The celebrated child actor is too often condemned to squander his youth. In some cases, that’s due to the over-exposure of celebrity, but even those who garner only critical acclaim, not outright fame, tend to require an untimely maturity. The roles that attract such attention, after all, are those of children stuck in contexts that don’t befit their age, not ones that allow kids to be kids.
It was nice, then, to see the best performances by young actors in 2013 expressing the vulnerability, turmoil, and sometimes even joyful thrill of youth. If their characters were often still placed in adult situations, none of these actors appeared entirely comfortable being there.
5. Israel Broussard, The Bling Ring
At nineteen, Broussard arguably doesn’t qualify for this list. But the winning aspect of his performance as Marc, one member of the Bling Ring that ransacked celebrity homes in 2008 and 2009, is its childish goofiness. In a movie that ultimately veers too far toward mockery, Broussard shows the most empathy toward a character that clearly still has a lot of growing up to do.
4. Elle Fanning and Alice Englert, Ginger & Rosa
Unlike Marc in Bling Ring, Ginger & Rosa’s eponymous teens suffer from a rush to grow up too fast, whether by diving into heated political activism, as Ginger (Fanning) does, or by finding romance with a man far beyond their age, as Rosa (Englert) does. Fanning and Englert brilliantly walk the line between putting on a brave face and hinting at their characters’ frail confidence. Nevertheless, it’s the adults that prove most unreliable, never understanding that these girls can’t handle the experiences being thrown on them and failing to prevent the breakdown that ensues when the two stop pretending that they can.
3. Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, Mud
The best coming-of-age story of the year, and of the past few years, rests on the maturity of Sheridan and Lofland’s performances as Ellis and Neckbone, two boys who help the fugitive Mud (Matthew McConaughey) try to escape town with his girlfriend. When Ellis and Neckbone are given adult responsibilities, Sheridan and Lofland play the scenes with the awkward enthusiasm of kids pretending to be grown up. And when the hypocrisy and disappointments of the adult world befall them, Sheridan powerfully conveys Ellis’s sense of betrayal, leaving the audience to wonder what, if anything, the loss of innocence has to recommend it.
2. Conner Chapman, The Selfish Giant
Chapman’s performance as Arbor falls firmly in the category of children forced unjustly to bear the responsibility of adults. Living in a British working class town, Arbor gets expelled from school and begins selling scrap metal with his friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas) to make extra money for their families. As their situations incrementally worsen, leading to a breaking point for Arbor, it is Chapman’s switch from emphasizing Arbor’s obstinacy to displaying his deep vulnerability that makes his performance one of the year’s best, actor’s age aside.
1. The Kids of The We and the I
Perhaps better credited as the best portrayal of youth rather than the best youth performance, The We and the I tops the list because, more than any other film, it manages to capture the manic energy of being a teenager while giving equal due to the emotional turmoil that simultaneously defines those years. The movie follows a group of high schoolers, played by amateur actors from the Bronx, on a bus ride home through the Bronx. At first it is all bullying, heckling, and flirting. It’s loud and it’s chaotic. But, as the title suggests, the crowd eventually thins and individuals start to emerge, as do their particular pains and tragedies. In the process, The We and the I acknowledges what can be overshadowed by the boisterous (i.e. singularly aggravating) behavior of adolescents: that their anxieties are often particular to them, not so easily understood by adults, but no less important because of that fact.
For the complete list of year-end lists on Keyframe, go to The Year in Film: 2013.
For the complete index of the films on these lists, go to 2013 Year in Review: Indexed.