14. Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
First off, let’s make it very clear that Brooklyn Prince’s adorable and heartfelt performance deserves an honorable mention. In fact, all of the children in Sean Baker’s The Florida Project deserve recognition for keeping up with the stellar cast of adult actors and actresses.
With that being said, the amount of hype surrounding Dafoe’s performance is completely warranted. Although his performance is very much a supporting one, his presence is nevertheless impactful regardless of screen time.
Dafoe plays Jack Hicks, the manager of the motel that houses several rambunctious children. Hicks initially comes across as an aggressive man who’s unwilling to put up with the wilder guests, but his softer side slowly starts to appear as the film progresses. The transition from hardass to teddy bear is one of the most admirable aspects of the performance.
Dafoe skillfully strikes the perfect balance between these two characteristics. His strong acting chops are exactly what this kind of complex character needs. Hicks is a character that deserves to be talked about after the credits roll. It’s a relief that Dafoe makes that so easy.
The range on display shouldn’t be surprising given Dafoe’s previous roles, but it’s still a pleasure to see it one more time. In fact, this is one of his most memorable performances to date because he’s given so many opportunities to show off his incredible acting skills. This is an emotionally compelling movie, and Dafoe is well aware of that. That’s why he can make you laugh, cry, and raise your fist within a five minute period. This role was destined for him.
13. Kristen Stewart – Personal Shopper
Kristen Stewart is the queen of understated performances. From The Runaways to Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart has proven that she’s magnetic because of her ability to captivate viewers with subtlety. Never boisterous, the actress instead relies on restrained changes in voice inflection combined with deeply effective body language.
Those who can’t recognize her skills as an actress simply haven’t been paying attention. She’s not a powerhouse performer like Meryl Streep, but she doesn’t need to be in order to succeed in a role. She knows what kind of actress she is and she constantly dominates behind the camera as a result.
Personal Shopper is a movie that’s tailor-made for someone like Stewart because it too dials things back a considerable degree. This slow burn thriller asks viewers to be patient as the plot unfolds. It steadily moves from one scene to another as the more moving themes develop over the course of 105 minutes.
The script and direction are sublime, but Stewart’s performance really elevates the material. Similar to A Ghost Story, the movie offers several poignant lessons on loss. Unlike the aforementioned movie, the protagonist has a bit more to work with in terms of actual dialogue. Thankfully, she delivers each of these lines with unparallelled skill.
Personal Shopper’s snail-like pacing won’t appeal to everyone, which also means that Stewart’s performance likely won’t be a hit with mainstream viewers. However, those who are appreciative of these types of movies are bound to fall in love with what is clearly a heart-rending performance from a gifted actress. It may not stray far from what we’ve come to expect, but it’s hard to complain when it’s this good.
12. Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
One of the most gifted young actresses in hollywood surprises nobody by delivering another knockout performance. It’s a subtle and naturalistic performance, but it’s still one of the most compelling things to come out of 2017.
Ronan has officially earned her third Oscar nomination in a decade, which isn’t too shabby for a twenty-three year old actress. The nomination is incredibly well deserved regardless of the fact that it’s not exactly a flashy performance. Then again, Lady Bird isn’t exactly a flashy movie.
Due to the universal adoration, Lady Bird has been hit with inevitable backlash. People have been happy to point out that the film doesn’t do all that much to revolutionize the coming-of-age genre, but it doesn’t need to. It’s such a success because all of the individual elements work so well together.
Gerwig wrote a script with a downright lovable protagonist, but she needed an actress capable of bringing that character to life. Ronan is that person. She’s charming, powerful, and insanely relatable throughout every scene. She also proves, once again, that she can take on just about any accent thrown her way.
How in the world is Saoirse Ronan capable of delivering fantastic performance after fantastic performance? It’s not just that she picks good roles. Sure, the movies are all phenomenal, but she’s largely the reason they work so well. In the case of Lady Bird, she’s the one Jenga block needed to hold everything together.
11. Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Another day, another list praising Get Out. It’s hard not to shower the movie with praise considering the fact that it has so many positive aspects. If Jordan Peele would have been kind enough to get a few things wrong, critics wouldn’t have to write about his movie every week.
Alas, it’s time for a few more paragraphs about why Get Out deserves all the love that has been thrown its way. This time around, the focus is on Daniel Kaluuya, whose performance appropriately earned him his first Oscar nomination.
