2014 Recap: 10 Favorite MALE Performances of the Year

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Well, now that I’ve posted my Top 10 Movies of the year and picked my Top 10 favorite FEMALE Performances and Top 10 Film Scores of the year, I’m finally down to my last 2014 Recap list. It’s quite a crowded category, more so than the female counterpart, as obviously there are more roles for men as there are for women on any given year. But I’m still picking only 10 on the main list, and another 10 15 on Honorable Mentions (there are just too many to keep it to just 10). Naturally these are performances from films I got a chance to see last year. So in case you’re wondering where’s Jake Gyllenhaal, Eddie Redmayne or J.K. Simmons, well I haven’t seen Nightcrawler, The Theory of Everything nor Whiplash.

Same w/ the ladies, 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. Steve Carell – Foxcatcher

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It’s one of those transformative roles that all actors are privileged to get but not everyone can pull it off. Well, I always think that Steve Carell is a much more versatile actor than people give him credit for and Foxcatcher‘s director Bennet Miller said during our interview that “…it’s exciting when an actor breaks out of what’s expected of them.” But it takes so much more than just putting on a fake nose to create a convincing character. I’ve seen him in serious roles before in Little Miss Sunshine, but took his dramatic potential up several notches here, displaying disquieting menace and creepy demeanor I’ve never seen before. As I’m writing this, I couldn’t help recalling his earlier role as Evan Baxter in Bruce Almighty, yet I couldn’t fathom that they’re played by the same actor!

2. Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game

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Benedict Cumberbatch is no stranger to playing an eccentric genius on screen. But apart from being British and a brainiac, Alan Turing couldn’t be more different than his Sherlock persona. Cumberbatch effortlessly captures that brilliant intellect and that arrogant, dismissive attitude towards the world around him, but he also convincingly conveys Turing’s inner tumult. The final scenes where Turing is treated as a social outcast is the film’s most heart-wrenching moments. All the pain, anguish and utter despair is palpable on Cumberbatch’s face but without a moment of overacting. It’s no doubt the actor’s shining hour, a personal best even amongst his already impressive resume.

3. Chris Evans – Snowpiercer

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In a year when he’s truly coming into his own as Steve Rogers, aka Captain America in its sequel, Chris Evans also emerges as a capable indie leading man. Certain actors often become stuck to play certain roles because of how they look and I think Evans is one them. But Evans is more than just a pretty face & a hot body, even if his role choices are questionable at times. I saw that he has dramatic chops in Puncture but this is an even more complex role – not to mention a better-crafted film overall – and he gets to show what he can do as an actor. As a conflicted rebel leader with a dark past, Evans displays an unusually somber, soulful and heartfelt performance. I’d love to see him tackle more dramatic roles like this in the future, he certainly has it in him.

4. Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Whilst Carell is comedian playing a dark role, the normally-serious Ralph Fiennes got to do the opposite. It’s such a thrill to see him being so goofy here, and he seems to relish in the character’s inherent zany-ness. Apparently Wes Anderson wrote this role specifically for him, which I think is an inspired choice that absolutely paid off. His deadpan delivery is really fun to watch here, and he has that effortless elegance about him too that fits the role of the legendary concierge M. Gustave.

5. Tom Hardy – Locke

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It takes an actor of a certain charisma to hold your attention for 1.5 hour long when all you see is him inside a car the entire time. But charisma can only go so far without the skills, but thankfully, Hardy’s got both. This is the first film with him in the leading role, after seeing him stealing scenes left and right in films like Rocknrolla, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises. He was a co-lead (with Joel Edgerton) in Warrior, an intensely physical role that he offsets with layers of vulnerability. As a man grappling with one VERY stressful night of his life, his body is barely shown the entire movie, so he had to rely on his eyes and facial features to convey every single emotion. Suffice to say, he delivered with aplomb. It’s a mesmerizingly-nuanced performance that confirms my opinion that Hardy as one of the finest actors working today. Seems that he’s only just getting warmed up.

