5. Wesley Snipes – Dolemite is My Name
Dolemite is My Name is a joyous celebration of the life of Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy), an uncompromising performer who took his persona Dolemite to the stage and screen, surrounding himself with a vast ensemble of artists as he worked outside the system. In Rudy’s bid to gain a crew for his first film, he recruits Rosemary’s Baby actor D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) to direct, and while Martin is initially intrigued by the authority of the director’s chair, he quickly grows tired of the makeshift nature of the production. Snipes plays Martin as constantly flustered, and much more self-absorbed than the more judicious Rudy.
Snipes is simply uproarious in the role, and in his first scene brags of his experience to Rudy, despite having only appeared in Rosemary’s Baby in a small role. At some points Martin is charmed by Rudy’s untraditional filming tactics, including an oddly staged sex scene where the crew moves around objects in the room, but at other points he’s forced to accept less than stellar work, including a comically incompetent fight scene where it’s clear that all the stunts are very unconvincing in their physicality. Snipes isn’t just a great foil for Murphy, but a genuine scene stealer whose disappearance in the film’s last third leaves him sorely missed.
4. Viveik Kalra – Blinded by the Light
Blinded by the Light works as a combination of nostalgia and originality; while the music of Bruce Springsteen is the spark of enlightenment for Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra), he ultimately learns to find his own voice as a writer and develops more awareness for the world around him.
Javed is stuck dealing with his family’s traditionalist views and the growing intolerance within his community, and the music of “The Boss” provides him with catharsis that makes him feel seen for the first time in his life. This infectious sense of joy is brought to life by Viveik Kalra; it’s a film so sincere that it’s borderline corny, but Kalra’s performance grounds the character’s self-discovery to life with genuine feelings.
What’s great about Kalra’s performance is that it goes beyond the typical tropes of finding creative inspiration; while the music of Springsteen speaks to Javed, he realizes that different things speak to different people, and that rather than basing his entire lifestyle around one artist he should learn to respect all types of art. Kalra is also able to depict a rebellious teenager without being obnoxious, and the conflicts that Javed has with his father are sympathetic to both characters and where they are in their lives. While Blinded by the Light was unfortunately a box office disappointment, hopefully word of mouth will inspire more viewers to check out this delightful performance and witness Kalra’s wonderful performance.
3. Jamie Bell – Rocketman
The partnership between Elton John and songwriter Bernie Taupin is legendary, as Elton was able to take Bernie’s lyrics and instantly hear the finished songs in his head. The musical fantasy Rocketman details the entire life of the famous music icon, but one of the most powerful relationships in the film is the one between Elton (Taron Egerton) and Bernie (Jamie Bell). Elton spends a majority of the film looking for acceptance and affection, and while Bernie rebuffs his initial romantic advances, he’s also the only person that understands the difference between Elton’s actual personality and his stage persona.
Bernie is often the only person who can bring Elton back down to Earth and reign in his eccentricities, and Bell does a great job at confronting his best friend with a mix of both exasperation and admiration. In one of the film’s most visually stunning musical numbers, Bernie leads a crowd to join Elton’s first rendition of “Crocodile Rock,” and Bell shows the sheer exhilaration that one might feel when hearing a great song for the first time.
However, it’s clear that Bernie is not an everyman and is in fact a musical genius in his own right, and Bell is convincing when he’s shown transcribing lyrics into a coherent song. While Taron Egerton is rightfully receiving awards buzz for his tour de force performance, Bell’s contributions to the film shouldn’t be forgotten.
2. Elle Fanning – Teen Spirit
Despite some energetic musical numbers and flashy direction from Max Minghella, Teen Spirit is a fairly generic movie with a paint by numbers story, but that doesn’t stop Elle Fanning from giving a fantastic performance.
At only 21, Fanning has worked with some of the best directors of today, and in Teen Spirit she gets her best role to date as Violet, a shy Polish girl who unexpectedly becomes a sensation when she auditions for a reality singing competition show. This modernized take on a Cinderella story allows Fanning to showcase her impressive musical ability, and behind her performances is a character who is pretending to be something else- Violet is anything but a traditional pop superstar.
Fanning is so effortlessly charismatic onscreen that she is able to overcome the weaknesses within the script. While it’s expected that any young performer would be exposed to the cutthroat nature of shady business dealings within the music industry, Fanning gives Violet a wide-eyed innocence that makes these situations more emotional.
Much of the joy of seeing Violet succeed is seeing her rise to celebrity status within her small town, and seeing the community rally behind Violet makes it easy to root for her as she advances to the later rounds of the competition. Even if the film itself ends in a predictable manner, Fanning’s final performance of “Don’t Kill My Vibe” is riveting in its own right.
1. Andre Holland – High Flying Bird
Steven Soderbergh is a director with an unparalleled ability to recognize new talent, and the first of his two 2019 films features a star making performance from Andre Holland. While Holland previously gave strong turns in Selma and Moonlight, he becomes the face of a movement in High Flying Bird through his portrayal of Ray Burke, a sports agent who makes waves within the industry by creating a new way of streaming and distributing content.
As with many Soderbergh films, this is a film with intricate dialogue that doesn’t dumb down the complexity of the business side of entertainment, and Holland does a great job at playing a dynamic character that always thinks on his feet.
Ray Burke is a fascinating lead character because he’s simultaneously advantageous and compassionate; he’s been in the industry long enough to give sagely advice to his clients, and his ability to disrupt the system ends up taking control of the game away from the power elite and back to audiences. It’s a film full of twists, and when it’s revealed that Burke took part in orchestrating some dealings it’s clear that he always had an extra card in his sleeve and was able to divert attention away from his true intentions.
It’s a film all about innovative content creation that was shot on an iPhone, and the result is a performance from Holland that captures the energy and intimacy of this new medium. Much like Soderbergh helped to redefine George Clooney’s career with Ocean’s Eleven and Out of Sight, he’s spotlighted another emerging talent with Andre Holland.