Worst Male Performance
Brady Allen – Paranormal Activity 4
Wow, so did The Great Beauty actually give up a category in the worst categories? It did. It would have been amazing for it to make a clean sweep, but unfortunately for it, I watched, for God knows what reason, the fourth Paranormal Activity. A lot of this movie revolves a little kid being creepy. Except he’s not; he’s really, really awful. Congrats, Paranormal Activity 4, you’ve actually created a character more irritating than Micah. Well, okay, not really, because, Micah, good Lord, Micah, am I right?
Best Male Performance
Marlon Brando – On the Waterfront
I really enjoyed seeing On the Waterfront this past year; it was my third viewing I think and it really solidified the fact that I think this is Brando’s best performance. It’s really the pinnacle of his method acting; he just inhabits Malloy so naturally that his performance is often really minimal, but always just perfect. And that scene in the car; dear God, does that hold up. More than hold up; it’s the best scene of Brando’s career.
Robert De Niro – The Godfather Part II
De Niro’s turn as a young Vito Corleone was a starmaking one and still stands as one of the finest performances in a career absolutely full of great performances. De Niro does so much with just his looks; he’s very minimal in a lot of scenes, but he’s always riveting. When he’s on screen, you can’t look away, whether the wheels are turning in his head as he looks at a pile of guns or he can’t watch as his baby cries. It could have just been an impression, but it’s not; it’s a genuine masterpiece of a performance.
Morgan Freeman – The Shawshank Redemption
Freeman’s performance in this film just never fails to blow me away. It’s minimal, nuanced, emotionally true and a strong, strong contender for the best of his career. Freeman makes this performance look effortless, but it’s dead perfect. His track of how Red changes over the course of the film is perfectly delineated, but never so obvious as to be obnoxious. But watch those parole hearings, man.
Tom Hardy – The Drop
Hardy gave two really great performances in 2014, this film and Locke, but it’s his quiet, brooding turn as a pragmatic, simple man making his way through a minefield of organized crime that has stayed with me. It’s a tight, extremely minimal performance, but the flickers of emotion he lets through are always exactly right. The final shot of the film is of his face; and, just like the preceding two hours, he nails the moment perfectly.
Anthony Hopkins – The Silence of the Lambs
Here’s another one that shouldn’t need a defense. Over twenty years on from Hopkins’ seminal performance as Hannibal Lecter the performance remains disturbing, twisted and wonderful. It’s been so endlessly parodied, you wonder if a revisit will prove disappointing. Well, it doesn’t. Hopkins’ turn is as eerie as it’s ever been and not a hint of camp.
Michael Keaton – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Keaton doesn’t just make a comeback in Birdman; he gives the best performance of his entire career as a washed up Hollywood actor searching for significance and wrestling with fears that he’s wasted his life. Keaton is electrifying in some scenes and vulnerable in others. He’s never giving less than every single thing he has. I hope he walks off with an Oscar for this performance.
Choi Min-sik – Oldboy
I’ve probably said enough about Oldboy. I watched it in 2013 and it cleaned up in my end of the year retrospective then; I watched it again last year and it’s cleaning up again. But I don’t know that anyone could praise Min-sik’s performance enough; it’s one of the most unhinged, desperate, full-on crazy performances I’ve ever seen. Min-sik embodies desperation, wrath, coolness and, in the insane climax, something like the Platonic ideal of pathos. What a performance.
Al Pacino – The Godfather Part II
Pacino’s performance in The Godfather Part II is maybe his most restrained and minimal. But it’s also perhaps his most brilliant. Sometimes he explodes (the divorce scene with Kay); sometimes he just quietly lowers his head (the Cuban club scene); other times he breaks your heart with is absolute vulnerability (the famous Fredo scene); and sometimes he just embodies Michael’s darkness so completely it chills your soul (the OTHER famous Fredo scene). This is acting genius.
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
I loved Redmayne in Les Miserables; he got stuck with the hardest part and really made it work. I often down performances that rely heavily on physical transformations, but the physical transformation here is so extreme and so consistent that it was nothing short of awe-inspiring. This is the kind of performance someone as young as Redmayne simply shouldn’t have the necessary experience to give. By the end of the film, he has become Hawking to a breathtaking degree, to such a degree that it was genuinely hard to believe that it wasn’t actually Hawking I was watching. Not unlike Day-Lewis’ turn in Lincoln, I completely forgot that I was watching an actor. For all the flaws of the film, Redmayne’s performance is one for the ages.
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash
Simmons has been around for ages and it’s always a distinct pleasure when I see his name on a cast list; he’s one of those character actors that is quite simply always good and typically fantastic. Here’s hoping he finally gets his due with an Oscar win for this blistering performance as an abusive music teacher. He’s intense and terrifying in all the right ways and never drifts into camp; but I can’t stop thinking about the quiet scene where he talks about a past student that has died. And perhaps his finest work is in the wordless climax where he conveys a world’s worth of emotion through just his expressions and his eyes. It’s nothing less than THE performance of his career to this point.