6. Michael Keaton – Birdman

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One of the highlights of 2014 cinema for me is definitely seeing the perpetually-underrated Michael Keaton getting a career resurgence. I’ve been a fan of his for as long as I can remember, as he’s the kind of actor who can tackle hard-hitting drama as well as silly comedic roles effortlessly. In Birdman he gets a chance to tackle both and he relish in that opportunity. He’s been garnering kudos left and right and he’s the one I’m rooting for the entire award season. The fact that there are many similarities between his character Riggan and his professional acting life certainly adds a dose of amusement as well as authenticity to his portrayal. Keaton infused Riggan with such depth and genuine pathos that even during some of the film’s most bizarre scenes as Riggan descend into madness, he’s always emotionally engaging.

7. James McAvoy – The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

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If only you more people had seen at least one version of this romantic drama, even just to see how good both lead actors are. McAvoy’s co-star Jessica Chastain is on my Top 10 list of Female Performers from the same film. I’ve been a fan of James McAvoy since Atonement and the Scottish actor has since done an amazing job balancing big blockbusters like X-Men: First Class to small indies like this one. He’s an instantly likable actor who I vehemently believe is more talented than people give him credit for. What I love about McAvoy is that there’s always such a natural way to his acting that you instantly believe he’s that character. Here he wears his character Conor like an old shoe, a man desperately trying to somehow regain his lost love. There is a moment in the film where Conor is alone in an empty apartment and he reminisce on his marriage that is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s a shame that AMPAS doesn’t even notice this film as both Chastain & McAvoy’s marvelous performances are certainly Oscar-worthy.

8. Edward Norton – Birdman

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Another highlights from Birdman and why this is truly one of the best films of the decade is seeing Ed Norton in a role worthy of his talent. It’s definitely a scene-stealing role in a film that’s already jam-packed with fine performances. Just like his co-star Keaton, Norton did a brilliant dramatic and comedic turn as a self-absorbed diva of an actor who’s more comfortable in his own skin when he’s on stage. All the scenes of him and Keaton are truly the film’s highlights as both actors not only baring their skin down to their underwear, but they also bare themselves emotionally. It’s too bad that he probably won’t win an Oscar again this year, but I sure hope the three-time Oscar nominee won’t be wasted playing second/third banana in subpar movies like Bourne Legacy ever again.

9. David Oyelowo – Selma

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I’ve made my quibbles known about one of the egregious snubs of this year’s Oscar. But if there is justice in the world, this wouldn’t be the last we see Oyelowo’s name being mentioned during cinema’s award season. Even in bit parts in a myriad of movies ranging from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Help, Jack Reacher, etc., I always notice his performance. He finally got to shine in a prominent supporting role as Forrest Whitaker’s teenage son in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which also deals with the Civil Rights Movement. It’s interesting that a year later he got to play the key figure in that historical movement, a role that I read he’s been dreaming to play for some time. Oyelowo didn’t just get Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mannerism and speaking style right, it’s more than just a brilliant impersonation but he truly embodied the role. What’s more, he portrayed Dr. King as not just a heroic figure but as a man, flawed and plagued with doubts just like any regular person would. He is just as convincing as a powerful and persuasive orator as he is in the quieter scenes that demand subtle nuances. I can’t wait to see what Oyelowo will tackle next.

10. Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher 

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Is there anything Mark Ruffalo can’t do? I feel like I’ve been missing out as for whatever reason I didn’t really pay attention to him until recently. I was going to list his performance in Begin Again but technically that’s a 2013 film, but man what an astounding display of versatility. His role as an Olympic pro-wrestler David Schultz in Foxcatcher couldn’t be more different than a distressed & disheveled record producer in Begin Again but he’s utterly believable in both. Ruffalo’s role is actually the least flashy compared to Steve Carell’s and Channing Tatum’s, but his character is no doubt the heart of the film. It’s a role that demands the perfect amount of nuance and subtlety and Ruffalo pulls it off wonderfully. The video interview scene alone when he’s asked to describe Carell’s character is simply masterful, I remember marveling at how good his performance was as I was watching it. I think that might’ve been what earned him his second Oscar nomination.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

I truly didn’t expect to see some names would end up on this list. I honestly have never seen Tyler Perry nor Zach Galifianakis in anything other than clips of their movies, but they definitely left an impression on me in their respective films. There are some big breakthroughs here too, especially Dan Stevens and Chris Pratt, garnering a lot of buzz in their successful starring roles. There are also some perennial favorites of mine who definitely still got it (Keanu Reeves), as well as a brand new actor I’ve never seen before. Manish Dayal‘s like the male counterpart of Gugu Mbatha-Raw for me and I hope to see him more movies! As for Guy Pearce, I sure hope that he will get the recognition he deserves one day as he’s simply a phenomenal actor.

