1. Alien (James Franco), Spring Breakers
Love it or hate it, Spring Breakers delivered on its promise of being completely batshit. Is it the best film of the year, as John Waters asserted? Hardly. But Alien is truly something to behold, whether he’s singing Britney Spears or ranting about his shorts. As always, James Franco is thoroughly committed to his work, and in this case, that means making Alien the most ridiculous caricature of real-life rapper Riff Raff imaginable. It’s simultaneously the most likable and unlikable Franco has ever been. —Louis Peitzman
2. Sarah, Beth, Cosima, Katja, Rachel, but mostly Helena and Alison (Tatiana Maslany), Orphan Black
The accents, the totally different ways of holding herself, the facial expressions: It’s like someone challenged Maslany to an extreme acting competition. I loved every clone she played on BBC America’s Orphan Black — and she frequently acted with herself, which is mind-blowing. But the needy, wild-eyed, Medusa-haired, feral Helena and the uptight, ballerina-postured, soccer mom Alison were both my personal favorites and complete opposites of each other. —Kate Aurthur
3. Malkina (Cameron Diaz), The Counselor
Just a crazy, crazy character in a Ridley Scott movie that I did not love, but did appreciate: The Counselor is ambitious and deeply strange at its core. Both Diaz’s and Javier Bardem’s characters are examples of its weirdness, but Bardem has played weird before. He did it last year in Skyfall, and he won an Oscar for it in No Country for Old Men. Diaz, though, has never made use of her leathery snakiness — until now. What would Kimmy from My Best Friend’s Wedding think of Malkina, the predatory drug lord? I mean, she has sex with a car! —K.A.
4. Captain Ray Holt (Andre Braugher), Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Captain Ray Holt is something of a TV rarity: He’s an LGBT character of color, and he’s not defined by either of those things. There are many problems with queer representation on television, but Holt is a step in the right direction. His sexual identity is frequently acknowledged — his race, less so, perhaps because the entire cast is so diverse — but he’s a complex and well-developed character outside of that. The fact that he’s gay is neither hidden nor central, which is a surprisingly tough line for LGBT TV characters to walk. And, as portrayed by a deadpan Andre Braugher, Captain Holt is also one of the most effortlessly hilarious characters on the show. —L.P.
5. Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), The Good Wife
The Good Wife excels in character development, from its leads to its guest stars (it has the best guest stars on television). In thinking of who should be on this list, I combed through the show’s 2013 guests, and there were many excellent ones. And this current season, its fifth, might be The Good Wife’s best yet. But then I thought, Why is the show so good? It’s because of Alicia Florrick, as created by Robert and Michelle King and Julianna Margulies! It’s through Alicia’s eyes that the show’s riveting drama plays out: in the courtroom, at home, and now, between the show’s two bitterly competing firms. If The Good Wife is about Alicia’s journey from passivity — being, you know, a good wife — then this season has been its most important. Also, I can’t think of a more complicated marriage on television than Alicia and Peter’s. I wish this show were on every single week of the year even, though that would probably kill everyone involved and then I would have no Good Wife at all. —K.A.
6. Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), 12 Years a Slave
Much has been written about 12 Years a Slave being one of the best films of the year — the very best according to our staff poll. And a large part of that is the stunning performance of relative newcomer Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, a slave Solomon Northup meets when he’s sold to the Epps plantation. The brutality Patsey suffers is some of the worst we see — she is a favorite of plantation owner Edwin Epps, which means she’s subjected to rape at his hands and abuse at the hands of his wife Mary — and her story (spoiler alert) doesn’t get the happy ending Solomon’s does. That her pain is so uncomfortable to watch is integral to 12 Years a Slave’s success, and Nyong’o conveys it with raw emotion and honesty. —L.P.
7. Ivy Weston (Julianne Nicholson), August: Osage County
It’s fitting that Julianne Nicholson plays Ivy: Next to all-stars Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep, Nicholson is easily overlooked, just as Ivy, the daughter who stayed behind in Osage County, gets forgotten. But in a movie filled to the brim with incredible performances, Nicholson is still a standout. Ivy is far and beyond the most sympathetic character in the film, which makes the big reveal — I won’t spoil it for you here — all the more heartbreaking. It’s a subtler part and Nicholson is subtler in it, and for that, she’s worthy of acclaim. —L.P.
