2013 was a great year in entertainment. When Sage and I started discussing what we wanted to do for our year-end coverage, we were originally going to limit it to our top 20 moments of television. That is until we started MAKING our list anyway, and our daily gChats devolved into caps-locked shouting at each other. “WHAT ABOUT BROADCHURCH?” “WE CAN’T SPOIL IT, SAGE!! SOME OF OUR FRIENDS HAVE NOT WATCHED IT.” “BUT BROADCHURCH, KIM!” “SAGE, SHOULD WE DISCUSS OUR FAVORITE MOVIES?!”
You get the picture.
Our compromise was to pick our favorite individual performances of the year. We thought it would be a great way to honor shows and movies we loved this year, but don’t necessarily talk about very often on the site (which is why you won’t see performances from any of the shows we regularly recap, save for one). They are listed in no particular order, because if we were going to rank them, Sage and I would STILL be arguing over it. Enjoy!
1) Olivia Colman – Broadchurch
I cannot stress this strongly enough. SPOILERS AHEAD. SPOILERS WITH A CAPITAL EVERYTHING.
Up until the very last episode of the first season of Broadchurch, Olivia Colman’s role seemed to be that of D.S. Ellie Miller, the long suffering officer passed over for an overdue promotion for an outsider with a tarnished record. Ellie Miller, who served her community as a PART of it, at odds with Alec Hardy, who was just looking into windows. Then the killer was revealed and it was shocking and obvious at the same time. Broadchurch was a phenomenon because it tapped into the fears that keep us up at night. How much do we really know about the people we interact with every day? What are we missing that might be going on right in our own homes? Ellie was the conduit for that fear, and Colman’s performance in the finale is shattering.
Let me just remind you that Olivia is primarily known for her work in COMEDY. (What is it with British actors and their ability to obliterate the lines between genres?) Try to remember that when you watch the scene where Alec tells Ellie that her Joe killed Danny, a scene which showrunner Chris Chibnall claims the actors never rehearsed. We see her horror. We see her complete, full-body rejection of this information – it simply can’t be true – but also that part deep inside her that accepts it. That knows Joe well enough to know, somewhere, that this was always a possibility. It’s devastatingly visceral.
We don’t know yet if the American adaptation Gracepoint will follow the same plotline as Broadchurch. Either way, even Emmy-winner Anna Gunn had better bring her A-game to have a hope of snugly fitting into Colman’s shoes.
2) The Ensemble of 12 Years A Slave
Because of how my flight pricing worked out, I was in Los Angeles an extra day after CommuniCon 2 ended. Thankfully, so were my friends Gillian and Sarah, so we spent the day in LA together and ended up going to the movies. I had my mind set on seeing 12 Years a Slave, so even when Gillian said, “Oh look, Enough Said is playing at the same time!”, I used my powers of persuasion. Two and a half hours later, we emerged with tear-stained faced, with Sarah exclaiming, “Thanks a LOT, Kim.”
There is not a weak link in the 12 Years a Slave ensemble, which is led by a steely Chiwetel Ejiofor, who could very easily be taking home an Oscar this March. A previously unknown Lupita Nyong’o is SO devastating as the much abused Patsey there were audible sobs when Epps (Michael Fassbender has never been more chilling) tied her to a pole and forced Solomon to whip her. Add in top-notch performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard, and Brad Pitt (though I did chuckle at the fact that he played Solomon’s savior, considering that his Production Company Plan B was attached to the film) and you have an ensemble that I can’t imagine will be denied the “Best Cast in a Motion Picture” award at the SAGs. The acting and the film is brilliant and it’s brutal. I loved it and I never want to see it again.
3) Jane Fonda – The Newsroom
The YouTube clip I just watched of this scene is titled “Jane Fonda turns awesome” and ain’t that the damn truth? The Jerry Dantana storyline made The Newsroom into the show it WANTED to be. With ACN united against a common enemy, Sorkin was able to find the heart of it. And while Leona and Reese were weak-sauce villains in season one, their emergence as allies made their characters much more vital.
