2014 Recap: 10 Favorite Female Performances of the Year

Top10FemalePerformances2014

As I’m still putting my finishing touches on my Top 10 list [it’s really quite an agonizing process], I decided to turn my focus on the performances I love from 2014. I initially drafted about underrated performers who I wish had gotten more love, but I think I’ll make that a ‘Question of the Week’ post instead as I’d like to hear what others would pick. In any case, casting and the actors’ performances can alter how I feel about a given film. In fact, they could even make or break a film. Well most of the time anyway, once in a while there comes a movie that not even a stellar cast or great performances can SAVE… *cough* Into The Woods *cough*

Let’s start with the ladies first, the Male Performances list will be posted later this month. This list is in alphabetical order, as it was tough enough to narrow ’em down to 10, let alone ranking them. So here goes:

1. Emily Blunt – Edge of Tomorrow, Into The Woods

tumblr_n6w47zMZ8r1qzgcxao1_500emily_intothewoods

I’ve been a fan of miss Blunt for some time, but this is perhaps her first foray into sci-fi action thriller as a co-lead. She’s my pick of surprisingly-bad-ass-female-character in my Random 2014 Recap, though she was quite bad ass in Looper last year, too. There’s something about her character Rita Vrataski that immediately clicks with me. She’s a knock-out yet still has a warm & vulnerable vibe, she’s not some killing machine. That said, her repeated killing of Tom Cruise’s character is quite amusing 😉 In Into the Woods, she stretches her versatility further by singing as well as acting, and she does it wonderfully! In fact, her character is one of my few favorites from the movie, yes even more so than Meryl Streep’s!

2. Jessica ChastainThe Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

Chastain_EleanorRigby

Chastain is another favorite actress whom I discovered last year with her prolific turns in major films like Tree of Life, The Help, and Zero Dark Thirty. She’s one of those chameleon actress who reminds me of Cate Blanchett, and this film truly shows her chops. Her character Eleanor isn’t the most sympathetic and at times aggravating, yet her soulful performance makes her so captivating. Eleanor’s overwhelmed by her grief and Chastain conveyed that sense of repressed pain and anger so convincingly. It’s one of the year’s most poignant and powerful performances that sadly seems to have been overlooked by award pundits.

3. Marion CotillardThe Immigrant

Marion_Immigrant

Miss Marion is truly a force to be reckoned with. She’s devastatingly beautiful and even fragile-looking but she carries certain inner strength that she often conveys in her eyes. I also love the fact that she seems to seek out non-glamorous roles, even though she manages to look even more beautiful sans makeup. There are actors who can act with just her eyes even when she is absolutely still, and Marion is one of those actors. That talent works wonderfully for her role as a Polish immigrant, Ewa. Her survival instinct is intriguing to watch here and makes you truly empathize with her agonizing journey.

4. Elizabeth Banks – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I

ElizabethBanksMockingjayI

Banks is one of those effortlessly charming and affable actress, which makes her absolutely perfect for the role of Effie Trinket. Her vivacious, flamboyant persona brings the character to life in such an entertaining way. Yet she makes her more than just some silly girl with a penchant for lavishly colorful outfits, in fact she brings so much heart to her role. It’s great to see Effie getting more screen time in this final part of the franchise. Forced to wear muted-colored jumpsuits, thrown into a fish-out-of-water experience, she still manages to steal scenes with her lively personality.

5. Keira KnightleyBegin Again

Keira_BeginAgain

Keira Knightley is a bit of a hit and miss for me. So far I’ve liked her mostly in period dramas (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) but entirely miscast in Anna Karenina. But here it’s refreshing to see her as a plain jane, and not only that, she also proves to be a decent singer. In fact, her rendition of the soulful Like A Fool is one of my favorite scenes in the film (and one of my Top 5 Fave Movie Songs), it’s heart-wrenching without being at all schmaltzy. This could be her most likable — and relatable — role I’ve seen her in, and I could totally buy her as a struggling-yet-defiant indie musician. Her chemistry with Mark Ruffalo is endearing to watch, as sweet & lovely as the film itself that lingers with you long after the end credits roll.

