The Best Male Film Performances of 2013

by PopMatters Staff

8 January 2014


15 - 11

cover art

Spring Breakers

Director: Harmony Korine
Cast: James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, Gucci Mane


James Franco
Spring Breakers

Harmony Korine‘s Spring Breakers is frustrating in its refusal to make judgments about the criminality of its young and lawless characters. But that frustration might be the very point of the satire Korine is attempting. After all, 2013 came to a close with news that Ethan Couch, a teenager from Texas who killed four people while driving drunk, was only sentenced to probation. The most influential character in Spring Breakers’ story world of lost or non-existent moral bearings is Alien, played by James Franco and based on rapper Dangeruss (who also appears in the film). Initially, Alien is rescuer to a quartet of party-seeking college students.

After bailing these girls out of jail, Alien wastes no time asserting his criminal bona fides. Franco plays him like an emotionally manipulative pimp or cult leader. He smiles as he interrogates. He is solemn as he comforts. He employs praises, threats and warnings as punch-lines or poetry. Above all, he constantly justifies his own superficial lifestyle with claims of supremacy and evidence of material wealth. But there’s also a bit of Warren Beatty’s Clyde Barrow in Franco’s Alien, as he finds himself undone by the potency of the bonnies he’s taken in. Despite his enthusiasm for the idealized life of a gangster, Alien displays a creeping reluctance or doubt as the film nears its violent denouement. It is in this subtle self-awareness that Franco finds the depth of Alien, who swears by the surfaces of things. Thomas Britt


cover art

Captain Phillips

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


Barkhad Abdi
Captain Phillips

The moment from Captain Phillips that jumped out from the film’s trailer was when Barkhad Abdi, as lead Somali pirate Muse, tells Phillips (Tom Hanks) with a slow, drawling menace, “I’m the captain now.” It’s more impressive knowing that Abdi, who had never acted before, improvised the line. As the tables turn and Muse finds his pirates increasingly outmatched, Abdi’s long pauses and languid delivery reveal at first a natural leader’s confidence but also the slow realization that he’s not going to win this one. Chris Barsanti


cover art

The Wolf of Wall Street

Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Jean Dujardin, Matthew McConaughey, Margot Robbie, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner


Jonah Hill
The Wolf of Wall Street

He’s like a groupie. Donnie Azoff wants what anyone else in the ‘80s wants: cars, success, money, women, and power. He gets all that after meeting with Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and convincing him that cocaine—or in their first drug-fueled moment, crack—is the gateway to getting what they want. That instance where both men discover the delightfully addictive power of “powdered penis” becomes the lynchpin to their entire relationship. Donnie wants more and more. Jordan constantly pushes for the same. In the end, both men become prisoners to their pill popping processes. Even his veneered teeth indicate a fool playing in a professional’s paradise. Bill Gibron


cover art

The Spectacular Now

Director: James Ponsoldt
Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler


Miles Teller
The Spectacular Now

One of the most heartbreaking scenes of the year comes late in The Spectacular Now, as lovable fuckup Sutter (Miles Teller) has a final chat with his boss and de facto father figure, Dan (Bob Odenkirk) about his future, or perceived lack thereof. Teller has played carefree and cocksure for much of the movie, even after the audience has noticed that he may be a teenage alcoholic; it’s a charming moviestar performance that deepens when Teller turns self-effacing and regretful, as he does opposite Odenkirk, or disappointed, as he does opposite Kyle Chandler as his even more feckless father. In other words, Teller makes it look easy before exposing the pain below Sutter’s hard-partying image. The movie wouldn’t work without him. Jesse Hassenger


cover art

American Hustle

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


Christian Bale
American Hustle

He’s there from the moment the movie opens. Irving Rosenfeld, accomplished grifter and genius of the… comb over. Indeed, for what seems like several minutes, filmmaker David O. Russell concentrates on the character’s daily ritual of turning an incredibly bald held barely capable of containing hair into a surreal suggestion of a coiffeur via glue, a self-made scrap toupee, and a lot of hairspray. As a symbol of the fakeness within, it’s more than appropriate. There’s even a meta component involved as Bale, an Englishman, is playing America while his partner, Amy Adams, is an American playing British. As the brains behind the entire con (and eventual comeuppance), Bale’s Rosenfeld becomes an unlikely hero. Even his ever-present bad hair day can be overlooked. Bill Gibron

We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.

//Mixed media

NYFF 2017: 'Mudbound'

// Notes from the Road

"Dee Rees’ churning and melodramatic epic follows two families in 1940s Mississippi, one black and one white, and the wars they fight abroad and at home.

READ the article