And this is the scene where we find out just how on board Leona is. Jane Fonda was handed the best material she’s ever had on this show and a fab-u-lous gown and she picked those up and ran like hell. She rants about missing the Skyfall premiere and for Dantana coming into her “hizzy” and ruining their reputations; proclaims that she’s ready for battle because she’s “got some kick-ass courtroom outfits” and when confronted with the truth that the ACN team has lost the trust of the people, gives Will, Charlie, and Mac one three-word directive: “GET IT BACK.” Daniel Craig should be so lucky.
4) Jennifer Lawrence – Catching Fire
Jennifer Lawrence was GOOD in The Hunger Games. She is ASTONISHING in Catching Fire. The growth she has made as an actress between the two films is mind-blowing (and I am sure much is owed to David O. Russell, because don’t EVEN get me started on her performance in American Hustle.) What is the most evident in JLaw’s performance is the extent to which she KNOWS Katniss…that she IS KATNISS. The film opens and closes with tight shots of Katniss’ face, which really drills home that this is HER movie and that we are experiencing everything through her eyes. And those eyes and the emotions they convey…the rage, the fear, the weariness…they are all there with just a subtle shift, and usually without even saying a word. Katniss’ agony in the arena is palpable, her screams come from the most gut-wrenching of places. I was exhausted after the movie, so I can’t imagine what it was like for Jennifer.
I’ve been saying this a lot lately…but she is only twenty-three, and is already THIS GOOD. I have a feeling she’ll be appearing on this list for many years to come.
5) Paul McGann – The Night of the Doctor
Whatever trepidation Whovians had about the 50th Anniversary Special was all but wiped away by the prequel mini-episode, “The Night of the Doctor.” The plot of the vignette was kept tightly under wraps, and that goodness. Because that moment where the camera lands on PAUL FREAKING MCGANN (looking FINE, I might add) and he says, “I’m a Doctor. Probably not the one you were expecting.” was worth all the screaming and flailing it caused around the world. Sandshoes and Chinny, someone swooped in overnight and stole your fandom. What you gonna do about it?
And this Eighth Doctor was a far cry from the Eight we last saw on a motorcycle with Grace Holloway in the kitschy 1996 TV movie. (As I like to call it, Doctor Who and the Secret of the Ooze.) He’s bone-tired, but putting on a brave, adventurer’s face for Cass, his potential companion. When her reaction to him is one of fear and even hatred, he can’t keep up the Doctor act anymore.
McGann’s performance provides us with a solid link between Eight and the War Doctor, a mental leap that was difficult to make without seeing this war-torn, ravaged man. And what a perfect promotion for Big Finish, who must have seen a huge uptick in downloads of their Eighth Doctor audio adventures. I know I’m eager for more.
6) Sam Rockwell – The Way Way Back
The Way Way Back remains one of my top films of the year and one of the best acting ensembles of the year. Out of a cast that includes National Treasure Allison Janney, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Liam James, Maya Rudolph, Jim Rash, and Nat Faxon, we chose to spotlight Sam Rockwell’s performance as Duncan’s unlikely friend and mentor, Owen. What made The Way Way Back so wonderful is the fact that Owen NEVER let Duncan down. As Sage said in her original review of the film, we were waiting for Owen to let Duncan down the entire movie…because that’s what these sage and hero worshipped characters DO in these types of movies right? So either Sage and I are incredibly cynical or The Way Way Back is refreshingly cynicism free…because that moment never came. Rockwell’s performance is warm, goofy, and loveable. It felt incredibly pure and not at all like a “performance”. He just WAS Owen, and Owen is the BEST kind of people. If you didn’t find yourself moved by the scene featured in the above gif, where Owen and Duncan have their ultimate heart to heart, you may want to check and see if you have a soul. If you didn’t cheer when Owen stepped between Duncan and Trent, you may want to check and see if you have a heart. And if you didn’t cry when Duncan ran back for one last hug…have someone call the morgue because you are dead.
7) Lizzy Caplan – Masters of Sex
I can’t stop marveling over the acting on Masters of Sex, but then again, why should I? This ensemble is a step ahead from most on TV, having actual complex characters to play. And none more so than Virginia Johnson, the former nightclub singer turned medical research assistant, played by the luminous Lizzy Caplan.
