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The 20 Best Movie Performances of 2017

22 February 2018 | Features, Other Lists | by Justin Gunterman

Another year has passed, which means Taste of Cinema once again needs to look back at every great performance that has come along. Based on the competitive nature of this year’s awards season, it’s safe to say that 2017 has been one for the books. There will always be people who claim that a given year is a major letdown, but it’s hard to look back on countless cinematic achievements and claim that last year was a total dud.

In fact, due to the strong competition this year, it’s inevitable that countless acclaimed performance won’t make this list. With that in mind, be aware that plenty of great performances may have barely missed the cut. Other performances may not have even made their way stateside yet. There could, in many cases, be a rational explanation as to why a certain performance was left off the list.

Don’t panic though! There are enough satisfactory performances listed to satisfy pretty much everyone. That’s not entirely surprising considering the quality of films from last year. Make an effort to give all of these a look. They’re all worthy of attention.

 

20. Aubrey Plaza – Ingrid Goes West

Despite being labeled a black comedy, Ingrid Goes West is a surprisingly uncomfortable movie to watch. The film, which revolves around the title character stalking and eventually trying to befriend a hugely famous social media influencer, frequently makes the viewer’s skin crawl due to the embarrassing and oftentimes unsettling interactions between the characters.

Unsurprisingly, Ingrid is almost always the primary instigator of these social misfires. This means that the folks in charge of casting needed to cast somebody who could capture the awkward essence of the protagonist.

Aubrey Plaza, who has more than her share of experience playing the socially inept outcast with a penchant for swearing, was wisely given the role of Ingrid. What stops this from feeling like every other quirky Aubrey Plaza performance is the much darker nature of the film.

Sure, she can play the awkward girl in roles like The To Do List and Parks and Recreation, but how does she fare in a more disturbing role? Considering the fact that this is her best performance to date, it’s fair to say that Plaza can handle more complex roles.

Plaza demands attention from her first line of dialogue to the very end. Ingrid is such a complicated character, but Plaza still manages to keep track of every small character trait. She doesn’t make it easy to love her character, but she also makes an obvious effort to show off more admirable aspects. She paints Ingrid as a multidimensional character who’s just as easy to detest as she is to pity.

Though the charming actress has always been able to make people laugh, she’s never played a character with this much depth. Luckily she nails it.

 

19. Nahuel Pérez Biscayart – BPM (Beats per Minute)

This French movie about the AIDS epidemic is one of the best movies audiences may have missed last year. It revolves around members of an advocacy group trying to take action against the government and pharmaceutical companies. The various members of this advocacy group all get their time to shine throughout the film thanks to its oversized runtime, but there’s one cast member who gets the chance to stick out a little more than the rest.

That’s due to the fact that the movie is structured in a weird way. It starts out as more of an ensemble movie before eventually zooming in on a single protagonist. The first half of the movie focuses more on the larger group of activists while the latter half of the movie focuses specifically on a single member, who’s played by Nahuel Pérez Biscayart.

Biscayart sticks out even before the film puts the spotlight on him. He plays one of the more fiery and outspoken advocates, and he plays the part incredibly well from the minute he appears on screen.

His performance becomes even more hypnotic as the film progresses and brings his story front and center. The last twenty minutes in particular show off Biscayart’s incredible range. His ability to switch from 0 to 100 in a moment’s notice is one of his greatest assets, so it’s a relief that he uses this to his advantage. Due to his incredible ability to show off so much talent in such a short timespan, don’t be surprised if his performance is hard to forget.

 

18. Diane Kruger – In the Fade

In the Fade was curiously left off Oscar ballots this year after winning the Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language. To be fair, critics didn’t exactly adore it. With a 71% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 64 on Metacritic, the film doesn’t really have the backing of a movie like Loveless.

Still, it seemed like awards voters were willing to throw it a bone anyway. This could be because Diane Kruger’s dynamite performance managed to distract all of them from the unfortunate flaws. Let’s make one thing clear: In the Fade is a solid movie, but its quality is largely the result of the always magnificent actress playing the lead role.

