Top 10 Male Performances of 2014

Following on from yesterdays list of my 10 favourite female performances of 2014, today’s list comprises my top 10 favourite male performances of 2014. The same rules as yesterday apply (any film released in 2014 in the UK can be included and I will only put one performance per film on here). This has been a brilliant year for performances, with many performances that would have topped lists in previous years only being honourable mentions here, it was really hard deciding on the final 10, but I feel like I’ve chosen the correct ones considering the films I saw this year. With that out of the way, let’s dive in:
10. Ben Schnetzer – Pride – There were many different brilliant performances I could have gone for in Pride. From Bill Nighy at his eyebrow raising best to Dominic West and his disco dancing, the really warm performances from Paddy Considine and Andrew Scott to Joe Gilgun and George MacKay who add a lot of weight to the actions of LGSM. In the end I decided to go with Ben Schnetzer as Mark Ashton. As the head of LGSM, we needed to be convinced that people would follow Ashton and that he is willing to smash through the barriers in the mining village and show the people there that being gay is nothing to fear and Schnetzer nails it, providing the film with a lot of it’s heart due to his enthusiasm for everything that’s going on and his commitment to the cause. He also adds a few darker elements later on, as the AIDS epidemic becomes more prominent, with very subtle changes in his performance, mainly a few glances he makes, letting you know exactly what the character is going through
9. Jesse Eisenberg – The Double – Out of all the performances here, this is probably the most difficult one to do, considering that Eisenberg had to portray 2 characters with distinct personalities. He plays Simon as the stereotypical Jesse Eisenberg character; neurotic, insecure etc whilst playing James as the complete opposite. Even with the characters looking identical, even down to the way they dress, you always know which is Simon and which is James due to the subtle changes in body language Eisenberg employs. This, combined with the best twinning effects since The Social Network, makes this one of the best performances that too few people saw.
8. Brendan Gleeson – Calvary – Whenever I’ve seen Gleeson before in stuff like the Harry Potter series, In Bruges and The Guard, I’ve always seen his performances as more comedic, providing levity in these films. In this film though, I was reminded how good a dramatic actor Gleeson is. In this film, Gleeson plays a priest (Father James) who is, in a confession, is told he will be killed a week from that day. Throughout the film, we see his reaction and acceptance of this manifest, along with his feelings of grief and his resignation at everything that happens. There’s also a great deal of integrity that Gleeson brings to the role, showing him to be a good man throughout the film, willing to do what he can to help everyone in his parish, whilst also showing that he is going to pay for the crimes committed by other members of the Catholic Church, since the person who plans to kill him does so to get revenge on the church for the abuse he suffered as a kid. The chemistry he has with the rest of the cast is excellent, which further shows the importance the character has in the community and why him dying is the worst thing that could happen to the area.
7. Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel – This is probably the funniest performance I’ve seen this year. The combination of Fiennes refined, soft spoken style with Malcolm Tucker levels of swearing is consistently hilarious throughout the film. There are also moments of melancholy in the character that Fiennes plays brilliantly near the end of the film and the relationship between him and Tony Revolori as Zero is excellently portrayed, with a major part of this being due to the chemistry between the two actors. Due to his villain work I’d forgotten how funny Ralph Fiennes can be but after this I will remember.
6. Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game – This is a performance that could have very easily have gone wrong. Had Alan Turing not been played in the right way then we would be encouraged to laugh at him. Instead, Cumberbatch shows the socially awkward elements of Turing in a way that elicits sympathy. He shows how hard it is for Turing to get to know people, along with how intelligent he is, but the best work is how he presents Turing’s homosexuality. He shows how difficult is was to be a gay man in the 50’s and his final scene where we find out that Turing had been chemically castrated is heartbreaking. This is one of the few performances this year that reduced me to tears.
5. Michael Fassbender – Frank – For having to wear a fake head for most of the film, Fassbender makes Frank one of the most compelling and emotional characters of the year. We never see Frank’s face but we know everything the character is feeling because of how energetic Fassbender is. The best part of the performance though is when it gets more serious and focuses more on Frank’s psyche, with Fassbender showing that there is something seriously wrong with Frank through really subtle changes in the body language, which also shows the damage that mental illness can do to someone.
4. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street – For a figure as insane as Jordon Belfort, and after reading his book I can confirm he was insane, if the performance wasn’t good then it would be hard to believe anything Belfort did. Thankfully, DiCaprio nailed this performance. It was just over-the-top enough so that you could tell he was insane whilst also showing how intelligent Belfort was and that he knows when he goes too far. He also does the best thing in this type of film and makes Belfort a really hateful person. This film could very easily have lionised Belfort but DiCaprio and Scorcese never let you forget that Belfort is a shallow, greedy dick.

3. Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler – This is easily the scariest performance that I’ve seen all year. The way Gyllenhaal brilliantly portrays someone with wild amounts of ambition but absolutely no empathy is chilling to watch. As we see the horrific lengths Lou Bloom will go to in order to get a story, we are captivated by the complete sociopathic tendencies we see in him, which Gyllenhaal portrays to a scarily good level. Plus, the gaunt look that Gyllenhaal has in this film gives him a ghoulish quality that makes his behaviour all the more unsettling.
2. Michael B Jordan – Fruitvale Station – In a film that could have lionised Oscar Grant, the brilliance in this performance comes from how human it is. Jordan portrays Grant as an incredibly flawed individual who wants to do his best to better himself. We see that he has made a lot of mistakes in the past and continues to make them and these mistakes help us empathise with Grant all the more. As a result, when Grant’s death is portrayed,  it’s more emotional because of the way Grant is portrayed by Jordan. This performance could very easily have been filled with overt symbolism but Jordan plays it really low-key, which is what makes it so good.
1. Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years A Slave – The true brilliance in this performance comes from how subdued it is. In other films regarding slavery, there’s usually a very prominent performance from someone who wants to be free. In this film though, the power comes from Ejiofor going into the background, willing to be ignored in order to stay alive. He knows that to act out in any way will lead to him being punished and we see this fact break him throughout the film, which Ejiofor portrays perfectly. There’s also this sense of begrudging acceptance to his situation as the film progresses which makes the ending all the more powerful. This is not only the best performance of 2014 but one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.
Honourable Mentions:
  • Idris Elba – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
  • Ellar Coltrane – Boyhood
  • Andy Serkis – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Tom Hardy – Locke
  • Tom Hiddleston – Only Lovers Left Alive
  • Tyler Perry – Gone Girl
  • Macon Blair – Blue Ruin
  • Matthew McConaughey – Interstellar, Dallas Buyers Club
  • Channing Tatum – 22 Jump Street
  • Chris Pratt – Guardians of the Galaxy
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