By Simon Miraudo
December 10, 2013
The performance that enraptured audiences most in 2013 was Jennifer Lawrence as 'Regular Human Woman' - an ambitious gambit that paid off spectacularly. So novel was the humanity emanating from this Hollywood actress, gifs of her playfully flipping off photographers and spilling all her mints during a press conference spread like wildfire. Perhaps no recorded moment of hers delighted fans more than when she giddily fled from Jeff Bridges out of sheer shyness, and that includes her turns in massive megahit Catching Fire and awards season favourite American Hustle. She may be the indisputable celebrity or the year, but let's not forget the other fantastic actresses who impressed on actual celluloid. Fact is, the year's finest films were almost entirely anchored by female characters. Consider Octavia Spencer as the grief-stricken mother in Fruitvale Station; Julianne Nicholson as the long-suffering daughter carrying on a clandestine affair in August: Osage County; Emma Thompson as prickly author P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks, or Melissa McCarthy as the unhinged Boston cop from The Heat (and these examples were just pulled from the honourable mentions). You'll find twenty-five names below. Believe me: it's a too-small sample of all the great work from 2013.
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order): Bérénice Bejo in The Past, Suzanne Clément in Laurence Anyways, Judi Dench in Philomena, Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha, Anna Margaret Hollyman in White Reindeer, Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Rooney Mara in Side Effects, Melissa McCarthy in The Heat, Julianne Nicholson in August: Osage County, Julia Roberts in August: Osage County, Amy Seimetz in Upstream Color, Octavia Spencer in Fruitvale Station, Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks, Sharni Vinson in You're Next, Oprah Winfrey in The Butler.
Four-way tie! Truly, it didn't feel right picking just one from this quartet. The girls of Spring Breakers didn't actually need to be any good here; the casting of Disney princesses Hudgens and Gomez in a Harmony Korine sexploitation-phantasmagoria was shocking enough. (Their job was basically done before the picture was even made.) And yet, they brought it. Hudgens and Benson terrified as unflinching murderesses, while Gomez and Korine revealed a subtle fragility and fear in the face of their friends' increased moral-degradation during one hellish trip to Florida. Also, their rendition of Britney Spears' 'Hit Me Baby (One More Time)' isn't bad either. Spring Breakers is available on Quickflix.
Don't look to Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine for a masterclass on naturalism. This is capital 'A' acting. But what better way to realise Woody Allen's not-so-loose retelling of A Streetcar Named Desire than by hiring this great theatre veteran and letting her go large? She plays the titular Jasmine - a mentally-imbalanced ex-wife to a Bernie Madoff type - like a woman circling the drain, embarking on massive, rambling speeches, sometimes shifting her physical appearance within a single scene. During one pained monologue, in an unbroken take, Blanchett begins absolutely radiant, and ends with a glower that seemingly adds decades to her age. That's real movie magic. Blue Jasmine will be available on Quickflix from January 15, 2014.
Ms. Lawrence holds her own against Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner in David O. Russell's American Hustle, despite being 15 years younger than her next oldest castmate. She takes on the role of Rosalyn, the unpredictable housewife of Bale's conman Irving Rosenfeld. Though she feigns ditziness ("accidentally" setting her house on fire at least twice), Rosalyn is revealed to be the smoothest operator of the lot, nearly undoing Irving's hush-hush operation with the FBI by cosying up to some mobsters. Seeing Lawrence manipulate Bale is a sight to behold; he's rendered an impotent, apologetic mess by her scheming ways. Irving's girlfriend (Adams) is left similarly bemused after being confronted by Rosalyn in the bathroom: she reflects on some "dark, f***ed up" choices she's made, plants a kiss on her, and then cackles maniacally. Her character is no joke, but boy, does Lawrence make us laugh. American Hustle will be available on Quickflix in 2014.
A regular supporting player in many a Joss Whedon show, Amy Acker finally graduated to leading lady in his micro-budgeted, wine-drenched, black-and-white adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. As the spunky, quick-witted Beatrice, Acker proves herself to be equipped with the most lithe Shakespearean tongue in the entire company; no mean feat at all. Much Ado About Nothing is available on Quickflix.
