2018 in Review: The Best Performances – Film

Last year had few all-time great performances. This year, there’s an abundance. The choices in the drama categories are especially staggering. 2018 also featured my favorite comedy performance of recent times, an absolutely perfect deadpan turn from Jesse Plemons in Game Night, which is such an embarrassment of riches, I had to mention it twice. Many of these characters are desperate – for money, for justice, for acceptance – which is part of why they’re so compelling.

Ensemble in a Drama

The cast of Widows
Steve McQueen’s all-female heist didn’t get near the attention of Ocean’s 8, but its crew is both more believable and more interesting than the Instagram-ready thieves in the fashion-obsessed reboot. Still, it’s not surprising to see why the latter was more successful. The women of Widows are prickly, desperate and aren’t exactly #friendshipgoals. But, aside from Viola Davis, they’re all (Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo and Michelle Rodriguez) doing the best work of their careers thus far. The men are no less impressive, with Colin Farrell and Brian Tyree Henry’s alderman candidates mirroring each other, trying to keep their volatile family members (Robert Duvall and Daniel Kaluuya) in check. Widows has been unjustly ignored, but its incredible cast will keep people coming back for years.

Actor in a Drama

Ethan Hawke in First Reformed
Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
The former Gen X heartthrob has become a model actor: acting in questionable genre fare in order to finance truly independent work in front of and behind the camera. But he’s at the top of his game here as a priest sleepwalking through life until environmental catastrophe snaps him awake. He’s right in his motivations and wrong in his actions, hoping to act as God’s vengeful hand. But so rarely has a crisis of faith felt so palpable.

Actress in a Drama

Rosamund Pike in A Private War
Rosamund Pike, A Private War
Rosamund Pike’s performance as Amy Dunne in Gone Girl remains a high-water mark for acting this decade. So the fact that I’m even questioning if she’s even better here speaks to how good this turn is. In her turn as Marie Colvin, a dedicated-but-damaged war reporter killed in Syria, Pike plays her without an ounce of pity. The movie is a major bummer, but both women are worth celebrating.

Supporting Actor in a Drama

Steven Yeun in Burning
Steven Yeun, Burning
The trickiest role of the year, the former Walking Dead star plays an insufferable yuppie who maybe – just maybe – is also a serial killer. He has to be charming enough for us to believe Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo) would fall for him, disturbing enough for us to believe Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) suspects him, and mysterious enough for us to not have any clear answers at the end. He pulls it off so well, he makes a yawn unsettling.

Supporting Actress in a Drama

Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
The beating heart of Barry Jenkins’ achingly sad adaptation, King proves again why she’s one of Hollywood’s most beloved actresses. Depending on the situation, she can be a peacekeeper, a viper, a nurse and a negotiator. There are no lengths she won’t go to for the sake of her daughter, while still being her own person. All this puts her in the pantheon of movie moms.

Ensemble in a Comedy

The cast of Game Night
Game Night
Like the best comedy ensembles, Game Night lets everyone in its cast (mostly paired off) have a moment to shine. The film itself also excels at all different kinds of humor: visual gags, dark asides, stupid-smart jokes and wordplay. They work together to provide 2018’s most consistent and biggest laughs.

Actor in a Comedy

Christian Bale in Vice
Christian Bale, Vice
That Christian Bale (our greatest working actor) had never been nominated before he won Best Supporting Actor for The Fighter a few years ago, is still shocking. What’s not shocking is that he’s turned in another transformative performance as former Vice President/Dark Prince Dick Cheney. Bale isn’t necessarily funny per se – he lets co-stars Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell get the big laughs – but he’s an imposing figure. Any chuckles are strictly the nervous kind.

Actress in a Comedy

Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade
Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade
Cringe comedy is difficult to pull off. Both versions of The Office did it masterfully. But too much awkwardness can make something unwatchable. But Elsie Fisher, in her feature debut, already feels like an old pro. She’s so believable as Kayla, the uncomfortable teen transitioning to high school. She’s desperate without appearing pathetic, curious without being dumb and ultimately, assertive. Her attempts to ingratiate herself with cooler kids brought me some of my most painful laughs.

Supporting Actor in a Comedy

Jesse Plemons in Game Night
Jesse Plemons, Game Night
Jesse Plemons has been a source of comedy before. As Landry – Matt’s confidante, Tyra’s boyfriend and East Dillon’s kicker – on Friday Night Lights, his nerdiness and misplaced confidence made him the gentle butt of jokes. But his oddness has never been used as effectively as it has been here, playing the snubbed neighbor of Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams). I’ll be thinking about his deadpan delivery of “That can’t be profitable for Frito-Lay” forever.

Supporting Actress in a Comedy

Rachel Weisz in The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
It was a toss-up between Weisz and Emma Stone (though you could certainly make the argument they’re co-leads and Olivia Colman is the supporting actress), but I ultimately went with Weisz, who hasn’t had this much fun on-screen since my beloved Brothers Bloom. As Lady Sarah, she has the ear (and other body parts) of Queen Anne (Colman) and fights tooth-and-nail when her cousin Abigail (Stone) tries to take her role. When vicious words fail, she’s not above throwing books or firing a gun at her rival.

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