17. Laura Dern – Twin Peaks: The Return
Daughter of the above mentioned Bruce Dern, and regular of the Lynchian universe, Laura Dern plays Diane, a hard drinking, no nonsense secretary that is a throw-back to 1950s film noir. We have heard frequent mention of Diane in the previous television series from the 90s, but this is the first time we get to meet the character. She delivers biting one liners and presents a stoney-faced, belligerent refusal to bend to the will of others. She hints at the trauma her harsh persona is hiding but only ever so subtly. Her hair and clothes are also the sharpest on this list, rivalled only by Daniel Day or Ralph Fiennes.
16. Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Dern in the 70s and 80s was an actor of great energy and a strange intensity, yet he never got the attention directed at friends such as Jack Nicholson, probably due to his this unusual appearance which is also one his strengths. Nebraska was both a return for him and a shift; he plays a cranky old man intent on collecting a million dollar prize he received in the mail, and even though his son tries to convince him it’s a hoax he is determined. What unfolds is a character study of ageing and family. Dern is perfect throughout.
15. Viola Davis – Widows
As you’d expect if you’d seen her in anything before, Davis is a powerhouse in Widows. She plays the leader of a group of women who decide to carry out a robbery after their husbands, who are professional thieves, are killed during a job, leaving the wives in debt. The arch of her character from happy wife, to grieving widow, through to empowered woman displays all her range and abilities in full flight. She is one of the best.
14. Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood
Brad Pitt is cool. This is known. As stunt double, Cliff Booth in 1960s Hollywood, this might be the coolest we’ve seen him onscreen. Cliff drives around, carrying out odd jobs for his boss, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), drops in on the Manson family ranch, has a scuffle with Bruce Lee and does a little stunt work. He is always smiling and content with his lot in life. We rarely see such a central character who isn’t striving for something, even the Dude was trying to get his rug back. Booth is the ur-slacker.
13. Antonio Banderas – Pain & Glory
Another entry from an actor in a role in which we are not used to seeing him. Banderas has proven his charm and charisma many times over, so it is doubly impressive here to see him playing a fictionalised version of director Pedro Almodovar, who is inflicted with various pains, both physical and psychic. The film deals with memory and loss, but is held together by Banderas and his delicate performance.
12. Colin Farrell – The Lobster
Farrell’s work with Yorgos Lanthimos has been revelatory. Within the director’s distilled, almost wooden aesthetic Farrell has revealed a childlike simplicity that is very different from his older, flashier attempts. In the Lobster he plays a lonely man looking for love within the confines of a dystopian match-making facility. The stakes are high, but there is also room for humour, albeit a twisted, gallows sort.
11. Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk
Everyone in this brilliant follow up to Moonlight is good, but King is great in a supporting role as the mother of a distraught lover, whose boyfriend has been wrongfully jailed. The scenes with King and her onscreen husband (Colman Domingo) illustrate the importance of love and the potential joy of coupledom. Her character is not one dimensional though, she suffers and displays complexity. Especially in an engrossing scene where she visits Puerto Rico to convince her daughter’s boyfriend’s accuser (that’s a mouthful, apologies) to tell the truth, we see the whole range of her talents.
10. Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Affleck plays a heartbroken janitor, who has left his hometown after the death of his kids. He is called back home after his brother dies, to look after his nephew and settle his brothers accounts. In self imposed exile he has been punishing himself and festering in his pain, but when he comes back home these emotions are conjured afresh. Affleck’s physicality, hunched over with his hands stuffed in his pockets, presents a man worn out by life. Just to see him sitting in the bar you can tell he is suffering and that there is little room for much else in his life.
9. Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master
Hoffman, in perhaps a career best, gives a muscular counterpoint to Joaquin Phoenix’s floundering, lost soul. In playing the leader of a cult, or new religion, Hoffman seems capable of bullying and manipulating reality to his will. He is so self assured and powerful, sweeping people up in his wake, that it’s entirely understandable why countless people are devoted to him.