The Best Male Film Performances of 2013

by PopMatters Staff

8 January 2014


The best male film performances highlight how masculinity, managed within a more considered and complete character overview, can turn even the most rugged rogue into an equally strong if sensitive cinematic center.


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The Hunt

Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Alexandra Rapaport, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp


Mads Mikkelsen
The Hunt

Though some may know him for his role as Hannibal Lecter in the small screen version of the famous serial killer, Mikkelsen has made a name for himself playing other complex characters, and not all of them are murderously evil. In the case of this brilliant Danish film, the actor plays a school teacher wrongfully accused of sexually inappropriate contact with a student. The uproar over the case, and the social, media, and legal surface that surrounds it, becomes a commentary on how quick we are to rush to judgment. Through it all Mikkelsen offers a facade that both supports his innocence while suggesting his guilt. It’s a terrific turn in one of the best foreign films of the year. Bill Gibron


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Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano


Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman has made a living playing brutes. From his big break as Wolverine to the cart-lifting, vocal behemoth in last year’s Les Miserables, and the best Oscar host since Billy Crystal, Jackman doesn’t often show his softer side. It would be easy to lump his latest character into the same group. Keller Dover, a suburban father pushed to his limits by the kidnapping of his youngest child, is not a soft man by any means. Dover does what many fathers promise to do if their children are ever threatened. Yet, Jackman provides him with a moral compass to match the film’s. He infuses an inner passion in Dover both vehemently protective and self-aware. It’s not blind rage. He knows what he’s doing. And so does Jackman. Ben Travers


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The Place Beyond the Pines

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne


Ryan Gosling
The Place Beyond the Pines

As a result of films like Drive and Only God Forgives, Ryan Gosling has become known to some audiences as an actor with a limited skill set. Though he has used passivity, silence and staring as integral aspects of his characters, especially in Drive, it is refreshing to see him in a role that requires maximum activity. His character Luke in The Place Beyond the Pines is such a role. A man who makes his living as a daredevil on a motorcycle, Luke learns that he has an infant son. Upon that revelation, he decides to live up to the duty of fatherhood—a decision that will cost him more than he could realize.

Gosling’s treatment of Luke isn’t to show a gradual maturation, but instead an almost manic springing to action. He cries at his son’s baptism, fistfights his romantic rival, and risks his life robbing banks. In the bank scenes, Gosling’s voice cracks as he shouts commands to the tellers and patrons. These yelps seem to arise from somewhere unknown to him. Luke’s emotions, like his actions, have a different value now that he feels the responsibility to provide for his son. There aren’t limits to his willingness to sacrifice. Gosling breaks out of a comfort zone to give Luke a volatility that is well-intentioned but ultimately hazardous to the character’s well-being. Thomas Britt


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American Hustle

Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence


Jeremy Renner
American Hustle

You don’t expect this from the man who Hollywood believes is the “thinking dude’s action hero”, Sure, he’s an Avenger, and an attempted Bourne reboot, but most know Jeremy Renner from his comic book character and his role in Kathryn Bigelow‘s brilliant The Hurt Locker. But with his pompadour of Liberace like hair and made man New Jersey connects, Renner is one of the nicest corrupt politicians ever! He’s a self-professed guy who gets things done and he delivers as both a representative of the people and as part of David O. Russell‘s delightful deconstruction of the entire ABSCAM era. If American Hustle has an accidental “victim”, it’s Renner’s Carmine Polito. Bill Gibron


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Captain Phillips

Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed


Tom Hanks
Captain Phillips

There is so much emotion that Tom Hanks conveys with his eyes in Captain Phillips, and the majority of his performance is silent and reactionary as he observes the chaos around him while always managing to keep calm on the surface. That is, until we reach the final ten minutes, which in many ways shatter and subvert traditional conceptions Hollywood has often had of heroism and masculinity. Phillips may have survived the hijacking of his ship, but what he went through was traumatic, and Hanks’ heartbreaking reaction suggests that the only genuine response to such horrors is to fall apart. The man is still alive, but something inside of him has died. The film doesn’t tell us exactly what it is, but Hanks, in the finest moment of his acting career, brings us one step closer to understanding. Like Phillips, I’m still recovering. Jon Lisi

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