Awards season is approaching an end, which means you’ll finally stop hearing about Rami Malek and Regina King. That’s cause for celebration, since most people are sick of hearing about these performances for three to four long months. Are they worthy of praise? Absolutely, but there comes a time when people are just ready to move on and talk about something else.
Now, the natural thing to do would be to move on from 2018 entirely. After all, we’re in 2019 now. Sundance just happened, How to Train Your Dragon is coming to a dazzling conclusion, and Netflix won’t stop releasing solid original content. All of that deserves some sort of discussion, but not before Taste of Cinema ties up some loose ends.
With all the love tied to a particular set of award-ready performances, it would be easy for people to say they’ve seen the best and move onto next year. That’s not fair to countless movies that have been overshadowed by more popular alternatives. This is especially the case considering how political the awards often get. Sometimes a performance is overshadowed simply because the studio didn’t feel like playing along.
That’s why this list exists. Below, you’ll find ten performances from last year that, for some reason or another, fell under the radar. This doesn’t necessarily mean they were ignored entirely. Rather, they didn’t find as sizeable of an audience as they could have. Readers who ignored these performances owe it to themselves to give the movies a look.
1. Brady Jandreau – The Rider
Following the release of The Rider, Brady Jandreau said he didn’t act in the movie. No, Jandreau prefers to use the word reenact. Considering the fact that this is a largely biographical story about his life, that may be the appropriate word to use.
The Rider is a movie inspired by Jandreau’s life. It started to come together when the actor was introduced to director Chloé Zhao. The actual story didn’t fully come together until Jandreau got into a life-altering accident that inspired the The Rider’s story. See, the movie was always going to be about him, but the themes revolving around disability didn’t develop until a horse landed straight on Jandreau’s skull. The rest is history.
Seriously, his work deserves its place in cinema history. Even if it’s not really “acting” in the traditional sense, Jandreau commands the screen like few people can. This would be expected from an acting veteran, but this is some incredible stuff from a first-time “actor.” Who are we kidding? It’s some incredible stuff regardless of experience.
Negative viewers may claim that his real life experiences guided his acting too much, but who cares? This small-town country boy could have stumbled through his lines. Hell, he could’ve given a performance reminiscent of the people from The 15:17 to Paris, but he didn’t. He’s a natural when it comes to acting, which is why the movie is such a groundbreaking experience.
2. Regina Hall – Support the Girls
Honestly, a lot of critics have talked about Regina Hall’s work on Support the Girls, so her inclusion might be a little questionable. She makes the lists because the general public has, more or less, dismissed this low-key comedy about a group of women working at a sports bar. The only people who have really given it the time of day happen to be people who watch movies for a living. With only 3,500 IMDb ratings at the time of writing, it’s safe to say that most people skipped the movie or don’t even know about its existence. It’s time for that to change.
Now, the word “low-key” can’t be emphasized enough. This isn’t a balls-to-the-walls, joke-a-minute R-rated comedy. This is a character-first dramedy that puts a large focus on a working class black woman struggling to deal with everyday struggles. That working class woman is played by a surprisingly dramatic Regina Hall, who often gets stuck playing comic relief roles.
Don’t assume Support the Girls isn’t funny because it’s been labeled a dramedy. Just don’t expect endless laughter. There’s more to it than meets the eye. Hall is largely why this movie is more than it appears. She plays a relatable character who stands out because she’s trying desperately to live a successful life. Hall plays a character we can all care about because we empathize with her and want her to succeed. In other words, she’s just incredibly likeable.
The balance between comedy and drama is impressive, as is the focus on authenticity. Hall never feels like she’s in some kind of handfisted movie. She effortlessly plays a very real character in a very genuine movie. This kind of naturalistic acting is hard for certain performers, but Regina Hall is an absolute natural.
3. Ben Mendelsohn – The Land of Steady Habits
Netflix viewership is so weird. Movies like Polar trend on social media while indie dramedies like this one are left to fend for themselves. To be fair, the big budget action movies have an advantage simply because that form of escapism appeals to more people. Still, it’s a shame that some of the best Netflix original movies are immediately forgotten because they don’t have some sort of mainstream appeal.
The Land of Steady Habits is one of those small-scale movies that unfortunately flew by undetected. It’s a slow-burn character study that focuses on a broken man played by Ben Mendelsohn. This broken man deals with struggles involving his troubled son, broken marriage, and relationship with a drug addicted family friend played by the 20-year-old Charlie Tahan.
The relationship he builds with this young man and the coinciding complications seem to make up the primary conflict, but all of his relationships seem to lead to some sort of problem. This is because Mendelsohn gives viewers a flawed, albeit likeable, main character. There’s complexity here that helps put us in a moral dilemma: should we root for this sort of character? That kind of question doesn’t often come from sloppy performances.
It’s a shame that Mendelsohn is so often forgotten about as an actor. His work in Bloodline was well-received, but people still have troubling putting a name to a face. Thankfully, he should get plenty of attention this year for his work in Captain Marvel. Recognition is overdue for this man.
4. Olivia Cooke – Thoroughbreds
Thoroughbreds is an occasionally uncomfortable look at mental health that successfully mixes pitch black humor with social commentary. It often feels like it shouldn’t work, but it ultimately does for several reasons. For one, the script is approached with sensitivity. In the wrong hands, this story could have been an absolute disaster, but Cory Finley’s writing saves a movie that could have easily been mishandled. Of course, his script isn’t the only thing worth talking about.
It would be an injustice to ignore Olivia Cooke when talking about Thoroughbreds. Anya Taylor-Joy is certainly good, but Cooke’s unhinged acting proves to be more entertaining and insightful. She doesn’t garner laughs from particularly funny dialogue. Rather, she entertains because of an assortment of quirks that prove to be hypnotic.
By herself, she absolutely deserves praise, but her performance wouldn’t be complete without Taylor-Joy. The two make a killer (pun intended) pair. It’s hard to find this kind of chemistry in movies, but it’s clear that these two catty girls belong in the same movie scheming the same schemes. If only the Heathers TV show could have handled the subject matter with such grace.
If it hasn’t been made clear yet, Thoroughbreds works because everyone knows what they’re doing. There are so many things that could’ve gone wrong here, but the cast and crew understand how to do this properly. Olivia Cooke is one of those people who tackles the subject matter in a way that’s appropriately sophisticated.
5. Cory Michael Smith – 1985
Cory Michael Smith isn’t a household name yet, but he absolutely deserves to be following great performance after great performance. Unfortunately, most of his great performances are very limited supporting roles. It’s great to see him in Carol, Wonderstruck, and Camp X-Ray, but he’s always such a background character. That all changed last year when Smith starred in the criminally overlooked 1985.
With fewer than 1,000 votes on IMDb, it looks like pretty much everyone skipped this black and white drama about a gay man living with the disease during the AIDS crisis in the eighties. It’s hard-hitting stuff, and it’s the type of movie that usually gets discovered by LGBTQ+ cinephiles. At the very least, somebody usually finds it and spreads the word. Yet here we are, with a movie that nobody is willing to talk about despite the fact that it’s really high quality.
It’s high quality because of the lead actor. Cory Michael Smith is stupendous thanks to his heartbreaking and all-too-real performance playing a character that’s living through a seriously dark time. This kind of thought-provoking acting isn’t easy, but Smith hardly seems troubled by any of it. All in all, he’s the real deal.