J.K. Simmons in "Whiplash."

Just like last year, it seems to me like the supporting actresses got the better roles than their male counterparts. This is true even though good onscreen roles for women in general are dwindling at an alarming rate. Unlike last year, two of the performers I’ve chosen are children. I tend to resist child actors, but the foreign movies that employed them here did so in definitively uncutesy ways. Some of the other parts listed here belong to stars who showed us new sides of themselves, others belong to character actors who got a much-deserved turn in the spotlight. I’ll have my list of best leading performances early next week, so stay tuned.

Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke
Got to give it up for the parents in Boyhood. The movie is as much their journey as it is their son’s. Hawke, who seems to do his only good acting for Richard Linklater, does well as the wannabe rocker dad who makes his son a mixtape of the Beatles’ solo outings. It’s really Arquette, though, who is closer to the movie’s heart as a mother who makes bad choices when it comes to men but raises a fine young man and carves out an enviable career anyway.


Florencia Bado
As an Argentinian family’s 12-year-old daughter in The German Doctor, her Lilith is the first to recognize that the family’s distinguished guest might be more than just a simple country doctor from another land. The kids are often put in this position in horror movies (and this film qualifies as one), but Bado layers her awareness with the knowledge that this monster has nevertheless done some good things for her.

Carrie Coon
I’d never seen her before Gone Girl, and now I want to check out The Leftovers on disc just to see what she’s about. In a terrific supporting cast, she took the top honors with her portrayal of Margo Dunne, the sister of Ben Affleck’s accused murderer, whose loyalty to her brother doesn’t keep her from seeing his many flaws. The helpless look on her face as she watches him go off to his ultimate fate helps end the movie on an appropriate note.

Mira Grosin
All three of the girls in We Are the Best! are excellent, but it was Grosin who made the biggest impression on me. Lukas Moodysson’s punk-rock comedy focuses on Mira Barkhammar’s overlooked, uncertain drummer, but the proceedings are dominated by Grosin’s mouthy, mohawked lead singer who’s the driving force behind the band. That’s never truer than when her insecurities peek out behind her assured surface.

Agata Kulesza
is about a Polish Catholic novitiate nun who discovers her own Jewish past and relatives exterminated in the fires of the Holocaust. It’s Kulesza as the nun’s aunt, a hard-drinking, bed-hopping federal judge, who leads her on that journey. Along the way, she literally digs up the remnants of her own tragic history. She leaves an indelible impression, especially in the character’s wrenching final scene.

Mila Kunis
You’d have to point a gun at me to make me watch Third Person again, but at least I’d have the consolation of seeing Kunis’ performance. (That and a naked Olivia Wilde. I’m not made of stone.) As a hotel maid trying to regain custody of her son, she cuts through most of the manipulative crap that Paul Haggis puts around her and reveals a mother who let her hate for her ex-husband cloud her love for her child.

Edward Norton
He has a reputation in Hollywood of being difficult to work with. Was he commenting on that reputation by playing the self-important diva actor in Birdman who makes Michael Keaton’s show better but throws tantrums on stage during previews and tries to have sex with his co-star to add to the realism of a scene in bed? It would have been very easy to do too much or not enough in this role, but Norton forces you to take this artificially tanned buffoon seriously.

J.K. Simmons
Maybe the highest praise I can give his performance as a jazz instructor in Whiplash is that he reminded me of the band teacher in my junior high school, who berated his student musicians in much the same manner, led a tightly disciplined band that won every music competition it entered, and made me glad that I stayed far away from him. I never saw TV’s Oz, but I’m guessing Simmons brought the same fury and bluster to that show as he does here.

Song Kang-ho
One of the great things that Snowpiercer did was bring this great actor (whose career I blogged about earlier this year) to American audiences. In this science-fiction movie he plays a drug addict, but he manages to project a sense of wonder and hard-earned hope underneath the character’s fogged brain. Having worked with Bong Joon-ho before, he’s clearly on the same wavelength with the director’s cracked sense of humor.

Emma Stone
She went to the Catholic all-girls high school across the way from the all-boys one that I graduated from. That’s not why she makes this list, though. We knew her as an assured comic actress from Superbad, Easy A, and her guest-hosting stints on Saturday Night Live (she’s one of those performers who just seems built to host that show), but none of that gave us an inkling of the dramatic power she brings to Birdman as a neglected daughter trying to drag her dad into the digital age.

Christoph Waltz
Apparently, the real-life Walter Keane was even more over-the-top than Waltz’ performance in Big Eyes made him out to be. That takes nothing away from the two-time Oscar winner, who manages to make Walter a fearsome abusive husband even though he never turns physically violent with his wife. We figured this actor could give good performances without Quentin Tarantino directing him, but it’s nice to have confirmation.

Honorable mention: Emily Blunt, for kicking large amounts of ass in Edge of Tomorrow; Jessica Chastain, for her sleazy gangster’s daughter trying to be a respectable suburban housewife in A Most Violent Year; Laura Dern, for her turns as loving, flawed mothers in The Fault in Our Stars and Wild; Zac Efron, for his frat boy who loses perspective in Neighbors; Anna Kendrick and Meryl Streep, for their lovely singing in Into the Woods; Michael Parks, for his garrulous and dangerously clever bad guy in Tusk; Kelly Reilly, for her troubled priest’s daughter in Calvary; and Tyler James Williams, for his gay college wallflower who finds his voice in Dear White People.