For the past two years, I’ve included a round-up of the top 25 performances of the year, regardless of whether it was an actor or an actress, and with no distinction between leading and supporting roles. I’ve always found it a little odd how Hollywood and others categorise their performances, with leading actors often shunted into supporting categories in the hope of recognition. However, having made no distinction myself in previous years, this year I’ve taken the decision to introduce a new category for young performances.
This split between younger actors and their adult counterparts isn’t a split made so often in the film world, but is one that occurs regularly in the fields of sporting endeavour. For me, it’s a chance to recognise up and coming performers, who will hopefully be making regular appearances in the adult performance rankings for years to come. It’s also, if I’m being honest, a sneaky way of having the opportunity of calling out performances of younger actors where an adult in the film has also made an impression, so you will see a few of these films appearing again in the top 25 performances of the year.
Other than that, the rules remain the same as the adult category: any film with narrative released in UK cinemas for the first time in 2013 is eligible, including any festivals I attended, but only one performance from each film is chosen and I make no distinction based on the duration of the contribution. Here’s my list of the 10 most impressive performances from actors and actresses under 21 at the time of production of each film.
10. Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass 2)
Chances are, if I’d been doing this list for a few years now Chloe Moretz would have been on it every year. She also popped up in the Carrie remake at the end of the year and was most likely contractually obliged to Movie 43 at the start, but her best role this year was as the heart and soul of the disappointing Kick-Ass 2. Her story arc was the more interesting of the film, and she even had a good go at making it look like she’d gone gooey-eyed over Union J, for which she probably deserves a medal. Not resting on her laurels, she’s got five films on the way next year, including new films from Lynn Shelton and Olivier Assayas and The Equaliser with Denzel Washington.
9. Ty Simpkins (Iron Man 3)
No easy task having to hold your own in scenes with the king of charisma Robert Downey Jr. but Ty Simpkins managed it. There’s always a risk that such child roles can feel fake, mawkish or insincere, but Simpkins managed it, helped just a little (OK, a lot) by the fact that his interplay with Downey is so effective. He’s also squeezed in a return to the Insidious franchise this year, and his next role will be facing down the velociraptors and T-Rexs in Jurassic World.
8. Liam James (The Way Way Back)
More of a TV actor than a film one up to now – his last film role was as John Cusack’s son in 2012 – James took his most prominent big screen role yet in Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s warm tribute to the difficulties of adolescence. Seen through his eyes, James carries most of the film and gradually converts his sulky teen into a winning underachiever. In a film full of strong adult roles, it’s a tribute to James that he remains the centre of attention.
7. Saoirse Ronan (Byzantium)
Another actress, like Chloe Moretz, on whom sit Jodie Foster-esque expectations of converting a strong child acting stint into a long and successful career. Since her breakout in 2007’s Atonement she’s remained consistently busy, also cropping up in The Host and How I Live Now this year, and it never feels a stretch to believe that she’s lived half a dozen lifetimes. She also has a believable relationship with Gemma Arterton, and Byzantium is much more successful than Neil Jordan’s last young-girl-in-a-vampire-flick Interview With The Vampire. For more of a Ronan fix, you can catch her next year in Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut How To Catch A Monster and Wes Anderson’s latest The Grand Budapest Hotel.
6. Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12)
Difficult to pick a single performance from an exceptionally strong young cast (although made slightly easier by Keith Stanfield as Marcus being too old to consider for this category), but I’ve plumped for Dever’s peformance as the deeply troubled girl who forms a difficult bond with Brie Larson’s carer. Rising above moody teenage stereotypes, her Jayden is at once strong and fragile and Dever’s performance perfectly complements that of Larson. Dever will be back on screen alongside Chloe Moretz in Lynn Shelton’s Laggies in 2014.
5. Moises Arias (The Kings Of Summer)
The forgotten film of the summer, which was a shame as I found its coming of age story more affecting and also more entertaining than the more widely seen The Way Way Back. The central trio were all great, but while Nick Robinson and Gabriel Basso excel in the slightly more traditional roles of Joe and Patrick, it’s Arias as Biaggio that steals almost every scene he’s in, and probably a couple that he isn’t, but his superbly oddball creation is all the more effective for never unbalancing the story. Having served his TV apprenticeship on Hannah Montana and The Middle, hopefully this is his breakout movie performance. He also managed to squeeze in a voice performance in Despicable Me 2 and exuded menace as Asa Butterfield’s rival in Ender’s Game.
4. Eloise Lawrence (Broken)
Making the transition from primary school play to starring alongside Tim Roth look annoyingly easy, Eloise Lawrence comes from an acting family (her father is Larry Lamb) but she was hand-picked by Rufus Norris to play the diabetic Skunk in this British highlight from earlier in the year, successfully dealing with being bullied, finding her first boyfriend and suffering the consequences of her illness. Lawrence’s parents are keen for her take a break from acting until she’s 16, but if she’s keen to come back then this is one heck of a calling card.
3. Tye Sheridan (Mud)
Notwithstanding the continued career renaissance of Matthew McConaughey, the highlight of Jeff Nichols’ Mud are the two central young performances. Jacob Lofland is winningly entertaining as sidekick Neckbone, but it’s Tye Sheridan who anchors the film. Building on his appearance in The Tree Of Life, Sheridan’s Ellis undergoes a loss of innocence on several fronts and Sheridan always keeps it believable. He’ll be appearing on the same cast lists as both Chloe Moretz and Caitlyn Dever in different films during 2014.
2. Saskia Rosendahl (Lore)
Getting slightly lost due to its lack of proximity to awards season in this country, this powerful story of a group of children attempting to navigate their way through post-war Germany after the loss of their Nazi parents captivated in no small part thanks to Saskia Rosendahl’s defiant performance as the titular Lore. Quickly becoming the matriarch to the group, she’s both defiant and saddened, struggling to come to terms with events but willing to do whatever’s necessary for her family and Rosendahl’s portrayal is compelling.
1. Conner Chapman (The Selfish Giant)
Again, difficult to choose between the two, but the highlight of the year in British cinema featured two outstanding performances. Shaun Thomas’s Swifty is almost the dependable straight man of the two, but it’s Conner Chapman as Arbor who gets my award for the young performance of the year. From his early unpredictability through the affects of his attention deficit disorder to his wheeling and dealing and the tragic nature of the story’s resolution, Chapman lights up the screen whenever he’s on it. The Selfish Giant was the only film to have me in tears this year, and it’s a credit to the performance of both youngsters, but especially Chapman. Conner Chapman is my young actor of 2013.