Whereas some films can turn on a single performance, others find their strength in layered, multi-talented casts. BOP likes to honor such groups with the Best Cast Calvin, and this year’s winner is 12 Years a Slave.
2014 Calvin Awards: Best Cast
By Kim Hollis
February 11, 2014
Of course, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s outstanding performance is the centerpiece, as he portrays a free African-American who is kidnapped and sold into slavery during the 1840s. Ejiofor’s measured delivery is contrasted by that of the frantic, tempestuous Edwin Epps, as played by Michael Fassbender. Lupita Nyong’o’s quiet suffering is palpable, and other players deliver memorable performances in smaller roles. Benedict Cumberbatch is fascinating as the conflicted plantation owner, while Sarah Paulson smolders with anger and jealousy. Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Paul Dano also make big impressions during their limited screen time.
The cast of 12 Years a Slave received five first place votes in our polling and was recognized by 50% of our ballots. The runner-up wasn’t far behind, picking up four first place nods and appearing on 11 out of 20 ballots. The Wolf of Wall Street is yet another testament to Martin Scorsese’s ability to lead great actors to big things. Here Scorsese is reunited with Leonardo DiCaprio, who had previously appeared in Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed and Shutter Island for the director. He gives a tour de force show as Jordan Belfort, the white color con artist who used the stock market to his greatest advantage. Jonah Hill worked for scale just so he could have an opportunity to collaborate with Scorsese, and delivers another shockingly good performance. Other key acting turns come from Matthew McConaughey (who is magnificent in everything this year, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jean Dujardin and Joanna Lumley, amongst others.
Finishing a more distant third was the cast of American Hustle, and indeed it does boast a strong group that delivers strong performances across the board. At the forefront are Christian Bale, who uglied himself up to play Irving Rosenfeld, and Amy Adams, classy yet opportunistic as Sydney Prosser (aka Lady Edith Greensly). Bradley Cooper exudes insecurity an FBI agent, while Jennifer Lawrence sinks her teeth into admittedly sloppy role of Rosenfeld’s wife. Jeremy Renner, Louis CK and an uncredited Robert De Niro are all also terrific here. For a polarizing film, our staff still can agree that the cast is giving it their all.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have been the backbone of the first two films in the Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy, fighting zombies in Shaun of the Dead and sending up cop films in Hot Fuzz. They’re together again for The World’s End, with Pegg delivering a melancholy take on his character while Pegg becomes the more grounded and centered person in their merry group of friends. Joining them are Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan, all of whom do an outstanding job of communicating that wistfulness over lost time and middle age. They’re not bad when it comes to fighting alien robots, either.
With two pivotal performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club is rightfully drawing attention. McConaughey did more than just lose a bunch of weight, infusing Ron Woodroof with a devil-may-care attitude that shifts to something much more human when he begins obtaining medicine for fellow suffers of AIDS. Leto is Woodroof’s sympathetic partner in crime, giving a tragic air to Rayon, a transgendered woman who also suffers from the disease. Jennifer Garner provides the everywoman character in a doctor who helps them both, while Steve Zahn is a rodeo cohort from Woodroof’s former life struggling to deal with the implications of AIDS. Griffin Dunne is also onboard as a wry physician working in a Mexican hospital.
The Way, Way Back is a pleasant surprise that wasn’t seen by nearly enough people, which is a shame because they missed a breakthrough performance by Liam James, who plays a teenager struggling to find his place in an unfamiliar vacation town. Sam Rockwell gives what may be the performance of the year as a manager of a local water park who takes the kid under his wing. Steve Carell is a jerk, Toni Collette is a scattered parent and AnnaSophia Robb is the “girl next door.” Writers/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash are also on hand as fellow workers at the water park, and the combination of talent in the film makes for a delightful experience.
What’s interesting about Nebraska is the fact that the majority of its performers are senior citizens. The film features a strong centering performance from Will Forte as the son of an elderly man who is convinced he’s won a million dollars. When the two of them journey to Lincoln, NE to “collect” the winnings, they encounter any number of misadventures. It’s surely a different kind of road movie, but along with Forte, Bruce Dern is almost painful in his role as a man losing touch with reality. June Squibb deserves every accolade she’s received for the film, and other actors such as Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk and Angela McEwan are memorable as well.
It’s almost unfair to reward This Is the End considering that the actors in the film are just playing (extremely) exaggerated versions of themselves, but to be able to do so with such comic effect deserves praise. Danny McBride may be the funniest of the bunch, but Jonah Hill, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and Channing Tatum all have hilarious moments. And an ax-toting Emma Watson is pretty badass, too.
Another teenage, coming-of-age film slots in at number nine, as we laud The Spectacular Now primarily for the combination of gut-punching performances from Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley in the central roles. Brie Larson is sympathetic in a tough role where she could have come off as simply bitchy, while Kyle Chandler goes against type as a damaged absent parent. Also, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is tragic in a tiny role.
Our final selection is Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which boasts a star-studded cast. As the titular character, Forest Whitaker leads us through the Forest Gump-esque story, and the plot rests comfortably on his shoulders. Oprah Winfrey is his conflicted wife, and David Oyelowo is his activist, progressive son. Presidential actors include John Cusack, Robin Williams, James Marsden and Alan Rickman, and Cuba Gooding Jr. is one of the film’s underrated players as a fellow butler.
Films that barely missed the cut were Rush, August: Osage County and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.
2014 Calvin Awards
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music