The 25 Best Movie Performances of 2018

17. Christian Bale – Vice

Christian Bale easily picked up the Golden Globe for Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. Given Cooper’s earth-shattering snub in the drama category and the mixed reception of that category’s winner, Bale could feasibly win the Oscar this year. While Vice is rather polarizing itself, this kind of transformative performance usually wins over voters. At this point, the Oscar race is a big question mark, but what if Bale does end up victorious> Does he deserve the prestigious award?

Based on his placement on the list, the answer is a soft no. In other words, this is not the single greatest performance of the year, but it would be hard to feel angry if he ended up winning. After all, Bale’s ability to lose himself in a role is admirable. Like always, this is a transformative performance where it’s really easy to forget that someone is actually playing a role. Hell, this isn’t just any someone. The dude who played Batman pulled a 180 and decided he’d play something wildly different. Sure, Dick Cheney is about as mysterious as the caped crusader, but he’s a completely different guy.

Okay, obviously Christian Bale is more than just Batman, but this is different than pretty much all of his roles. Nasty reputation aside, the dude can act, and that’s evident in this role. Cheney’s distant is on full display here. Bale embodies the former vice president in a way that only he can do. As polarizing as the movie is, Christian Bale is a chameleon here and it’s hard to complain about that.


16. Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Not every comedic actor wants to be defined by comedic talent alone. Adam Sandler had Punch Drunk Love, Eddie Murphy had Dreamgirls, Steve Martin had The Spanish Prisoner, and Melissa McCarthy has Can You Ever Forgive Me? While McCarthy showed some of her dramatic chops in 2014’s St. Vincent, this is the first time we get to see a completely different side of her. After so many similar roles, it’s about time audiences got something completely fresh and unique. Sure, a lot of people had to sit through The Happytime Murders and Life of the Party first, but the wait was worth it.

McCarthy’s comedic talent shouldn’t be underestimated. After all, she managed to pick up an Oscar nomination for her purely comedic role in Bridesmaids. Still, that was amateur hour compared to the talent on display in this movie. While there are laughs in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, they rarely come from Melissa McCarthy, whose stern temperament elicits different reactions entirely. For once, she’s not the comic relief. She’s the total opposite.

The drama always revolves around her, and that makes sense considering the premise. She plays a lonely literary forger who slowly begins to face the consequences as more and more people discover minor mistakes. Viewers are able to understand her struggles because McCarthy is so skillful when it comes to displaying these introspective emotions. This is a woman who has faced emotional hurdles day after day. We’re lucky to have an actress capable of making that so obvious.

Whether this kind of dramatic performance will be one-and-done remains to be seen. She could go the way of Adam Sandler, who immediately switched back to comedy following Punch Drunk Love. At the same time, she could take after Jonah Hill, who has mostly stuck with drama following his dramatic debut in Moneyball. Whatever she decides to do, it’s great to see her showing her range in a performance that will likely be remembered decades down the road.


15. Glenn Close – The Wife

Give it up for Glenn Close, an actress with over forty years of experience. Just when you think she can’t get better, she pulls a metaphorical rabbit out of the hat and surprises everyone. Some actors and actresses peak. Some give their best performance early on and fade away. That’s not the case for Glenn Close. Six Oscar nominations later and she’s still at the top of her game. After compelling performances in Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons, and Albert Nobbs, we may have finally seen Glenn Close at her peak in The Wife.

It’s hard to imagine Glenn Close peaking considering the constant upward trajectory up until this point. One may assume that Glenn Close will continue to improve until her untimely death. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine a performance besting this one. The bar isn’t just high; it’s damn near unreachable.

Part of the appeal here is the protagonist’s slow but satisfying breakdown. When we’re introduced to Glenn Close’s Joan Castleman, we see her as a frustrated but loyal wife who’s willing to accept her husband’s shortcomings if it means her family is well-off. As the story progresses, we see this character unravel. Things that were once acceptable are now points of contention. This all builds until the explosive finale. At this point, we see Glenn Close at her absolute best, and it’s marvelous.

