Top five film performances of 2014

Jan. 7, 2015, 10:55 p.m.

2014—especially the latter half of it — was another groundbreaking year for cinema. From the jaw-dropping enormity of “Interstellar” to the fine-tuned details of “Gone Girl,” Hollywood has set the bar high for 2015. Above all else, the performances in 2014 were at a whole new level. Below is a list of the top five film performances of last year. Though there are many other names that could be placed among the following, these five performances were the most impressive.

5.  Tilda Swinton in “Snowpiercer”

Tilda Swinton’s performance in “Snowpiercer” — a dystopian movie that takes place on a train, housing the remainder of humanity, that circles around an otherwise uninhabitable earth — is off-putting in the best way imaginable. Playing the callous, egocentric Mason, whose job it is to maintain strict class divisions within the train, Swinton embodies arguably the most unsavory character of 2014 cinema. Sporting an aristocratic attitude and a sadistic grin, Swinton, as Mason, is unbelievably good at being unbelievably bad.

“Snowpiercer” is available on Blu-ray and DVD at Green Library’s Media and Microtext Center.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in "The Imitation Game." Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company.
Benedict Cumberbatch stars in “The Imitation Game.” Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

4.  Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”

Well known for playing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective, Sherlock Holmes, on the BBC’s “Sherlock,” Cumberbatch does it again with his touching portrayal of the brilliant, yet flawed mathematician, Alan Turing who cracked the Nazi Enigma Code during World War II. At first, it might seem impossible to see Benedict Cumberbatch as anybody other than the famous detective; however, Cumberbatch shatters this preconception, stuttering his way into our hearts. With indisputable sincerity, he underscores not just Turing’s sheer intelligence, but also his social ineptitude and — most importantly — the toll that keeping his sexual orientation a secret took on him.

“The Imitation Game” is now playing at Century Cinemas 16 in Mountain View. Also, read The Daily’s interview with “Imitation Game” screenwriter Graham Moore and actor Allen Leech.

3.  Jake Gyllenhaal in “Enemy”

If you know anything about actors, you probably know how much of an ordeal it is for them to “get into character.” Now imagine having to get into two characters. Jake Gyllenhaal does exactly this in his rendition of döppelgangers Adam and Anthony in the Canadian thriller “Enemy.” I still get chills from watching the precision Gyllenhaal exercises as the reckless, spirited Anthony stares down his counterpart, the timid and impotent Adam. Gyllenhaal differentiates between the two by exploiting different postures and even subtle differences in speech cadence, making this a must-see performance of 2014.

“Enemy” is available on demand on iTunes, Amazon and others, as well as on DVD and Blu-ray.

2.  Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”

Reese Witherspoon, who has been noticeably silent in Hollywood these past few years, drew everyone’s attention with her inspired performance as the novice backpacker, Cheryl Strayed, in “Wild.” While Witherspoon has been a crowd favorite in the past, garnering laughs for her role in “Legally Blonde” and an Oscar for her role in “Walk the Line,” she has faded from the foreground as of late. Defying inertia, however, this former Stanford student fights her way back up to the top with a stellar performance: She is gritty and tough in “Wild,” while still maintaining a contemplative aura about her. And although 2014 is over, 2015 certainly has more in store for Witherspoon — perhaps even another Oscar.

“Wild” is now playing at The Guild Theatre in Menlo Park and Century Redwood City 20 in Redwood City.

 Eddie Redmayne stars as Stephen Hawking in Academy Award winner James Marsh’s "The Theory of Everything." Photo Credit:  Liam Daniel / Focus Features
Eddie Redmayne stars as Stephen Hawking in Academy Award winner James Marsh’s “The Theory of Everything.” Photo Credit: Liam Daniel / Focus Features

1.  Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”

Talk about dedication to a role. Despite the fact that Stephen Hawking reportedly spoke a mere seven to eight sentences in his only meeting with Eddie Redmayne, Redmayne still managed to knock it out of the park with an altogether convincing characterization of the renowned physicist. Redmayne spent about four months preparing for the part, reading books on the man, visiting ALS clinics and specialists, and even went so far as to map out his physicality and speech with a choreographer and speech therapist. In fact, in a recent interview with Jon Stewart, Redmayne spoke at great length about the physical manifestations of ALS, demonstrating a knowledge that might rival that of some doctors in the field itself. As further testimony to Redmayne’s preparedness, check out The Stanford Daily’s interview with the actor; it’s genuinely impressive. In all likelihood, he, too, is a lock for an Oscar nomination.

“The Theory of Everything” is now playing at CinéArts at Palo Alto Square in Palo Alto

Contact Ian Anstee at ianstee5 ‘at’

Ian Anstee is a Theater Desk Editor for Arts and Life at the Stanford Daily. He is primarily interested in theatre performance but also has an unhealthy obsession with classical music. Ian was born and raised in Havertown, Pennsylvania and is a proud member of the class of 2018. On any given weekend, you may find Ian hiking the dish, achieving nirvana at Windhover Contemplation Center, or binge-watching House of Cards. Contact him at ianstee5 "at"

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