We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.
This is probably a fool’s errand. Considering there are so many performances to be excited about in any given year – 2013 included – it’s nearly impossible trying to narrow it down to seven. But I did it anyway! Perhaps “TOP 7 Performances I’m Most Excited About While Writing This List” would be more accurate. That just wasn’t quite as catchy. Nevertheless, here are seven performances that I’m really looking forward to in 2013.
(Yes, yes, I know we're already a couple weeks into 2013. Sorry, Sean Penn in Gangster Squad. I guess it wasn’t your destiny to make this list.)
7. Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Role: The wicked dragon that Bilbo and company must take on in order to reclaim the dwarves treasure. Reason: I love Benedict Cumberbatch, thanks in large part to “Sherlock” and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so I’m thrilled that his 2013 looks so bright (he also has Star Trek Into Darkness, August: Osage County, Twelve Years a Slave, and possibly Bill Condon’s The Man Who Sold the World). I trust he’ll deliver in all of these roles, but his Smaug is the biggest reason I’m looking forward to this film. After “Riddles in the Dark” was the best sequence in part one, a Martin Freeman vs. motion capture verbal showdown could be tops once again. While Cumberbatch wouldn’t necessarily have been a name that came to mind for me during casting, I can’t wait to see what he does with the motion capture and hear what he does with his spectacular voice.
6. Marion Cotillard as Ewa Cybulski in Lowlife
Role: A Polish immigrant who is separated from her sister at Ellis Island and ends up in prostitution. Reason: Marion Cotillard isn’t an actress I always love, so I was a bit surprised to include her on this list. She tends to be hit or miss for me in English speaking roles (Midnight in Paris is good, The Dark Knight Rises is the opposite of that). The biggest reason she’s here is her director (not to mention Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner as co-stars). James Gray is behind the camera for Lowlife, something that gives me a lot of faith that this will belong in the “good” column. Gray’s previous film, Two Lovers, features outstanding performances by Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw (and Oscar-worthy work from Phoenix). The film itself is one of my most anticipated, and I’m optimistic that Cotillard will deliver in what sounds like a difficult role.
5. Emma Watson as Nicki in The Bling Ring
Role: The leader of the Bling Ring, a group of teens who rob the homes of celebrities (based on a true story). Reason: Emma Watson’s work in the Harry Potter series wasn’t always a high point, but I thought she was genuinely great in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (that moment when she wipes her parents’ memories is played so well). She was even better in last year’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I’m thrilled she’s proving herself outside the world of Hogwarts, and working with Sofia Coppola (who always gets great work out of her actresses) is another exciting step for Watson. This is a role she did a good job preparing herself for. As she told Entertainment Weekly, “I just watched a ton of reality TV.” Between that and some photos that have been released, Emma Watson looks so appealingly unappealing in The Bling Ring.
4. Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof in The Dallas Buyers Club
Role: A man diagnosed with HIV/AIDS who helps himself and others by smuggling in drugs that the FDA deemed illegal (based on Ron Woodroof’s real-life fight). Reason: Coming off a year in which he delivered three stellar performances (my hopes for an Oscar nomination were dashed though), 2013 could be even better for Matthew McConaughey. Both Jeff Nichols’ Mud and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street should be great, but McConaughey’s performance in The Dallas Buyers Club is the one I’m really keeping an eye on. Have you seen the set photos of McConaughey? No? OK, go ahead and take a moment to look. Then take another moment to pick your jaw up off the floor. This guy was a punch line not too long ago, so to see his renaissance continue with him losing 38 pounds for a role is downright impressive. Here’s hoping the performance can match the dedication.
3. Nicole Kidman as Evelyn "Evie" Stoker in Stoker
Role: The unstable widow and mother of Mia Wasikowska’s India. Reason: I don’t always think of her in these terms due to the relative rough patch between Birth and Rabbit Hole, but if I was to seriously consider it, I think I’d say Nicole Kidman is one of my favorite actresses. From 2001 to 2004 she delivered some of my favorite performances of the aughts – Moulin Rouge!, The Others, The Hours, Birth, Dogville – and this decade has been kind so far as well. I haven’t seen anything other than a couple images from Stoker. All I know – all I need to know – is the short plot description, that it is directed by Park Chan-wook, and that it has an intriguing cast (Matthew Goode's charming, yet mysterious uncle almost rivals Kidman). Nicole Kidman playing an unstable mother can’t lose.
2. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup in Twelve Years a Slave
Role: A New York man who was born free before being tricked and kidnapped into slavery. Reason: I read Solomon Northup’s remarkable story around the time this film was announced (you can read it right here). It’s a harrowing account, but if anyone can be trusted to do it justice, it’s Hunger’s Steve McQueen. Twelve Years a Slave boasts one of 2013's most impressive ensembles – Michael Fassbender could have easily been on this list for vile slave owner Edwin Epps – and I’m so happy to see Chiwetel Ejiofor getting an opportunity like this. I don’t expect McQueen to shy away from the subject matter, and I have faith that the Dirty Pretty Things star is up to the challenges of this story. It’s almost a guarantee that this won’t be anywhere near as commercial as Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, but it should still be a deserved boost for the very talented Chiwetel Ejiofor.
1. Steve Carell as John du Pont in Foxcatcher
Role: The heir to the du Pont chemical fortune who was also a paranoid schizophrenic. In the interest of not spoiling real life, I’ll only say he became notorious after starting a wrestling facility at Foxcatcher Farm. Reason: Foxcatcher is my most anticipated film of 2013. There’s simply so much talent on both sides of the camera (including Bennett Miller, Megan Ellison, Greig Fraser, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Vanessa Redgrave). Then there’s Steve Carell. While he’s a very funny actor, Little Miss Sunshine proved he’s capable of going to more dramatic places. This film should be an altogether different beast. Comedy guys going creepy is nothing new, and Carell is talented enough to pull it off. I can think of few things sillier than talking Oscars before any of the films have even been screened, but I could see Miller guide his leading man to a nomination for the third straight film (clearly I'm counting on this turning out better than Jim Carrey in The Number 23). Regardless of asinine Oscar talk, I expect we’ll look at Steve Carell in a completely different light once Foxcatcher hits theaters.