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The Best Performances of 2017

Written by on December 29, 2017 


Around this time of year we usually post our breakthrough performances of the past twelve months, but looking at a preliminary list, we realized just about every selection could also contend for being one of the best performances of 2017, period. So, we expanded our usual count and today we present the 35 best performances in what is more strictly defined as cinema (sorry in advance, Kyle MacLachlan and the rest of the Twin Peaks cast.). Check out our selections below and let us know your favorites in the comments.

35. Ahn Seo-Hyun (Okja)


A contender for the best ensemble of the year, Bong Joon-ho’s Okja features a can’t-believe-what-I’m-seeing hilarious Jake Gyllenhaal, another twintastic turn by Tilda Swinton, the cheekily liberal activist group made up of Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, and Lily Collins, and more. The buoyant, beating heart that ties them all together is newcomer Ahn Seo-hyun, who plays Mija, a South Korea farmgirl that takes a globe-trotting journey to save her super pig. Bong’s wildly entertaining tonal shifts might have proven unwieldily if Ahn’s grounded, emotionally-piercing connection with the titular character didn’t burst through every frame. – Jordan R.

34. Jennifer Lawrence (mother!)


Playing a symbol isn’t easy, and yet in a movie that’s nothing but filled with metaphors Jennifer Lawrence grounds the toughest one of all in her most nuanced performance to date. The unnamed character she plays in Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is everything at once: Mother Nature, the perfect wife, a representation of the Virgin Mary, a passive aggressive host, the muse, the heart. But in a world built by men and for men, she’s also nothing. Watching her go from young bride mode into full on Medea is to watch the transformation of an actor who doesn’t always get her due credit. Sure, she’s won every award out there, but she is often praised for being a star more than an actor. In mother! she relies on her incredible instincts; her big J. Law laugh completely absent, she does magic with her eyes, a change of tone in a line reading, the tossing of a lighter. Even though her character is unsure as to what awaits her at every turn, the actor playing her is completely in control. She sets the screen on fire. Pun completely intended. – Jose S.

33. Hiroshi Abe (After the Storm)

After the Storm 6

Yôko Maki’s mournful line, “This isn’t how it was supposed to turn out,” is the most potent encapsulation of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s unexpectedly harrowing and expertly rendered family drama, After the Storm. But it’s lead Hiroshi Abe’s shambling and frustratingly human performance as a sludgy gumshoe/errant father Ryôta Shinoda, who leaves the most lingering impression. A vapor of a man who hasn’t and may never find his place in the world, Abe and Kor-eda together conjure one of the most bittersweet and fully realized losers of the year. – Michael S.

32. Harris Dickinson (Beach Rats)


The East London-born actor Harris Dickinson convincingly sports a Brooklyn accent, as well as the emotion impenetrability as formed by societal norms, in his break-out role in Beach Rats. His restrained blankness as he cruises never turns into physical delight, which renders accurate for a man who still inflicted with repression. – Jordan R.

31. Jason Mitchell (Mudbound)


Dee Rees’ Mudbound is a film both enamored with and disgusted by American’s obsession with legacies – whether it’s the country’s deep-seated racial toxicity or the cycle of fathers and sons who die working for an empire of dirt. With its criss-crossing timelines, and perspectives, Rees builds a version of the Delta that feels both poetic in its potential and completely hollow in practice. But it’s Jason Mitchell’s radiantly idealistic Ronsel Jackson, who imbues the film with a emotional reality. A soldier suffering silently from PTSD, and trapped in a world where he’s unappreciated, Mitchell’s character and his elegiac performance repeatedly magnify the film’s interests from hundreds of years of family history to single individuals in the here and now. – Michael S.

30. Lois Smith (Marjorie Prime)


Smith plays two roles in this film — first a woman with dementia, and then later a holographic projection of the same woman. Since the projection is working with incomplete information on the woman’s life, it often appears more like a dementia patient than a self-assured individual. It acts calm and confident, even as it adjusts to incorporate new “memories” on what “she” is supposed to be like, from the smallest habit to the greatest revelation of tragedy. In both roles, Smith is a reactor. As the mentally adrift Marjorie, she seizes onto whatever stimulus plants her back firmly on the ground of her identity, whether it’s something from the past or present. As Marjorie Prime, she is not a person but a physical (or, well, visual) embodiment of the past hanging over her family, their interactions with her making concrete the mental exercises we play when considering our pasts and what we have said, would say, or wish we would or could or could have said to our loved ones. – Dan S.

29. Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread)


The casting of Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread led some to believe Paul Thomas Anderson might be taking on a sprawling, character-filled Mike Leigh-esque look on London society, with a touch of inspiration from his mentor Robert Altman. However, his latest film quickly reveals itself to be a chamber drama (or comedy) and a more minor, but no less integral part of the three-way triangle is Manville’s Cyril Woodcock. Sister to Day-Lewis’ Reynolds, through no more than a few words and a penetrating glare, the true relational hierarchy reveals itself in cunning ways thanks to Manville’s icy cool. – Jordan R.

28. Adam Sandler (The Meyerowitz Stories)


Adam Sandler has already proved himself as a dramatic actor in works such as Punch-Drunk Love, but his turn in Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is absolutely wonderful, largely because of its unassuming nature. As a father of a daughter about to enter college, he shines with a genuine sense of intimacy and lightness, which only makes his conflicts with and resentment of his own pompous father and distant brother more resonant. – Ryan S.

27. Salma Hayek (Beatriz at Dinner)


Scripted by Miguel Arteta collaborator Mike White, Beatriz at Dinner is not so much a comedy of manners, but a drama of classism with seemingly polite degradation turning into something more menacing. Salma Hayek weathers it all in one of her better performances in some time, providing a genuine horror and fury as the various atrocities of her foe come to light. – Jordan R.

26. Teresa Palmer (Berlin Syndrome)


Teresa Palmer, with her sullen eyes, gives a miraculous performance in Berlin Syndrome, weaving between a layered emotional spectrum of outright physical hostility to veiled acceptance in hopes for an escape. Often unable to articulate the horrors of the situation, her subtle glances and gestures speak volumes to her determination for freedom by any means necessary. It’s no easy task for an actor to give range when inflicted by dominating hideousness for nearly two hours, but Palmer is thoroughly mesmerizing in conveying both her emotional and physical pain. – Jordan R.

25. Jessie Pinnick (Princess Cyd)


Stephen Cone’s protagonists are often defined by an inquisitiveness, whether it pertains to faith, sexuality or maturation in general. In Princess Cyd, Jessica Pinnick captivatingly embodies these concern as her Cyd is the ying to the yang of her aunt Miranda, played by Rebecca Spence in an equally great performance. As the two delicately spar during a warm Chicago summer, Cone has carefully crafted another world bursting with humanity that any viewer would want to live in. – Jordan R.

24. Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)


The subtle genius of Willem Dafoe’s performance in The Florida Project is precisely what he doesn’t bring to it. Known for his rather exuberantly theatrical characters throughout his varied career, Sean Baker understood that no one on screen could match the energy of his young ensemble. Rather, hotel manager Bobby Hicks is an upright character figure defined by exhaustion. He’s certainly not the best in the world at his job, but he does his duties–including being a de facto parental figure–with a determination and open-heartedness that is impossible not to conjure sympathy with any viewer. – Jordan R.

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