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The Best Performances of 2017

Written by on December 29, 2017 

12. Nahuel Pérez Biscayart (BPM (Beats Per Minute))

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Robin Campillo’s thrillingly microscopic social advocacy drama BPM takes what should be on paper an almost defiantly un-cinematic approach to a usually blustery sub-genre. Filled with scene after scene of alternately agonizing and energizing inner-circle conversations about an AIDS awareness group’s attempts to be heard – there’s almost none of the passionate grandstanding or “right side of history” pandering that define films about movements. But that lack of narrative grandeur only makes Nahuel Pérez Biscayart’s fiery, sweet, and unraveling performance as the ailing Sean all the more powerful. True to the character’s nature, Sean refuses to become a prop, underpinning the film’s larger academic/emotional theses about the short-term hollowness of advocacy and the inhumanity of having to watch the people closest to you die for no reason. – Michael S.

11. Kim Min-hee (On the Beach at Night Alone)

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The particular qualities of a recurring Hong Sang-soo repertory player – the ability to quickly memorize lines, the knack of nailing incredibly quotidian yet meaningful dialogue, the execution of at least one soju-sodden scene – have reached some kind of zenith with Kim Min-hee, who has now worked with the auteur on four films and counting. In On the Beach at Night Alone, the only one of these to feature her as the sole protagonist, she turns in something of a monumental performance, excavating her own romantic history with Hong for ends both somber and defiant, all under a veneer of gentleness. – Ryan S.

10. Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)

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Jordan Peele has rightfully been earning praise since Sundance for his nerve-striking satire Get Out, and one of the smartest choices he made was the casting of Daniel Kaluuya as Chris. On his weekend getaway to cinema’s most frightening place since Carnival of Souls, his character goes from apprehensive to bewildered, then is consumed by fear before fighting back. Kaluuya subtly grounds this journey with the smallest of brilliant touches to keep us tied to every step of the horror. – Jordan R.

9. Daniela Vega (A Fantastic Woman)

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A bolder more progressive awards season might have looked to Daniela Vega among Best Actress contenders, an event that would’ve hit front pages as the first time a transgender actress had been so considered. And Chilean Sebastián Lelio’s film can’t be faulted for not being upfront about sexuality. Unlike some of this year’s other great performances in LGBT movies – in Call Me By Your Name, God’s Own Country, for instance – Vega’s Maria doesn’t hide her sexuality, but sometimes she might want to. Despite a proud, passionate performance, Vega is able to deliver scenes of aching fragility, such as one devastating sequence when she’s casually assaulted at her boyfriend’s funeral by his own family. And somehow, every time, Maria gets back up again. Vega is, well, fantastic. – Ed F.

8. Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread)

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If Phantom Thread is truly Daniel Day-Lewis’ final role, as the actor has stated, one might imagine a physical and mental strain rupturing across the screen the likes of which we haven’t seen since Daniel Plainview. That Reynolds Woodcock exudes anything but those qualities is one of the many surprises Paul Thomas Anderson has in store in his sumptuous period drama. Although there’s an egomaniacal vein that runs through his character of an elite fashion designer, there’s also a sly tenderness and comedic warmth that gives startling life to this shape-shifting relationship drama. – Jordan R.

7. Haley Lu Richardson (Columbus)

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John Cho’s wayward professional, Jin, is arguably the driving narrative force of Columbus, Kogonada’s assured meditation on place and its meaning (or lack thereof), but it’s Haley Lu Richardson’s Casey who draws the film into a place of greater clarity and vulnerability. Casey is a familiar archetype to independent coming-of-age films – the young individual waylaid by life on the way to the next step – but Lu Richardson infuses her with an unexpectedly energizing melancholy to the point where even an extra long drag on a cigarette can signify a lifetime that passed her by. – Michael S.

6. Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper)

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Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria led to Kristen Stewart being the first American actress to win a César Award and in her second collaboration with the director she is now the lead, and gives an even greater turn. A ghost story set in the world of haute couture, Stewart plays the titular shopper, who is also a medium hoping to contact her recently deceased brother. Exploring this thin line between communicating with the dead and communicating through technology–in both instances, someone is not physically present–Assayas camera tracks Stewart as if she’s always one step ahead. The direction and central performance are feats of alluring magnetism in both the mundanity of modern life and the tease of the unknown that lurks both behind the walls and in our protaganist’s fractured heart. – Josh E.

