Tatiana Pauhofova in "Burning Bush"
As the lawyer fighting against the dynamics of a Communist regime in late 60's Poland, Pauhofova exerts so much with her eyes and guarded body language. The story of Agnieszka Holland's "Burning Bush" is powerful enough, but Pauhofova adds a steely justice fighter to the mix.
Jessica Chastain in "Interstellar"
Christopher Nolan's ambitious but heartfelt epic (one of my very very faves of the year) can make one's head spin with its loopy science and bouncing time lines, but its the performances of all involved that transcend the large-scale ideas. Jessica Chastain- also getting huge buzz for two other films this year, the still largely unseen "A Most Violent Year" and "Miss Julie"- nails her role as the daughter of Matthew McConaughey struggling to put together the pieces on Earth. Her first confessional scene to daddy in space breaks me apart every time... and I saw the film three times in one week, each time knowing what was coming and still succumbing to her pain.
Ah-sung Ko in "Snowpiercer"
In a largely wordless performance, Ah-sung Ko is my fanboy pick of the year for kickass chick. Regardless of the more athletic nature of her role, something clicked with me. Her large, expressive eyes and her ability to telegraph emotion through body language was a revelation.
Chloe-Grace Moretz in "Laggies"
Despite taking a back seat to the precocious relationship between Sam Rockwell and Keira Knightley, Moretz shined as the daughter caught between the adults' arrested development. Still able to hone the uncomfortable silences of a teenager (such as the great scene when she finally visits her estranged mom) while balancing the believable poise of a girl approaching womanhood, Moretz saves "Laggies" from being a colossal bore.
Felicity Jones in "The Theory of Everything"
Felicity Jones has been garnering attention since earlier this year in "The Invisible Woman". In "The Theory of Everything", she plays the wife of Stephen Hawking (whose memoirs the film is based upon) and not only, IMO, out-acts Redmayne, but is the beating heart of the entire affair. Just watch as she strides across a croquet court to steal the mallet from young Hawking or the tremors of resolve that swirl across her face as she makes a decision late in the film.
Marion Cotillard in "The Immigrant"
I love how one early review compared Cotillard in "The Immigrant" to Ingrid Bergman in Rosselini's films. The comparison is apt, not only because of the early 20th century aura (and lighting) of the film, but in the way director Gray frames her face and eyes. It's a flagellate role... manipualted, abused and confined by the realities of a harsh New York City, but Cotillard creates a brave and soulful portrait within the callowness.
Andrea Riseborough in "Birdman"
In a film full of snazzy performances, Riseborough's is the least amplified but the one that's stuck with me the most. It may be Michael Keaton's breakdown, but she inhabits a small portion of his unverse with depth and precise reaction shots.