Here they are in random order:


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

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85 thoughts on “2014 Recap: 10 Favorite MALE Performances of the Year

      1. He appears to have the market on biopics cornered. In addition to James Brown he was Jackie Robinson in “42”. Both performances are excellent but the James Brown role is fantastic.

        1. He’s also getting in on the Marvel superhero game – with an appearance as Black Panther in the upcoming Captain America – Civil War film (2016), and a solo adventure for that character too in 2017.

    1. Hi Fernando! I had to mention those two even though I haven’t seen either films, as I figure lots of people love their performances. Have you seen Nightcrawler btw?

  1. Here’s my list of 10 favorite 2014 performances:

    1. Michael Keaton-Birdman
    2. J.K. Simmons-Whiplash
    3. Josh Brolin-Inherent Vice
    4. Ralph Fiennes-The Grand Budapest Hotel
    5. Jake Gyllenhaal-Nightcrawler
    6. Mark Ruffalo-Foxcatcher
    7. Steve Carell-Foxcatcher
    8. Ben Affleck-Gone Girl
    9. Fabrizio Rongione-Two Days, One Night
    10. Joaquin Phoenix-Inherent Vice

  2. AWESOME list here Ruth! The ones I have seen I cannot fault. I thought Fiennes owned The Grand Budapest Hotel, and (even though I have yet to see The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) I adore McAvoy, and I agree – he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Chris Evans was absolutely fantastic in Snowpiercer. I think he is really underrated. I have yet to see Foxcatcher, and I am NOT a fan of Carell at all, but if he is not playing a total twit I might be won over. I am very interested to see how he does. Obviously I was a huge fan of Dan Stevens in The Guest, he really blew me away.

    I thought that Logan Lerman did a damn fine job in Fury, too, he impressed me endlessly there. I thoroughly enjoyed Jon Favreau in Chef, and Ansel Elgort was the most perfect casting for Augustus Waters. Also, Chris Pine in Stretch. That was so against character for him but it worked. Jake Gyllenhaal was absolutely creepy as hell in Nightcrawler.

    These are favourites of mine, as well as just performances that deserve to be praised, so there is no specific order.

    1. Thank you Zoe, glad to hear you like most of my picks. Ahah, your comment on Carell is a hoot! I hear ya, but I actually enjoyed seeing actors in a role they’re not usually associated with.

      You should totally see ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ McAvoy is just outstanding. I LOVE LOVE him in romantic roles!! I have never even heard of Stretch before, but I’d see it for Chris Pine! He’s fantastic even in the underwhelming Into The Woods.

      1. It’s true though! I have only ever liked him in The Way Way Back, Crazy, Stupid, Love and he also wasn’t too bad in Little Miss Sunshine. But usually he works on my absolute last nerve haha.

        I love seeing an actor in an uncommon role, especially when they come out and surprise you.

        I saw that Eleanor Rigby was split – like “Him”, “Her”, and then a combined one, “They”. Apparently it is better watching them separate? Do you have a suggestion for me as to how to go about watching it?

        1. Hi Zoe! Y’know I heard that the Him/Her version of Eleanor Rigby was better so I’d check out the Him version then if you like James. I might do that too as I have only seen the THEM version.

  3. Great list! I haven’t seen your #7 and #9 yet, hopefully I can get around to those sooner than later. But the rest I’ve seen and they are all terrific performances. Ruffalo’s character is my favorite in Foxcatcher, the theater audience broke into laughter during the video interview … what a memorable scene.

    1. Yeah, that interview scene is quite hilarious yet it speaks volumes about how Dave Schultz feels about DuPont! An astutely-crafted scene that definitely the film’s highlight.

