177748-the-best-male-film-performances-of-2013

The Best Male Film Performances of 2013

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.

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.

 

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Film: The Hunt

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

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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. img-1039 Bill Gibron

 

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Film: Prisoners

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

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List number: 19

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Hugh Jackman
Prisoners

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. img-1039 Ben Travers

 

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Film: The Place Beyond the Pines

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

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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. img-1039 Thomas Britt

 

Director: David O. Russell

Film: American Hustle

Cast: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence

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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. img-1039 Bill Gibron

 

Director: Paul Greengrass

Film: Captain Phillips

Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed

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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. img-1039 Jon Lisi

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Director: Harmony Korine

Film: Spring Breakers

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

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Display Width: 200James 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. img-1040 Thomas Britt

 

Director: Paul Greengrass

Film: Captain Phillips

Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed

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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. img-1040 Chris Barsanti

 

Director: Martin Scorsese

Film: The Wolf of Wall Street

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

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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. img-1040 Bill Gibron

 

Director: James Ponsoldt

Film: The Spectacular Now

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

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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. img-1040 Jesse Hassenger

 

Director: David O. Russell

Film: American Hustle

Cast: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence

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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. img-1040 Bill Gibron

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Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Film: The Dallas Buyers Club

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Steve Zahn, Dallas Roberts

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Display Width: 200Jared Leto
The Dallas Buyers Club

It’s been four years since Jared Leto acted in a motion picture, and his glorious comeback in The Dallas Buyer’s Club is a much-welcomed gift from the movie gods. Leto sinks his teeth into the role of Rayon, an AIDS stricken gay transvestite who becomes Ron Woodroof’s (an excellent Matthew McConaughey) partner in crime. The crime in question regards Ron’s drug trade, where he smuggles FDA unapproved medicine over the U.S. border and subscribes them to suffering AIDS patients. Leto’s vulnerability as Rayon compliments McConaughey’s rugged masculinity as Ron, and he grounds each scene with graceful humanity. There is one scene, in particular, where Rayon asks his estranged father for money, and it is among the most powerful movie moments of 2013. For our sake, let’s hope that it doesn’t take Leto another four years to act again. img-1041 Jon Lisi

 

Director: Steve McQueen

Film: 12 Years a Slave

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard

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Michael Fassbender
12 Years a Slave
How do you make a monster human? That must’ve been the question at the center of Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of the terrifying plantation owner Ediwn Epps in 12 Years a Slave. Fassbender plays one of the screen’s most vicious villains this side of Amon Goeth from Schindler’s List, like Ralph Fiennes’ groundbreaking performance in the Steven Spielberg film, Fassbender seems to have realized that the answer to the question was that at some point all monsters were human. He plays Epps like a man at war with himself: between his dark desires and what seem to be the remains of a conscience. Watching him fall in love with his slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) is devastating because Fassbender makes us see that even if this dynamic is violent, cruel and inhuman, it is love to him and even sadder, it’s probably the only kind of love he knows how to feel. img-1041 Jose Solis

 

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Film: The Dallas Buyers Club

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Steve Zahn, Dallas Roberts

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Matthew McConaughey
The Dallas Buyers Club

A touching tale of infuriating circumstances, The Dallas Buyers Club succeeds on the frail back of its star, Matthew McConaughey. While the film was first made famous for the actor’s drastic weight loss, McConaughey wholly transforms in front of our eyes through his character, the AIDS-stricken, whiskey-loving cowboy Ron Woodruff. No one would blame the actor for bringing in his past ticks: the Texas twang or his bag of charms. Yet he doesn’t. This is not the McConaughey of old. This is not even the McConaughey of 2012. Much like many declared him after last year’s string of impressive turns, he’s a new man in Dallas and quite deserving of all the accolades heaped upon him. img-1041 Ben Travers

 

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Film: The Great Beauty

Cast: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso, Iaia Forte

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Toni Servillo
The Great Beauty

Jep Gambardella is at a crossroads. At 65, he’s made quite a life for himself with only a famous book (written in his 20s), a series of cultural columns, and a lot of fancy parties to his beloved name. And yet, for this aging socialite, time is becoming temperamental. It mocks him, thus requiring the kind of cinematic introspective that gave birth to the Fellini era of Italian moviemaking. Indeed, Paolo Sorrentino‘s ode to La Dolce Vita and the entire Mediterranean jet set style of film is so much fun, so sumptuous to look at, that we almost forget that we’re watching a man struggle here. Luckily, Servillo never lets us forget what’s going on inside. That’s why his performance is so effective. Within the beauty of Rome, we still see the somber subtext. img-1041 Bill Gibron

 

Director: Richard Linklater

Film: Before Midnight

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

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Ethan Hawke
Before Midnight

When Before Midnight begins, Ethan Hawke is playing a familiar character, but that character has undergone significant changes since audiences last saw him. Nearly a decade since he reignited his romance with Céline in Before Sunset, Jesse is at the airport in Greece with his son from a previous marriage. Here is Jesse, the dad giving advice about sports and airport safety. Here is Jesse the pragmatist. Eventually, the old Jesse emerges, as he discusses his new book with a plot line about “the transient nature of everything,” accompanied by the promise that “it’s gonna be funny.” Those lines set up Hawke’s multilayered performance in Before Midnight.

