189450-the-best-male-film-performances-of-2014

The Best Male Film Performances of 2014

Cinemagoers in 2014 were given the opportunity to be captivated by tyrannical drum instructors, troubled Olympians, and ersatz superheroes.

Cinemagoers in 2014 were given the opportunity to be captivated by tyrannical drum instructors, troubled Olympians, and ersatz superheroes.

 

Film: Whiplash

Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang

Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

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J.K. Simmons
Whiplash

In the pulse-pounding tale of drum student Andrew (Miles Teller) striving for excellence at his craft, his instructor, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), is consumed by him. This makes for an especially knotty relationship, wound around legacy and ambition, competition and consumption. As director Damien Chazelle stages it, this relationship is both hackneyed and innovative, a saga of fathers and sons and bullies and victims, but also a gorgeous ode to drumming, as art, as mastery and invention, as utterly thrilling experience.

As Fletcher appears to set trap after trap for Andrew, to taunt and intimidate and twist his student’s desire, he seems the ultimate bad teacher, even as he describes himself otherwise. Your first impression of Fletcher is that of a myopic despot, so sure of his own vision that he can’t imagine another even exists. However, Whiplash allows that Fletcher might mean well, that he feels remorse over mistakes he might have made. But it also focuses, again and again, on the brutality of his methods, the classroom full of cowering young men (all men), the averted glances, the uncertainty of their own abilities and judgments, the abject fear. Simmons maintains this terror-inducing environment throughout Whiplash, and the result his own kind of brilliant. img-835 Cynthia Fuchs

 

Film: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Jon Eyez, Enrique Murciano, Judy Greer, Nick Thurston, Karin Konoval

Studio: Twentieth Century Fox

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/f/film-dawnplanetapes-poster-200.jpg

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Andy Serkis
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Fusing the performance styles of Roddy McDowall, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton into one role would be difficult enough; layering unique special effects on top of it seems to be an almost insurmountable acting task. Fortunately, and miraculously, Andy Serkis makes it look effortless, and like he’s been walking, talking and living as Caesar for years. Even more remarkable is how, in the years that have elapsed between Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar has aged considerably more years than Serkis, but the physicality of his performance in the latter betrays an older, wise, more cautious elder statesman than the impetuous, angry rebel of the earlier picture. Though the role’s verbal needs are still small in comparison to most other leads’, Caesar’s spoken vocabulary has grown considerably, and Serkis’s voice is more raw than ever, possibly indicating some form of vocal cord atrophy. The humans haven’t been around; why would he need to use speak? Really, everything Caesar needs to say can be said by his eyes, and Serkis has perhaps the most accessible eyes in the industry outside of Charlie Hunnam: oscillating from rage to love to hope to cold indifference, sometimes all in the same scene, Serkis’s eyes tell you everything you need to know about Caesar before he does or says anything at all. With his performance, Serkis, and the digital wizards at Weta, have effectively assassinated and buried the uncanny valley. img-835 Kevin Brettauer

 

Film: Nightcrawler

Director: Dan Gilroy

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton

Studio: Open Road Films

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/f/film-nightcrawler-poster-200.jpg

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Jake Gyllenhaal
Nightcrawler

Many assessments of Jake Gyllenhaal’s recent career cite 2010’s Prince of Persia as a flop or disappointment that resulted in him choosing or becoming resigned to starring in “smaller” films. The truth, the actor told Entertainment Weekly‘s Chris Lee in October, is that he simply “want[ed] to go at character a different way.” As Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal’s different way is to play the character as a stealth actor.

Bloom is a desperate man, cutting through fences and lying and stealing his way to a meager existence. His encounter with a news videographer precipitates his newfound identity as a stringer who will stop at nothing to get the most sensational footage. Gyllenhaal channels a lifetime of pretending to be other people into a nocturnal creature that no one can pin down. The most outstanding feature of his acting here is that his various deceptions affect the supporting characters and the audience in a similar manner. Each time Bloom appears to have gone too far or let a negotiation get away from him, we’re shocked by the subsequent realization that he’s always calling the shots. Bloom is Gyllenhaal’s master class in modulation and manipulation. img-835 Thomas Britt

 

Film: Force Majeure

Director: Ruben Östlund

Cast: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/s/sel-forcemajeure-poster-200.jpg

