2013 has been one of the best years for film I’ve seen in the past decade. I’ve caught over 150 films released in the past 365 days, and many of them have contained performances that won’t be mentioned on this list. These actresses have the most emotionally affecting, narratively enhancing, and delicately balanced performances I’ve seen in 2013, and without further adieu, here are the ten best supporting actresses of the year:
1. Carey Mulligan, Inside Llewyn Davis
Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the year’s best films, and that stems from its large array of remarkable performances. While Isaac’s Llewyn is the film’s showcase, the movie bustles with maddened energy from Carey Mulligan’s Jean. She’s a woman who was presumably once in love with Llewyn but doesn’t stand as a character defined by the lead; rather, she’s a folk singer who is attempting to make it just as much as Llewyn. She just chose another man to take that journey with her. Her pregnancy complicates issues and Mulligan brings a vivacity to her anger when she spews vitriolic comments at Llewyn. In one of the film’s final scenes, he says he loves her, and she sits there with a slight smile on her face; she loves, or rather loved, him too. Mulligan is given very little to work with on the surface and brings incredible life to a small character; hers is the best of the year.
2. Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
American Hustle bustles with energy because of David O. Russell’s script and the terrific performances within its ensemble. With Silver Linings Playbook last year, Russell messed with screwball conventions and made an outstanding romantic comedy that was one of the best of the year; while his latest falters due to confidently uneven direction, he continues that comedic trend by giving Lawrence the juiciest role as an alcoholic and discontent housewife. She carries a ferocity in every word of her accent-ridden performance, delivering one-liners with confidence and diving deep into the world of a woman being hustled by a man who does it professionally. She’s smarter than that, though, and wants more of her life; her aspirations to continue her American Dream demonstrate the power of Lawrence on screen, since she’s magnetic.
3. Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen made the year’s best film, and within his masterpiece are many tenderly affecting performances. Lupita Nyong’o’s Patsey is an abused, persistent woman caught in the fabric of slavery as it tears apart her being. She’s raped and loved sickeningly by her slaveowner, and hopes to fight for human rights, just like anyone else in the world deserves. The brilliance of McQueen’s film seems to be embodied by Nyong’o: her fight for basic human liberties does not simply stem from her being a slave, but also pushes forth the power of this film being made in an era when white men are still the truly dominant figures in society. Nyong’o is a newcomer to the screen and has a promising future ahead of her. The performance here is extraordinary.
4. Léa Seydoux, Blue is the Warmest Color
Léa Seydoux’s Emma shines through most of Blue is the Warmest Color, emphasizing the film’s message of opening up one’s self to love and feeling the repercussions. Emma remains an enigma for much of the film’s introductory scenes with her hair acting as a symbol of Adele’s newfound love. She can spot Emma in a crowd or find her in a crowded bar because of her hair. Their love becomes palpable as the film continues, and the jealousy that forms from Emma and Adele’s relationships with other people leads to one of the year’s finest scenes: the impassioned emotional battle that culminates into their break-up, a yelling match that rivals the fiercest performances I’ve seen this year. Love can do that to people. Seydoux graces Emma with mystery and intensity, driving this unconventional romance to another, more affecting level.
5. Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
The Weinstein Co. considers this a supporting role, even though Roberts mostly shares the lead with Meryl Streep. Julia Roberts takes on a difficult role in acting as a seemingly level-headed female in the most dysfunctional family I’ve seen in film this year. As Barbara, she is going through a separation with her husband and continues to deal with a rebellious daughter; after her father dies, the entire family gathers to mourn, but she mostly remains bitter at her mother, Violet. They battle at the dinner table before it becomes increasingly apparent that they are very similar as individuals; in fact, Roberts’ evolution near the end of the film forces her into a tricky situation that causes her to go through swift changes emotionally. And somehow it remains convincing, despite the film’s occasionally loopy narrative. Roberts is forceful for a while and quiet in the film’s final moments, a testament to the power of her performance.
