10 Great Performances From 2013 That Are Unlikely To Receive Oscar Recognition

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This has been one of the best awards seasons of recent memory, with an array of fantastic films each vying with one another and each deserving of significant prizes. The acting race has arguably been the most exciting to watch, especially in the leading categories, where there are at least 6 or 7 actors (or more) who could rightly stake their claim to a nomination. However, there are many great performances this year which will probably go unnoticed by the Academy for one reason or another.

Now, second guessing something as precarious as the awards season is foolhardy, but fun nonetheless. Who knows, the Academy could pull out a surprise and nominate one of these folks I list here. Every year there is at least one or two surprising contenders that manage to squeeze themselves in for consideration. Take for example Demian Bichir’s nomination for A Better Life a couple of years ago, or Melissa Leo’s nod for Frozen River in 2008. Occasionally there will be those minor performances that slip through the cracks.

So. with that in mind, here are my picks for some of the year’s greatest performances that will sadly go unnoticed by the academy.


Bradley Cooper – The Place Beyond the Pines

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One of the greatest injustices of awards seasons in general is that the excellent films which come out earlier in the year between February and May tend to be forgotten by the time the Oscars comes around. As a result, one of the best films of this year, The Place Beyond the Pines, is likely to go unnoticed by the Academy. This mythic tale of fathers and sons features some spectacular performances from both seasoned thesps in small roles (Ray Liotta, Bruce Greenwood) and up and comers in larger roles (Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen).

The stand out here is Bradley Cooper though, as good cop turned politician Avery Cross, who finally manages to deliver on the promise he has been showing for the past two years. Under the eye of Derek Cianfrance, Cooper irons out the mannerisms that usually defect a lot of his work and brings forth a performance of great naturalism which perfectly fits the piece. The first time we see Cooper on screen, as he chases down Ryan Gosling’s outlaw, he looks at ease behind the wheel and from there, he continues to excel in a perfect embodiment of his character.

In the final act of the film he shares two great scenes with Dane DeHaan that are grounded and tense. These scenes are played beautifully by both actors, who are able to relay the bad blood they have between them in glances, rather than dialogue. Cooper’s performance is perfectly judged and this is the best he has ever been.

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Rosario Dawson – Trance

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I seem to be one of a few who actually liked Trance, Danny Boyle’s twisty-turny, mind-bending art heist thriller. By no means is it perfect, as the ridiculous final plot revelation is a little hard to swallow considering the insanity that has come before it, but there are some things to really admire about the movie, like Rosario Dawson’s performance

Genre films are often savagely looked down upon by the Academy voters and it is very rare indeed for them to recognize the performances in a genre film. Rosario Dawson proved in Trance that she is capable of delivering a layered performance that goes far beyond the remit of anything she has been given in the past. Even though Elizabeth Lamb is (spoilers) ultimately revealed to be the main antagonist, Dawson is not simply a wheel within the narrative machinations, but as a performer she simply allows the action to cater to her, not the other way round.

Danny Boyle said he wanted to take on the script because it featured a female lead. In the director’s past works we have seen some great female roles, from Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later to Kerry Fox in Shallow Grave. Rosario Dawson stands proud alongside them and her revelatory brilliance in Trance is deserving of attention, even if the film isn’t.

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Jake Gyllenhaal – Prisoners

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When Prisoners was first unleashed at the Toronto Film Festival in September, the major buzz was surrounding Jake Gyllenhaal and the big possibility of him procuring a nomination for his career best work as the driven Detective Loki. However, as the season has continued and as we see more great performances, the buzz has fallen by the wayside and the chance of him receiving a nomination is very slim indeed.

That being said, Gyllenhaal’s construction of the character is second to none. Detective Loki is the only character in the film who is reticent to unleash his emotions, yet it feels that he is the one with the most history. It is a prime example of how an actor is able to take a role and expand it beyond what is on the page, but never outright show it, instead letting it quietly inform the motivations and the actions of the character.

The obsessive blinking, the tattoos and the dedication to the finding of these children all let us know something about Detective Loki, but it is left up to the viewer to decide what they ultimately make of him.