6. Rosamund PikeGone Girl

gg_5014 gg_8780 gg_4411Thanks to Sati for letting me borrow her pics of Amy Dunne

It’s impossible to make this list without having the impressive breakout performance from Rosamund Pike. It’s a bravura performance that’s sure to be talked about for years to come, a captivating female anti-hero you love to hate. Some actresses might not get this type of juicy role in their lifetime, so it’s nice to see that Pike took this opportunity and absolutely went to town with it. It’s a wonderfully layered and multidimensional character, infused with utter ruthlessness as well as astute comic timing.  What’s going to be most interesting is where would miss Pike go from here? I’d love to see her tackle an intricate role like this again instead of back to being stuck on playing second banana to some Hollywood A-listers.

7. Gugu Mbatha-RawBelleBeyond the Lights

GuguMbathaRaw_Noni

If there is one actress I’m so thrilled to discover this past year, without a doubt it’s Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I got a bit of a girl crush on her in Belle, as she totally owned the role of a mixed race girl navigating a complicated existence in 18th century England. Within the same year, in a completely different role, Gugu once again captivated me with her performance as Noni, a disillusioned Rihana-like pop star. Both characters require an actress who’s able to convey intense and complex emotions and she totally delivered. Her beauty and talent is simply mesmerizing. I have the same wish for her as I do miss Pike, it’d be a shame if she’s back to only playing the typical wife/girlfriend of some famous Hollywood actors.

8. Haley Lu RichardsonThe Young Kieslowski

HaleyLu_YoungKieslowski

Haley may only be 19 years-old but she seems wise beyond her years. She has such a strong screen presence in this indie dramedy, as well displaying a great deal of range as a young teen who got knocked up. I got a chance to chat with Haley for an interview earlier this year and was delighted to see her vivacious personality. In the same year, she did an entirely different and grittier role in The Well, so obviously she’s quite a versatile actress. She seems at ease in either drama or comedy, it’s only a matter of time that Hollywood notices her soon.

9. Amy Ryan – Birdman

AmyRyan_Birdman

Amy Ryan could be one of the most underrated actresses working today. I first noticed her in her Oscar-nominated role in Gone Baby Gone, but since then I only saw her in bit parts here and there, yet she always makes the most of it. Here she plays Michael Keaton’s Riggan’s ex-wife, and I really don’t know what to make of her at first. It may not be the juiciest roles of the entire ensemble, but she did get one of the most memorable lines when snaps at Riggan that he doesn’t know the difference between admiration and love. I also have to give a shout out to another notable performance she did in Breathe-In, Ryan certainly has a knack for elevating every role she’s given, no matter how small.

10. Tilda Swinton Snowpiercer

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Tilda Swinton‘s one of those chameleonic actresses who seems to relish in disappearing into a variety of different characters and this one is as quirky as they come. She’s barely recognizable here (and also in The Grand Budapest Hotel in a cameo) as Mason, a sadistic, tyrannical leader of the futuristic train. She’s a despicable character but Tilda’s always a hoot to watch, enthralling even, and perhaps the most entertainingly bizarre character I’ve seen in a while. It takes an astute performer to be scary and hilarious in the same breath, but that’s what Tilda’s capable of, and her screen presence is off the charts.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

These lovely ladies also made quite an impression on me, even if some of the films aren’t exactly stellar. In fact, some of these performances even eclipsed the film they appear in and therefore making them more watchable. In others, they elevate the already great roles they’re given and made the film all the richer for it.

Here they are in random order:

  • Cate BlanchettThe Monuments Men
  • Andrea RiseboroughBirdman
  • Felicity JonesBreathe-In
  • Rinko KikuchiKumiko, the Treasure Hunter
  • Eva GreenSin City 2: A Dame to Kill For
  • Angelina JolieMaleficent
  • Mackenzie FoyInterstellar
  • Elizabeth RobertsOld Fashioned
  • Kim Dickens – Gone Girl
  • Carmen EjogoSelma


Thoughts on these performances? Which one(s) of these stood out to you from the past year?

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71 thoughts on “2014 Recap: 10 Favorite Female Performances of the Year

  1. Wonderful list, Ruth. Seen a good number of these and they’re all splendid. So glad to see Emily Blunt at the head of this. She’s my favorite in each of the two films you cite — especially “Into the Woods” as it would have lessened the rating I gave it on Letterboxd if she wasn’t in it. As well, it’s great you gave Elizabeth Banks a high spot for her work in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. The character takes a lamentable back seat in the third novel so it was a nice surprise the film adaptation didn’t follow suit.