This gut-wrenching crime drama is such a thrill to watch because of Kruger’s undeniably passionate performance. The movie revolves around a mother seeking revenge after the loss of her husband and son in a bombing. It’s dark, emotional stuff that never feels hokey because Kruger gives the audience a character with incredible amounts of depth. The movie often risks being overly sentimental, but it never dips into that territory because of the talent actress in front of the camera.

 

17. Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game

Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game

Jessica Chastain could stare blankly into the camera for two-hours and she’d still find a way to impress viewers. After her breakthrough year in 2011, she has continued to impress in just about every role she has taken.

Her ability to make The Huntsman: Winter’s War halfway watchable speaks volumes about her talent. She has an astounding ability to strengthen just about any movie in which she appears. The alternate dimension that features Zero Dark Thirty without Chastain sounds like a world nobody wants to inhabit.

The same can be said about Molly’s Game. While Sorkin’s whip-smart script is as delightful as usual, it wouldn’t be the same without Chastain’s portrayal of Molly Brown. Similar to her performance in Miss Sloane, this performance is memorable because audiences get to see an endlessly entertaining cutthroat badass.

Chastain has proven that she’s a versatile actress, but it’s always fun to watch her take on this type of role. We may have seen it several times before, but she always manages to pepper in a little bit of variety to spice things up. This time around, we get an excessive amount of snark that’s bound to make viewers cheer.

Truthfully, it’s kind of a bummer Chastain didn’t earn another Oscar nomination for this movie. The competition was incredibly stiff, but it’s great to see deliver another top-tier performance. This one happens to be one of her best thanks to her ability to make Sorkin’s dialogue even more engaging than we’ve come to expect. Simply put, we don’t deserve someone as talented as Jessica Chastain.

 

16. Florence Pugh – Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth is a harrowing period piece that only reveals how dark it can be as the story progresses. The small budget and limited release unfortunately meant that it flew under the radar, but the people who saw it responded with nothing but positivity.

Rightfully so because the movie is an emotional gut punch thanks to a top notch script courtesy of Alice Birch. That script pairs magnificently with the solid, albeit small, cast. Leading the pack is Florence Pugh, who delivers a career-defining performance that could very well push her to stardom.

The performance is such a success because viewers are able to see the dynamic character change from beginning to end. Pugh pays close attention to every detail in an effort to show the evolution of the character. Katherine Lester is a character whose mental state slowly deteriorates as the plot unwinds.

The fact that viewers can spot this so easily is a telltale sign that Pugh is doing far more than reading the words on a script. She embodies the protagonist in a way that brings to mind some of the strongest character actresses. This is a role that seems made for a seasoned performer, but somehow the young actress proves to be exactly what the movie needs.

The good news is that Pugh doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. She recently starred in the The Commuter, and she has two more movies coming out this year. Whether or not she’ll be able to top this breakthrough performance remains to be seen, but her talent is already hard to ignore.

 

15. Garance Marillier – Raw

Let’s ignore the fact that Raw is one of the most daring horror films of the century and instead focus on the film’s incredible starlet. After all, so much has already been said about the provocative symbolism and timeless coming-of-age story. It’s about time critics focus their attention on another one of the film’s numerous highlights.

To be fair, horror films aren’t often noted for their acting. Then again, Raw transcends the horror genre in a way that few films can claim to do. It’s just as much a coming-of-age drama as it is a movie about a teenage cannibal, and that’s why Marillier is so captivating.

Her performance isn’t brilliant because it’s scary (though it can be pretty creepy), but rather because it’s oddly relatable. She shines brightest when she’s put into situations that many other people have been through. The amount of discomfort so obviously painted on her face during the first party scene is just as unsettling as many of the supposed “barf bag” moments, and that’s only the beginning.

Raw brilliantly takes on topics like sibling rivalry, peer pressure, and awkward sexual encounters. Every time these scenes play out, Marillier pulls out the appropriate posture, facial expression, and tone of voice. Actually, she does more than that. She finds a way to make these moments relatable, but she also finds a way to make them memorable.

There’s so much nuance to be found in the frames composing these moments, but they rarely go unnoticed. Don’t let everything else distract you from the fact that Marillier is the heart and soul of this movie. She can only grow from here.

 

 

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