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Johannes Kuhnke
Force Majeure

As a husband coming to terms with the fact that he failed his family by unconsciously choosing to follow his survival instincts over his paternal responsibilities, Johannes Kuhnke gave perhaps the most deliciously emasculated performance of the year. His character has to comply with obligations it seems he wasn’t even supposed to know he had, and Kuhnke plays this with pretend cockiness, we see his character make up a performance as he goes along. Watching him nod and smile as his wife (Lisa Loven Kongsli) complains to strangers about his behavior is so painful, it might even make Michael Haneke cringe. Kuhnke is unafraid to look deep into his character and take him to unexpected places, devoid of vanity and self-consciousness. img-835 Jose Solís

 

Film: Foxcatcher

Director: Bennett Miller

Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall

Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/f/foxcatcher_filmreview_poster200.jpg

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Mark Ruffalo
Foxcatcher

An actor is guaranteed to face a particular form of physical transformation when preparing for and shooting a biographical sports-drama. Foxcatcher has a few such roles, with star Steve Carell rendered unrecognizable, despite playing the film’s least athletic character. And while Carell and co-star Channing Tatum ably enter into the emotional crucible of the film’s central relationship, it is Mark Ruffalo that faces the totality of this true story’s physical and mental struggles.

Ruffalo plays Dave Schultz, the better adjusted older brother of Mark Schultz (Tatum). Both winners of Olympic gold medals, the Schultz brothers are drawn into the strange world of John Eleuthère du Pont (Carell), a rich and mentally ill man who is collecting members of a wrestling team. Ruffalo is playing a man much younger and more muscular than himself, and during wrestling and training sequences he more than convinces on both fronts. However, it is a scene of comparatively tight, talking head-style framing that best captures Ruffalo’s immersion into the character. He’s asked to praise the team leader in a du Pont-funded propaganda video. It’s a scene of great unease, and one loses count of the number of conflicting thoughts and transitions reflected in Ruffalo’s voice and face. He creates a portrait of a man suddenly aware of the depth of his responsibility to his brother, the sickness of the very man he’s being asked to extol, and the consequences of having to carry these conflicting burdens toward an inevitable confrontation. img-835 Thomas Britt

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Film: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zack Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Lindsay Duncan

Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures

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Edward Norton
Birdman

If you’ve done theatre work long enough — or at all — you know at least a half-dozen men just like Mike Shiner, Edward Norton’s character in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s remarkable Birdman. Brash, arrogant and cocky, Norton’s Shiner walks the boards of the St. James Theatre, as Shakespeare would say, “like a colossus”, attempting to let his co-stars know they’re dealing with an acting giant. A simple tilt of the head or a handwave, in many actors, would seem overplayed when Shiner mocks or dismisses Riggan (Michael Keaton) or attempts to write off Sam (Emma Stone), but Norton’s gestures, and even his eye movements, betray him as a man writing off others to bolster his own self-worth. His displays of vulnerability in his discussions with Sam – as subtle as a finger twitch or a small, involuntary forehead wrinkle – tell you so much more about Mike Shiner than anything in any script ever could. Norton’s performance elevate the already terrific script and reveals Mike Shiner as a man who, while not necessarily as damaged as Riggan, is very much ruined in his own right, and is well on his way to his own, and probably private and silent, breakdown. img-836 Kevin Brettauer

 

Film: Locke

Director: Steven Knight

Cast: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels, Tom Holland

Studio: A24

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/l/locke_filmposter200.jpg

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Tom Hardy
Locke

If a single actor was ever responsible for driving a film, it would be Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke in Locke. Popular opinion of the film is divided because it is set in the interior of a moving car with only a single character, but it is for that same reason that Tom Hardy’s performance is unanimously applauded. Hardy as Locke spends all 85 minutes of the film driving towards his chosen destiny and the consequences that his choice will result in, and we the viewers are forced to drive along with him. Spending so much one-on-one time with any individual can be painful for even the most patient of people, but spending it with a man who is in the process of making impossible life decisions and enduring what is perhaps the most traumatic few hours of his life can be pure hell. While Locke, over the course of the film, is surely getting a taste of hell, we the audience are spared because of Hardy’s exceptional acting ability. He neither bores nor annoys us, and he all the while manages to make what is in concept nothing more than a cinematic stunt into a introspective thrill-ride of a film. Locke isn’t the easiest guy to emphasize with, since the choices he makes and the reasons by which he makes them are completely irrational, but Hardy portrays him with so much humility that even those among us who believe he is a fool will respect him, his decisions, and, more than that, his commitment to his decisions. With Locke, Hardy has secured his place among the upper echelon of toady’s young actors. img-836 Christopher Forsley

