While 2013 was certainly a banner year for women in film, let’s look back at eight career-best and breakthrough male performances that have been critically unsung at the tail-end of this year as awards roll in and showier performances chew the spotlight. Clips after the jump.
Also, check out my list of eight unheralded female performances in 2013 films now streaming here.
No doubt the highlight of this flawed yet exceptionally crafted American thriller by Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal deliver some of the finest work of their careers in “Prisoners.” Dano, a disturbed and mentally handicapped young man, and Gyllenhaal, a hardened police detective, share few scenes together, but they are the pulse of the movie. While Dano spends much of his running time locked in a makeshift prison cell in the hands of Hugh Jackman’s loudly grieving father, Gyllenhaal shows consternation and distress in the furrowed brow, ultimately saving the day in the film’s rather cheesy last act–and therefore becoming its saving grace. (Our TOH! interview with Dano.)
“This Is Martin Bonner” is a sincere redemption film without the sentimentality. Amid this devastating Sundance film’s quiet, languid pacing, Paul Eenhoorn gives an overflowingly open performance as the title character, a Christian do-gooder who bares his emotions on his sleeve when tasked with guiding an ex-con in Reno to the straight path. When we learn that his pure intentions truly conceal a crisis of faith, Eenhorn turns his sweet and gentle ole Bonner into a broken man of desperate need for connection, and confession, in a world passing before his eyes at inconceivable speed.
When will awards groups start paying more attention to Mr. Foster, a fine (and quite handsome) young actor who’s been rising these last few years in “The Messenger,” “Contraband,” “Kill Your Darlings,” “Lone Survivor” and, of course, in David Lowery’s bleak revisionist western “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”? Here he plays a local police officer hot on the trail of Casey Affleck’s outlaw–all the while wooing his fragile wife (Rooney Mara) and trying to be her crutch. The performance is sensitive and deep, even when the film–with an excellent score by Daniel Hart–is mannered and shallow.
Toby Jones is perfectly nebbish and creepy as psychologically splintered Brit sound designer Gilderoy in Peter Strickland’s maddening giallo throwback “Berberian Sound Studio.” A prey of circumstance who eventually becomes more predator — or does he? — the taciturn Gilderoy fumbles his way through one Kafkaesque misunderstanding after the next as he tries to wriggle his way from beneath the thumb of a chauvinist Italian director. And then there’s that language barrier. Who else could play such a bumbling little troll with crippling mommy issues as well as Jones? He’s also excellent as Hitchcock in the mediocre HBO TV movie “The Girl.”
Nobody constructs a perfect male-anxiety-fueled breakdown like Jude Law, an actor who has hovered around the fringes of some of the best recent movies. For director Steven Soderbergh in the seemingly forgotten early 2013 release “Side Effects,” Law rivets as the psychiatrist whose experimental drug treatments on Emily (Rooney Mara) place him at the center of a medical scandal. When his squirmy, hand-wringing Dr. Banks finally procures the upper hand in the film’s last hour, it’s a gleefully satisfying feat to watch — even if all along we had been trained to distrust such immoral, self-serving male smarm.
Set in early-90s Texas in a wildfire-ravaged, beautifully post-apocalyptic Bastrop County Park, David Gordon Green’s minor miracle stars Rudd and Emile Hirsch as two slacker road workers assigned to repaint traffic lines along the park’s highway. They’re middle American dudes low on ambition but they’re also dreamers and idealists. While sweet and pensive Alvin (Rudd) attempts to maintain a long-distance relationship that’s already showing signs of wear, he tills the roads alongside his girlfriend’s dimwitted brother, Lance (Emile Hirsch). Together they are a brilliant comic duo, all belly-laughs and spleen, who tap into their emotionally vulnerable sides as mainstream actors in a little indie.
Watch trailers below.