Best Performances of the Year
15. Stephan James — If Beale Street Could Talk
Trying to keep up with the unbeatable Kiki Layne is no small feat, yet what Stephan James does with Fonny, the brash and outwardly strong male half of If Beale Street Could Talk, is far more than that. His strength in the face of unbeatable odds is commendable, yet the little moments of doubt James allows to cross his face when talking with Brian Tyree Henry’s Daniel or the various landlords that reject them are moments of unexpected authenticity that separate Barry Jenkins’ new movie from rote biopic into something far more transcendent.
14. Daveed Diggs — Blindspotting
While the movie doesn’t exactly shoot into space between trying to bear the weight of a police brutality subplot amidst the righteous rage of gentrification, David Diggs’ poet mover Collin exerts a magnetic pull that’s impossible to look away from. His determination, confusion, rage and sadness viewing the Oakland around him shift and mutate is palpable; in a quiet moment, he will allow himself to rip into spoken word poetry as an exhaust vent for those frustrations. Diggs’ prodigious talent is all on display here, and the movie should be a fitting jumping off point for his film career.
13. Michelle Yeoh — Crazy Rich Asians
So much of this year’s blockbuster rom-com was about the ostentatious — the powerful imagery of a capitalist dream that exists entirely separate from (disdainful of, even) White America. How surprising then, that the revelation is Yeoh, playing a Lannister with the cold efficiency Lena Headey can only briefly hint at. Her ice cold line delivery, coupled with the minuscule yet vitally important movement that she makes through scenes, gives Eleanor an otherworldly godliness. It’s an essential portrayal, worthy of placement alongside famous ice queens like Glenn Close’s Cruella De Vil and Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly.
12. Richard E. Grant — Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Perhaps it’s this role, playing against the stereotypical swords and furs roles that have come to define his most recent acting decade, that finally breaks Richard E. Grant back to the promise and potential of his Withnail & I days. Alternating between beat poet bombast and dizzy comedown fragility, Grant’s Jack Hock is hardly the model of any citizen that should be paired with McCarthy’s self-destructive wannabe author. Yet magnetic chemistry grows in their eminently capable hands, lifting the movie far above the material’s potential.
11. Regina Hall — Support the Girls
Playing the perennially beset and out of control Lisa, Regina Hall turns what could be another oddly furtive and dodgy Andrew Bujalski protagonist into an earthen and profoundly relatable boss figure. Pushed between management and the girls she so doggedly makes excuses for, Hall represents the best of all possible middle-managers. She both understands the realities of the world, but refuses to allow them to compromise her golden, caring, weary heart.
10. Yalitzia Aparicio — Roma
It’s somewhat forgivable to see the part of Cleo in Roma as a minor key role, somewhat easier to pull off given its lack of defining speeches, emotive outbursts, or complicated backstory. Yet that would drastically undersell what Aparicio does with the role, creating a woman of previously unimaginable relatability, while also darting away, at every moment, from vilifying those she serves. Through her spare lines of dialog, her hunched yet propulsive body language, and the gentle eyes that never once portray a hint of malice, Aparicio turns Cleo from a role that could feel rote in others’ hands to something that only she could fully pull off. Roma could not be what it is without her.
9. Kathryn Hahn — Private Life
A slice-of-life movie that for many cut daringly close to too real, Private Life features understated yet devastating turns from Paul Giamatti and Hahn as a married couple struggling to conceive. While Giamatti is commendable, Hahn’s wounded, defensive portrait of weakness is cutting and unforgettable. She looks at other women with a mixture of jealousy, competition and hope, unsure as she is of each one’s specific utility to the couple. Better still, her commitment to discovering the intimate connections between her character and Giamatti’s keep the story grounded and affecting through its twists and turns.
8. Toni Collette — Hereditary
It shouldn’t be surprising that Collette, a veteran of horror movies already, would excel in this terrifying haunted house family story. Her startling furor, mixed with abject terror, carries the second act of Hereditary, managing to keep the tension ramped after the “shocking is too light a word” twist at the end of the first. Her finale is a tour de force, embodying the best of the possessed and the human all at once, a must for any successful horror movie.
7. Melissa McCarthy — Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Hard-drinking her way against the effortlessly likable exterior she has cultivated post-Bridesmaids, McCarthy turns what is otherwise a relatively rote biopic into something more interesting. She latches onto lives of minor characters like a caustic flea, and spars with Richard E. Grant (spoilers) in two-handed ways that modern Hollywood awards movies just don’t appreciate fully anymore. It might net her a nomination, and it should, if only for igniting the prestige portion of Melissa McCarthy’s career.
6. Olivia Colman — The Favourite
Yorgos Lanthimos, marshal of the restrained, alien performances in The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, lets his three leads completely off the leash in this 19th Century Mean Girls take. But while Emma Stone hams a bit too much and Rachel Weisz can’t quite shake her pristine outer shell, Colman plays Queen Anne with a manic-depressive, co-dependent and woefully inept spirit that female leadership roles have been denied for decades. She gamely hams when dressed as a badger, and calmly descends to pathos when discussing the origin of her many rabbits. A mercurial, surprising and movie-saving role.
5. Kiki Layne — If Beale Street Could Talk
Jenkins’ camera is an actor’s dream — soft focus without cloying, still but alive with emotion, and often directly pointing at the face. Kiki Layne makes the most of Beale Street’s lush, dreamlike color palette, flecking the frame with looks of stone-faced determination in the face of unrelenting odds.
4. Michael B. Jordan — Black Panther
Perhaps the 21st century’s definitive supervillain to date, Killmonger as played by Hollywood’s thirst trap of the moment illustrates how powerfully an enemy can be crafted from deeply understanding the weaknesses of both the superhero and the audience in the seats. Jordan brings a controlled, unstoppable rage to Killmonger that grows beyond the manic id of The Joker for the first time in superhero movies post-The Dark Knight, and lands in a place that speaks to the defining flaws of the MCU (awful villains, no stakes).
3. Juliette Binoche — Let the Sunshine In
While she rides a giant fuck-bull in 2018’s other Claire Denis movie, Binoche’s gently devastating turn in this understated Parisian comedy takes the cake as a perfect showcase of her perennially beleaguered visage. Playing a woman who can no more stay out of her own romantic way than acknowledge such, Binoche brings a world-weary pathos, as though she were a woman walking through the wealth of Woody Allen’s filmography, lamenting the sad state of the human male while also deeply, longingly pining for the mensch that must be around the corner.
2. Viola Davis — Widows
Steve McQueen has so much on his mind in the somewhat overwritten, propulsive heist flick that the majesty of Viola Davis’s performance might go overlooked. Yet closely reading her stately gaze reveals a depth of grief, anger and determination the rest of the film can’t keep up with. All the better, as Widows finally gives Davis a role that is worthy of her frankly otherworldly chops.
1. Elizabeth Moss — Her Smell
That Alex Ross Perry’s newest film hasn’t garnered distribution is a travesty to Moss’ performance, a sledgehammer of Shakespearean gravitas and Heath Ledger-esque mania as to shake anyone to the core. Perry’s cinematography, score and cast constantly try to keep up with Moss, doing her best Debbie Harry-as-King Lear through the five-act structure of the movie. Her massive, startling shift going into the film’s final two-fifths is testament to Moss’s prodigious talent. It must be seen.