8. Juliette Binoche – Certified Copy
Another actress who can do no wrong. Binoche’s turn in this film is stunning. She completely shadows her screen partner, a refined William Schimell, with a subdued, erraticism that slowly mounts over time. She flits from putting on a smiley front to raging at indiscretions, the reality of which we are left to doubt. This is a masterclass in acting.
7. Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Every Huppert screen performance is marked by intensity and carried out with an incredible emotional accuracy. So that is to say any of her roles could have made this list; Elle though is the perfect showcase for her talent. She plays a rape victim who refuses the role of victimhood. Instead she goes after the unknown attacker to take revenge.
6. Frances McDormand – 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Regardless of the merits of the film itself, on which opinions vary, McDormand delivered a performance of real depth and emotion. This will come as no shock to those who have followed her career. She has worked with the best of her generation and has always outshone her onscreen partners. Here, acting as a grieving mother looking for justice, is no different: her finely restrained anger and despair are handled beautifully.
5. Ralph Fiennes – Grand Budapest Hotel
Comparatively lighter than the others entries so far, Fiennes, nonetheless, warrants his position as a result of his brilliant, camp turn as an alpine hotel manager in the 1930s. His comedic timing and energy is truly wonderful. Bringing his classical training to bear on the fantasy world of Wes Anderson, results in a perfect blend. One can only hope they collaborate again in the future.
4. Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
She doesn’t have much time on screen, but every scene with Lupita Nyong’o is heightened by a manic energy. Her physicality and presence is incredible in portraying the brutality of cotton picking in the South during slave times and the effects on the human body and mind, while also being the favourite of her master and all the complicated psychological baggage that comes with that burden.
3. Tilda Swinton – A Bigger Splash
Anything Tilda Swinton appears in she elevates, she is a pure artist. It was difficult to choose which of her roles to select, but in A Bigger Splash her performance is special because she doesn’t speak, despite being the protagonist. Swinton decided that her character, a rock star, having had a throat operation, should be mute and her director, Luca Guadagnino, agreed. So she carries the emotional centre of the film without uttering a word.
2. Joaquin Phoenix – The Master
Now generating much talk for his physicality in this years’ Joker, Phoenix here delivers an equally impressive transformation, yet with more nuance and patience both in his own renderings and in the direction. In The Master he portrays a navy veteran suffering from PTSD who gets tangled up in a cult modelled after Scientology.
1. Daniel Day Lewis – Phantom Thread
Everything about this film is beautiful, yet the central performance with its subtlety and depth carries the tone. Day Lewis is perfect. It’s difficult to imagine a better person to play this egotistical fashion designer in 1950s London. His performance is marked by patience.
Starting from a place of depression, he builds the tension over a period of time, in which we can feel the atmosphere thicken in his house and his rising frustration with the people around him, finally he lets it out in a tantrum and the cycle begins again. He is tyrant who utilises silences and rules by inference. Yet when a new lover enters his world she is more successful that those previous at coaxing tenderness from him and understanding his needs.