Dec 27, 2013

Listmania: My Favorite Movie Characters of 2013

In 2013, there was a share of great movies out there that had plenty of memorable moments. This also means that there were characters within those stories that drove the stories into a higher pantheon. These performances pretty much solidify many scenes for what they are and add charisma to the films. While it is arguable that 2013 didn't have the best year of films, it did have an eclectic group of characters. Here is a rundown of my favorites. There is only law: one per movie. Otherwise, it is open game. Let's see who made the cut.

Bruce Dern
1. Woody Grant (Nebraska)

Played By: Bruce Dern
If there is one definitive character of the 2013 batch for the senior citizens out there, Woody Grant would be the best. Unlike glamorized films like the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Nebraska portrayed an old man in his truest form. He is a little cantankerous and senile, yet he is all the more lovable and real for it. The story plays like a blast from Woody's past and his grumpy attitudes are often very funny and the charisma of Bruce Dern makes for one entertaining, sympathetic performance that is hard to top.

Michael Fassbender
2. Edward Epps (12 Years a Slave)

Played By: Michael Fassbender
One of the best collaborations in recent cinema is director Steve McQueen and rising star Michael Fassbender. Unsure if he could top his excellent performance in Shame, he managed to not only do that, but do laps around it. With almost no effort, the racist, violent, religious slave owner with no contempt for blacks. He is the mortal enemy of every slave in the film and with good reason. His lack of sympathy is haunting and his demand for respect creates a powerful villain to the piece. This is a performance so powerful that it will probably define Fassbender for quite some time, or at very least get him a boatload of awards.

Cate Blanchett
3. Jasmine (Blue Jasmine)

Played By: Cate Blanchett
Technically, it is problematic to name just one great character from Woody Allen's latest film, as it is packed with enough to fill the top 10. However, at the center has been a deservedly recognized performance by Cate Blanchett as Jasmine in the midst of her breakdown. The film tows the line between comedy and darkness caused from mental illness with ease and reflects some of Allen's wittiest, mature dialogue in years. Maybe it came with the choice to visit San Francisco, but with the latest Allen renaissance and a delightfully funny and odd character, he may be at his most ambitious in over a decade.

Oscar Isaac
4. Llewyn Davis (Inside Llewyn Davis)

Played By: Oscar Isaac
Another hard sell from great directors at the top of their game, this movie could easily fill the top 10 as well. However, there is something oddly loving and funny about the failing folk singer with an ego that manages to be a compelling force. With an amazing singing voice and lots of great character moments, there is a lot of endearment to this character. He carries the film into an amazing, beautiful look at the 60's music scene and breathes life into it, even if he is bottled up and often is more the butt of jokes than the deliverer of punchlines. He is lovable and flawed in all of the right ways that embody the quintessential performer of the year.

Greta Gerwig
5. Frances Halladay (Frances Ha)

Played By: Greta Gerwig
The perfect compliment to Llewyn Davis is the klutzy dancer Frances, whose journey to grow up isn't quite that successful. She is awkward and full of life. In a film that recalls the best elements of French New Wave and the modern indie comedies, the film manages to capture the joys and struggles of being young and directionless career-wise. Even in moments of bliss, she is a delight to watch and with plenty of awkward moments, she may be the most realized character on this list and also one who could best endure the test of time.

Mia Wasikowska
6. India (Stoker)

Played By: Mia Wasikowska
The hauntingly perfect film that reshaped horror and turned it into an eerie coming of age tale. This is largely thanks to India at the center of the story. She may seem like a plain character, but bubbling under the surface is probably one of the strangest family secrets in a film this year. Mixed with plenty of horror, soap opera, and dramatic elements, the story of India is almost too nuanced for its own good. It also helps to use Mia Wasikowska's rather blank style and shapes it into something of beauty and style. Few characters are this compelling even with more dialogue and few films are as beautifully shot as Stoker.

James Franco
7. Alien (Spring Breakers)

Played By: James Franco
Easily the greatest prank of the year is the release of Spring Breakers as anything but an art house film. If people were disappointed, it was more from unexpected dub step and nudity mixed with Terrence Malick in a bad mood. However, at the core of everything was an unbelievably quotable and zany performance by James Franco as Alien: a rapper who didn't want to go to school. He just wanted to show off his stuff and discuss how being bad is the American Dream. If it isn't the best performance, it is one of the most strangely magnetic. No performance comes close to topping the Britney Spears montage that has become the centerpiece of the film, largely thanks to Alien and the fact that after spending time with him, we know even less about him.