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Julie Delpy – Before Midnight

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Ah, Before Midnight. Another one of the year’s best reviewed films that will sadly probably go unnoticed by the Academy due to the early release date. The idea of a film purely based around 2 people talking for 100 minutes should never have worked, but as the Before series progresses, it only gets better.

As mentioned with Bradley Cooper, Delpy (along with the equally tremendous Ethan Hawke) captures a performance with so much naturalism that one can only assume that it is tremendously well rehearsed improv. It is, however, completely the opposite. Before Midnight is by all accounts meticulously faithful to the written word and is one of the miraculous occasions in which the performance and script come together to produce something that feels real and totally in the moment.

It helps that Delpy and Hawke both had a hand in writing a script and are thereby able to tune it to their voice, but the fact that it is pulled off successfully with minimal self indulgence is very admired. Despite the fact that Celine becomes more and more irritable, defensive and accusatory as the film develops, Delpy never makes her unsympathetic and you still want to see these people together. It is a flashier role than Hawke’s, but that just makes it all the more impressive that it feels like it is coming from a real, emotional place. Pure genius. And if you don’t believe me, check out the clip below.

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James McAvoy – Filth

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If there was one film that awards voters wouldn’t dare touch with a 10 foot barge pole, Jon S. Baird’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Filth would be it. The title essentially tells you exactly what you need to know – Filth is flithy, it is dirty, it is oppressive, it is depraved, it is nasty and it is downright insane.

Amid the insanity – substance abuse, auto-erotic asphyxiation, underage sex – is the mighty James McAvoy as Bruce Robertson, who plays an officer of the law who acts well outside of his mandate. McAvoy dives head first into this role, relishing in the depravity of Bruce and having a seriously good time playing one of the darkest, most corrupt characters he has ever encountered. The commitment to the role is impressive enough, but the fact that sympathy is felt for this monster as the film progresses is what makes him a character for the ages.

We have never seen McAvoy play with a role this dark before and it is great to see him kick back and dismantle his persona as the honest, well meaning and charming good guy. Filth maybe too filthy for the Academy, but James McAvoy’s performance should not go unaccounted. He’s majestic and plays with ease.

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Adele Exarchopoulos – Blue is the Warmest Color

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Had the bad press and shit throwing been kept to a minimum, it would have been highly likely that we would have seen Blue is the Warmest Color nominated for more awards than it perhaps will end up receiving. The language barrier is not a good enough excuse anymore when it comes to Academy Award nominations, take last year for example when Amour (the 2012 Palme d’Or winner) picked up significant nominations including one for Best Actress for Emmanuelle Riva.

This year, Adele Exarchopoulos should have been in with a significant shout as Adele in Abdellatif Kechiche’s 3-hour love story, but sadly it seems increasingly less likely that it will happen. Both Exarchopoulos and co-star Lea Seydoux are integral to the construction and success of Blue is the Warmest Color. If one thing was out of balance in their relationship then the whole thing would have fallen apart. So it’s a good thing that both performances are stunning. Exarchopoulos more so though by virtue of the fact that she is barely off screen for the whole three hours and as a relatively inexperienced actress, her performance is utterly transfixing and deeply impressive.

The commitment on her behalf, not just for the sex scenes, but for the entire emotional roller coaster that we experience is extraordinary, confounding and heartbreaking. Had the production stories not rolled out in the press like they had then we probably would have seen a lot more awards love for this one. Sadly, that won’t be the case.

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Sam Rockwell – The Way Way Back

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Sam Rockwell is one of the most under-appreciated, hardest working and best actors of his generation. For years and years he has provided great performance after great performance and for too long he has gone unrecognized. This year he managed to charm again in The Way Way Back.

Although he is essentially playing the same wise-cracking, ultra confident, anti-authoritarian rebel that he we usually see him play, no one does it better or as convincingly as Rockwell. As Owen, he elevates and alternates that persona beautifully as the character slowly develops into the father figure for the awkward teenager Duncan. Together they each learn from one another and Rockwell makes that transformation palatable and also unnoticeable, the line between the wisecracks and the more serious weight of being a father is invisible.

