath

The 20 Best Film Performances of 2014

Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel

As the flamboyant, octogenarian-loving M. Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ralph Fiennes relishes in the almost cartoonish nature of the character, from the eloquent to the bluntly crude, while at the same time gifting him with disarming displays of empathy. Even through a heavy sheen of Andersonian affectation, Fiennes’s subtle expressiveness conveys a character finally starting to care for someone other than himself.  Wes Greene

The 20 Best Film Performances of 2014

Brendan Gleeson in Calvary

As the priest in Calvary who spends his last hours trying to solve the mystery of who is about to kill him, Brendan Gleeson has a part worthy of his bearlike physique, sardonic intelligence, and fine-tuned empathy, which make him seem a little more than the rest of us in every way. Gently nudging his troubled daughter (he became a priest late in life) toward mental health, tenderly caring for his dying dog, or quietly absorbing the angst his parishioners bombard him with, Gleeson’s Father James demonstrates such unshowy but exquisite insight and compassion that even the Christ imagery at the end of the movie feels earned.  Nakhnikian

The 20 Best Film Performances of 2014

Jake Gyllenhaal in Enemy

Jake Gyllenhaal just gets better with age, and in Denis Villeneuve’s oneiric Enemy, he deftly shifts between two characters with dissonant personalities, with both seeking to escape a world of oppressive repetition: There’s Adam, the meek college professor who struggles to even form sentences, and Anthony, the cocky and assured actor who’s all raging id. Whenever they’re on screen together, it’s almost too easy to forget we’re watching the same actor.  Greene

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