    1. Hi Michael! Oh this is in alphabetical order but I’d think she’d make my top 5 as she’s just a wonderful actress! I almost missed including miss Banks on this list, glad I updated it in time as she deserves a spot here.

  2. My favorite performances this year definitely belong to Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl and Marion Cotillard for both The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night as the latter is just acting at its finest.

    1. Hi Steven! I haven’t seen Two Days, One Night yet but I have no doubt Marion was great in that, too. Pike would surely top everyone’s list.

      1. See that film. It’s doesn’t just feature one of Marion’s best films but it’s one of the Dardenne Brothers’ finest as well as their most accessible.

      1. It’s not up yet. I finished it but I probably won’t post it until Monday. And what would make you think Miss Blunt would make an appearance? 🙂

  3. Great list, I’ve seen 4 of these picks so far. I hope to catch up on the other performances, especially Keira Knightley’s as I really like the idea of her taking on this type of role and hearing her sing should be cool. I just happened to watch a featurette on Snowpiercer the other day. Swinton said that after she first read the script she told the director that “there’s nothing for me here”. The director replied that she could have the role of the man in the modest suit. Pretty wild how that role evolved into what it is and totally agree about Swinton’s performance.

    1. I take it you haven’t seen Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s performance? Do check out Belle, she’s absolutely astounding and it’s such a lovely film. Oh right, I did read that Swinton’s part was actually for an older male, but she’s got that androgynous look that she could pull off both genders.

  4. Great picks Ruth. Rosamund Pike would also be one of my picks as I never noticed her before, but now is someone I’m looking forward to seeing in other films. Wasn’t a fan of Swinton’s performance in Snowpiercer…thought it was a bit over the top. Would also pick Shailene Woodley as she was very good in The Fault in Our Stars. And have to mention Scarlett Johannson as well. She did amazing voicework in Her, did acting without speaking much in Under the Skin and kicked ass in Lucy.

    1. I think Pike would top most people’s list and I sure hope she gets an Oscar nom. I think Tilda’s performance is meant to be over the top in Snowpiercer, it fits the tone of that whole film. Haven’t seen either one of Scarlett Johannson yet.

      1. Hi Ruth! I saw Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), Elizabeth Banks (Mockingjay), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer). They all gave some really good performances, I must be honest. Swinton made me sick in Snowpiercer, Emily Blunt was so badass, Banks was entertaining as always and Pike nailed Amy’s character, though I firmly believe her performance was fantastic, albeit a little overhyped.

  5. I love that you brought Gugu to my attention all those months ago when you posted the trailer for Belle…and so I owe you my current obsession with her! She’s just otherworldly! I can’t wait to see her in more and more and more!

    1. Hello Drew! I feel like a broken record on this blog and Twitter about miss Gugu but she absolutely deserves to be seen! I hope more people will check out her work. I just saw that she got cast as Matthew McConnaughey’s wife, which will probably raise her publicity, but I sure hope they give her something to do!

  6. daveackackattack

    Easy… while not having seen everything, for me it’s Rosamund Pike. I remember noticing her standout in Pride and Prejudice. Interestingly enough she actually had to gain and lose 13 pounds three times to play the character at different points in her life. Even the reshoots. Also because of all the blood used in a certain scene she had up to 20 showers a day causing her skin to become raw. She made the movie for me.

    I do really have to check out Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Beyond The Lights doesn’t seem like my kind of movie so I’ll have to check out Belle.

    1. I first saw Pike in that awful Bond movie Die Another Day but I took notice of her in Pride and Prejudice, too. Her performance in Gone Girl is astounding both on emotional and physical level, she absolutely killed it [no pun intended]. YES you should check out Gugu in BELLE, which I think is a far better film of the two. She just got nominated for BAFTA Rising Star award, I really think she should win it!

  7. Awesome list here! I really need to see Belle. Looks so good! I love that Elizabeth Banks made your list – she has been great in The Hunger Games films!! Of course, I’m also happy to see Kiera Knightly for Begin Again on here too. She’d definitely make my list for that film! Great list, Ruth!

