5. Honor Swinton Byrne – The Souvenir
Joanna Hogg’s dreamy, ambitious film gives Honor Swinton Byrne a chance to shine. Set in the early ‘80s, Byrne plays a young film student named Julie who gets romantically involved with a complicated man who is almost the opposite of her and, unbeknownst to her, also a heroin addict.
Byrne is the daughter of Tilda Swinton, who plays her wealthy mother in the film, which is great to watch. It’s her leading role debut in a film and an amazing one. Not a showy part, but the beauty lies in the quiet moments; she brings her character to life with such a genuine and honest way.
The movie lets the action play out in long takes until we almost breathe with Julie, and Byrne manages to find crucial emotional elements of her character. Julie has her insecurities and she’s very vulnerable and Byrne manages to fully understand her character.
It’s an absolutely tremendous performance. Its sequel is already in the works and Byrne will be back. Will she keep on taking acting roles? It’s unknown yet. Tilda doesn’t know it either, but we certainly would like to see more of her.
4. Lupita Nyong’o – Us
One of the most popular and discussed films of the year so far, “Us” saw Jordan Peele mastering his skills in building an atmosphere. He also again wrote great parts for his actors. Even though the whole cast delivers, it’s a Lupita Nyong’o show. Absolute tour-de-force. There had been some incredible performances in history when it comes to playing dual roles; for instance, Jeremy Irons in “Dead Ringers,” Nicolas Cage in “Adaptation,” or Sam Rockwell in “Moon.”
It’s a great chance for an acting showcase, but it’s also hard to pull off. Not for Nyong’o. She acts more with her eyes – and what an expressive eyes – than anything else in the movie. Her roles are the seemingly normal human mother Adelaide and her nefarious doppelgänger, Red. Both performances are effective. In what is probably her best role yet, Nyong’o brings so much energy, sadness and fear to the characters.
She owns every scene she is in, no matter who she plays. Her wildly different performances make you feel both unsettled and reassured. “Us” is an early release and we know that there’s a horror bias since even Toni Collette couldn’t get in for any of the major industry prizes last year for “Hereditary,” but Nyong’o deserves all kinds of recognition and acclaim for her impressive work.
3. Julianne Moore – Gloria Bell
Sebastian Lelio’s “Gloria” gave Paulina García a great part. She played her part with scrupulous honesty and intelligence. When you make a great film and you decide to go for an almost shot-for-shot remake (though with some slight differences, including in the tone and cinematography), not only is it hard to bring up a movie as effective but it’s also very hard for the lead actress to make the character feel fresh again.
But Julianne Moore, that legend of our time, pulls it off in such an amazing way. It was such a surprise that the film worked as great as the original. Most of its success is due to Moore. She’s so vulnerable and marvelous and so strong in the lead part that you never get tired of watching the character.
In fact, you want more and more of her. It was an interesting strategy to release the film as early as this. Maybe Moore would have a chance to at least get some critics prizes if it was released in last fall. But hopefully many cinephiles will get to hear of the film anyway and witness Moore’s glorious work.
Gloria is an amazingly written great character. It’s not like we get such great English-language adult dramas that often, and Moore’s performance makes her even more interesting to watch. An honorable mention should also go to John Turturro who amazingly plays opposite her. Some of their scenes together are among the film’s highlights.
2. Taron Egerton & Jamie Bell – Rocketman
After the incredibly basic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” we’re lucky to have a movie as good as “Rocketman” that does justice to Elton John’s personality, legacy, and music. The film doesn’t shy away from the dark side of his life and actually takes some risks. Turning the movie into some kind of jukebox musical was a great idea, but for all of this to work you need the right actor.
Taron Egerton is that right actor. He brings so much energy and charm to his part. He’s delightful in more colorful moments and can be heartbreaking in more dramatic sequences. And most of all: he sings the songs himself and while you watch the film, you realize that how important factor it actually can be. He sings from his heart and he feels his songs, what they mean in the story.
While speaking of Egerton, we shouldn’t ignore Jamie Bell. The friendship aspect and creative partnership between Bernie Taupin and Elton was probably the best part of the movie, and Bell also transforms himself into Bernie as impressively as Taron.
Unlike “Bohemian Rhapsody,” its emotional moments feels earned. It doesn’t create a “lip sync battle” version of some iconic real-life moments to make you feel emotional. Bell and Egerton created fully realized characters and when Bernie says “you’re my brother” to Elton, it feels fully earned.
That’s why “Rocketman” deserves more recognition. Will Egerton and Bell get award attention? Who knows, since the film is R-rated, more honest, has some surreal moments to turn off traditional music-bio-lovers, and was released this early, but hopefully it will because both deliver some really noteworthy performances.
1. Antonio Banderas – Pain and Glory
Pedro Almodovar is back with another very personal and witty, intelligently written, thematically rich film about aging, death, anxiety, depression, addiction, filmmaking, childhood, mothers, glory and most of all, pain. Gorgeously shot with surprising reveals, tender moments, and even a beautiful animation sequence, it shows that Almodovar still is at the top of his game.
It’s Pedro’s own “8 1/2”. Sometimes a performance comes that the only way to describe it is to say that the actor is born to play it. This is the case here. Antonio Banderas was born to play this role. Banderas play Salvador Mallo, a veteran Spanish filmmaker who deals with muscle aches, joint pains, tinnitus, addiction, and so much more. Clearly a fictional stand-in for Almodovar himself, Banderas’ nuanced turn is incredible.
Through his prolific career, Banderas has collaborated with Almodovar and he was a major superstar for several years, but it’s hard to find a role that is written this rich and he nails it. Every nuance of physical and psychic suffering is felt. The first half of the film is a bit repetitive, but everything pays off well in the end.
The scene where he meets with an ex-lover and his conversations with his mother are some of the highlights of the film and Banderas is so effective, so naturalistic in every scene of the film that it’s impressive. He’s already won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival, and it sure won’t be the last award he’ll win for the performance.