    1. Ahah, that’s what everyone’s been saying. Ok, will do 🙂 Snowpiercer seems to have been left out in the cold (pardon the pun), but there are some terrific performances in there.

  4. I am really coming to love Mark Ruffalo. He’s always in solid films because he gives solid performances. Glad to see you ranked McAvoy and Hardy. I,too, still haven’t seen Nightcrawler. Everyone loves it. Nice post as always, Ruth!

    1. Yes me too Cindy! I’m curious to check out his earlier films, even all the rom-coms he did. I haven’t seen Nightcrawler too, but will do as soon as it arrives on iTunes!

      1. With regard to the Rom Com, I first noticed him in ‘Just like Heaven’ with Reese Witherspoon. It was light entertainment. Nothing special. Cutesy charm. Then I took him seriously when I saw him in ‘The Kids are Alright’. He’s on an upward swing and I hope he rides high for a long time.

  5. Brittani

    Great picks! I just saw Foxcatcher a few days ago so I definitely agree with Carell and Ruffalo. Those are still fresh in my mind.

      1. You know I don’t like to order movies through VOD, most of them are too pricey. I don’t like paying $5 or more for a movie that I might get bored by or hate it. I usually wait for them to hit Redbox or Netflix.

  6. Can’t really argue with your picks Ruth. Having seen Gyllenhaal (who couldn’t have been creepier), Redmayne and Simmons I’d put those three near the top. Just a superb year for male performances all around.

    Personally I thought J.K. Simmons had the best performance of the year for me. Having attended Berklee College of Music I can safely say we didn’t have teachers that were that intense but J.K.’s performance was so electric you couldn’t take your eyes off him. Miles Teller was pretty great too. As someone who’s been there I really “got” his performance.

    Dan Stevens in The Guest was my guilty pleasure performance of the year. The change up from Downton to The Guest was pretty mind blowing. Can’t wait to see more from him.

    It’s a shame about Oyelowo. Hard to believe that was the same actor who played Danny Hunter in MI-5 (Spooks). Interestingly enough I just found out Gugu Mbatha-Raw was in 9 episodes in ’06. I stopped watching after season 3 in ’04.

    I still have to see Locke and Foxcatcher so I’ve got that to look forward to.

    1. I think if I had seen those three you mentioned, they might make my list, too. Simmons have been great even in tiny roles, so it’s nice to see him in a prominent role.

      Dan Stevens is one of last year’s breakout performances. I mean he went from a chubby-cheeked, posh Brit to a deranged American soldier effortlessly!

      What??! I didn’t know Gugu was in MI-5 as well! I knew Oyelowo was in the earlier seasons. I have to check those out now. I absolutely love her, she’s my girl crush of late 🙂

      1. I was surprised to see Gugu’s name on IMDb too. All the way back in ’06. I tried to get into the 4th season of MI-5 but…… (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen past season 3……)
        after they cleverly dispatched of three certain characters it just wasn’t the same show for me.

        Ruth if you haven’t seen it there’s a great clip going around the internet of Dan Stevens losing it during an interview with Good Morning Britain where the interviewer asks him an poorly worded question about getting cast in The Guest. It’s hysterical beyond words. The guys behind the camera laughing really make the clip. Poor Dan. LOL.

  7. Stu

    I thought you would have had Keaton as number one. I’m surprised! Good list Ruth, there are some terrific performances in there and a couple I haven’t seen that I need to check out. On top of those you’ve already mentioned (incl the ones you haven’t seen like Gyllenhaal) I’ll throw Gleeson (Calvary), Blair (Blue Ruin), Spall (Mr Turner), Teller (Whiplash), Fassbender (Frank), Pitt (Fury), Hawke (Boyhood) and Tatum (Foxcatcher) into the mix, but none of those are my favourite! That’s probably …. eurghhhhh … I don’t actually know.

    1. This is in alphabetical order, Stu, I mentioned that on the post 😉 I can’t rank performances as it’s tough enough narrowing ’em down to just 10. I’ve always been a fan of Gleeson so not surprised at all he’s good in Calvary. Y’know I actually wasn’t all that impressed by Tatum in Foxcatcher for some reason, he actually irritates me.