8. Robin (Elisabeth Moss), Top of the Lake
Mad Men fans know that Moss can hold a scene. But her performance in the Sundance Channel miniseries Top of the Lake was career-defining. Robin is troubled, determined, brave, and self-made. She yearns for happiness but tries to help people in pain instead. If you haven’t seen Top of the Lake yet, I don’t why you’re reading this list right now when you could be watching it. —K.A.
9. Rachel (Kathryn Hahn), Afternoon Delight
As a wealthy, dissatisfied, non-working wife of an app developer (Josh Radnor) and mother of a young son, Rachel (Hahn) in Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight is a damn mess. She’s kind of a zombie — one who lurches around and wryly comments on her own empty life, asking her shrink, “How dare I?” as she struggles to articulate her flat, lonely misery. Rachel ends up blowing up her life — and possibly fixing it — by bringing a stripper (Juno Temple) into her family’s home for a while. Hahn is perfect here; it’s one the least vain performances I can remember. And she somehow makes Rachel someone you’d want to hang out with. —K.A.
10. Adam Sackler (Adam Driver), Girls
When Girls began, Adam felt more like a type than a character — he was that hot but ultimately unattainable hipster douchebag, the guy you kept sleeping with even though all your friends told you not to, because my god, have you seen him shirtless? In the second season, Adam developed into more of his own person, a character with his own passions and desires outside of Hannah. His brief relationship with Natalia — which stirred controversy, thanks to a questionable sex scene — gave him more shades of gray than his T-shirt collection. —L.P.
11. Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence), American Hustle
Before our national love affair with Jennifer Lawrence turns to backlash, let’s do her the favor of acknowledging how great an actor she is. And while her role as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the 2013 performance most will remember, she’s even more interesting as the flawed but well-intentioned Rosalyn in American Hustle. Rosalyn is not very kind to herself or to others, and yet, there’s something there that makes you want her to find happiness away from her lout of a husband. Even when she fucks up, she wins you back, like with her cleaning dance to “Live and Let Die.” —L.P.
12. Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry), Scandal
In the past 20 or so years, television has made progress representing gay people. There used to be none; now there are some. Sometimes, I think that the current high-water mark of LGBT inclusion in pop culture is manifested in Cyrus. Of all Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal monsters — in other words, the entire roster of characters — he ranks second to Huck, and Huck enjoys torturing people. Cyrus has ordered murders, stolen elections, pimped out his husband, and god knows what I’m forgetting. He is a lunatic screamer, and Perry does not hold back on the reddened face, bulging eyes, and spitting. He is the gay Dick Cheney of television. And yet, he’s a fully realized, nuanced, sometimes lovable villain. I think we need to salute Cyrus! —K.A.
13. Jackie Fisher (Michaela Watkins), Trophy Wife
Can we call 2013 the year of Michaela Watkins? No? I’m going to do it anyway. Watkins is a fabulous and versatile comedic performer, both in lighter fare like Trophy Wife and in more dramatic roles like Enlightened and Lake Bell’s highly underrated film In a World… Though all of the wives on Trophy Wife are great, Jackie is particularly wonderful, and much of that is thanks to Watkins’ ability to play likable lunacy. She’s completely insane and has no sense of personal space, but you never want her to leave. (Well, “you” being the viewer. Actually putting up with her in real life would be a more daunting task.) —L.P.
14. Segen (Daniella Kertesz), World War Z
World War Z had such a troubled production that it seemed like it was going to be a disaster. That it turned out not to be, both qualitatively and quantitatively, was a fun surprise. So was Kertesz, who ends up playing the heroine of World War Z to Brad Pitt’s hero, Gerry. She’s an Israeli soldier who attaches herself to Gerry when zombies overrun Israel — “segen” means “lieutenant” in Hebrew, so she doesn’t have a name, I suppose — forming a rare non-romantic pairing in a blockbuster action movie. That was refreshing. But Kertesz transcends tokenism: Her strong presence and chemistry with Pitt is one of the many unexpected pleasures of World War Z. And how the character handles getting her hand chopped off lest she become a zombie is particularly admirable! —K.A.
