Another year, another opportunity to list the standout performances from throughout the year. Normally, I would break these performances down into two separate groups – male and female – but this year I have opted to include everyone together in the same post. The main reasoning behind this change is the prevalence of the ensemble cast in this year’s cinematic offerings. A number of these films feature impressive performances from (just about) the entire cast; films like Uncut Gems, Chained for Life, The Farewell, Parasite, and High Flying Bird, to name a few. That’s not to say that there were not a number of films from this year that did not rely on a solitary (or even tandem) performance of memorable quality. There were plenty of those, as well.
EVERY SINGLE PERSON in The Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems
Although I am in the minority in terms of praise for the film itself, I cannot deny the Safdie’s directorial abilities when it comes to their actors. Every single person in this film delivers a memorable performance, no matter how small, and most are everyday individuals appearing as veteran thespians. Sandler, Bogosian, Stanfield, and Menzel are great, no doubt; but Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, and damn near every supporting player is just as good with the absolute standout being Arno’s heavy, Phil, played by Keith Williams Richards.
THE KIM & PARK FAMILIES in Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite
Kang-ho Song has been a steady presence for quite some time and it is no surprise that he turns in another great performance in another Bong film. But Yeo-jeong Jo, So-dam Park, Woo-sik Choi, Hye-jin Jang, and Sun-kyun Lee are in lock-step alongside Song. That goes for Jeong-eun Lee as the housekeeper/assistant, too.
ANDRÉ HOLLAND, SONJA SOHN, ZAZIE BEETZ, BILL DUKE in Soderbergh’s High Flying Bird
These four take somewhat drab negotiations and strategy conversations and turn them into some of the most compelling scenes of the year.
EDDIE MURPHY, DA’VINE JOY RANDOLPH, WESLEY SNIPES in Craig Brewer’s Dolemite Is My Name
Nothing quite like seeing Murphy and Snipes back at with great comedic performances in the feel-good film of the year but Da’Vine Joy Randolph comes close to eclipsing both with her heartfelt performance as Lady Reed.
ADAM PEARSON, JESS WEIXLER, SAMMY MENA in Aaron Schimberg’s Chained for Life
Another film like Uncut Gems wherein every individual (no matter how small the role) as a memorable turn like Sammy Mena as the enthusiastic artist, Lucy Kaminsky as the nurse turned momentary actress, or Stephen Plunkett as try-hard co-star. But it is Pearson & Weixler’s relationship that takes center stage through captivating portrayals from both.
SHUZHEN ZHAO in Lulu Wang’s The Farewell
Of course everyone in Wang’s The Farewell turns in performances in various degrees of great but Shuzhen Zhao as Nai Nai absolutely steals the show with a wonderful mix of endearing humor and an undeniable warmth that is an absolute joy to watch.
JIMMIE FAILS & JONATHAN MAJORS in Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco
The supporting performances (Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold, Jamal Trulove, Antoine Redus, Isiain Lalime & Jordan Gomes) are fantastic but the central relationship between best friends, Jimmie and Montgomery, is a beautiful portrayal of brotherly support and love.
LUPITA NYONG’O in Jordan Peele’s Us
Nyong’o delivers not one but two great performances; and, not only two but two entirely divergent performances. Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker are great as well.
VANESSA PARADIS in Yann Gonzalez’s Knife + Heart
Again, great performances from everyone but Vanessa Paradis really shines at the center of Gonzalez’s Giallo-inspired gay porn horror romance.
MADELEINE SAMI & JACKIE VAN BEEK in their own The Breaker Upperers
Great comedic chemistry between Sami and van Beek alongside a great premise makes for good fun.
SAMANTHA MUGATSIA & SHEILA MUNYIVA in Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki
A phenomenal chemistry exists between Mugatsia and Munyiva in a complementary fashion that enables the viewer to see these characters in a new light as their blossoming romance brings a transformation to both.
LOANE BALTHASAR in Katharina Wyss’s Sarah Plays a Werewolf
Balthasar dominates as a high schooler struggling with trauma which propels her to tap into an intensity for her drama class that begins to bleed out into her real life, an intensity that pushing those away when all she is trying to do is to open up and get closer.
VIOLET NELSON & ELLE-MÁIJÁ TAILFEATHERS in Kathleen Hepburn & Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’ The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open
A truly phenomenal back-and-forth performance between Nelson and Tailfeathers as they navigate the aftermath of a domestic abuse situation with Tailfeathers, overwhelming yet determined, trying her absolute best to help while Nelson is trepidatious in receiving help and, at times, resentful towards Tailfeathers involvement. The entire film hinges on their relationship and it is truly extraordinary what they accomplish together.
YANNIS DRAKOPOULOS in Babis Makridis’s Pity
A deadpan turn as a man addicted to pity and sympathy and will go to unbelievable lengths to acquire all of the world’s pity and sympathy, pathetically extracting it from every possible interaction.
BENOÎT POELVOORDE & GRÉGOIRE LUDIG in Quentin Dupieux’s Keep an Eye Out
Just two incredible comedic performances steeped in absurdity with Ludig playing the semi-straight man frustrated by Poelvoorde’s ridiculous exercises in semantics. A film full of wonderful facial reactions.
SHIA LABEOUF & NOAH JUPE in Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy
LaBeouf channels the struggles and hardships of his own father that lead to an abusive relationship with his son, himself, played by a commendable Noah Jupe.
THEODORE BOULOUKOS in Michael M. Bilandic’s Jobe’z World
Bouloukos is undoubtedly the highlight in Bilandic’s Jobe’z World playing a deranged thespian of sorts chasing immortal glory in the midst of a drug overdose.
ESOM in Go-Woon Jeon’s Microhabitat
A delicate performance of a woman steadfast in things that provide her comfort and retain her dignity in the face of capitalism – whiskey and cigarettes. A vagabond of benevolent helpfulness, traversing the homes of her friends providing all the support she can muster.