  8. God, that scene in The Imitation Game just broke my heart. In the back of my mind, I knew that he wasn’t going to walk away from this film without getting some recognition for it.

    All in all, Ruth, this is a very good list. Well done.

    1. Hey thanks Anna! Benedict has proven time and again he’s a serious actor. Even in his tiny role in August Osage County he’s VERY memorable. But yeah, Turing is a role tailor-made for him and it’s an emotionally-engaging performance that I haven’t seen before in his previous work.

  9. YEY! Love the inclusion of Mark. Norton is my win – holy God when he threw that shoe at Keaton at the end of the fight I was in tears from laughing – but JK will be a worthy winner.

    1. Hi Sati! Oh I knew I’d have to include Mark on here, I could see why you’re crushing on him big time 😉 The supporting male category is just so strong this year, but Simmons seems to be everyone’s fave to win.

  10. Irene McKenna

    Outstanding list! I love what you said about Carell and Ruffalo in Foxcatcher. I agree that Ruffalo’s character was the heart of the film. Well said.

    1. Thank you Irene! I appreciate you actually reading what I have to say instead of just glancing at the names 🙂 I’m not in love w/ Foxcatcher as a film but the performances are indeed outstanding.

    1. Mwahahaha, you’re kidding right? Well he’s quite different in Gone Girl than in those Madea films (based on the clips I’ve seen anyway), but yes, he’s VERY good in it. Totally inspired casting!

  11. Really great list! Birdman is still my number one movie to see. I look forward to Michael Keaton’s performance so much. Love your picks of Ralph, Chris, and so many others, but it’s hard for me to pick out one in particular. Actresses stood out more than actors to me in 2014 for some reason. 🙂

    1. Thanks Katy! Oh I hope you see Birdman soon, I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Keaton is the one I’m rooting for this entire award season. There are a lot of strong actresses this year too, that’s why I did that top 10 list first 😀

  12. Gyllenhaal, Ruth, he’s Gyllenhaal. You should watch Nightcrawler. Anyway, is it just me or am the only one who loves Ben Affleck in Gone Girl? ‘Cause he nails it, definitely be the guy in trouble who lures all the sympathy. Frankly saying. Great list, anyway!

    1. Yes Paskalis, I know I missed out on Nightcrawler! I went to the theater to see it but it wasn’t playing there anymore. Affleck is in my Honorable Mention.

      1. Abbi

        He was my favourite. I also loved Tom Hardy in Locke and both Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash. Ben Schnetzer in Pride.

  13. Awesome lists and great write-ups. I noticed no Bradley Cooper, are you anti-sniper? I really liked Ethan Hawke in Boyhood, Cumberbatch as Sheldon Cooper, and for a more comedic pick, Christ Pratt in Guardians.

    1. Hi Ian! I haven’t seen American Sniper yet but I’m not sure I’m all that interested in seeing it. Cumberbatch as Sheldon Cooper? Which film is that?

  14. Fantastic choices, so many good performances to choose from in 2014 films! So pleased you mentioned Chris Pine in ‘Into The Woods’ he totally surprised me with his performance in that! you have also highlighted some films I now need to make sure I catch up with 🙂

  15. Still haven’t seen most of these. I have watched Selma and Oyelowo is amazing. So is Andy Serkis in Dawn. Glad to see you give some love to Anthony Mackie. I’ve always liked him and thought he was about to become a big star after The Hurt Locker. Maybe Marvel has given him another shot at it.

    1. Hi Dell! Glad to hear you love Oyelowo, Serkis and Mackie, all are such grossly underrated actors I hope to see more of. Yes I actually like Mackie more in The Hurt Locker than Renner to be honest. I’d love to see him get his own Marvel movie!

  16. Great picks, Ruth. Can’t argue with any of those. It will be awesome to see Keaton get a much-deserved Best Actor award this year. His speeches have been so great at the other award shows so far, too.

    Hope you’re able to catch up with Whiplash soon! That’s one of my favorite movies of the year, and JK Simmons delivers arguably the most terrifying performance out of anyone last year.