 

Film: A Most Wanted Man

Director: Anton Corbijn

Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright

Studio: Lionsgate

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Philip Seymour Hoffman
A Most Wanted Man

The world lost one of acting’s greatest treasures when Philip Seymour Hoffman passed at the beginning of 2014, but fortunately we were not left without some stellar performances still to see from the veteran actor, his turn as a disgruntled German intelligence agent in A Most Wanted Man chief among them. In this chilly adaptation of John le Carré’s 2008 novel, Hoffman plays a man of paradoxes. On the one hand, he knows that the Western counterintelligence infrastructure is flawed at its core, reliant on clandestine networks of information that prove hard to vet for credibility. On the other hand, as an operative who works at the highest level of discretion, he has to believe his tactics, many of which involve placing informants inside (what he thinks are) terrorist cells, will actually lead to some good. His disbelief in the system is obvious, yet he must act as if he believes.

As he fights passionately to bring a Muslim Chechen refugee named Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) into his sphere of influence, he comes to realize just how rigged the system is against him. The same secrecy that lets him operate in the shadows can just as easily be turned against him to squander whatever successes he might be aiming for. In this, one of his parting gifts to the world of cinema, Hoffman masterfully embodies the conflict that so many of us face: wanting to do right within a system that won’t allow you to do so. Hoffman’s ability to both highlight the grand systems in which we operate and capture existential struggles at a personal level is but one of the many reasons why his absence is already being felt in the motion picture industry. img-836 Brice Ezell

 

Film: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Mathieu Amalric, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Wilkinson

Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/g/grand-budapest-hotel-poster.jpg

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Ralph Fiennes
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Devilishly handsome and with an eye for all things refined, Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) is the esteemed concierge of the storied Grand Budapest Hotel. When Madame D, one of the women he offers his “services” to, dies under mysterious circumstances, Gustave becomes the primary murder suspect. Fiennes, an accomplished English actor, is plucked out of the heavy drama of films such as The Reader and Coriolanus and dropped into the Wes Anderson universe with remarkable ease. He speaks Anderson’s language, and lends his character a pulse, a dialect, and a wink, with depth rarely seen in comedy. It’s his loosest, funniest performance since he smashed a telephone to bits in In Bruges. img-836 Taylor Sinople

 

Film: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zack Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Lindsay Duncan

Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/f/film-birdman-poster-200.jpg

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Michael Keaton
Birdman

In the film history books of the future, Michael Keaton’s name will most often be mentioned in reference to Birdman, because it is in this film that he condenses his entire career and range as an actor into a single phenomenal performance. In The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, the influential film critic David Thompson writes that “above all” he remembers Keaton’s “nasty, manic roles” because “there’s a dark, comic urge in there.” Although the critic goes on to write that “neither he nor the business has quite trusted” this dark comic urge, future editions of Thompson’s essential text will undoubtedly have a revised version of this statement that will use Keaton’s performance in Birdman as the ultimate example of these memorably manic, and darkly humorous roles that he is best at. Because his character (an actor past his prime best known for playing the superhero Birdman who is trying to make a come-back with a serious role) perfectly parallels the perception that we, the viewers, have of Keaton (an actor past his prime best known for playing Batman who is trying to make a come-back with a serious role), the performance becomes that much more believable. Keaton’s performance is so believable that, in spite of its hallucinogenic excursions into fantasy, I almost had a panic attack from the tension which vibrated off his character and out of the screen. Instead, however, I laughed uncomfortably and uncontrollably.

What Keaton does in Birdman ranks up there with what Muhammad Ali did in the “Thrilla in Manilla”, what Robert Crumb did with The Book of Genesis, and what Ludwig van Beethoven did with his Ninth Symphony. Maybe I’m getting carried away, but Michael Keaton’s performance in Birdman is what happens when a great artist’s entire lifetime of creation accumulates to a pure climax. img-836 Christopher Forsley

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