Let’s not downplay the moments leading up to that final twenty minutes. Every second of screen time is valuable here. In fact, the final moments would feel empty if it weren’t for the slow and subtle buildup that eventually leads up to the film’s defining moment. Basically, every piece comes together to create one of the most satisfying and intricate movie performances of 2018.


14. Joanna Kulig – Cold War

If you’re looking to brighten your day with a little heartbreak, look no further than Cold War. It’s a masterclass in basically everything it does, but it’ll leave you feeling pretty broken up by the time the credits roll. With its slow pacing and somber tone throughout, viewers are left experiencing the pain of the protagonists as the epic, generational story is told in a matter of 88 minutes. With such a short running time, the crew had to find a way to make every minute count. This is done through excellent writing and direction, but the heartfelt performances also do a lot to enhance the grandois story.

As Wiktor, Tomasz Kot is worth watching, but he’s not the head of the pack here. Joanna Kulig plays his love interest, and she does so in a way that’s damn near unforgettable. Zula, the protagonist of this story, goes through a lot of hell throughout the brief runtime. With this in mind, there needed to be an actress who could really convey that pain and sorrow. Kulig is that actress.

Following Agata Kulesza’s masterful work in Ida, it’s starting to seem like Paweł Pawlikowski really knows how to pick ‘em. At the same time, he deserves credit for helping these women shine in roles that will be remembered years down the road. There’s a whole lot here that deserves praise, but let’s all agree that Kulig practically demands acclaim.


13. Steven Yeun – Burning

Roughly a year ago, Steven Yeun threw in the towel and left The Walking Dead. Following his departure, fans got to see him flex his acting muscles in movies like Okja and Mayhem. These were the kinds of roles people expected Yeun to take on, which meant that nobody had a reason to complain. At the same time, his departure from The Walking Dead meant that, in theory, he would take on roles outside of his comfort zone. That moment finally came following the release of Burning, a Korean character study that prioritizes strong acting.

The most important thing to know about Burning is that it’s a film characterized by strong intrigue at every corner. Yeun is at the center of this intrigue. He’s the one who will have viewers asking questions because, frankly, very little is revealed about him. Instead, viewers are encouraged to make judgements about his character based on one unsettling film performance. It’s not exactly fair to the character to come to preliminary conclusions, but Yeun leaves us very little choice. He’s downright eerie.

Whether or not the most common suspicions are correct will remain a mystery for the purpose of this article. This is because it’s wise to go into this movie as close to blind as possible. Without spoiling anything, let’s make one thing perfectly clear. Yeun absolutely commands the screen at every given opportunity. He’s so hypnotic that he barely gives viewers a second to breathe. This sort of pseudo-hypnosis begins the moment the character is introduced and continues until the very last frame.


12. Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk

Expect Regina King to pick up an Academy Award for her performance in If Beale Street Could Talk. Following a victory at both the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Golden Globes, it’s only a matter of time. As the badass matriarch in If Beale Street Could Talk, Regina King shows a side of herself we hadn’t seen up until this point. It’s an immensely gratifying performance that enhances the viewing experience tenfold.

King may only have a supporting role, but her presence is always welcome. She takes a backseat to KiKi Layne and Stephen James, but she’s the one who commands the screen. Layne and James both play vulnerable characters, which makes King’s more aggressive performance all the more satisfying. She shows vulnerabilities as well, but at the end of the day, she’s a mama tiger who refuses to stand idly by while her daughter suffers. One part in particular, which involves a family get-together gone awry, stands out as one of the greatest scenes of 2018. King’s fiery barrage of exclamations is not to be forgotten.

As a whole, the entire movie is not to be forgotten. It once again proves that Barry Jenkins is a force to be reckoned with as a director. Still, it sort of feels like this movie would be something else entirely without Regina King. Would it hold up without her? Probably, but who wants to imagine that alternate reality?