What in the world is left to say about Meryl? Is anyone surprised to hear she's amazing in this adaptation of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize winning play August: Osage County? It opens with her cancer-riddled matriarch, Violet, telling her husband to "f***ing f*** a sow's a**," and she only grows more bitter from there. The centrepiece is a dinner table sequence during which she pokes and prods almost every family member, making them feel small and uncomfortable and inevitably driving one of them to violence. It's a big role, and still, she doesn't oversell it. Streep lords over proceedings, but she never swallows them whole. August: Osage County arrives in Australian cinemas January 1, 2014.
Shot when she was just 18 years of age, Adèle Exarchopoulos brought uncommon depth (and unequalled courageousness) to Abdellatif Kechiche's controversial Cannes winner. She plays Adele, a young woman who shares an intense - and ultimately doomed - love with the slightly older Emma (Léa Seydoux). The extended, unblinking, invasive, fleshy sex scenes are the picture's calling card, and Exarchopoulos certainly holds nothing back. Similarly revealing are the fight scenes that inevitably follow. It's almost too obvious a cliché to say that she "bares everything" in Blue is the Warmest Colour, though I don't quite know how else to describe her singular achievement here. Perhaps Kechiche asked too much of her. Nonetheless, she gave him - and us - her all. Blue is the Warmest Colour arrives in Australian cinemas February 13, 2014.
Julie Delpy has lived as Celine for almost twenty years now. First appearing in Before Sunrise, she's only added to that character's depth in sequels Before Sunset and now Before Midnight. It no doubt helps that she co-wrote the scripts to those follow-ups with director Richard Linklater and co-star Ethan Hawke (playing her American soul mate, Jesse). In this, the best instalment to date, we see Jesse and Celine waxing lyrical about their relationship, and, later, arguing over a potential separation. She's the more ferocious of the two fighters, and also the funniest. Like the series itself, Julie Delpy just keeps getting better and better. Before Midnight is available on Quickflix.
The special effects trickery of Gravity is hard enough to wrap one's head around, so where do we possibly begin with Sandra Bullock's performance in it? Much of her work was captured within a 20-by-10-foot cube lined with more than 4,000 lights. On the slightly less claustrophobic days on set, she was harnessed in a rig that would flip her over and over again. No wonder she's so convincing as stranded astronaut, Ryan Stone, whose every dry heave and anguished gasp can be felt in our own bones. Bullock gave us a flesh and blood human being to care about; one so richly performed she can't even be stifled by the fantastical fakery of those computerised effects surrounding her. Gravity was a test of her star power. It's a test she passed with flying colours. Gravity will be available on Quickflix in 2014.
Brie Larson has long been one of my favourite young talents, thanks solely to her comic parts in 21 Jump Street, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and dear-departed TV series United States of Tara. In Short Term 12 ... she's something else. As Grace, the twenty-something caretaker at a foster facility for troubled kids, she's composed and compassionate. When her personal life begins to take a toll on her professional life, she reveals a darker undercurrent. That the baby-faced Larson can convince throughout this emotional journey is a reminder that acting, at its finest, needs no bells and whistles to astound, captivate, and move. Short Term 12 hits Australian cinemas December 26, 2013.
This is the best performance of the year, from any gender or species. (Apologies to any acting lizards or marine life.) Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars in Nicole Holofcener's rom-com Enough Said as fifty-something masseuse Eva, who sparks up a relationship with her new friend's ex-husband (the late James Gandolfini), collecting titbits on his bad habits as a way of evaluating whether she should invest in the relationship. It's her first screen role in about fifteen years. I pray it's an absence we never have to endure again. Forget her television credentials: this is a movie star; an intensely funny, charming, adorable actress with the ability to convey great frustration, confusion, and heartbreak. Almost three decades into her career – and with four Emmys (from sixteen nominations) under her belt - Louis-Dreyfus proves her talent might not yet be fully appreciated. Enough Said will be available on Quickflix in 2014.