15. Peter Pan (Robbie Kay), Once Upon a Time
When it comes to adapting classic fairy tale characters, Once Upon a Time is hit-or-miss, sometimes veering too close to the Disney adaptation or straying so far from the source material that the result is unrecognizable. Peter Pan, however, is a perfect adaptation, even imbued with far more darkness than we’re used to. Perhaps that’s because the story was dark to begin with, or because Robbie Kay, despite being 18, looks 12 and acts 40. Even before Peter Pan’s true origins were revealed, he was a great fit for the show, and one of the most thoroughly bad characters Once Upon a Time has been willing to give us. —L.P.
16. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), Sleepy Hollow
When I watched the pilot episode of Fox’s Sleepy Hollow over the summer, I found it to be batshit, and almost a disaster. But I’ve been wrong plenty of times about pilots, particularly ones that are striving to do something new that (at least for me) haven’t quite gelled yet. So I figured I would give it a chance, especially since a lot of other journalists I know and respect liked it. So yes: Sleepy Hollow turned out to be my favorite new show of this season. I love so much about it, yet I love Beharie’s Abbie (“Leftenant,” as Ichabod calls her) the most. She’s a loyal, wry, smart, brave person. And Beharie has the skill to transmit those qualities immediately. Sleepy Hollow’s effortless-feeling diversity and smart approach to race is also very cool. —K.A.
17. Jonah Hill (Jonah Hill), This Is the End
A lot of people don’t like Jonah Hill. It’s not his performances, I don’t think, so much as the fact that he comes across like an entitled dick in interviews. I’m not sure what the real Jonah Hill is like, but I love the characterization of him in This Is the End, which has him playing a fictionalized version of himself alongside similarly exaggerated versions of Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, and others. What the movie gets so right is this underlying sense that there is something up with Hill, that no matter how sincere and honest he seems, he’s just not a very nice person. Again, I have no idea if that’s true. But it works so, so well on screen. And ironically, it makes me like Jonah Hill more than I ever did before. —L.P.
18. Jessica Vanderhoff (Christine Woods), Hello Ladies
Ostensibly, Hello Ladies is the story of Stuart Pritchard, a hapless loser played by Stephen Merchant, but I’m way more fascinated by Jessica, Stuart’s roommate. A struggling actress, Jessica is far from perfect — though much less of an asshole than Stuart. She’s pretty, she tries too hard, and she goes after the wrong guys, but she’s also grounded in a way that Stuart isn’t. At the end of the season, Jessica gets some very good news and some very bad news, and her reaction to both showcases Christine Woods’ considerable skill. It’s bittersweet and all too real. —L.P.
19. Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
As the casting for Catching Fire approached its most insane apex among the fandom, people were clamoring to know who would play Johanna Mason (and, even more important, who would play Finnick). I thought that Malone was an unexpected, if perfectly fine choice. And then Malone went and stole the movie! Johanna is so underwritten in the novel Catching Fire; she’s an eye-rolling, bitchy foil for the interior, untrusting Katniss. So imagine my surprise when three-quarters of the way through Catching Fire, I found myself wishing Johanna and Finnick were the movie’s main characters. Love her now. —K.A.
20. Walder Frey (David Bradley), Game of Thrones
The seventysomething character actor David Bradley is having quite a run these past few years. But I think he outdid himself as the evil Lord Walder, who masterminded the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones’ harrowing third season. Bradley’s Walder was a seething, maleficent presence without being so over the top that it distracted from the real tragedy that unfolded. —K.A.