Yes, we’ve been in love with Lizzy “Your mother’s chest hair!” Caplan since Janis Ian and even before. But this is the role that tells the world that she can do anything. She may not be pulling many Claire Danes cry-faces (no offense, Claire.), but don’t let that fool you into assuming this is an easy gig. God, it’s good to see a conflicted female character who isn’t a complete and utter mess.
Lizzy manages to play Virginia’s insecurities about pursuing this career AND being a good mom; her confusion over Masters and the guilt that only rears its head when she’s face to face with Libby, her friend; her warmth and her cockiness; all under her capable and even-keel exterior. It’s easy to see why, in the face of such unprecedented research, regular people were comfortable enough with Virginia to do what was asked of them. And it’s also easy to see why the men in her life know that they want her, but don’t know quite what to make of her or how to make her happy. Keep ’em guessing, Lizzy. We’ll be watching.
8) Idina Menzel – Frozen
Would that there was a special category that recognized voiceover performances. Because the way Idina Menzel breathed life into feisty and misunderstood Snow Queen Elsa made Frozen stand out amongst this year’s crop of Animated Films (shout-outs to her co-stars Kristin Bell, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad as well).
Why single out Menzel from the excellent cast? Because Idina has the innate ferocity in her voice that a character like Elsa needed. Because Idina was able to capture all the shades of Elsa’s character…her fear, her joy, her anguish…all within the confines of a recording booth, acting completely alone. Because when we saw Frozen we all flailed about like fish out of water during the soon to be Oscar Winning Song “Let It Go” between the GORGEOUS animation (the image of Elsa running across the Ice Bridge rivals the TARDIS in a cloud to me) and the song itself and the way Idina freaking SANG it. The animators even captured her facial expressions!
Oh wait…I can embed “Let It Go”? OBVIOUSLY…that is happening.
9) Simon Pegg – The World’s End
Back in September in my review of The World’s End, I predicted that “Simon Pegg won’t get enough recognition for this astonishing performance outside of the audience for this movie and that makes me sad.” So I’ve been excessively pleased to see his name on several year-end lists, including the Critics Choice Awards Actor in a Comedy nominees, right next to his peer on THIS list, Sam Rockwell.
I have a lot of feelings about Simon Pegg. Some of them warm and fuzzy, some of them…adult. I just find him to be one of our most versatile actors, usually placed over there with the other geek heroes. Don’t get me wrong. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with being a geek hero, and The World’s End made up four (I saw it twice) of the most fun hours I spent in a movie theater this year. But, as far as the Pegg canon goes, Gary King has to be up there among his most demanding roles. He’s a TRUE anti-hero, not a jerk who you come around to after he saves the day; rather, he’s a guy you know you shouldn’t be rooting for yet can’t quite help it. He’s a drunk, a drug addict, and a completely selfish being. He hasn’t progressed emotionally since the day he turned 18. But in the hands of Simon Pegg, he’s also a warrior and a leader and someone who we would actually be fine with if he were to be the last barrier between our planet and a robot alien invasion. How he manages to pull all of this off AND keep us laughing for the entire film is a real mystery. Just like there’s only one Gary King, there’s only one actor who we’d want to play him.
10) Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips
Oh, Tom Hanks. Forever one of my favorite actors, I had begun to worry about his career and his choices in films (I’ll never get over his hair in the Robert Langdon movies). I worried that he was content to rest on his laurels and executive produce (excellent) WWII and NASA mini-series. The previews for Captain Phillips had me excited because it appeared that my Hanx was back in top form. I just had no idea HOW top that form would turn out to be.
Captain Phillips is Tom Hanks’ best performance in YEARS. He’s steely and calm in his determination to protect his crew but yet you see the panic and the fear bubbling just below the surface. Then in the third act of the film, Hanks takes it to another level. The only word I can think to describe it is visceral. I don’t think I breathed in the last twenty minutes of the film. When Phillips (*spoiler alert even though it is a true story*) is FINALLY rescued and Hanks allows himself to relax and finally let all his emotions out, I was blown away and tears of relief streamed down my face. It transcended acting.
