Best Male Performance – Honorable Mentions
John Cazale – The Godfather Part II
The great Cazale had a heck of a track record before his untimely death, but he was never better than he was here, as inadequate brother Fredo, overshadowed by younger brother Michael. He’s a figure of real pathos and Cazale plays him without an ounce of vanity – in a way, The Godfather Part II is as much his story as Michael’s, or if that’s too strong, one could certainly say that Michael’s story is told through Fredo. Cazale deserved an Oscar nomination for this wonderful performance.
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
DiCaprio continues to really impress with great performances; his turn as the titular wolf here is perhaps not his best, but it’s certainly his least fettered. DiCaprio hits every scene with such intensity that one fears he might stroke out at some point; he’s pure, damnable id and he creates a character of absolute moral reprehension. A performance as riveting as it is disturbing.
Jesse Eisenberg – Night Moves
Eisenberg is an actor that often gets overlooked due to what some see as overreliance on schtick and certainly he’s played his share of characters that are basically alike. But his turn here, as a haunted, anti-social eco-terrorist, is enough to silence all his doubters surely. He’s awkward, sometimes painfully so, and his descent into paranoia is gripping and often surprisingly minimal. The last shot of his face in the film is a haunting one, one that I can see in detail in my mind, months after viewing the film.
Colin Firth – The Railway Man
Firth’s performance as a deeply disturbed WWII veteran still haunted by his time in a Japanese prison camp is his best in years. It’s incredibly raw to the point of occasionally being difficult to watch. It’s a moving, beautiful performance.
Edward Norton – Birdman
Speaking of people who are better than they’ve been in years, turn your eyes to Edward Norton who absolutely sets the screen on fire every time the camera is trained on him in Birdman. Norton’s performance is nuanced, charismatic and entertaining. He’s an ambiguous character, which is always hard to play, but Norton commands the screen like I haven’t seen him do in years.
Guy Pearce – The Rover
Pearce overcomes a rather rote script and an annoyingly bad performance by co-star Robert Pattinson to give his best performance since Memento. As a callous, vengeful killer stalking the wilds of a post-apocalyptic Australia, he has some big shoes to fill, but his performance is minimal, terrifying and astounding. A late scene lets the taciturn character finally speak up and Pearce’s delivery of the monologue in the police station is one of the finest acting scenes of the year.
Anthony Perkins – Psycho
Perkins’ performance doesn’t need a defense at this late date, not if you’ve seen the film. If you haven’t, a real treat is waiting for you as Perkins turns in an iconic and genuinely brilliant performance as the troubled Norman Bates. There are several reasons Psycho is iconic; maybe none of them is more crucial than Perkins.
George C. Scott – Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Bomb
Scott’s performance was reportedly cobbled together by Kubrick in the editing room out of takes that Kubrick had promised Scott would never be used. Scott shouldn’t have been angry; his over-the-top performance as an unhinged, paranoid military officer is his best performance (yes, better than Patton, you guys!), a masterpiece of raving lunacy.
Peter Sellers – Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Bomb
Sellers plays three characters in this film and all are very different (understatement) and all are funny. That alone gets him a lot of praise. But watching this film on the big screen, I was absolutely blown away by his performance(s) all over again. For all the theatrics of Strangelove, both Muffley and Mandrake are surprisingly subtle turns, but no less funny. This is comedy at a level of precision I’m not sure I’ve seen before. The tiniest twitch of an eye, the smallest exhalation of breath, everything in this performance is planned and executed with what can only be called total and complete mastery.
Miles Teller – Whiplash
Teller got on my radar with The Spectacular Now and his performance here, as an obsessive, arrogant, abused jazz drummer, is even better. Teller inhabits this character with a commitment and naturalism that is being overlooked thanks to Simmons’ scene stealing performance. But Teller stands toe to toe with Simmons and gives as much intensity as he takes. Teller remains my favorite young actor and if he can keep up the quality, I can’t wait to see what he does next.