21. Jasmine Francis (Cate Blanchett), Blue Jasmine
The paradox of Cate Blanchett’s titular character in Blue Jasmine is that she’s both consistently captivating and unbearable to watch. It’s such a visceral performance, with Jasmine’s emotional instability radiating through Blanchett’s body in her quivering voice and tremulous hands. She’s not a character you sympathize with so much as pity, and she’s never given much of a chance to redeem herself either. Like so many Woody Allen characters, Jasmine just is, for better or worse. But even in her lowest moments, of which there are many, Blanchett shines. —L.P.
22. Marcel Gerard (Charles Michael Davis), The Originals
The Originals is one of those shows where you’re not really sure whose side you’re supposed to be on. (At least, that’s the idea.) But personally, I’m firmly Team Marcel. Klaus is, in many ways, our (anti-)hero, since he’s the one we know from The Vampire Diaries. But Klaus, regardless of what Julie Plec and Co. would have us believe, is kind of irredeemable. (I say this even as The Originals works hard to redeem him.) Marcel isn’t a good guy either, but he’s more understandable than Klaus. While Klaus is bound by tradition and honor, Marcel is driven largely by passion. With the almost painfully handsome Charles Michael Davis in the role, he’s simply more fun to watch. —L.P.
23. Ulysses (Jerry, Daryl & Tigger), Inside Llewyn Davis
This memorable co-star is uncredited in the movie. And googling him or her sends you into a curious little corner of the internet, I’ll tell you that. So thank god for this Vulture story that tells the behind-the-scenes story of the three cats who are so important to Inside Llewyn Davis’ narrative. Being a cat person, I was most impressed by the unfazed-ness in the subway scene (pictured above), which turns out to be a combination of Jerry and Daryl (but not Tigger). —K.A.
24. Amantha Holden (Abigail Spencer), Rectify
There was so much to like about the first season of Rectify, Sundance Channel’s slow, intense character study of Daniel Holden (Aden Young), a man released from death row after DNA evidence invalidates his murder conviction. One memorable strength was Spencer’s portrayal of Daniel’s sister, (the confusingly named) Amantha, who had tirelessly worked to help overturn her brother’s conviction at the expense of her own happiness. With Daniel out and “free” (in theory), Amantha finds herself with new struggles: Will Daniel ever find his place in the world? Will she? Spencer brought both wit and weariness to Rectify. I can’t wait for Season 2. —K.A.
25. Nicki Moore (Emma Watson), The Bling Ring
Of the three main Harry Potter alums, Emma Watson has arguably made the most interesting choices. And while her role as Nicki in The Bling Ring may not have been her deepest, it was easily one of the year’s most entertaining. Doing her best Alexis Neiers impression — not Alexis Neiers–approved — Watson let herself get lost in the part, even creating a (sadly now defunct) blog in character. Katie Chang’s Rebecca may be the lead of The Bling Ring, but Watson’s Nicki is the star. —L.P.
26. William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster), Kill Your Darlings
If I’m being honest, I’ve never really gotten the Ben Foster thing. Didn’t love him on Six Feet Under, didn’t love him in Rampart… you get the drift. So I was dreading his portrayal of William S. Burroughs in Kill Your Darlings, especially since Burroughs had an over-the-top persona with a speaking voice that would lend itself to poor, cartoony parody. I was wrong. Instead of sounding and looking like he’s doing a Muppet Babies version of the closeted, addicted Burroughs (which was my fear), Foster gave him sweetness and depth. Burroughs is not at the center of John Krokidas’ very good movie about murder and the Beat writers, but I walked out of it thinking — among many other things about how much I liked Kill Your Darlings — that Foster did a wonderful job in this tricky role. —K.A.
27. Margaret Scully (Allison Janney), Masters of Sex
There are so many wonderful characters and performances on Masters of Sex that it’s tough to single just one out. But Allison Janney is so good as Margaret, the most fascinating and tragic supporting character on the show. It would be easy to turn her into a stereotype — the sexually frustrated wife of a closeted gay man — but Margaret is so much more than that. Viewers saw her bloom in her dalliance with Austin, and the way she finally confronted her husband for his lack of physical affection. I adore Masters and Johnson, but I would also watch a series just about deceptively strong yet vulnerable Margaret Scully. —L.P.
28. Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann), Crystal Fairy
This year, we learned a lot about former child star Gaby Hoffmann — namely, where she’s been — but we also saw how much she can bring to the table as an adult performer. In Crystal Fairy, she plays a “radical spirit” in a role that seems perfectly suited for her. At times, she’s frustrating (you can’t really blame Michael Cera’s Jamie for getting annoyed), but she also has a trusting heart and an open mind, rare qualities that become more prized as the film progresses. She is honest and unashamed, just like Hoffmann, who spends much of the movie naked and tripping on mescaline. (While all the cast took the drug, only Hoffmann felt the effects.) —L.P.
29. Shaw (Sarah Shahi), Person of Interest
For its first two seasons, Person of Interest had basically two main characters (Reese and Finch) and two half-characters (Carter and Fusco). It was an intriguing construction for a network drama, and the show got a lot out of working within those limitations. But I’m all for the Person of Interest Season 3 expansion, and Shahi as Shaw is kind of hilarious, especially for a female character, in that Person of Interest decided to have someone with even less affect than Jim Caviezel. Frankly, I didn’t think that was possible (and laconic is not Shahi’s usual lane). But I love it so far. —K.A.
30. Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern), Enlightened
Will there ever come a day when I will stop missing Mike White’s Enlightened? After two seasons (18 episodes in total), the HBO show ended in a lovely way: Amy actually succeeded in exposing her company’s wrongdoings. She was satisfied. And yet, I miss seeing Dern (and the rest of the cast) righteously and selfishly bumble her way through the world, trying to find the answers to its big questions. —K.A.
31. Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), Pain & Gain
For someone who never really got The Rock, Dwayne Johnson’s performance as Paul Doyle in Pain & Gain was a pleasant surprise. The film as a whole was a bit of a shock: a smart, unflinchingly dark action comedy from the man who gave us Transformers. It helps that the characters, based on real people, are so unlike what you’d expect. Doyle, in particular, is bizarre — a pious Christian with violent urges, he tries to spread good even while doing very bad things. It’s as easy to judge Doyle by his appearance as it is to judge Pain & Gain by its Blu-ray cover. Both would be a mistake. —L.P.
32. Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl), Hannibal
While it didn’t do great ratings-wise, Hannibal was a major hit online, and with good reason. Who could resist the sly interplay between Hugh Dancy’s tortured Will Graham and Mads Mikkelsen’s twisted Hannibal Lecter? But let’s not forget Abigail Hobbs, the daughter of a serial killer who may have also been an accomplice. (That question is answered, but since you have time to catch up before Season 2 starts, I won’t spoil it here.) Will and Hannibal become surrogate fathers to Abigail, and it’s deeply unsettling to watch. Kacey Rohl is great at capturing the right blend of innocence and creepiness — you never really know her true nature, a recurring theme in the series. —L.P.
33. Izzy (Ellen Page), The East
Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling’s The East — a story about a young private intelligence officer (Marling) who infiltrates a radical anti-corporate organization called The East — gained new resonance a few weeks after its release when Edward Snowden came into our real lives. (Marling’s character Jane is remarkably predictive of Snowden.) But another highlight of The East was Page’s Izzy, an earnest former rich kid who has rejected capitalism in an extremely personal way. Jane is seduced into The East because she not only comes to believe what they do, but because she starts to love the group’s members. Page’s thoughtful, quiet approach to Izzy is key to Jane’s journey, as is Page’s wounded-looking little face. —K.A.
34. Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga), Bates Motel
For fans of Psycho, Norman Bates’ mother has always been more of a symbol than a character. Bates Motel, which serves as both a prequel and a reboot, changed all that by giving us a Norma, who is crazy and murderous in her own right. And yet, she isn’t just a villain. Far from it. Norma is deeply damaged, but that’s part of what makes her great. She’s unwell, if not as unwell as her son, and she makes a series of truly terrible choices. But she’s also a sometimes sympathetic woman whose rage comes from the brutality inflicted on her. Vera Farmiga is fantastic, as always. In fact, Norma Bates may be her best role yet. —L.P.
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