2014 Robert Downey, Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year: Brenton Thwaites

This award is one I will present annually to the actor, writer, director or any combination thereof who has in my estimation the best year. The only real criteria is that they have multiple credits. The credits can be two responsibilities on the same film or more than one film. The idea came to me based on Robert Downey, Jr.’s incredible 2008. He was the first winner and the name stuck.

Brenton Thwaites

Oculus (2013, Relativity Media)

One of the awards in the universe of them that has always particularly bothered me are handed out at the ShoWest Convention. They are the Male and Female Star of Tomorrow. What bothers me is that usually when I see these winner announcements there is very little that the recipient has done to earn it. Seeing as how it is labeled as a “tomorrow” prize I can allow that to slide, but it gets my hackles up and gets me feeling like going on a good Dennis Green-style tirade. Even the BAFTA Rising Star Award to contrast usually has nominees who are a bit more accomplished. This roundabout lead-in is to explain the fact that at 25 years of age, yes, Brenton Thwaites is young but he had a breakout year unlike too many I’ve seen and I’ve missed one of his credited titles.

Early in 2014 he was one of four actors to give an absolutely tremendous performance in Oculus. Horror movies are both notoriously overlooked in terms of performance but also typically don’t even seem to care if there are good ones being turned in. His work as a young man who has just been released from psychiatric observation for a traumatic experience that lead to his conviction for the murder of his father is a tremendous part of the success of this film.

Then there is the small, yet significant role, that seems to need to factor into this award on an annual basis. He plays Prince Phillip in Maleficent. Now, one of the things that Maleficent did get right it is that the film was about Maleficent and Briar Rose almost exclusively, and similar to Sleeping Beauty (and other Disney tales) the prince is almost incidental, but he is cast well and carries himself quite regally.

Also in the summertime he was the face, the centerpiece of Jeff Bridges’ longtime-coming labor of love The Giver. Being the memorykeeper of his dystopian futuristic society he has to come off as the dreamer and a hero and does so in both calls to duty. He shares the screen with Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep among others and does amazingly well in a film I thought to be highly underrated.

Lastly, there’s The Signal, which is far more than an “indie cred” project but a twist-heavy sci-fi tale that continuously wanders down the rabbit hole. Confused by his circumstances Thwaites’ character here is like a cross of his two other performances on the year and he has not only much dialogue to handle, but plenty of solo time in the early stages of act two where he excels.

It’s rare for a performer in one year to go from unknown to the reason to see a movie, but Thwaites certainly did that in 2014 in my estimation. If I were to place a bet on his future I would think it’s a sure thing but this award, unlike those others, is solely about the year you just had. Whereas, I had cause to nominate some actors twice like Tom Hardy, Thwaites certainly did threaten to earn individual nods, had a great year and established a cinematic presence one that I believe will both grow and linger for quite some time.

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Best Films of 2014: 15-11

This list began in two installments 25-21 and 20-16. It will conclude in one more part.

15. Oculus

Oculus (2013, Relativity Media)

I have often mentioned how merely starting a dialogue after having viewed a film is a boon in and of itself. Aside from that it is also my belief that horror cannot be safe, and in that vein this film is one that does tweak with things inasmuch as its not interested in motivating the malevolent entity at the center of the film. Furthermore, it is a film that plays in two time periods and features four tremendous performances (Brenton Thwaites, Karen Gillan, Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan). It also offers its protagonists no safety whatsoever. You may not like it as much as I do, but it is most definitely looking out for.

14. The Drop

The Drop (2014, Fox Searchlight)

Even if you only know Dennis Lehane (Mystic River and Shutter Island specifically to this example) from the filmic adaptations of his written work you know there’s usually a huge reversal or fortune or what you thought you knew was true in the third act. In many prior instances this fact has lead to a downgrade of the overall quality of the film to varying degrees. Here quite the opposite happens and The Drop grows tremendously. Also, this film features an excellent turn by Noomi Rapace, one two absolutely stellar performances by Tom hardy this past year that earned him a BAM Award nomination, and one of the last films for James Gandolfini.

13. Joe

Joe (2013, Roadside Attractions)

“That dog is a asshole!” Perhaps one of the dividing lines between people who need black-and-white characterizations and those who can embrace grays are films like Joe. Joe (Nicolas Cage) likes dogs just fine, he loves his dog, but seeks to deal with one he dislikes with fatal finality. Similarly, he may not be what is commonly thought of as a good man but when he sees wrong he has to rectify it and he has to deal with it in his way whether society or people like it or not. His chance encounter with, employment of, and befriending of Gary (Tye Sheridan) brings another set of challenges to his life. There are bad things that happen in Joe, there is some redemption to be found, and closure too. It’s about some decent people in hard situations and how they respond. Joe is a tense film that is buoyed by accomplished direction and wonderful performances by Cage and Sheridan.

12. The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie (2014, Warner Bros.)

“Everything is awesome!” Or so Emmet and other people in the world of this story like to believe. In seeking out more is where the adventure begins and the commentary sets in. The Lego Movie is insanely meta, creative and funny. It also gets touching with its reveal. The song will get stuck in your head, the score will have you tapping your toes and those who ever felt confined by sets will find their liberation here. It was the first revisited film in 2014 and it will likely earn many other revisits by other people.

11. The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears

The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears (2013, Strand Releasing)

This is a film I didn’t re-watch yet but has lived off-and-on in my mind since I saw it. The initial ambivalence about it overall are fading away. Yes, I was floored by the sound mix, edit, the visuals and oneiric flow, but I think now that I’ve chewed on it enough that it’s the giallo elevation I wished Amer was, and whether or not I get it intellectually is almost secondary to its overall gut-punch impact. It’s a film you should allow to ravish you. I cannot guarantee that it will be as rewarding for the uninitiated as it is for someone who knows Giallo, well but if you stick with it and start to reconstruct the jigsaw you may well find you like it as well.

This list will conclude shortly.