    1. Hey Kris, absolutely check out BELLE! It’s also got one of the sweetest love story ever between her and John Davinier. I have a bit of crush on Sam Reid from watching that. Banks stole scenes in Mockingjay, she’s even more fun to watch than Jen Lawrence herself.

  8. Irene McKenna

    Great list! I haven’t seen all the films on this list, but I agree with your choices from the ones I have watched. I’m glad you gave Kim Dickens a nod for her work in Gone Girl. She was terrific.

  9. Yes to Chastain ranked so high!!

    Whoa, I think I need to watch Mockingjay Part I now. THAT’S Elizabeth Banks!? I adored Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights and Belle. What a startling one-two punch from a new actress. Also great to see Ryan make the cut. I agree, she is so criminally underrated.

    1. Hi Alex! My list is in alphabetical order but I do love Chastain as an actress and her performance as Eleanor Rigby is outstanding!

      Yes it is miss Banks! You have seen her in other Hunger Games’ films, no? She’s so fun to watch and she does have more to do this time around. Glad to hear you’re a fan of Gugu’s work in Beyond the Lights and Belle, I just wish more people know about her. Ryan is another actress I wish would get more leading parts.

  10. I only saw two movies from the list, Edge of Tomorrow and Snowpiercer and I liked both performances by the actress.

    How was Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter? I didn’t know it open or did it go directly to On-Demand? Since I love Fargo, film and TV show, I want to see this movie.

    1. Hey Ted, Kumiko is interesting even though it’s really slow at times. I like Rinko and at times the film is really quite amusing. I think it’s worth seeing if you like Fargo.

  11. This is wonderful, Ruth. Yay for Tilda! She was a riot. I remember last year Snowpiercer was very much liked by a lot of movie buffs. She stole the whole movie. Awesome list. From your list, I need to see The Disappearance of Elenor Rigby….

    1. Tilda is such an effortless scene-stealer isn’t she? Whether it’s an understated or over the top performance, she’s always immensely watchable.

      The Disappearance of Elenor Rigby is an engaging drama, boasted by the two stellar performances of Chastain and also James McAvoy.

  12. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the fact that you included Tilda Swinton on the list. As you rightly pointed out, she delivered one hell of a performance managing to be both scary and enthralling at the same time. Easily one of my picks for best supporting actresses from 2014.
    Rosamund Pike also deserves a nod, and I believe she will get some come awards season due to the success, both in the box office and in critical circles, that Gone Girl received. She’s certainly one of main reasons why the movie worked.
    I watched The Immigrant very recently and I was, once again, impressed by Marion Cotillard. She’s such a great actress it’s scary. I can’t recall having seen a bad performance out of her, and she’s certainly the center of the film. Perhaps it was a little too gloomy of a piece to get higher marks from me, but I can’t fault Cotillard in any way. She’s always on my list.
    I also enjoyed Emily Blunt, but I don’t know if her performance in Edge of Tomorrow was complex or layered enough for me to give her a nod.

    I haven’t seen any of the rest….I have a lot of catching up to do. So I will keep my comments up to here.

    1. Hello Niels! Glad you like Tilda, it seems that some people couldn’t stand her performance there. I suppose she’s meant to be a despicable character and it’s a testament to her acting that people do loathe Mason, ahah.

      I really hope Pike would not only get a nom but actually WIN Best Actress! She deserves it, it’s a performance that’ll be talked about for years to come.

      Miss Marion is another fantastic thespian, definitely more than just a pretty face. Same w/ Blunt and Banks, but they’re sadly so underrated.

  13. Dan

    I think Scarlett Johansson had a year to remember in 2014, Under the Skin was particularly interesting. But stand outs were definitely Tilda Swinton (she’s incredible in everything) and Rosamund Pike who was fantastic in Gone Girl.

    1. Emma Stone’s good in Birdman but it’s a much flashier role so obviously that’s the one people remember. But for me, the understated ones are harder to pull off and Ryan always pulls it off beautifully. As for Pike, well she’s simply superb, a performance of the decade I’d say.

  14. Oh I didn’t know you saw Birdman! What did you think of it? I saw it yesterday and it’s my new fav in 2014 🙂 Great choices here and so great to see Dickens in honorable mentions!