Sooner or later Rockwell is going to deliver a performance that voters, prognosticators and critics will not be able to ignore and he will be collecting awards left, right and center. Right now though, Rockwell stands alongside the likes of Gary Oldman, Stanley Tucci and his Way Way Back co-star Allison Janney as one of those reliable, super talented performers that don’t get the recognition they deserve.

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Mads Mikkelsen – The Hunt

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Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt has been a rather long time coming in the US. Initially, it premiered at Cannes in 2012, where incidentally Mikkelsen won the Best Actor prize. It then slowly rolled out across various territories in the same year. American audiences were unable to see it until earlier this year and hopefully The Hunt will be in with a great shout for Best Foreign Language Film when it comes to the nominations.

We should, however, not forget the brilliant Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Lucas, a teacher wrongly accused of being a sexual predator. Mikkelsen offers up a brilliantly low key performance that goes totally against the type he has become notable for playing. His portrait of a man whose life has been irreparably dismantled by vicious rumour is endlessly fascinating and magnetic. He and Vinterberg approach a difficult and important subject without portent and engage with it honestly. The genius of Mikkelsen is to remain steadfast in his refusal to be ostracized and remain steely in the face of accusation.

Although best known now for the magnetic and charismatic villains on NBC’s Hannibal and in Casino Royale, The Hunt places Mikkelsen in a role where we are on his side, where he plays a well meaning and honest man against a poisoned society. It is something Mikkelsen does with a sense of ease and belonging, showcasing a full range of his abilities and announcing him as one of the finest actors of his generation.

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Enough Said

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Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said was a lovely, wonderfully written romantic comedy, admirably low key and beautifully played by everyone in the cast. Of course, it became marred by tragedy when the mercurial James Gandolfini passed away only a couple of months before the TIFF premiere. Following his death, press surrounding the film (understandably) focused on his tremendous performance, which is now looking very likely to pick up a nomination while other performers will be ignored.

It’s a shame too because Gandolfini, while excellent, is only made better by the mediation of the female actors around him. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who is currently wowing on HBO’s Veep, is the film’s beating heart and she is remains an understated, sturdy presence throughout. As Eva she manages to be both funny and heartbreaking but also makes her character real. Even as the schematic plot threatens to undermine everything, her deftness and skill as an actress keeps it grounded and she is very sturdy center round which everything permeates.

The combination of Louis-Dreyfus and Holofcener is proven to be a very fruitful one in Enough Said and it shows us that Louis-Dreyfus is capable of more than just comedy. It is that magical combination between actor and director that does not come along very often and should be honoured.

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Kristin Scott Thomas – Only God Forgives

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A couple of years ago with the release of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, everyone was buzzing with praise for the against type casting of Albert Brooks as the loquacious and dangerous gangster Bernie. In fact, it was somewhat of a surprise when he did not get a nomination as Best Supporting Actor. The same style of casting cropped up in Refn’s Only God Forgives, where Kristin Scott Thomas, renowned for her restrained, stiff upper lipped roles, turned in a performance quite unlike anything she has done before.

She plays Crystal, the domineering matriarch to Ryan Gosling’s Julian, a snarling, foul mouthed devil in Prada style figure that Thomas truly relishes. Thomas herself admitted that she was quite turned off by the brilliantly foul mouthed diatribes she had to deliver but ultimately it felt right for the character. In the role she is excellent, letting her hair down and seemingly venting off the steam not usually permitted by the kinds of roles she is given. In Refn’s twisted world she seems the most comfortable in her own skin despite the foulness of her character.

It is clearly the film’s showiest, most obvious performance but it is only heightened by the quietness of Julian and the chillingly still Inspector Chang. It is extraordinary that for all the attention seeking atmosphere, the ultra violence, the highly stylized visuals and throbbing score, that it is Thomas’ performance that stands above everything else.

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  • TJ S

    Good list. Definitely agree Jake Gyllenhaal deserves a nom for Prisoners. Maybe we are in for a pleasant surprise?