Anybody who isn’t sold on Kaluuya’s performance should report back after rewatching and analyzing the hypnosis scenes. The second that tear rolls down his cheek is the second you should be convinced that this is something special.
The entire performance is stunning, but that scene in particular proves that this performance is worth the price of admission. His portrayal of the protagonist is sensitive, committed, and intelligent. Every aspect of this performance comes together perfectly, resulting in a killer cinematic experience.
With that being said, it may relieve readers to know that the constant writing about Get Out is about to come to a close. After all, Oscar season is ending and people are finally starting to embrace the movies of 2018.
For now, bear with the writers at Taste of Cinema and embrace the love for Jordan Peele’s phenomenal directorial debut. More importantly, for this list in particular, embrace the love for Kaluuya’s memorable performance. If the script, direction, score, and editing couldn’t convince you to love the movie, maybe this performance can.
10. Barry Keoghan – The Killing of a Sacred Deer
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a gleefully strange movie about a disturbed teenager who creates chaos for a suburban family. That disturbed teenager is played by none other than Barry Keoghan, who makes all of these weirdos look like an average American family. Everybody in this movie behaves a little bit oddly, but Keoghan takes the cake for his unabashed eccentricity. Weird doesn’t always equal good, but in this case, the weirder the better.
The dead-eyed antagonist is so creepy because his behavior is so out-of-the-ordinary. Nobody behaves like this, but that’s kind of the point. Yorgos Lanthimos transports viewers into his idiosyncratic world and expects them to feel uncomfortable. There’s something off about these people and it’s our job to put the pieces together while simultaneously trying not to mouth obscenities due to pure confusion.
Keoghan is at the center of all of this nonsense. He delivers some of the most insane lines of dialogue while staring blankly into the camera as if to remind viewers that he’s empty inside. Some might call the performance robotic, but there’s enough going on for more careful viewers to leave the movie feeling shaken.
Nobody is going to watch his performance in Dunkirk and feel that reaction. That’s not throwing shade at Dunkirk but rather pointing out the fact that Keoghan’s talent isn’t exactly on display in that film. Audiences looking to see what the actor is really capable of owe it to themselves to check out Lanthimos’s wild thriller. This is a performance that sticks with people.
9. Allison Janney – I, Tonya
There’s a reason Allison Janney is the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress this year. It’s because her performance is simultaneously passionate, distressing, and hilarious.
In a movie that quickly bounces between tones, Janney never seems like she’s capable of losing her way. When the movie calls for laughs, Janney does what she can to make the audience laugh. When the movie calls for gasps, Janney throws a knife at poor Margot Robbie. She’s up for anything and she’s great at everything.
Janney plays Tonya Harding’s abusive mother LaVona. To say she has a mean streak is an understatement. LaVona is downright nasty. The scenes where she’s screaming her head off are honestly hard to watch, but they’re also indescribably enthralling.
Those looking for something more understated may want to look elsewhere. Janney is out for blood here. This is an intense performance, but what it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in entertainment value. Viewers are expected to sit back, relax, and enjoy the fireworks.
Janney didn’t need to prove she was a good actress at this point in her career, but she still decided to give audiences another reminder. After seven Emmy wins, Janney thought it would be a wise idea to bring herself one step closer to the EGOT. After all, she has to win a Tony at some point eventually right? This is Janney’s award to lose Oscar night, and for good reason. It’s incredible.
8. Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
How did it take the Academy this long to nominate Sam Rockwell? Seriously, this guy is one of the most underrated actors around. From Lawn Dogs to Moon, he’s proven his versatility again and again. The talented actor has come a long way since playing the role of “Head Thug” in the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle adaptation. Twenty-seven years later, he now consistently proves that he deserves the critical acclaim that comes his way.
There’s plenty to admire here, but the chemistry between him and McDormand remains the most enjoyable part of his performance. It’s impossible to describe just how well they work together. The banter between the two is endlessly entertaining because they seem so comfortable around one another. As the cliché goes, he’s the peanut butter to her jelly. It doesn’t hurt that he’s just as capable of standing his own ground when McDormand isn’t around to elevate his performance.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has a rock solid cast. The fact that Sam Rockwell is only the second best performance speaks volumes. He’s not the only cast member who makes this movie worth watching, but he definitely helps.