    1. Hi Sati! Yes I saw it and reviewed it back in mid December 🙂 http://wp.me/pxXPC-9av Glad to hear you love it too, it’s currently in my top spot of the year, too.

      I really like Dickens in Gone Girl! She’d have make my main Top 10 but I decided to include Elizabeth Banks as she was so good in all of the Hunger Games movies. I think she stole scenes from the main actors in that film and she’s never boring.

        1. Birdman is one of those unique films I’ve seen in a while. Bizarre and surreal but also has some genuine emotional moments. The performances are really superb across the board.

          I know you’re not fond of Jennifer Lawrence and I have to admit she’s kinda boring in Mockingjay. Banks on the other hand, is always fun to watch even in smaller roles.

          1. Yeah I’ll definitely see Mockingjay if only just for Banks and Natalie Dormer. I’m surprised you liked Birdman this much it was really risqué movie, I mean it kinda romanticizes psychotic break but I was cool with that, it really found beauty in the most hopeless place

            1. You’re right, Birdman isn’t the type of films I usually go for and there are some risque scenes in it. But considering how bizarre/surreal it is, I was still pretty stirring & emotionally-involving. Like you said, there’s beauty even in the most dire/desperate situations that Riggan’s going through. I also like Keaton a lot as an actor, so that might be why I really like this film. It’s also not relentlessly bleak despite the harrowing subject matter.

              1. Yeah it was actually wonderfully amusing! Like that scene where he is trashing his room and Galifanakis walks in and Keaton is all like ‘hey what’s up?’ i laughed so hard 🙂 And the whole scene where he was hitting Norton with a news paper was hysterical.

                1. Ahah yeah, that scene is funny and there are lots of this type of moments in the movie. There’s also that moment when Naomi Watts & Andrea Riseborough were making out and Ed Norton walked in and Naomi started throwing things at him, ahah. I don’t normally like Galifanakis but he’s also very good in this.

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  16. Such a great list of actresses! There’s not a weak performance on the list for me; I adore them all. Love to see Tilda Swinton for Snowpiercer; that monologue she gives is perfection.

    1. Thanks Katy! Glad you like my picks. I take it you’ve seen Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Belle, too? As for Tilda, she really is an amazing actress, regardless of how despicable her character is, she’s still immensely watchable.

  17. Great to see Mbatha-Raw, Cotillard, Pike, and Knightley on here. I also really liked Blunt and Ryan. Can’t wait to see The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby!

    1. Hello Josh! I’ve become a huge fan of miss Mbatha-Raw now, I sure hope she continues to get more prominent roles in Hollywood. Chastain is wonderful in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, it’s rather bleak at times but both she and McAvoy are so engaging.

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  19. Great post Ruth. I’ve missed a lot over the past month or so, but this is a great one to come back to! Quite a conundrum picking the best female performances of the year – there have been so many. I very much enjoyed Andrea Riseborough and Emma Stone in Birdman. Felicity Jones was also quite brilliant in The Theory Of Everything and Dorothy Atkinson gave an intriguing performance as Hannah Danby, Turner’s housekeeper in Mr Turner too.

    1. Hi Natalie! Long time no *see* hope you had a nice holiday break.

      I love Riseborough too, in fact, I originally had her in my main list and Amy Ryan on my Honorable Mention, love both of them. I think Stone was good in Birdman but it was a flashier role so naturally it was more memorable. I actually prefer the more understated performances in that film. Haven’t seen Mr. Turner yet but was surprised it was snubbed from the Golden Globes last night.

          1. It recieved some well deserved technical nods for cinematography and costume etc but nothing for film, british film, director or performances. Very surprising! It’s great to be back on your blog Ruth, looking forward to reading some more of your posts 🙂

  20. Wow! Quite the list of female performances that you’ve come up with there Ruth! Looks like I still have plenty of good films to watch even though 2014 has passed. Looking forward to seeing your top 10 and honorable mentions on the men’s side!

    1. Hey thanks Raul! Sorry I haven’t got a chance to check out your posts on FilmInquiry but will try to do so later today.

      I missed a few great films from last year too, which ones on here you haven’t seen? I take it you haven’t seen Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s performance yet? She is one of my fave actresses now, hope you’ll get to check her out soon 😀

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