Christian Bale
8. Irving Rosenfield (American Hustle)

Played By: Christian Bale
The stylish con film that packed wit, drama, and more poise than any other film this year may have been a little empty on its promises, but it sure looked good. It also helped to turn in one of Christian Bale's career bests as a chubby con man with so much confidence and a love for Duke Ellington that you could overlook his size. He was power whenever he walked into the room. He also was so naive that his confidence could be laughable. This is a charismatic performance that tows the line consistently and with Bale under the heavy frame, it never feels insincere. He is magnetic and is just what a film about screwing over people needs in order to be successful.

Barkhad Abdi
9. Muse (Captain Phillips)

Played B: Barkhad Abdi
With four words ("I'm the captain now") this unknown actor managed to steal a big film from legendary actor Tom Hanks. He ran with the film and added menace and control through devious, strategic thinking all while somehow becoming sympathetic in the second half. This is a performance that on surface seems type-casted, but is a layered exploration of struggling African thieves who steal to survive. It is a poignant commentary and an aggressive performance that makes him such a compelling force that makes the much more nuanced Hanks seem lazy in comparison. With or without a gun, Muse is a scary guy to mess with, and that makes him one of the best new performers of the year.

Michael B. Jordan
10. Oscar Grant III (Fruitvale Station)

Played By: Michael B. Jordan
Along with winning top prizes at Sundance, Fruitvale Station quickly became one of the best films of the year for its simplicity. This is in thanks largely to the depiction of Oscar Grant III, who may have had a troubled past, but was just as complicated and normal as any other man. In this day in the life tale, we begin to understand who he is and what made the unfortunate conclusion so tragic. It is fortunate that Michael B. Jordan brought plenty of humanity and charisma to the performance, giving him quite an impressively layered story. It is only a shame that with each passing month that Fruitvale Station seems to be less in the conversation instead of being hailed as the rise of a great actor and the introduction to first timer with potential Ryan Coogler.

Julie Delpy
11. Celine Wallace (Before Midnight)

Played By: Julie Delpy
While it may seem like a cheat to include a character who has appeared in a few previous films, it would almost seem like a crime to leave her off of the list. Before Midnight completed one of the most unlikely successful trilogies in history and depicted romance through the ages in a perfect, time lapsing epic. At the center is two very people and the more mature and fascinating voice is Celine. She has gotten older and more vulnerable to how she feels about herself. In the third act, a scene in the hotel room becomes overtly sad and tragic thanks to her ability to make a compellingly tragic reason for the couple's separation. It is a beautiful story and it is a shame that Julie Delpy doesn't have more popularity outside of the indie scene and these films specifically.

Diane Polley
12. Diane Polley (Stories We Tell)

Maybe it is a cheat to include real life people, but within the context of Sarah Polley's documentary, she is a character serving to connect the varying speakers' lives. While the overall effort may seem a little more personal than engaging, the story of mother Diane is one of wonders. She was a performer with a strange history that overlapped through various accounts and grew fascinating, especially as it said more about the people telling the story. Even without hearing her speak on account of her passing, Diane Polley is quite an intriguing figure simply because she managed to be both a complicated figure and the glue that held together a family that had some strange revelations throughout their digging into her mysterious life.

Emma Watson
13. Nicki (The Bling Ring)

Played By: Emma Watson
For those having trouble separating Emma Watson from the Harry Potter franchise, Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring may be the cure for those notions. With a performance that is hauntingly vapid and committed, she manages to bring life to a fake reality and turn it into a somewhat comedic, delusional wonderland where robberies solve everything. The film itself is a compelling look into the real life events that paint a grim view of our future. I am just glad that it also got to show Watson's range and ability to play a role other than nerdy schoolgirl. 

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
14. Paul Doyle (Pain & Gain)

Played By: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
One of the strangest success stories of 2013 will probably be the overall acceptance that Michael Bay's Pain & Gain is at very least intriguing satire. Maybe it is too muddled at times, but the satire of mixing real life with Michael Bay tropes does produce some fascinating results. The most notable is Paul Doyle, who is a born again Christian who eventually becomes addicted to drugs and loses a toe in a chase from the cops. He is the driving force of the film and one of the funniest performances of the year. His physical prowess makes him seem like a beast, but his sensitivity allows the film to take turns into an unexpected heart. It is one of the funniest examples of physical comedy in a film this year and shows how satirizing action films with a regular action star can be effectively done.

