Bill Hader in "The Skeleton Twins"
As a suicidal homosexual going home to reunite with his sister (an equally good Kristen Wiig), Hader avoids the pratfalls of indie quirkiness and creates a full bodied, conflicted presence. We all knew Hader could make us laugh, but who knew he had this performance in him?
JK Simmons in "Whiplash"
JK Simmons has long been one of my very favorite "character" actors and in "Whiplash", he finally gets the opportunity to take a bit of the center stage as a misogynistic, brutally honest and downright ferocious jazz music teacher who pushes one student a bit too far. It's a showy performance, yes, but one that Simmons inflects with every inch of his muscular arms and shaven head.
Benecio Del Toro in "Jimmy P."
It's encouraging to see Arnaud Desplechin's early year release "Jimmy P; Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian" popping up on a few best of lists. It's a wonderful little film, populated by a series of one-two discussions between Del Toro and doctor Matthieu Almaric. Del Toro gives a quiet, focused performance of a man struggling with PTSD before anyone really knew what it was, enhanced by his nondescript status as an American Indian. The final scene between Del Toro and his daughter is a knockout of internal acting and just shows how great Del Toro has been for so many years now.
Mark Ruffalo in "Foxcatcher"
In a film where anyone of the three main performances could be cited as terrific, it's Ruffalo who resonated most profoundly with me. Another highly internal performance (seeing the common denominator with this list), Ruffalo acts with his eyes, body language and almost hushed sense of presence as the older brother to Channing Tatum. "Foxcatcher" builds to a violent finale, and its Ruffalo who made me care the most in this triangle of misplaced patriotism, jealousy and decaying sense of self importance.
Billy Bob Thornton in "The Judge"
All hail the return of Billy Bob! It feels like Thornton has been missing for so long on the silver screen, although IMDB shows he's just been pretty busy on the small screen (and "Fargo" the tv series feels like something major I've been missing). His role as the prosecuting attorney in "The Judge" is a small one, bookended by a peculiar water flask and deliberate tone of non empathy. Yet, anytime he was on-screen, the film felt infinitely more imprtant.