This has been an exceptional year for a certain breed of acting, I’ve found. There has been a wave of unaffected work, eschewing capital “A” acting for a certain lived-in thing that is rare enough as it is, let alone prevalent throughout a year’s greatest performances.
I wanted to pay some tribute to that, and to a number of more outwardly vibrant portraits this year that also go toward making it an exemplary year. It has been said a few times that 2013 has been a great year for movies, but that quality is owed in no small part to the work we saw on the screen.
Before we get to the best of the best, though, there are a couple of performances that didn’t make it that I’d like to spotlight here. The charismatic determination of Matthew McConaughey in both “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Mud,” for instance, or the colorful caricature James Franco offers in “Spring Breakers” that nevertheless hints at some deep sadness. The voice-only passion of Scarlett Johansson in “Her” deserves mention, as does the textbook comedic precision of Emma Thompson in “Saving Mr. Banks” and the startling confidence of Miles Teller in “The Spectacular Now.”
Bruce Dern in “Nebraska,” Forest Whitaker in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips,” all portraits of quiet grace, to say nothing of the brilliant tandem of Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux in “Blue is the Warmest Color.” And the moving builds offered by Veerle Baetens in “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” Paulina Garcia in “Gloria” and Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave” are right up there, too.
And frankly, there are plenty more. I could honestly go on. It was an embarrassment of riches, and a wide variety of them, at that.
Click through the gallery story below for my alphabetical, unranked list of the cream of the crop. It’s unranked because I couldn’t possibly order these apples and oranges. Frankly, in the collective, they just have more power as an overall argument for a stellar year. Fell free to chalk up your favorites in the comments section.