Top 10 Female Performances of 2014

For this year, I’ve decided to do something long overdue for my best performances list and have split it in two, one for male performances and one for female performances. As stated yesterday, the rules of this list are that only one performance per film can be included and any film released in 2014 is eligible. With that out of the way, lets get started with my top 10 favourite performances by women in 2014.
10. Patricia Arquette – Boyhood – Starting of the list is a performance that sounds really simple, one where we see how 12 years changes the life of a mother. This sounds like a really generic performance but in this film, due to Richard Linklater’s script and Arquette’s performance, the character is one of the highlights. The changes that are shown over the 12 years are brilliantly portrayed, in an incredibly subtle way, and the big emotional scenes for the character Arquette nails, in particular the scenes regarding domestic abuse, which feel one of the more accurate portrayals of a domestic abuse victim on screen.

9. Angelina Jolie – Maleficent – This performance helps to show that even terrible films can have excellent performances. I hated Maleficent, I felt it was a lazy rip-off of every fantasy film made in the past 10 years in every aspect, from story to production design, but Jolie was excellent. Every single development with the character is made believable and compelling thanks to Jolie and, whilst I think the metaphor regarding what happened to turn Maleficent evil wasn’t handled well on a writing level, Jolie hits the right emotions for that scene. The highlights though are when she goes full on Maleficent, where she is a joy to watch. I may have hated the film, but Jolie was excellent.
8. Imelda Staunton – Pride – I always like to include a performance on my lists based on how funny it was and this year, that honour easily goes to Imelda Staunton. There’s something really charming about Staunton’s performance here and the way she interacts with the rest of the cast, in particular Bill Nighy and Andrew Scott creates some of the funniest moments of the film, along with Staunton getting a lot of the best lines in Pride. There are also moments that let you know that her character (Hefina) is someone you don’t want to cross, like when she goes to attack someone who stated that LGSM didn’t want to help the mining village, after they raised thousands of pounds for the miners. It’s clear throughout the film that she cares for all the people, not only in the village but in LGSM and this care and warmth provides a lot of the heart and humour in Pride.
7. Octavia Spencer – Fruitvale Station – This is another performance that is very simple and hard to describe but the simplicity is what makes it so good. There is a great sense of love that she shows towards Oscar, along with how she didn’t want anything to do with Oscar for a while because of his arrest, which makes her performance at the end all the more powerful. When she finds out about Oscar’s death, her reaction is very quiet and subdued, which perfectly fits the tone of the film.
6. Gugu Mbatha-Raw – Belle – This performance works really well in showing the contrast between the character and society. Throughout the film, we see how Dido gets put down by the aristocracy at every turn and the way that Mbatha-Raw shows the conflicting nature of her character is brilliant. Along with this, her scenes with Tom Wilkinson regarding the Zong Massacre are brilliantly handled, with Mbatha-Raw showing her outrage over the massacre and how people can get away with something like it incredibly well.
5. Tilda Swinton – Only Lovers Left Alive – This performance is one that brilliant shows the theme of balance present in Only Lovers Left Alive. Whilst Tom Hiddleston plays Adam as a really dour, melancholic musician considering suicide, Swinton plays Eve as someone more open, friendlier, someone who sees the beauty of the world and all the good that can come out of it. Swinton and Hiddleston have brilliant chemistry with each other, which makes the relationship work so well, with the two disparate personalities blending together perfectly, as shown through the constant yin-yang symbolism. The free spirited vibe from Swinton gives the film a lot of its heart and is one of the major reasons why the film is so good.
4. Julianne Moore – Maps to the Stars – Out of all of the performances on this list, this is easily the most over-the-top, but in a good way. Moore is one of my favourite actresses and this is one of her best performances. She brilliantly shows the spoiled, rotten heart of the Hollywood system through her character, quietly celebrating when a child dies as it means she gets a part in a film. This is a reprehensible character that loves being this way and Moore is clearly having a lot of fun being someone this nasty. We also see some depth to the character as she fears that she will never live up to the expectations placed on her due to how good an actress her mum was and her fear of failure is portrayed really well and there are times when you feel vaguely sympathetic to her, at least until she does her next horrific act.
3. Lupita N’yongo – 12 Years A Slave – Of all the performances in this list N’yongo’s is probably the most intense and powerful. N’yongo perfectly portrays the horror of things her character has to endure, with her desperation at doing anything to end her suffering, even wanting to die to end the suffering, being brilliantly seen. The best moments though are the ones where there is a limited reaction, which brilliantly shows how the system has just broken her. It’s heartbreaking to see how all the fight she has is crushed out of her.
2. Scarlett Johansson – Under the Skin – This is a very subtle performance from Johansson, with many elements of the character development of The Alien being conveyed through tiny movements on Johansson’s face and subtle changes in the body language. If this performance wasn’t done exactly right, the film would not have worked. Thankfully, Johansson does all of this so well that you know everything that the Alien is thinking and she helps to show how she is both different and similar to the people of Glasgow, without it being obvious.
1. Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl – I feel that enough time has passed to allow me to talk about the main details of Pike’s performance in this film without fear of spoiling it, that said if you haven’t seen Gone Girl, this is your spoiler warning. In the first half of Gone Girl, Pike plays the ideal wife to someone like Nick, someone who will base her life around him, with the veil slipping from the ideal marriage portraying Amy as the victim later on. In the second half of the film though, we see that all the events of the film were manipulated so we’d think of Amy in that way, whilst in reality, Amy is a cold, calculating, psychopath, willing to do whatever she can to put things in her favour and get revenge of people who wronged her, including framing Nick for her murder and as the film goes on, and especially at the end, Amy becomes more of a terrifying character and Pike nails every single aspect of this performance. Amy is one of the great villains in film and Pike never lets you forget how she can manipulate everything around her (the media, the police etc) to get her way, and that she is someone you should never cross.
Honourable Mentions:
  • Jessica Chastain and Mackenzie Foy – Interstellar
  • Naomi Harris – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
  • Margot Robbie – The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal – Frank
  • Emma Watson – Noah
  • Mia Wasikowska – Maps to the Stars, The Double, Only Lovers Left Alive, Tracks
  • Jennifer Lawrence – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
  • Kristen Bell – Veronica Mars
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