10. Veerle Baetens - “Broken Circle Breakdown”
It’s one thing to ask an actress to play a woman deeply wounded by the death of her child. But it’s quite another to demand that she sing bluegrass songs, possess palpable and immediately magnetic sexual energy and go on a journey from first love to bitter divorce. However Veerle Baetens make it all look so easy with her terrific turn in Belgium’s award winning Oscar entry “Broken Circle Breakdown.” In the span of just under two hours, in a film that fractures its narrative jumping between past, present and future at any given moment, you’re never at a loss for one second as to where we find Baetens at any moment. Playing tattoo artist Elise who falls for a bluegrass lovin’ man, Baetens connects the patchwork of the narrative to construct a beautifully complex, complicated woman, one whose life is filled up by her marriage, child and music and shocking drained of it almost immediately, leaving her desperately clinging for something that gives her meaning to go on. It’s tricky stuff, the kind of material that could easily become showy or mannered, but Baetens' performance finds deeper, more truthful and even painful depths. Whether it’s saucily spreading across the hood of a pickup truck in a bikini for her man, or stepping on stage in the spotlight to deliver a song in full country regalia (and it should be said, her singing is equally strong as her acting), Beatens indeed goes full circle, in a turn that leaves no doubt she will be one to watch.
9. Kathryn Hahn - “Afternoon Delight”
Chances are pretty good that you haven’t seen Jill Soloway’s “Afternoon Delight,” the award-winning indie that pulled in just a fraction of a million dollars when it snuck into theaters late this Summer—it’s especially unfortunate that the film skipped VOD where it probably would’ve found a decent audience—but it found its fans here at the site and we’ve been championing it ever since Sundance. Our love for the film is due in no small part to the wonderful leading performance of perpetual supporting player, Kathryn Hahn. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve seen Hahn for a decade now, haunting the edges of your favorite comedies (“Anchorman,” “Step Brothers,” “Wanderlust”) or as a recurring player on shows like “Girls” and “Parks And Recreation,” though your parents probably know her from “Crossing Jordan.” But it wasn’t until “Afternoon Delight” that she finally landed a role that allowed her to showcase her full range, and we realized that Kathryn Hahn is a giant fucking star. As Rachel, a bored Silverlake housewife who decides to spice up her marriage by inviting a stripper to be her nanny, she takes a role that in the hands of a lesser actress may have been insufferable and makes it a star making performance. She’s hilarious, affecting, real and seemingly fearless. (There aren’t too many actresses who would appear as natural wearing only sheer pantyhose and firing imaginary lasers out of her crotch but Hahn doesn’t break a sweat.) For years Hahn has been a little secret shared by the various comedy clans (Adam McKay, Judd Apatow, David Wain) but after this film, it’s hard to imagine her staying their secret for too much longer.
8. Robin Weigert - "Concussion"
Without Robin Weigert at its center, “Concussion” could have been an interesting if minor entry in a subgenre of films about sexual discovery. The drama is capably directed and well-written, but it’s Weigert’s performance that draws the audience deeper into the film. In the film’s early scenes, she’s equally adept at displaying brittle frustration and boredom in her existence as a wife and mother after an accident involving one of her children sends her to the hospital. In our first moments with her, we see her snap at the the kid responsible for her injury, but it’s a testament to the actress that we still like and want to engage with her character, Abby. From there, Abby is eager to explore sexuality beyond her relationship with her wife, and things get interesting as she embarks on a career as an escort. Her love scenes with various clients are sexy, but it’s not due to the skin shown; it’s Weigert’s portioning of equal parts vulnerability and strength that keep her lovers interested and the audience rapt. She feels like you could run into her at the grocery store, but it’s no less believable when she dominates clients. Though her face is familiar to TV and movie audiences (mostly due to her portrayal of Calamity Jane in HBO’s short-lived “Deadwood”), this is her biggest film role to date, and she’s deserving of all the attention—and more—that she’s earning for it.
7. Michael B. Jordan - "Fruitvale Station"
Anyone paying attention the last few years knew that Michael B. Jordan was a movie star in the making. After terrific performances on the small screen in "The Wire," "Parenthood" and "Friday Night Lights," the actor started to turn heads cinematically speaking in 2012 with performances in "Red Tails" and "Chronicle" that, to be frank, risked overshadowing the ostensible leads of the movies. He felt like a movie star in waiting, but Jordan wasn't waiting, making his own stamp thanks to indie "Fruitvale Station," which was one of the main talking points of Sundance back in January, and has subsequently launched him to awards buzz and future stardom ("Fantastic Four" and "Rocky" spin-off "Creed" beckon in the new year). Ryan Coogler's based-in-fact tale tells the story of Oscar Grant, a troubled, but decent kid gunned down without cause by transport cops in the Bay Area on New Year's Eve. The film itself has its flaws, but Jordan goes a long way to rectify some of them: he's magnetic and enormously charismatic, while introducing ambiguities that Coogler seems more reluctant to focus on. If he was better-known before the film arrives, the performance might have gotten even more credit—the deftness with which Jordan builds the character isn't as obvious if you're not so familiar with how different it is from his earlier work. But as the supernova beginning to what's sure to be a stellar career, it'll only gain in power in retrospect.
6. Oscar Isaac - "Inside Llewyn Davis"
As fans of Oscar Isaac since his breakout role in Ridley Scott's otherwise unremarkable "Body of Lies," we couldn't have been more delighted to learn a couple of years back that he'd landed the lead in a Coen brothers movie. And we were not disappointed in the least by the results in "Inside Llewyn Davis"—Isaac gives a performance for the ages that, if there's any goddamn justice in the world, will make him a megastar. Talented but unsuccessful folk singer Llewyn Davis is a singularly Coen-ish creation, a semi-repentant asshole who's starting to realize that his big break is never coming. Isaac has a natural gift for the brothers' dialogue, but he's even better in the silences: no one this year could convey as much with a single reaction shot, whether he's discovering that Carey Mulligan's withering occasional lover is pregnant, or baffled by the backing vocals that Adam Driver lends to "Please Mr. Kennedy." Isaac was already in demand, but after this, we can only imagine that A-grade filmmakers will be hammering down his door to work with him.