5. Vince Vaughn (Brawl in Cell Block 99)

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If True Detective and Hacksaw Ridge were Vince Vaughn’s attempts to shed his comedic persona for something more intense, then Brawl in Cell Block 99 is where those efforts pay off. Standing at 6 foot 5 with a shaved head, tattoos, and a whole lot of muscle mass, Vaughn towers over every cast member he shares a scene with, as if every frame emphasizes his capability for brutal violence. His character is a brute, but he’s one with a sensitivity that gives him a moral code to live by, and it’s in that area where Vaughn elevates his role into something more than fists and fury. He convincingly shows a vulnerability and sensitivity lurking underneath his hardened exterior, giving his character’s fights a strong emotional and logical motivation behind them. By the time Brawl transitions into the absurdly violent final act, Vaughn sells the material so well he becomes a bridge joining the film’s tonal shifts. When he stomps on a man’s face so hard their jawbone literally explodes off of their face, we wince at the horror of what’s on screen, but we don’t blink at that plausibility of such an act from a character perspective. That’s how you know it’s a great performance. – C.J. P.

4. Robert Pattinson (Good Time)

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One of the year’s most engrossing and kinetic performances comes from Robert Pattinson as Connie, a sociopathic New York street hustler, in Josh and Benny Safdie’s Good Time. While the film overflows with lucid and grounded performances, Pattinson is the standout as he utterly vanishes into the role, evoking the feel of a living and breathing flaming car wreck: too shocking to ignore and too dangerous to touch. Pathologically manipulative, Connie uses and reuses everyone he encounters for his own selfish needs, abandoning them after he’s eaten his fill. He epitomizes King Midas in reverse. Yet, Pattinson endows the conman with burning charisma and fiendish imagination, morphing his every move into a fascinating dance from which we cannot look away. We loath Connie, but still find ourselves gob smacked with curiosity to see just what he will do next. How low will this scumbag sink? Connie’s only signs of emotional sincerity, faint as they are, connect to his mentally disabled brother, who he genuinely loves, but still employs to help pull off a daylight bank robbery which goes horribly wrong. Pattinson breathtakingly navigates a towering balancing act, bringing to life an unforgettably repulsive and morbidly captivating pulp character. – Tony H.

3. Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name)

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It’s been a great year for performances characterized by physicality, but perhaps no other felt more defined by boundless energy than Timothée Chalamet’s role as the shiftless Elio in Luca Guadagnino’s seductively dense Call Me By Your Name. Chalamet’s acting isn’t broad or based on tics, but it’s consistently overwhelming – a current unleashed without a conduit in sight. Nudged by director Guadagnino’s uncharacteristically lighter hand, Chalamet channels that energy inward, creating a character whose self-doubt, burgeoning fluidity, and fierce intelligence build into their own kind of romance with the potential of personhood. – Michael S.

2. Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread)

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Vicky Krieps has been acting for the last decade–one might have seen her brief supporting turns in Hanna and A Most Wanted Man–but her tremendous breakthrough performance comes with Phantom Thread. In the 1950s-set relationship drama set in the world of fashion, the Luxemburg-born actress plays Alma, a new muse of designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis). While a new film from Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t need a selling point, there’s been no shortage of discussion about it featuring the final performance from his There Will Be Blood star. However, as the film cunningly shapeshifts, it becomes clear that Alma may have the upper hand in this union, yet saying much more will take away from the film’s many luscious pleasures. Rest assured, Krieps is magnetic from her first appearance to the finale frame, going toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis in a simply astounding performance — and one of the best of the year. – Jordan R.

1. Cynthia Nixon (A Quiet Passion)

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Historians remain in controversy over the exact nature of Emily Dickinson’s infamous seclusion. A Quiet Passion is disinterested in “answering” this riddle, simply taking for granted that Dickinson withdrew from the world and focusing instead on her doing so. In this, the film lives in Nixon, who plays out the pleasures of solitude and the pains of isolation in the rigid cord of her back or the tightenings and loosenings of her lip. The movie approaches the life of the mind as largely inexplicable, and Nixon perfectly captures the frustrations of living at the mercy of mental shifts that her character can only articulate in the abstraction of poetry. Her performance is itself another abstraction, ripe for varying interpretations as to what’s playing out in Dickinson’s head without ever losing her center. – Dan S.

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