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It’s about that time of the year – the time when lists come out that describe the greatest performances and films of the year. I don’t feel comfortable declaring the great performances of the year from on high, but I can with some confidence describe the performances that inspired me. As a filmmaker, I think it’s useful to identify these sorts of things because it helps one understand and refine a personal taste in the craft of screen acting. So I suggest it as a great exercise for everyone making films, whether as a director, actor, screenwriter or producer.  If you’re so inclined, leave your own Top Ten Supporting Performances in the Comments section and let’s get the discussion going!

These actors played supporting roles in films this year. I thought about splitting up the lists in terms of gender but then thought….why? The Hollywood awards season splitting up “contestants” in terms of their gender has puzzled me for a while now. This is not track & field, where it makes sense that males would be unfair competition to females (maybe, in acting, it’s us males who are scared….hmmmm).

Another caveat: No, I haven’t seen every single “important” film to hit theaters in 2014, but this is a blog. So I reserve the right to tinker with this list as the final films of the season come out.

Most Inspiring Supporting Performances of 2014 (to Hunter at least….)

1. Tilda Swinton – Snowpiercer. Full disclosure: I’ve seen a LOT of Tilda Swinton films in my time. And I’ve ALWAYS respected her. But this performance…when it was over…I tilda - snowthought, “Wow. I didn’t know Tilda had it in her….” She makes a radical physical transformation, takes a lot of risks on her character choices (to the point that she’s almost unrecognizable), yet somehow manages to also retain emotional authenticity in a VERY high stakes environment. Not easy to do AT ALL and she pulled it off.

2. Adam Pearson – Under the Skin. If Tilda Swinton inspired me by physically transforming into a character, Adam Pearson inspired me by bravely revealing his own disfigurement – and the emotional cost of same – on the screen. Pearson suffers from neurofibromatosis, something everyone who sees the young man can’t help but notice within milliseconds of meeting him. In the film, Pearson’s picked up by Scarlett Johansson’s character, but quickly becomes skeptical of her seductive posturing towards him. On the one hand, he’s clearly always wanted sexual attention, but the years of constant ridicule for his appearance causes him to seriously doubt the advances of a mysterious and beautiful woman. It’s a great example of the internal “push and pull” that causes the audience to become totally in sync with the character they’re watching. Pearson bore his soul for this role and the results are searing, unforgettable, heartbreaking. You’re inspired by him too? You can check out his Twitter feed here: @adam_pearson

3. Emma Stone – Birdman. Most lived-in 80-year olds aren’t as grounded as the 26-year old Emma Stone in Birdman. Her character’s speech questioning her father’s extraordinary privilege was just flawless. It’s the rare 26-year old who’ll make you believe that her desire for sobriety was not only hard-earned, but also sincere.

4. Kristin Stewart – Clouds of Sils Maria. Who can more than hold their own against Jodie Foster and now Juliette Binoche? Judging by the placement of this sentence on this list, Kristin Stewart in "Clouds of Sils Maria"I’m guessing you know the answer. I loved that Ms. Stewart filled in every moment of her performance with subtext that hinted at the complicated, passionate relationship at hand and the power game threatening to psychologically upend both women.

5. Ethan Hawke – Boyhood. A lot of the buzz on this film is about Patricia Arquette’s work, but I found Hawke to be at a career best here. I related to his character, torn between his duty as a father and his drive to live authentically with limited means. We see the young protagonist grow from six to 18 during the film, but it’s Hawke’s character who struck me as the one who does the most growing up.

6. Riz Ahmed – Nightcrawler. It’s hard to describe the merits of Riz Ahmed’s performance without giving away spoilers of a totally awesome film. But, in his final scene, Ahmed reminds me of William Hurt’s hopelessly outmatched character in Body Heat. It’s a great example of a character who legitimately has a revelation before our eyes.

7. Kang-Ho Song – Snowpiercer. Okay, if there is a sentimental choice on my list, maybe it’s Mr. Kang-Ho Song. He’s one of the unsung heroes of modern film acting who’s Kang-Ho Song in Snowpiercerdelivered one master class after another with Memories of Murder, The Host and more. In Snowpiercer, he continues his streak of somehow being endlessly entertaining while never striking a false note.

8. Natalya Surkova – The Fool. In a film that is the Eastern bloc’s counterpart to A Most Violent Year, this Russian actress made me fully believe that her corrupt character not only did what she had to do to survive (and make herself rich) but also had enough obstacles along the way that she legitimately felt badly about it (sometimes). Many times, actors forget to layer both the drive and their obstacles into the performance, but not Ms. Surkova.

9. Babetida Sadjo – Waste Land. When I see actors in their 20s, I’m impressed if I see an authentic drive for their goal, along with some emotional depth. What I don’t normally expect from young actors is extraordinary range – that usually comes with Babetida Sadjotime, life experience and confidence. That’s why I was absolutely blown away by Babetida Sadjo in Waste Land. She’s seductive and vulnerable in some moments, enraged in others. She’s victimized horribly but also is herself manipulative at times. Her grief and loneliness expose themselves not only in moments where we see her sadness, but in her childlike experimentation with the power she holds as a beautiful woman.

10. Lars Eidinger – Clouds of Sils Maria. His performance is so good that it’s hard to realize that his character Klaus Diesterweg is the wizard behind the curtain because Eidinger has the confidence to never fully reveal his character. But watch closely…and the game is there. A very underrated performance in one of the best films of the year. A must-see for actors.

There were so many amazing supporting performances this year that I’m not sure listing only ten feels complete, so I also want to mention the following performers whose work I found to be excellent: Edward Norton as a respected, unhinged Broadway actor in Birdman, JK Simmons as an intimidating jazz teacher in Whiplash, Agata Kulesza as a Jewish holocaust survivor dismayed that her niece is about to take vows as a nun in Ida, Rene Russo as a morally bankrupt news producer in Nightcrawler, Jessica Chastain as a mobster’s daughter in A Most Violent Year, Keira Knightley as Alan Turing’s fellow codebreaker and quasi-romantic interest in The Imitation Game, Carrie Coon as a thorough detective in Gone Girl and Marc-Andre Grondin as a slacker musician with a personality problem in Tu Dors Nicole.

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

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