DISCLAIMER: I have not seen Nebraska or Philomena at the time of this writing, as no movie theater within 100 miles of me are playing either of them, so if you are wondering why Bruce Dern or Judi Dench are not on this list, it's because I have been unable to see these two movies. When I finally see them if I decide they are worth a mention or even an appearance in the top 10, I will make the necessary changes.
10) Joaquim Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson (Her)
A romantic story is only as good and convincing as the actors playing the leads. And this movie is one of the best movies of the year. This happened via Phoenix and merely the voice of Johansson. It takes some serious acting to convincingly fall in love with something you can't see. It's just as hard to create a convincing character using only your voice. Both come together here as well as peanut butter and chocolate. You root for these characters from start to finish, and really feel for them by the end. Many emotional moments to say the least. Also I should mention this is quite possibly the most grounded role I've ever seen from Phoenix. If you harbor something against him for how he has presented himself over the last few years, just know that none of that shows in Her. Finally, Scarlett Johansson's voice is almost as beautiful as Scarlett Johansson. Just saying.
9) Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
"Look at me. Look at me. I'm the captain now." It's already becoming a bit of a joke in Hollywood, but it's so chilling and well-spoken! So this guy was a limo driver in Minneapolis at this time last year, guys. Yep. He answered an open casting call two years back and received the nod to start opposite Tom Hanks as the leader of the Somalian terrorist group that attacks Hanks and his crew. His cold demeanor, chilling delivery, and frightening presence makes him almost outproduce Hanks in the lead role. This is his first role ever, and thus his first nomination, and is a heartwarming surprise to the Oscars. If it weren't for Jared Leto, he might even have a legitimate shot at winning the damn thing! What a story that would be right? While a major problem of this movie was that every other terrorist in his crew are just cardboard cutouts with no character development whatsoever, Abdi easily stood out. I am definitely looking forward to seeing what he has to offer Hollywood next!
8) Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
I love Bradley Cooper ever since his performance as Face in The A-Team, and the fact that he puts so much time into preparing for his roles, so this may be a little biased. But he is just fantastic in this movie. Seriously fantastic. He's hilarious, he's intimidating, he's crazy, and he's unpredictable. So many great scenes. So many great moments! His interactions with Louis C.K. may be my favorite, though. Particularly with how that story resolves featuring a certain telephone. Sure the FBI agent that he's playing is wildly unbelievable, but does it matter? When you play him like this, absolutely not. Hilarious. Well done, Mr. Cooper. Well done.
7) Matthew McConaughey (Mud)
To all you McConaughey haters out there, shhhh. This man was a terrible actor. I will be the first to admit I was a huge McConaughey hater back in the day. The Wedding Planner? Awful. How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days? Laughably bad. But when he played himself ironically in Tropic Thunder, it turned my head. Then I saw him in The Lincoln Lawyer, and he started convincing me that he was turning it around. Then he BLEW me away in Mud. Mud is charming, charismatic, lovable, and yet....so incredibly evil. He has so many quirks with his body language that he has it honestly reminded me of (deep breath) Heath Ledger as the Joker. Remember all his hand motions and everything? Same goes of McConaughey as Mud. Seriously. Go see this movie so that you can start to change your mind about this actor. He really deserves a second chance. I honestly wanted to put this higher on the list. I wanted to label this as the second-best acting performance of the year, guys. I intimidated myself out of it and moved it down to seventh, but it is an unforgettable performance regardless.
6) Amy Adams (American Hustle)
I feel like I did not praise Amy Adams enough in my review of American Hustle. I apologize for that. She has to effectively transition between two different personalities as she lives her life as a con artist, which includes using a well-spoken British accent. She has to convince Bradley Cooper's character as well as us that she's a British banker, and she does it flawlessly. Without a doubt my favorite moment from her in this movie is when she transitions between her British personality and her American personality in the same shot. This is not an easy thing to do as an actor, guys. She nails it, and it translates to one of the best scenes of the entire movie. Definitely the most tense scene at least. Thanks to David O. Russell, this actress has shot up the food chain and has successfully established herself as one of the best actresses in Hollywood right now. It will definitely be a close one between her and Blanchett for Best Actress, though my early favorite is Blanchett. As the Oscars get closer I will release my official predictions.
5) Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Arguably the best performance by an actress from 2013, Cate Blanchett somehow figures out a way to take a totally despicable character and make you appreciate her and root for her. How? By successfully conveying a huge range of emotions, everything from smugness to happiness to fear to full-blown depression. This woman had everything, and she took it for granted. And it all fell apart right in front of her. Her scenes of depression and confiding in her sister are the best scenes of this movie. Honestly, this entire movie is single-handily carried by Blanchett, so give her a lot of credit for making Blue Jasmine as good as it was.
4) Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Easily the best performance by a supporting actor this year and a sure-thing for the appropriate Oscar, Leto, as big of a jerk as he may be in real life, puts in the performance of a lifetime in Dallas Buyers Club. I will never forget his initial reveal and thinking to myself, "Is that Jared Leto? No. No way is it him. Holy shit it's Jared Leto." this may have been a result of initially not actually knowing what role he played in the movie, but upon researching it after watching the movie it became incredibly obvious that he easily deserves the award. He lost a ton of weight for the role, bringing his body to dangerously low levels of, well, everything. Then he cross-dressed and learned how to play a transvestite. Then he learned how to play a woman trying to be a man for his father. This was one of the hardest scenes to watch in the movie. I can barely even grasp the notion of being a guy playing a guy who's really a girl trying to pretend to be a guy. Tongue twister. Where's Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder when you need him? Anyway, this was an incredible performance from him. As weird as it is to say, I look forward to what he has to offer next.
