The 20 Best Acting Performances of Sundance 2014

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Paste Movies Editor Michael Dunaway’s Top Five Performances of Sundance 2014

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5. Bill Hader in The Skeleton Twins
Don’t expect crazy characters and impersonations. Hader’s character in Craig Johnson’s dramedy is plenty funny, but what makes the performance so moving is the tragedy Hader evokes at the core of Milo, however at times self-inflicted and however at times overdramatized. It’s not in spite of those flaws that we’re drawn in; it’s because of them. Maybe the best recent performance by any SNL alum.

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4. Anne Hathaway in Song One
Hathaway confessed to me that early int he production of Song One, she was a little worried that audiences would tire of “two hours of closeups of me making sad faces.” She needn’t have worried. Outside of those few magical Oscar-winning moments as Fantine in Les Miserables, I think her acting in Song One may be the best of her entire career. Her silences speak more than most actors’ monologues. Touching and thrilling.

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3. Mark Ruffalo in Infinitely Polar Bear
I confess, I generally have a problem with actors portraying mental illness. not because it’s esepcially a hot button in my own life, but just because it always seems so showy and actor-y. “Look at me, ma, I’m acting,” as William Goldman once put it. Ironically, it’s in embracing the artifice inherent in Cameron’s personality that Ruffalo breaks through to some really beautiful work. Cameron is the down-on-his-luck son of an aristocratic Boston Brahmin family, and his accent, bearing, attitude, and even his walk have an exaggerated theatricality to them. but they’re also grounded and REAL — we’ve all known people like this. It creates a bizarrely perfect canvas on which Ruffalo paints a deep, textured, muti-layered performance.

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2. Alfred Molina in Love is Strange
Alfred Molina is one of those seemingly effortless actors that always, time and time again, turns in performances that truly live and breathe. Ira Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias have written a beautiful part for him here, but perhaps Sachs’ greatest choice was simply to give him a lead role and let the camera linger on him. As always, he’s magnificent.

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1. John Lithgow in Love is Strange
John Lithgow does weird so convincingly that when he turns his hand to more dramatic roles it always feels like a revelation. But even if you have some nice dramatic turns of his from the past in your mind, you won’t be fully prepared for what he does in Love is Strange. His Ben is sweet and sincere, awkward and oblivious, self-sacrificing and gently neurotic, all at once. It’s simply a masterpiece, perhaps the greatest of his career, and yes, I’m counting his Oscar-nominated roles in Garp and Terms of Endearment. It’s that good.