2019 has been a truly excellent year for cinema, and even those disillusioned with Hollywood’s corporate culture have an excellent array of incredible films to choose from this year. As the end of the decade nears, it’s clear that there are more great and impassioned artists working than ever before in the history of filmmaking, and it’s exciting to see the great performances that have appeared in 2019’s films.
There are many reasons why performances get under looked. Sometimes a film is just underseen and hasn’t received enough attention, and sometimes a performance is misinterpreted or judged on the merit of the film itself, and not the actor’s work. There’s also films that feature so many great performances that some get under looked, or brief roles that have a small, yet potent impact on the film’s story.
Here are ten great performances from 2019 films that no one is talking about.
10. Riley Keough – Under the Silver Lake
Under the Silver Lake may be the most divisive film of 2019, with some claiming that it’s a bold masterpiece that dives head first into Old Hollywood corruption and the seductive nature of conspiracy theories, and others describing it as a sexist, self-indulgent, and frustrating mystery with an unsatisfying conclusion.
Since the film debuted last year at the Cannes Film Festival, Andrew Garfield has been praised for his role as the creepy rascal Sam, but the reviews haven’t given enough credit to Riley Keough’s performance as Sarah, the girl who Sam becomes obsessed with. While it’s a brief role that bookends the film’s beginning and end, it’s instrumental in starting the narrative and giving Sam a reason to embark on his crazy quest.
When Keough first appears on screen she appears as a dreamlike figure to Sam, imitating the mannerisms of Old Hollywood movie stars and convincingly enchanting Sam with her presence. While her performance primarily exists as the epitome of all that Sam desires, Keough is able to bring agency to the character, particularly in the film’s closing scenes in which the two share a tender moment and reflect on how little they actually know about each other. Not quite the typical femme fatale and more than a damsel in distress, Keough is the heart of Under the Silver Lake and finds a sincerity within the distress and chaos of the film’s crazy plot.
9. Zac Efron – Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile isn’t a great film, but the casting of Zac Efron as Ted Bundy is unexpectedly perfect. The film primarily chronicles Bundy’s crimes from the perspective of his longtime girlfriend Liz Kendall (Lily Collins) who is convinced that he isn’t guilty, so the actual murders themselves are rarely shown on screen. Instead, the film focuses on the con that Bundy pulls on those that trust him and how he utilizes the media circus to paint himself as a charismatic teen idol. This perspective allows Efron to weaponize his own status as a celebrity and sex symbol, and in turn give a chilling performance.
The ease with which Bundy is able to gain people’s trust is well-handled, as he shows up at just the right moment for Liz to unload her problems upon him and seems to be understanding and sympathetic to her issues. Efron is able to put on the persona of an innocent man, but his infatuation with attention and questionable emotional responses foreshadow the truth behind the perfect man he’s pretending to be.
While there isn’t quite enough time dedicated to showing Bundy before he’s accused of any crimes, this is an issue with the script and Efron does his best with what he’s given. It’s a transformative performance that marks a new stage in Efron’s career, and shows a great deal of self-awareness and riskiness from the former Disney star.
8. Ray Liotta – Marriage Story
Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, and even Alan Alda all have received heavy awards buzz for their performances in Noah Baumbach’s excellent divorce drama Marriage Story, but one person that hasn’t received his just praise is Ray Liotta, who has a pivotal role as Jay, the ruthless attorney for Driver’s character Charlie.
Jay’s appearance in the film marks a major turning point for the story, as a desperate Charlie realizes he must use more drastic measures to win the custody case when his wife Nicole (Johansson) employs an equally ruthless divorce attorney (Dern). Jay convinces Charlie that if wants to win the case, he must paint Nicole as incompetent and neglectful.
Liotta broke out in 1990 with his iconic performance in Goodfellas, but since then he hasn’t received the caliber of roles that reflect his talent. With Marriage Story Liotta is able to once again play a morally dubious character who takes advantage of the vulnerable people around him; in his introductory scene, Jay preps Charlie for the upcoming legal battle with the gravity of someone preparing for war, and seeks to further escalate the fragile divorce hearings into a dirty and psychologically damaging debate that shatters the lives of Charlie and Nicole. While the rest of the cast is rightfully praised for their extraordinary work, Liotta’s contribution to the film shouldn’t be overlooked.
7. Himesh Patel – Yesterday
The collaboration between director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis proved to be successful one with Yesterday; Boyle is always able to find intimacy within his characters, and Curtis is renowned for his witty, heartfelt dialogue. At the center of this odd fantasy where The Beatles never existed is Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a down on his luck singer-songwriter who takes advantage of this situation and introduces the world to the iconic songs. Jack receives significant fame, but in his heart he just wants to share music with the world, and it’s this sincerity that makes him such an endearing character.
In the role of Jack, Himesh Patel gives a breakout performance. While Jack is humble and is victim to a series of misfortunes, he also has to be a dynamic and engaging stage performer, and Patel delivers beautiful covers of many of The Beatles’s best songs. Even if Jack loses sight of the most important things in his life, he doesn’t use fame to fuel his own narcissism, and Patel is able to make Jack flawed, yet not fall into the stereotypical category of characters swept up by their own success. Even in the film’s cornier moments, Patel’s hapless nature is endearing. Clearly, it’s a performance that resonated with people, as Yesterday was a surprise box office hit, and Patel will next be seen in the new Christopher Nolan film Tenet.
6. Asier Etxeandia – Pain & Glory
Antonio Banderas won the Best Actor trophy at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in Pedro Almodovar’s latest masterpiece, and while Banderas is phenomenal as the fictitious film director Salvador Mallo, Asier Etxeandia is also great as Mallo’s former collaborator Alberto Crespo.
With obvious allusions to Almodovar’s own life, Pain & Glory follows the reunion between these two men as they embark on a special screening of a film they made thirty years prior. Salvador and Alberto are still at odds with each other over creative decisions made on the film, and it’s humorous to see how their bitterness still exists after all this time.
Seeing these two come to terms with their initial quarrel and spend more time getting to know each other is interesting, and in one of the best scenes in the film they once again start fighting after Salvador insults Alberto when introducing the film. While the film is told from Salvador’s perspective, it’s Alberto who once again fuels his creative process, inspiring Salvador to confront his childhood memories and turn them into a new story.
It’s a film about a great artist looking for meaning in their work, and Salvador would not be able to find solace in his new stories if it weren’t for Alberto’s support. Etxeandia is much more than a comic sidekick, but an integral part of Almodovar’s vision of how the creative process works.