3) Robert Redford (All is Lost)
Definitely the biggest no-show in this year's Oscar nominations, Robert Redford puts in an unforgettable performance as a nameless man in All is Lost. He says about 10 words throughout the entire movie, so it is entirely up to his facial expressions and body language to create this character fighting for survival. For a great example, when he sees a giant storm heading straight for him in his already damaged yacht, he shows fear, then determination, then resilience and fortitude, all in the same shot. Absolutely breathtaking. By the end of the movie I was just as engrossed in this man's fight for survival as I was any other character in any movie this year. Flawless execution from a worthwhile actor, this movie is worth seeing solely based on Redford alone.
2) Mattew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
What a McConassance this year has been. After he blew me away in Mud, he goes out and does one better in Dallas Buyers Club. This guy is 2013's Ben Affleck story. I can't help but love actors that finally start to turn their careers and reputations around in Hollywood! The current favorite for this year's Best Actor award, Matthew McConaughey went all out in playing this role. Losing an incredible amount of weight and basically putting himself through what Hugh Jackman did to look like he did in the opening of Les Miserables, McConaughey does an incredible job as the lead in Dallas Buyers Club, from creating a convincing story arc in how he treats gays (which is done entirely via acting, almost no writing involved whatsoever) to his story arc as a person in general and how he deals with his own HIV/AIDS ordeal, McConaughey does not just deliver one standout moment, but rather he creates an entire movie of standout moments. The only actor to be mentioned twice on this list, McConaughey really is the best story of this past year. Please give him a chance!
1) Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
I've hinted at this a lot throughout the last month or so, but DiCaprio's performance in Scorsese's latest work is easily the best of this man's highly distinguished career. Nothing else even comes close. Asked to basically ruin his real-life reputation in one movie by putting himself in countless provocative positions, Leo literally lays it all out on the line as the lead. From various sex scenes to a candle wax fetish scene, Leo shows that he has no problem doing whatever his director asks of him. Taking his clothes off on camera? Not a problem. But that isn't the only thing memorable in this movie. Throughout the movie he has several monologues that he gives to his employees at Stratton Oakmont, and each one of them are unforgettable. One in particular stands out: when Leo delivers a monologue to his employes to get them to sell an IPO of Steve Madden's shoes, it is absolutely breathtaking. There's an electricity to this scene that I haven't seen from anyone else this year. And let's not forget to mention the part where he, in a "cerebral palsy" phase of drug highs, crawls through a country club, down some steps, and into his car to get back to his house. If DiCaprio didn't show that he can be hilarious in addition to being phenomenal in Django Unchained, he definitely shows it here. Oh, and on top of everything else, he creates some of the best voice-over narration I've ever heard in any movie, much less previous Martin Scorsese movies. While he may not win the Oscar for Best Actor due to how controversial the role is, he most certainly deserves it. However he does earn the title of Enter the Movie's Best Acting Performance of 2013! Now to find Leo and give him this great award I wrote on a piece of paper.....I'm sure he'd be thrilled!
HONORABLE MENTIONS (in no particular order)
Daniel Bruhl (Rush)
One of the more overlooked roles of the year, he was definitely the best part of this great racing movie.
Oprah Winfrey (The Butler)
You forget that, before she became Oprah, she could act. She delightfully reminds you here.
Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)
A huge surprise, Hill brings his comedic timing to a great character story. This dude can act!
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Robert Redford in space, Bullock has to carry the back half of this movie by herself, and she definitely shines.
Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)
Another fantastic reminder of why Tom Hanks is one of the greatest actors ever.
ADDENDUM: After seeing Judi Dench in Philomena, I must add her to the list. A wonderful reminder of how talented she is. Charming, funny, and emotional, she knew just how to tug on my heart strings. (If I wanted to keep this list to 15, I would probably remove Sandra Bullock. But, I can do whatever I want! So NO. I'm going to have 16 names on this list.
Joaquin Phoenix: http://images.contactmusic.com/images/feature-images/her-joaquin-phoenix-03-600-370.jpg
Barkhad Abdi: http://www.parade.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/CapPhillips_1.jpg
Bradley Cooper: http://oracleoffilm.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/o-american-hustle-gifs-facebook.jpg
Matthew McConaughey (Mud): http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/audio/video/2013/5/9/1368099273534/MUD---exclusive-video-cli-001.jpg
Amy Adams: http://media2.onsugar.com/files/2013/10/17/832/n/1922283/231cb679d2e2aac8_-3.xxxlarge/i/Amy-Adams-American-Hustle.jpg
Cate Blanchet: http://lisathatcher.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/blue-jasmine-2.jpg
Jared Leto: http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/jared-leto-dallas-buyers-club-1012013-123830.jpg
Robert Redford: http://cinema-scope.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/all-is-lost-robert-redford.jpg
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club): http://focusfeaturesmedia.com/uploads/image/mediafile/1377714277-d4458dd16e2059a8362b1c7024c2cfea/x900.jpg
Leonardo DiCaprio: http://cdn.screenrant.com/wp-content/uploads/Wolf-of-Wall-Street.jpg