11. Kathryn Hahn – Private Life

After a quiet Netflix release followed by some glowing reviews, Private Life was unfairly forgotten. The poignant, thought-provoking drama about a couple trying to have a child is one of the best reviewed movies of the year, and for good reason. It’s funny, touching, hard-hitting, and just about every adjective you could use to describe a really well-made dramedy about two people in turmoil. Unfortunately, the critical acclaim seemed to be temporary because most of the positive talk has ceased now that the year has ended.

Frankly, that’s a shame, because a movie this good doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. Other than what was mentioned previously, it’s worth noting that the movie shines because of the talented cast. In particular, Kathryn Hahn’s portrayal of a damaged wannabe mother is downright earth-shattering. It’s occasionally heartbreaking, but she also makes sure to throw some humor into the mix. After all, this is a dramedy, and while the humor isn’t like something you’d find in Step Brothers, it does a lot to balance the tone.

The screenwriting does a lot to push Private Life in the right direction, but Kathryn Hahn is quite possibly the single strongest aspect. There’s a lot of good in this movie, but Hahn is at the top of her game here. It’s the best performance of the movie and it’s also the best performance of Hahn’s long and impressive career.


10. Ben Foster – Leave No Trace

Holding a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes isn’t easy, but Leave No Trace is sitting happily with a perfect score. It becomes easy to see why after viewing what is clearly one of 2018’s greatest motion pictures. Leave No Trace is a tearjerker that successfully tackles complex themes about PTSD, parenting, and the influence of modern society. It also features one of the best performances of the year courtesy of Ben Foster.

Ben Foster has been around for a while, but he is perhaps best known for 3:10 to Yuma Hell or High Water. His work in both films is admirable, but this is his shining moment. Maybe it’s because it’s a more intimate movie. Maybe it’s because the script calls for stronger acting. Who cares about the “why” though. The point is, Foster is slays.

There are quiet, moving moments throughout Leave No Trace. For example, a scene where Foster is forced to answer uncomfortable lie detector questions stands out as especially poignant. This takes place within the first half-hour, and these kinds of moments continue to occur throughout the feature. By the time the film comes to a conclusion, you feel as if you have lived through the protagonist’s pain, all thanks to one really excellent actor.

Well, maybe it’s not all thanks to him. Foster’s partner in crime, Thomasin McKenzie, only helps accentuate several of the more meaningful scenes. The father-daughter relationship built between these two performers is awe-inspiring. Parents watching the film will no doubt feel some sort of connection. Foster presents us with a father who tries desperately to give his daughter the best life. He’s not always capable of doing that, but his commitment is moving.

Foster may be one-half of a whole here, but he’s still a major talent that deserves all of the acclaim coming his way. It’s a shame that Leave No Trace has been shut out of the major awards because Foster really does deserve to be in the same discussion as Christian Bale and Rami Malek. This begs the question: what do these big wig voters know? Watch the movie and see for yourself. Ben Foster will floor you.


9. Elsie Fisher – Eighth Grade


Few people have captured teenage awkwardness as well as Elsie Fisher in Bo Burnham’s directorial debut. Her age is obviously a huge factor, considering the fact that she knows a thing or two about life as an eighth grader. At the same time, it’s unfair to say her stellar performance only works because she can relate to the material. Sure, that probably helps her, but it seems clear that a portion of this successful performance has to do with unbelievable talent.

For those who were unaware, Elsie Fisher is probably best known for her role as Agnes in Despicable Me. The whole point of her role was to be cute enough to earn some laughs. Essentially, she had the same job as the Olsen twins in Full House. Don’t go into Eighth Grade expecting anything similar to that. Fisher’s goal now is to make viewers painfully uncomfortable. Of course, that’s the point. This is a movie about growing pains during adolescence, and Fisher shines as a painfully awkward fourteen year old girl who struggles with popularity, romance, and peer pressure.

The authenticity of her performance, as well as the authenticity of the whole movie, makes Eighth Grade one of the most watchable movies of the year. Anybody who has experienced life as a teenager will find something to relate to here. Maybe your teenage years went a little more smoothly than the main character’s, but there’s still plenty to look back on here. If not for Fisher’s too-real performance, this wouldn’t be the case.