Building a career as an actor is never easy even after you get successful. You have to play your cards well, make smart choices and sometimes projects that sound great on paper might not work out. However, some other times, it does work out which means the right projects came at the right time, you’re in demand and you and your agent probably have a good taste for the material. This year also we got to see some of the well-known and respected actors appearing in more than one great film. Let’s take a look at some of them.
10. Noomi Rapace – Lamb / The Trip
From Lisbeth Salander of the “Dragon Tattoo” to a woman who develops an unusual bond with a man who holds her hostage or seven sisters of “What Happened to Monday”. Noomi Rapace had never been the one to go for unchallenging parts or straightforward projects. This year she was in two considerably original films that mainstream audiences would probably deem as “weird” and move on but that’s what she loves. To star in devilishly fun movies.
“The Trip” lies more on the black comedy side, where she plays a woman who wants to kill her spouse who in return wants to kill her. But soon things get out of control. If it sounds like a weird premise, wait for “Lamb” where she plays a farmer woman who still grieves the loss of her child. One day, she realizes one of their sheep has given birth to a lamb-human hybrid who they name Ada and adopt as their own. In an interview, Rapace said: “It felt like such a unique and personal and intimate script. And because it’s very sparse on words, and it’s very stripped down, it felt like an epic story told in the most intimate way.” And it makes sense.
If you haven’t seen any of those, you can imagine that both films don’t go to the places you expect them to be. Rapace plays unusual characters in unusual situations in both films and she gives very solid performances in both of them.
9. LaKeith Stanfield – Judas and the Black Messiah / Harder They Fall
It’s hard to find a true original among male actors of his generation but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Here is LaKeith Stanfield who managed to play many diverse characters through his short career; “Short Term 12”, “Get Out”, “Atlanta” – you name it and the man certainly knows how to pick a good project. It’s not the first time he appears in two great films in the same year. Just in 2019, he was in both “Knives Out” and “Uncut Gems”. Might not be a flashy role in either of them but when you think of it, they’re total opposites of each other also.
This year he scored an Oscar nomination – for some weird reason in the supporting category – for his terrific work in “Judas and the Black Messiah” where it’s very impressive to watch his arc, a man who has no deep understanding of politics or what is he doing in general. Seeing him going through that inner conflict and how he expresses it in all subtle facial expressions or in his eyes are signs of a truly brilliant actor.
Then he appears in a rather more “fun” role in perhaps the second best western film of the year “Harder They Fall”. He played Cherokee Bill, a man who was responsible for the murders of eight men and whose gang terrorized the Indian Territory for over two years. That’s a sinister part but he’s very fun to watch. If he keeps his career on these tracks, his name will keep coming back to such lists. Stanfield is kind of an actor who’s more of a “character actor”, someone who plays interesting side characters but he’s also one of those characters actors that can carry the film on his shoulders because he also has that movie star charisma going on.
8. Frances McDormand – Tragedy of Macbeth / French Dispatch
It’s not like Frances McDormand had ever disappeared or stopped to be in great films but it’s fair to say that her recent projects made almost a new generation of film fans remember that what a treasure she had been for the cinema for decades. She won two Oscars back-to-back in three-year span overall which is very impressive.
This year she had two black-and-white appearances; one of them is for “Tragedy of Macbeth”, directed by her husband Joel Coen in a Bergman-esque fashion and the other one is the second story of Wes Anderson’s anthology film “The French Dispatch”. Now to be fair, McDormand’s story is not as strong as the other parts of the film but still, it’s a very impressive, captivating performance as a reporter sleeping with her subject, a revolutionary in the May 1968 student uprisings.
And in the other one? It’s a legendary part; Lady Macbeth. She doesn’t like someone who’d be right for the part but yet she finds ways to make the character fit for her. She says: “Both Denzel [Washington] and I are older than what is often cast as the Macbeths. We’re postmenopausal, we’re past childbearing age. So that puts pressure on their ambition to have the crown. I think the most important distinction is that it is their last chance for glory.” Indeed, her age brings a different spin on the well-known tale. No surprise that she’s good as this was some sort of a passion project for her. McDormand often reminds us why she’s so unique as an actress and this year she had done it twice.
7. Stephen Graham – Boiling Point / Help
Talk about an underrated actor. Stephen Graham had been around for so long and had been consistently good in a wide range of projects. He’s not always the lead but it doesn’t matter. He always finds a way to stand out and this year he had done it twice on film and yet one would wish those films would get more recognition because they both are stellar works.
“Boiling Point” is a one-take movie (think of “Victoria”) that shows you the stressful and anxious world of restaurants. The restaurant is overbooked, there is a lot to handle and our chef, played by Graham is dealing with all those. He’s the excellent lead of a terrific ensemble and when you make a movie on this technical level, you go through certain anxiety yourself but Graham embraces it. He considers the process very creative and fulfilling and at the end of it, he felt like he won a World Cup.
And in “Help”, he shines once again opposite Jodie Comer. He plays a middle-aged man who has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, but his life gets more complicated and hard when the pandemic hits the UK. This is a movie that trusts its cast members and they’re more than up to their tasks. Graham’s performance makes this harrowing tale of vulnerable care home residents through the pandemic even more touching. He also was great on the television series “The North Water” and “Time” this year. It’s time to give this man the recognition he deserves.
6. Matt Damon – The Last Duel / Stillwater
It’s pretty unusual for a major movie star to have a year that you can describe both as “good” and “bad”. It’s a good year because he gave some of the best performances of his career in good-to-great films in the same year but bad also because they all flopped at the box office, unfortunately. Now why they’ve flopped are different stories. You can claim it was a wrong release date time, or the marketing and studio sucked or the audiences are not interested in such films these days or whatever. But one thing for sure, Damon – an actor who’s usually reliable but doesn’t always take risks – this time took a lot of it.
He first stole the show in Steven Soderbergh’s “No Sudden Move” in sort of an extended cameo part. Then again, he’s always good at stealing the show (“EuroTrip”, anyone?) and then gave one of the most complex leading men roles of his entire career in “Stillwater”. He’s very natural in the role, you never feel that you’re watching a movie star and in “No Sudden Move” he transforms once again and when the stories and perspectives keep changing on his character, he keeps delivering the nuances effectively in each story. He’s obviously proud of both projects but hopefully, their box office disappointment won’t hold him back to keep exploring such new kinds of characters in dramas made for adult audiences.