6. Cameron Diaz, The Counselor
Cameron Diaz plays a femme fatale to a delightfully extreme degree in Ridley Scott’s mess of a crime thriller, The Counselor. While I’m not a fan of the film as a whole, Diaz lends life to a role that on the surface feels a bit one-dimensional. She lends herself to the film’s dog-eat-dog mentality, and she almost always appears one step ahead of her enemies. That’s why she’s in the final scene chewing even more scenery as she beats down the message of the film. What everyone will remember, though, is how Diaz’s Malkina has sex with a car in front of Javier Bardem’s Reiner. Oh yeah, that’s totally a thing that happened in film this year. And Diaz gives every scene a type of spirited mayhem that only Bardem can occasionally match. But her role is the most prime for an excellent performance, and she delivers on that front.
7. Zoë Saldana, Out of the Furnace
One of the most underrated films of the year, Out of the Furnace boasts some of the year’s best performances. Zoë Saldana only has about fifteen minutes of screen time, but her presence is remarkable. As Lena, she acts as more than simply the love interest of Russell (Christian Bale); while most of the characters have seen America take most of what it can from them, she’s the one that seems to be trying the most to live a normal life. In a particularly brutal and brilliant exchange, Lena and Russell discuss her falling in love with another man while Russell was in prison. Saldana plays the scene masterfully and lets the emotion work in a normal, reactionary way rather than the romantic film cliché. Saldana gives a minimal role the proper boundaries that her talents fit; she’s a terrific actress, and it’s a small but powerful performance.
8. Jennifer Garner, Dallas Buyers Club
Dallas Buyers Club is one of the most emotionally affecting films of the year, and the supporting performances from both Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner lend plenty of heft to the movie’s power. As Dr. Eve Saks, Garner is not simply a worried doctor that’s concerned about her patients, but she’s also a woman personally connected to these individuals, particularly Rayon. There are glimpses into her past but the film never worries about extensive character development; rather, it builds the characterization through the manner in which she speaks and acts with little dialogue. A dinner scene with McConaughey’s Ron shows the lightness of her character and the caring nature of her demeanor, but she’s never reduced to a love interest. She’s simply a great friend, and Garner plays that beautifully.
9. Melonie Diaz, Fruitvale Station
While Octavia Spencer’s performance from Fruitvale Station is undoubtedly powerful and probably going to receive more recognition, it’s Melonie Diaz’s Sophina that brings the largest emotional wallop. I’m not sure if there’s been a stronger reaction to a character’s death than Sophina’s devastating collapse after learning of Oscar’s death at the hands of the police. In the film’s opening moments, though, Diaz encapsulates the desire for Oscar’s character to better himself, primarily because she and his baby girl are the main reasons for changing. She may be a bit too symbolic as an entity, but Diaz gives her life and dives into a character that’s thin on the surface. I felt the tragedy of Sophina in the film’s final scenes, and Diaz is outstanding with her small screen time.
10. June Squibb, Nebraska
June Squibb’s performance in Nebraska reminds me of another affecting and understated performance from last year: Jacki Weaver in Silver Linings Playbook. Both are older actresses that play maternal figures and love their husbands, even if they sometimes have a hard time showing it. Squibb’s Kate was a promiscuous young woman who’s now married to Woody, an optimistic yet senile old man whom she clearly loves. She berates him and constantly mocks him and his actions, but it’s only when she visits him in bed that she shows her love, kissing him gently on the forehead and telling him how much of a lovable goon he is. Kate occasionally comes across as cold; Squibb never loses sight of her humanity, though, and gives a beautifully layered performance.
Honorable Mention: Rachel McAdams, Passion
Brian De Palma’s Passion is an artistic endeavor into extreme camp, one that I enjoyed far more than most people. And the film’s shining point is Rachel McAdams, playing Christine Stanford with a cold sexiness that De Palma seems to love in his films. She’s an intelligent, fierce, and calculating boss who pushes Noomi Rapace’s Isabelle into a tricky situation. They become lovers in an unconventional way, with Christine using her sexuality to push Isabelle to jealousy. McAdams has had a terrific year, also providing a humanized performance in About Time, and in Passion she showcases her abilities to act as an intelligent yet sexy female presence. She brings dramatic heft to the role because of her talent as an actress, and makes the twisty narrative all the more exciting.