Welcome back, Tom Hanks. I missed you.
11) Taran Killam – Saturday Night Live
I fell in love with Taran Killam right around the time he recreated Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” video in his dressing room with just a camera, an angora sweater, and Bobby Moynihan operating a flashlight and posted it on the internet. I believe I shared it on my Facebook page with the comment, “Taran has been snatching Sudeikis’s wig left and right this season, y/y?” Like Sudeikis, Killam is handsome enough to play the regular guy when he must. But Jason Sudeikis seemed to have a smugness to him that kept him from venturing too far out there. Taran is completely free of that.
As a Featured Player, he made himself known by destroying whatever tiny amount of material was given to him (“Ummmm, THE BITCH CAN SKATE.”), proving his worthiness again and again. And with the retirement of Sudeikis and Hader, he’s stepped into a space where he’s one of the cast members truly carrying every show. How can you resist him as a ratchet John Boehner in the Miley Cyrus episode digital short, “We Did Stop”; Jebidiah Atkinson, old-timey cultural critic; or my personal favorite, Mandrew, the creepy co-worker who follows Cecily Strong and Bobby Moynihan’s angry retail workers from job to job? (“Why do you always look like you FRESHLY murdered someone?”) He also does a mean Brad Pitt. And did I mention that he’s adorable? Please don’t leave us yet, Taran. We’ll be needing you every Saturday night until further notice.
12) Zachary Levi – First Date
Let me be clear, before our guest columnist Otto Titsling revokes my theatre nerd card. First Date as a musical is…not good, to put it kindly. I found it to be trite, unimaginative, and (thanks to how all the women and gay men were written) most DEFINITELY written by two fratty straight dudes who were either QUITE bitter over a break-up or simply refused to look beyond all the clichés purported by Maxim.
But…Zachary Levi’s performance in it? He was the personification of the phrase “elevating good material”. He was in a completely different show than everyone else. Whenever Zach’s character Aaron was the focus, First Date came to life. I would do my standard flail about in my seat, and Otto (who I saw the show with) would turn to me and say, “Are you enjoying this?” “No, I am enjoying HIM,” I replied. Zach’s performance was winning, genuine, and all around adorable. He proved that his singing in Tangled was no mere feat of auto-tune. And the man can DANCE. He’s clearly been having a blast doing this, and it shows.
First Date closes in January, and I sincerely hope Zach comes back to Broadway soon, hopefully in a show befitting his talent.
13) Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
SHENANIGANS on Harvey Weinstein, who somehow has the stones to submit Julia Roberts as a SUPPORTING actress in what’s clearly as much a leading role as Meryl’s for August: Osage County. It’s a sin to do this to Margo Martindale, who otherwise would have had a shot at that Supporting nomination. And it de-emphasizes the central conflict of the Tracy Letts screenplay. It’s Barbara vs. Violet. Julia vs. Meryl.
And before we saw the preview screening in April of this year, Kim was unsure of Julia Roberts’s ability to really attack the powerhouse role of the eldest Weston daughter. She’d seen the play and knew the importance of that character. I hadn’t. But we were both blown away by Julia’s committed and vanity-free performance. She wasn’t trying to play Barbara Weston channeled through “America’s Sweetheart,” Julia Roberts. She was LIVING in that role – in every ugly, loud, unsettled, and violent piece of it. Well done, Julia.
And what can be said about Meryl Streep? Who would be a better choice to play a bitter, hateful, pill-popping matriarch who controls her family like puppets on strings? She’s a master class, as usual, and miles from breaking a sweat. In the 2013 of 12 Years a Slave, critics aren’t embracing August in the way that we thought they might. And maybe pitch-black, talky comedies about fucked up midwestern families aren’t your thing. (WHY NOT? Explain yourself.) But the film is worth your time, if only to watch Meryl again do what we know she can do in her sleep and Julia what we weren’t – until now – sure that she could.
14) Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy – Before Midnight
The Before movies remain the most unlikely of film franchises in the entire universe. Who would have ever thought that we would get THREE films of these two characters talking their way through Europe and their relationship. The Before films are so real and naturalistic, you feel like a voyeur as you watch Ethan Hawke’s Jesse and Julie Delpy’s Celine spar, flirt, argue, and love…and this feeling was never more evident in Before Midnight. While Before Sunrise is all about falling in love and Before Sunset is all about reconnecting and rediscovering love, Before Midnight tackles the question of how love survives in a long-term relationship…and even the idea of whether or not two people are supposed to STAY in long-term relationship. Hawke and Delpy remain magnificent. They ARE Jesse and Celine and the rapport and chemistry they have together is unmatched. They talk and banter and argue until they are stripped down naked emotionally. It’s exhausting and it is thrilling. When I left the movie, I texted Sage saying “That. Was. Brutal.” “Uh-oh. In a bad way?” “No,” I replied. “In the best way possible. But I HAVE been punched repeatedly in the feels for two hours.”
While I am THRILLED to see Delpy honored with a Golden Globe nomination and a Critics Choice nod, it blows my mind that Hawke hasn’t gotten anything (yeah, I KNOW the Best Actor field is tougher). You don’t have one performance without the other. It’s the perfect duet.
15) Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
When our preview screening of The Wolf of Wall Street ended, my brother turned to me and said, “I love that Jonah Hill is now Joe Pesci.” I mean…right?
Part of the fun of Scorcese’s latest is that, aside from Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio, who is still fine, come at me), the founding partners of his firm are a bunch of unfortunate-looking losers. Yes, the things they do are despicable – I won’t give them away, you have to see them for yourselves – but we don’t have the detachment we might have if they were really, really ridiculously good-looking. What if you had all the power you could ask for and no one looking over your shoulder? Could you police yourself?
Despite his child and his two marriages, Jordan’s strongest relationship is with friend and partner Donnie Azoff. Jonah Hill shows up wearing blindingly white fake teeth and a pastel, color-blocked button-down and ingratiates himself into Jordan’s life. It’s – dare I say – a bromance. And the only loyalty we ever see Jordan show is to him. Jonah is a riot, hitting all the right notes in Donnie’s duplicitousness and hunger for geek revenge. You can’t LIKE these people, but you also can’t help crying with laughter at an excruciatingly long, sloppy Quaalude-fueled physical fight between Jordan and Donnie. Or when Donnie explains to Jordan that he married his first cousin because he noticed fellow teenage boys taking an interest in her and, “Like I’m going to let someone else fuck my cousin. If anyone fucks my cousin, it’s going to be me.” Or when a stoned Donnie, as he grapples with his friend for his terrible headpiece, says, “I hear there’s a treasure map under here.” He’s awful. And delightful. And awful all over again.
In a weird way, I think we have Adam Sandler (and Jim Carrey, to some degree) to thank for this. Without Punch-Drunk Love, could we have imagined Seth Rogen fronting a Sarah Polley indie or the chubby kid from Superbad taking direction from Martin friggin’ Scorcese? Here’s to the forever unexpected Jonah Hill and weird, unpredictable careers that keep us on our toes.
16) Audra McDonald – The Sound of Music LIVE!
I’m just going to leave this here:
And THAT, my friends is how you school Carrie Underwood and the American people in the art of musical theatre. The. End.
1) Jeff Perry – Scandal…because he turns every line of dialogue into an operatic aria of rage, despair, and cunning.
2) Nathan Fillion – Much Ado About Nothing…because Captain Tightpants showed up to Joss Whedon’s house one day, rehearsed a little Shakespeare, polished up his comic-timing and casually dropped the finest Dogberry we’ve ever seen.
3) Hayden Panettiere – Nashville…because she took the potentially one-dimensional character of Juliette Barnes and turned her into the most compelling character on the show. All while looking super hot.
4) The Cast of Trophy Wife…because, in the matter of just a few episodes, five formidable grown-up actors (with varying comedy experience) and the scruffiest, weirdest kids on TV took the blended family sitcom trope and redefined it.
And there you have our favorite performances from a jam-packed 2013! Agree? Disagree? Hate us with a fiery passion? Channel those feelings into comments, people.