6. Melanie Thierry – Memoir of War
Memoir of War is actually a pretty frustrating movie to sit through due to weak writing and unrewarding pacing. With a lackluster 59% Rotten Tomatoes score, most critics found it to be too dull for its own good. Overall, the viewing experience is made worse as a result of several frustrating flaws, but in no way is this a complete disaster. In fact, there are plenty of elements that stop it from being a flat-out bad movie.
For the purpose of this list, we’ll be focusing on one element in particular: a bravado performance from Melanie Thierry. She may be fighting a sloppy script, but she still manages to make every second count. In fact, the movie is at its best when viewers get a taste of the more emotionally impactful scenes featuring her character. She’s undoubtedly the star of the show, and she does everything in her ability to keep people invested.
Her commitment doesn’t exactly save the movie, but it does prevent it from being borderline unbearable. Memoir of War is watchable thanks almost entirely to her. Without her, it would be 127 minutes of repetitive melodrama. Great cinematography helps, but it’s not the saving grace.
Let it be known that Memoir of War isn’t a bad movie. The problem is that it very well could have been without a few key ingredients. The main ingredient may just be Thierry, whose acting stands out alongside her more popular contemporaries. This film is worth watching for her alone, and that’s a bold statement.
7. Madison Wolfe – I Kill Giants
Child actors are too often overshadowed by their more established peers. There’s the occasional breakthrough performance from people like Jacob Tremblay and Thomasin McKenzie, but critics often dismiss children because of their age. Let’s be real: that’s not fair. People like Madison Wolfe, who gave a powerhouse performance in I Kill Giants, shouldn’t be forgotten. They deserve to be talked about alongside their adult peers regardless of the amount of experience they happen to have in front of the big screen.
Now, it wouldn’t be fair to blame the lack of attention entirely on Wolfe’s age. Part of the problem is that I Kill Giants got such a limited release. To add to that, it was released shortly after the incredibly similar A Monster Calls. This all resulted in a frustratingly small fan base considering the scope of the project.
Basically, people either ignored the movie entirely or dismissed Wolfe because of a lack of experience, and that’s a damn shame. Wolfe runs circles around her adult costars. Zoe Saldana and Imogen Poots may have years of experience, but they don’t elicit the strong emotional reactions you’re liable to get from this young actress. One could argue that Wolfe benefits from strong writing, but you still need a performer who can make a strong script work. Wolfe is that performer.
8. Cynthia Erivo – Bad Times at the El Royale
Drew Goddard’s sophomore effort was a misfire at the box office. With a $32 million budget, the movie managed to earn, well, $32 million. It’s too early to tell whether or not it could recover as a cult classic, but things aren’t looking promising since any kind of word-of-mouth has died off completely. It’s not like people are continuing to bad-mouth the movie. It’s just that nobody seems to have much of anything to say.
Frankly, that’s a shame because Goddard’s twisty little thriller is a ton of fun thanks to its tight script and stellar cast. With a cast this great, you’d think more people would be talking about the performances, but light murmurs seem to be the best we’re going to get. Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, and Chris Hemsworth all give expectedly rock solid performances, but there’s one person who happens to be El Royale’s most valued player.
Based on one of her earliest scenes, we can all tell that Cynthia Erivo can sing her ass off. Luckily, there’s more to it than that. She’s not just there to provide viewers with some memorable melodies. That’s certainly a welcome addition, but it’s just one of the many things deserving of attention.
Erivo also gives us somebody to cheer for in a movie with so many unlikeable people. She’s the hero this movie deserves. Sure, some of this has to do with the writing, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that the character is played by an actress who can make viewers feel something. Seriously, she’s a multifaceted acting threat.
With all that being said, Bad Times at the El Royale doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. Overall, it’s an excellent movie made even better by one hell of a performance. Okay, it’s actually made better by several stunning performances, but we’re going to focus on one stunner in particular. You may go into the movie for the unpredictable script, but you’ll stay for Cynthia Erivo.
9. Dogu Demirkol – The Wild Pear Tree
The Wild Pear Tree technically didn’t get a theatrical release in the states until 2019, but let’s call it a 2018 release due to its eligibility at the 91st Academy Awards. It also fits into the category because a large chunk of critics (including the author of this article) were lucky enough to see it last year, and thank goodness for that. The sooner people can view this film, the better. It may be an enormous time commitment, but it’s an enormous time commitment that deserves love.
Its inclusion may be unfair because the lack of viewership could be a result of its very recent release. At the same time, limited release foreign movies with no-name actors don’t often get the same amount of attention as studio films with A-list stars. Without the Hollywood stamp of approval, can we really expect Dogu Demirkol to be remembered years down the road? Probably not. That pessimism probably feels out of place in a list meant to celebrate fantastic performances, so it’s probably best to switch gears and talk about what makes this such a standout.
Similar to Brady Jandreau, Demirkol is more or less a non-actor. His experience in front of the camera is limited, but it’s hard to tell that just by viewing this movie. He feels like an absolute natural alongside other performers who actually do have some sort of experience. The Wild Pear Tree is a movie that manages to feel very authentic, and Demirkol certainly helps in that regard.
Whether or not he sticks around is a big question mark, but this (coupled with his work in Ölümlü Dünya) is impressive stuff that shouldn’t be dismissed. On the contrary, it should be celebrated just like moviegoers have been celebrating people like Bradley Cooper and Ethan Hawke. It’s not necessarily the same kind of performance, but it’s groundbreaking acting nonetheless.
10. Jesse Plemons – Game Night
Game Night isn’t the first movie one thinks of when they think about grand cinematic achievements. It’s not a dramatic masterpiece comparable to the best of 2018. Then again, it doesn’t need to be. It’s an endlessly entertaining R-rated comedy with a hilarious script and a cast of performers who seem like they’re having the time of their lives. Well, maybe there’s one cast member who’s not as visibly excited as everyone else, but that’s because Jesse Plemons is hamming it up in his own special way.
Plemons plays Gary, a recent divorcee who has been left distraught by his ex-wife’s absence. As Gary, Plemons does everything in his power to make the viewer and the other characters as uncomfortable as possible. Completely devoid of social skills, this character demands laughs as a result of his painfully awkward interactions with everyone in front of the camera. We’re rarely given any insight into the character’s personality prior to the divorce, which only adds to the mystery surrounding this mystical source of cringe. Overall, Gary (and Plemons) is an endlessly entertaining enigma.
Of course, this isn’t a conventionally praiseworthy performance. Alongside the traditionally acclaimed transformative performances, Plemons feels out of place, but his performance stands out in other ways. It would be unfair to ignore the acting prowess solely because this is comedic. It’s a light performance, sure, but it clearly shows people an actor who can think outside the box.
Author Bio: Justin is a freelance film critic and English teacher from St. Louis, Missouri. His hobbies include slyly sneaking movie references into every lesson and trying to watch every cult horror movie available to the viewing public.