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The 25 Best Breakthrough Performances Of 2013

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist December 3, 2013 at 2:20PM

One of the great pleasures of being a movie fan is the discovery of new performers. Faces that, months earlier, you'd have passed by in the street, suddenly gifted the role of a lifetime, and whose lives will never be the same again. It feels to us that 2013 was an especially strong year for new faces: festivals like Sundance, SXSW and Cannes, not to mention films that went straight to wide release, unleashed a veritable hurricane of talent that we'll be seeing for years to come.
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Touchy Feely Josh Pais Allison Janney

15. Josh Pais - "Touchy Feely"
Josh Pais is one of those guys: the kind of character actor who you might recognize when he pops up (as he has in "Scream 3," "Phone Booth," "Adventureland" and many others), but you couldn't really place. Since he played Raphael in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," he's rarely had a leading role but Lynn Shelton proved in her undervalued "Touchy Feely" that Pais has a lot more to offer than the guy who steals a scene or two. The actor plays Paul, the uptight, nervy dentist brother of Rosemarie DeWitt's Abby, whose struggling dental practice is turned around when he seems to develop, without explanation, some kind of healing touch. When we first meet him, Paul is repressed, closed-off and virtually fades into the background, but suddenly he becomes the center of attention and there's a lovely ambiguity to the way he deals with it: there's a real joy in the way that he's drawn to Allison Janney's character, and the way that he finally draws closer to his daughter Jenny (Ellen Page), but he's still someone who doesn't quite feel comfortable in his own skin. So well does Pais inhabit his funny and touchingly awkward man that there's almost a kind of relief when the touch fades.

The Selfish Giant Arbor and horse

14. Conner Chapman - "The Selfish Giant"
Still not due in the U.S. for a few weeks, "The Selfish Giant," director Clio Barnard's (very) loose social-realism reworking of Oscar Wilde's fable has been winning rave reviews since Cannes and no element of the film is more worthy of praise than the lead performance of Conner Chapman. The actor, only 13 when the film was shot, plays Arbor, a young tearaway from a troubled family with rage and attention-deficit issues who, when we meet him, has just been permanently excluded from school. A born wheeler-dealer, he enlists best pal Swifty (Shaun Thomas, just as good as Chapman) to collect scrap-metal with him to sell to dodgy local bigwig Kitten (Sean GIlder). But jealousy and greed eventually lead to tragic consequences. Chapman's Arbor is a near-feral kid, one who just doesn't give a fuck about authority, but who does have a fierce loyalty to friends and family, and the young performer, never less than totally convincing, never makes him a dark figure, but instead one full of charm and life. And when the truly devastating conclusion comes, your heart shatters for him.

Frances Ha

13. Mickey Sumner & Michael Zegen - "Frances Ha"
"Frances Ha" might be an unabashed showcase for co-writer/star Greta Gerwig, but as is standard for Noah Baumbach movies, the entire cast do sterling work in support of the title character, even if most only get brief appearances. We've already spoken about Mickey Sumner, who plays Frances' best friend, in our For Your Consideration piece, but to sum up: her gawky, confident-yet-insecure woman is at the very heart of the film, every bit as fascinating a creation as Frances herself and Sumner should go on to bigger things from here on out. A special moment of recognition also deserves to go to Michael Zegen, a familiar face from "Rescue Me," "Adventureland" and "Boardwalk Empire." As Benji, the roommate of Adam Driver's Lev, he's the closest thing the film has to a romantic lead (though Baumbach and Gerwig hold back from being as obvious as to go there), and is a real boon to the film, neurotic and funny and self-deprecating and somehow always an obvious match to our Frances. Though he only pops up a handful of times, it's a crucial role that Zegen shines in. It's already lead to more work (he's joined the cast of "Girls" for Season Three), but we hope someone like Woody Allen's been paying attention, because Zegen would fit right at home in that world.

What Richard Did Jack Reynor

12. Jack Reynor - "What Richard Did"
We only talked about this performance, in Lenny Abrahamson's powerful morality tale "What Richard Did," last week, as one of the turns we believe deserve awards recognition. But we're gonna bring it back up again, if only because 99.9% of you didn't see the film on its very brief U.S. release (or, indeed, its release anywhere). Much of the films power derives from young Irish actor Jack Reynor's central performance as a popular student and amateur rugby player who wins over the heart of the girlfriend of a schoolmate, only to end up accidentally killing his rival in a drunken brawl. As you might imagine from someone who's taking over from Shia LaBoeuf in the "Transformers" franchise, Reynor is perfectly matched to golden boy Richard: a born leader and a good guy. This of course makes his later act all the more shocking and then the ensuing moral dilemma all the more powerful. For one so young (he's only 21), Reynor grapples with every facet of the complex characters, and sears his agony onto your brain—nearly a year after we saw the film, we still can't shake this performance.

Michael Cera, Crystal Fairy

11. Gaby Hoffmann - “Crystal Fairy”
We’ll admit there, for a moment there, we really didn’t think Gaby Hoffmann’s kind of batshit, go-for-broke performance in Sebastián Silva’s bizarre and oddly funny Chilean travelogue, “Crystal Fairy” was going to get much recognition, let alone awards season love, but Film Independent's Spirit Awards for 2013 totally took us by surprise (she scored a Best Female Lead nomination alongside Cate Blanchett and Julie Delpy for crying out loud). Silva’s picture centers on a group of Chilean friends, including the American expat Jamie (played by Michael Cera) who go on a quest to extract the fabled mescaline hallucinogen from the San Pedro cactus in the southern part of the country. The drunken, cocaine-fueled jerk that is Jamie randomly invites an eccentric weirdo named Crystal Fairy (Hoffmann) to join them on their voyage and the next day, much to their collective surprise, she shows up ready for their trip. Much of the film’s humor is derived from the fact that the self-absorbed and intolerant Jamie can’t stand the hippie-dippy free-spiritedness of Crystal Fairy and he almost immediately regrets his half-baked decision to invite her. Fairy, all hairy armpits, unabashed nakedness and patchouli-smelling wardrobe, is a nightmare of a companion that you probably wouldn’t want to travel with either, but Hoffmann’s capacity for making you understand, empathize and then ultimately love this endearing wacko freak character is no small feat. Forget the fact that she drops trou often, it’s Crystal Fairy’s vulnerability and ability to see past her companion’s insults that makes Hoffman’s performance truly rounded and brave.

This article is related to: Features, Best of 2013, Brie Larson, Oscar Isaac, Adele Exarchopoulos, Barkhad Abdi, Michael B. Jordan, Robin Weigert, Kathryn Hahn, Danai Gurira, Feature


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