On one hand, he manages to be enthused as ever about a philosophical concept that inspires him. On the other, he seems genuinely shocked when he recognizes the seeds of that idea in his own volatile relationship. In the film’s celebrated hotel suite sequence — an argument with Céline that exceeds half an hour in length — Hawke plays Jesse as an occasionally hostile witness on trial for being selfish. And as Jesse faces the potential transience of his marriage, Hawke finds ways to inject humor, his whole being registering regret for ever initiating such a talky relationship in the first place. img-1041 Thomas Britt

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Director: Alexander Payne

Film: Nebraska

Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk

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Display Width: 200Bruce Dern
Nebraska

Bruce Dern will probably be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. I say this not to confer legitimacy upon his performance as Woody Grant in Nebraska, but rather to point out that Dern will be run in the lead category, even though his costar Will Forte is in more scenes, has many times more lines, and provides the movie’s point of view. Some of this, of course, is Oscar politicking — but it’s also a testament to the impression Dern makes with relatively few lines and even less traditional emoting. The movie never shows a younger version of Woody in the flesh, but Dern’s shelled version of this aging alcoholic is so vivid that we can picture Woody in his younger years: still taciturn and abrupt, still withholding of affection, but maybe a bit more actively irascible and attentive. It’s evocative, haunting work. img-1042 Jesse Hassenger

 

Director: J.C. Chandor

Film: All Is Lost

Cast: Robert Redford

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Robert Redford
All Is Lost

In a career that has spanned more than four decades Robert Redford has gone from being a matinee idol to one of America’s most beloved filmmakers, yet all throughout those years the one thing that had evaded him was delivering his one legendary performance. That changed this year when he played an unnamed man who faces the perils of nature by himself in J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost. He is the only actor in the film and other than a short narration at the beginning, speaks only once during the running time, but there is so much to “read” in Redford’s face, that words become unnecessary; in his rugged features, his astonishingly beautiful eyes and that cynical smirk (which here allows us to go from comedic relief to pure heartbreak) he conveys an entire lifetime. This ladies and gentlemen, is a movie star, and they truly don’t make them like they used to. img-1042 Jose Solis

 

Director: Martin Scorsese

Film: The Wolf of Wall Street

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

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Leonardo DiCaprio
The Wolf of Wall Street

Beginning in 2008, Leonard DiCaprio has given a series of stellar performances (the jokey J. Edgar excluded) which will become endemic of his career as an “adult” movie star. From the misunderstood Revolutionary Road to the dark energies of The Great Gatsby, he has collected a series of characters that any other actor would sell their soul for. So it makes sense that Leo does some of his best and most brilliant work (the “cerebral palsy” scene) in this real life look at the debaucherous days of high finance conman Jordan Belfort. All matinee idol and manchrushes aside, you can see why this wannabe tycoon becomes a multimillionaire huckster. Even when he doesn’t believe it, he can sell you anything, including a place in a Federal Prison. img-1042 Bill Gibron

 

Director: Spike Jonze

Film: Her

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Scarlett Johansson

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Joaquin Phoenix
Her

One year after wowing audiences in his “return” to the silver screen as the confused, angry, and gullible Freddie Quell in The Master, Joaquin Phoenix finds new layers of humanity in Her, the latest from director Spike Jonze. As Theodore, a depressed writer going through a divisive divorce, Phoenix makes himself more muted than we’ve ever seen him. He’s easily embarrassed, nervous, and awkward — adjectives inapplicable to anything else in the actor’s canon. After seeing Her, it’s hard to imagine him any other way. Phoenix spends much of the film on his own, aided only by Scarlett Johannson’s voice as the OS Samantha. While her performance is deserving of its own analysis, Phoenix nevertheless holds the screen, virtually by himself. You won’t look away. img-1042 Ben Travers

 

Director: Steve McQueen

Film: 12 Years a Slave

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard

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Chiwetel Ejiofor
12 Years a Slave

Nobility is hard to pull off; just ask anybody who’s had to play a suffering lead in one of Steven Spielberg’s more important dramas. Playing Solomon Northrup in 12 Years a Slave, Chiwetel Ejiofor pulls it off without breaking a sweat. With nimble understanding, he shows us everything that a free black man of talent and standing in his community like Northrup would feel on being kidnapped into slavery in 1841: rage, incomprehension, disbelief, desolation, and end-of-the-line defiance. A Shakespearean who’s previously been relegated mostly to second-fiddle roles in mediocre product (Salt, American Gangster), Ejiofor gets his curtain call here and doesn’t waste a second of it. img-1042 Chris Barsanti

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