Miles Teller
15. Sutter (The Spectacular Now)

Played By: Miles Teller
It would be easy to write off Miles Teller as the quintessential young alcoholic, as it seems to be the only thing he has played (21 & Over, Project X), but what he creates in the Spectacular Now is probably one of the best young alcoholics in a film this year.It helps that while Sutter is a somewhat cynical person, his relationship with Aimee (Shailene Woodley) turns into one of the sweetest romances of the year. This film is an unexpectedly effective coming of age film that in a year crowded with contenders (The Way Way Back, The Kings of Summer), this one stood out for exploring what causes alcoholism and complications in a young person's life. Sutter slowly becomes sympathetic as the romance gets sweeter and it is all thanks to Teller's brilliant, subtle realizations. He may not be the most typical romantic lead, but he manages to be the most charming.

Rooney Mara
16. Emily Taylor (Side Effects)

Played By: Rooney Mara
A cryptic, Hitchcockian farewell from Steven Soderbergh as a director is this wonderful film that chose to explore the relationship between the consumer and prescription pills. With plenty of mysteries abounding, the real core belongs to Emily Taylor, who acts suicidal possibly just to sue the company, but also may be seriously affected. It is a crazy performance by Rooney Mara that continues to prove that she is one of the best current actresses. She is in control, even when she is having a breakdown. She has poise as the world crumbles around her. This is the beauty of Side Effects and the reason it works as a thriller that sadly has been forgotten since its initial release. Few performances compare to that of Mara and the resulting quietness that makes her such a haunting force of nature.

Emma Thompson
17. P.L. Travers (Saving Mr. Banks)

Played By: Emma Thompson
The "Mary Poppins" scribe was brought to life in a wonderfully tight-lipped performance by Emma Thompson that captured the stubbornness of a person with a troubling past. However, it also did allow for antithetical humor and moments of pure fun to be deflated. She serves as the kid too old to like Disney and the film serves as a way of convincing her to lighten up. The results are enjoyable and the performance is fun to watch. Without Thompson, who knows how compelling a portrait of an otherwise potentially boring negotiations session film would actually be. 

Alice Lowe
18. Tina (Sightseers)

Played By: Alice Lowe
The perverse British dark comedy of a road trip filled with disaster comes to life thanks to the wonderfully melancholic performance by Alice Lowe. She seems to bring bad luck wherever she goes, and it is fun to watch it progress more and more into a nuisance. By the end, the use of "Tainted Love" in the opening credits feels almost too honest and true to the strange plot and manages to reflect on one of the strangest couples in a film this year. Her morose, deadpan delivery is the heart of the film as well as a good reason not to double-cross her while playing 80's music.

Ryan Gosling
19. Luke (The Place Beyond the Pines)

Played By: Ryan Gosling
Derek Cianfrance follows up his masterpiece Blue Valentine with the triptych film that explores the relationship between fathers and sons. The whole film is an epic on an audacious scale that proves how challenging Cianfrance can be. However, the film kicks off with Luke, whose bad boy image and bank stealing ways become somewhat sympathetic. For awhile, the film plays as the spiritual sequel to Drive, as Luke is quiet and endearing for it. However, as the film progresses and focuses on other characters, his influence lasts throughout the film. It is something of power in story telling and despite limited screen time, Ryan Gosling once again turns in a great performance for one of the most strangely effective directors emerging and makes every moment, even when he's not there, reek of his influence.

Jay Baruchel
20. Jay (This is the End)

Played By: Jay Baruchel
While This is the End may have been a meta-mess with a lot of the year's best laughs and one of the year's worst endings, it did manage to succeed at times as satire of these actors. One of the best remains Jay, who continues to be an outside both in the film as well as in real life. I have rooted for him to breakthrough and while How to Train Your Dragon is a great start, I want him to be so much more. In reflection, he is one of the funniest parts of the film for being out of his element and being a black sheep. His sarcasm makes way for the best laughs and one of the most enduring self portraits in a film that could easily be a little too aggrandizing of its cast.

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