    1. Hi Eric! Yeah I’m REALLY hoping Keaton will win the Oscar as Redmayne has won Globes AND the SAG awards now. I’m very curious about Simmon’s scary performance in Whiplash!

    1. Thanks Mark! Yeah, Fiennes nominated for a comedic role would’ve been great to see. Hardy is another strong performer that somehow got overlooked last year.

  17. Woo, Chris Evans and Tom Hardy! They’d definitely be among my picks of last year for those films. I’ve got to catch up on the rest of those films though – will do soon hopefully!

    1. They’re gorgeous + talented boys aren’t they? Nice to see Chris getting intriguing roles like this, hopefully the trend will continue. He’s been in tons of dreadful rom-coms!

      1. Haha, he has. His role in Snowpiercer reminded me a little bit of his character in Push.

        Tom Hardy just continues to impress. I could probably watch him paint a white wall white again and be impressed.

        1. Oh I haven’t seen Push, is that any good? He’s good in Puncture but the movie itself is meh.

          Hardy on the other hand is coming into his own as a serious actor. Ahah yeah he’s so charismatic too which always helps. I still can’t believe he’s Handsome Bob in Rocknrolla, I still watch the clips w/ him in it, he’s soooo sexy! Funny that he has the hots for Gerry Butler in that movie, and at the time he was still unknown. But now the table’s reversed as GB’s still stuck doing awful movies!

          1. Push is a good film. Not an absolutely fantastically amazing sort of film. But I enjoyed the hell out of it – a solid little superhero-esque film. I think, at the time, it was under the shadow of countless big comic book films. It’s no where near the scale, but I liked it for what it is. It’s got a superb score too.

            While it was awesome hearing Tom Hardy being cast in Suicide Squad, I’m actually relieved he’s dropped out. Leaves him much more open!

            1. Oh cool, I might check it out then. Believe it or not I actually saw What’s Your Number recently, a rom-com that Evans did w/ Anna Farris, oh my that was pretty stupid even though it has its moments.

              I haven’t been keeping up w/ Suicide Squad but yeah, hope Hardy got a juicier role!

              1. Haha, I’ve seen that one. Funnily enough, it crops up on TV here fairly often! I think I even saw him in The Nanny Diaries with ScarJo! Though one film of his that is insanely stupid that I really enjoy is Cellular. It’s non-sensical, but I love it! HA!

  18. What a great list! Norton was soooo good in Birdman. Hardy was good too, but I hated that movie. And I just saw Budapest Hotel again and that just reminded me how great Fiennes’ acting was in it.

    1. Yeah he was great wasn’t he? I wish Keaton & Norton would both win, but I think Supporting Actor award would go to JK Simmons. Ahah, you hated Locke? I was surprised how engrossed I was in the story despite the lack of action. I do love Hardy though.

      1. Hardy is in my top 3, ugh I love him. But Locke was boring, I really wanted to see someone else on the screen to interact with him. I still need to see Whiplash, I heard it was fantastic and Simmons was too. I mean the way Keaton and Norton played off each other was phenomenal. I need to write my review still!

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  20. I’m incredibly disappointed that I didn’t get to see The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. I’ll be looking for that movie EVERYWHERE so I can finally see it. It doesn’t surprise me that James McAvoy makes your list. I’ve really enjoyed him in just about everything I’ve seen him in.

    I also loved the performances you mentioned from Foxcatcher. I know a lot of people claim that film is super slow, but it’s such a good one. It’s so nice to see Steve Carell finally get an opportunity like that one. And Ruffalo is so great in both Foxcatcher and Begin Again (I thought it was a 2014 film???).

    1. Hi Kris! I think The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is now available on iTunes, there’s also the His/Hers versions. McAvoy is sooooo great in it, as he is in X-Men: DOFP in two very different roles. He just reminds me so much of young Gerry Butler (but w/ 1000 times better acting chops, ahah)

      Begin Again is listed as 2013 on IMDb but I suppose you can include it as 2014 as most people saw it last year.

  21. Awesome list! Having just seen The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him/Her, I love seeing McAvoy on here. He was great in that, as well as Filth.

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