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.

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2018 in Review: The Best and Worst Movies

Another incredible year for film, even if there’s a lot more “very good” and less “great” than years past. If there was an overarching theme in 2018’s movies, it was the struggle to hold onto one’s identity. Your surroundings might change, your circumstances might change, even your DNA and the very fabric of reality might change. Trying to retain what makes you you? That’s easier said than done.

Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs in Blindspotting
10. Blindspotting (dir. Carlos López Estrada)
Of the many excellent films about race relations in the U.S. (and particularly among African-American civilians and white police officers), Blindspotting still remains the best and most startlingly original of the bunch. Longtime best friends and co-stars Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs have written a harsh love letter to their rapidly gentrifying hometown of Oakland, while also unleashing a primal scream of pent-up rage at the senseless deaths of so many. But perhaps even more impressively, this movie tackles heavy topics while also being wildly funny. For first-time writers (and first-time director Carlos López Estrada) to pull off such a tricky mesh of tones proves they’ve got long careers ahead of them.

Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther
The Spider-People of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
9. Black Panther (dir. Ryan Coogler) | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (dirs. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman)
If we must be subject to superhero movies every other weekend, may they all be as colorful and thematically resonant as these two films.

Ethan Hawke in First Reformed
8. First Reformed (dir. Paul Schrader)
Paul Schrader is back from wandering in the wilderness and he’s pissed. Ethan Hawke gives a career-best performance as a priest going through the motions at a church that gets more visitors for history lessons than sermons. But a visit with a suicidal parishioner jolts him awake, reigniting his passion, hungry for justice against the children of God who have destroyed the home He made for us. But like Schrader’s protagonist in Taxi Driver, his methods are horribly wrong. And like Taxi Driver, the film’s ambiguous ending is in the eye of the beholder.

Henry Cavill, Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible – Fallout
7. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (dir. Christopher McQuarrie)
At a time when it seems like all we get at the theater is spectacle, at least there are still some actors and directors who put a lot of thought into the spectacle. Too many big-ticket movies feel like product or content, so thank God for Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie, making the sixth entry in this franchise feel fresh, or at least operating at such a high level that the clichés don’t show. This is breathtaking action filmmaking, something Americans haven’t been so hot at in the last decade.

The cast of Annihilation
6. Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland)
Sadly, if you’re outside North America, this was probably relegated to the endless scroll of your Netflix feed. Alex Garland’s mesmerizing adaptation of Jeff VanDerMeer’s sci-fi novel certainly isn’t for everyone (possibly including fans of the novel), but if you’re on its wavelength, you’ll be enthralled and horrified, often at the same time. Part of its terror is literal – especially during the second bear attack, the most unsettling scene of the year – but most of it is existential. If you survive the unexplainable, are you still the same person?

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2018 in Review: The Best Songs

Sometimes, making my best albums list can feel like a chore. There’s so much music out there, and narrowing it down to my 10 favorites sometimes feels pointless. But I often feel like my best songs list is better representative of my taste. There’s a lot more stuff to dance to, for one, and it usually just comes down to one criterion: Did I enjoy listening to this? So while there are definitely plenty of songs that represent America in 2018 (“This Is America” to name but one), there are just as many songs that don’t really mean anything. Enjoy.

The 1975 – “Love It If We Made It”
Antarctigo Vespucci – “Freakin’ U Out”
James Bay – “Pink Lemonade”
Leon Bridges – “Forgive You”
Chance the Rapper – “Work Out”
Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
Christine and the Queens – “Comme Si”
Chromeo (feat. The-Dream) – “Bedroom Calling, Pt. 2”
CHVRCHES – “Get Out”
The Coup (feat. LaKeith Stanfield) – “OYAHYTT”
Lucy Dacus – “Pillar of Truth”
Keegan DeWitt and Kiersey Clemons – “Hearts Beat Loud”
Disclosure – “Love Can Be So Hard”
DJ Koze – “Pick Up”
Drake – “Nice for What”
Duke Dumont (feat. Ebenezer) – “Inhale”
Empress Of – “When I’m with Him”
Fall Out Boy – “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)”
Father John Misty – “Please Don’t Die”
Gallant – “Doesn’t Matter”
Greta Van Fleet – “When the Curtain Falls”
Kimbra – “Right Direction”
The Knocks – “Shades”
Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – “Shallow”
Kendrick Lamar (feat. SZA) – “All the Stars”
Let’s Eat Grandma – “Falling into Me”
Little Dragon – “Best Friends”
Ella Mai – “Boo’d Up”
Manchester Orchestra – “No Hard Feelings”
Bruno Mars (feat. Cardi B) – “Finesse (Remix)”
Andy Mineo (feat. Lecrae) – “Coming in Hot”
Mitski – “Two Slow Dancers”
Janelle Monáe – “Make Me Feel”
Kacey Musgraves – “High Horse”
harunemuri – “kick in the world”
Anderson .Paak – “Bubblin’”
Robyn – “Missing U”
Amy Shark – “Adore”
Troye Sivan – “My My My!”
Snail Mail – “Pristine”
Sons of Kemet – “My Queen Is Harriet Tubman”
St. Vincent – “Fast Slow Disco”
The Struts – “In Love with a Camera”
Titus Andronicus – “Above the Bodega (Local Business)”
Twin Shadow (feat. HAIM) – “Saturdays”
The Weeknd (feat. Kendrick Lamar) – “Pray for Me”
Kanye West (feat. PARTYNEXTDOOR) – “Ghost Town”
“Weird Al” Yankovic – “The Hamilton Polka”
Thom Yorke – “Suspirium”
Yuno – “No Going Back”

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2018 in Review: The Best Albums

Everything I’ve previously said about not overdoing it with new albums has yet to hold true. With so much at my fingertips, I’m voraciously consuming as much music as I can, yet it’s hard for a lot to stick out. It’s entirely feasible my top 10 would look different with another month to catch up on new stuff and re-listen to some favorites. So with that caveat (and a note that anything below No. 4, including my Honorable Mentions, could easily be switched around in the remaining spots), here are my top 10 albums of 2018.

The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
10. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
When the 1975 first appeared in 2013, I thought “Chocolate” was a fun song. When they followed that up with one of the most eye-rolling album titles of all time, I was already exhausted. So I was leery when critics were calling it one of the most insightful albums of the year, even comparing it (bafflingly) to OK Computer. But they were (mostly) right. This album absolutely nails the paradoxical mix of connection and alienation of the social media age, while turning those feelings into some of the catchiest songs of the year. Yes, “The Man Who Married a Robot” is an absolute embarrassment. But whom amongst us hasn’t shared something with the world they wish they could take back?

9. Lucy Dacus – Historian
For the last few years, there’s been a tremendous takeover in indie rock of both girl groups and solo female artists. Frankly, they’ve been kicking the dudes’ asses. An album that’s all about fear and uncertainty – while not despairing – was fitting for a year that saw a lot of personal and international tumult. “Forgive my descendants/For they know not who You are/And they know not what to do,” she sang on “Pillar of Truth.” Couldn’t have summed up 2018 better myself.

Justin Hurwitz - First Man
8. Justin Hurwitz – First Man (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
First Man
was a big step up for director Damien Chazelle. Taking an equally impressive leap was his go-to composer Justin Hurwitz. (I say this as someone who put both the movie and the soundtrack to La La Land in his Top 10 two years ago.) Hurwitz’s Space Age score for an often difficult movie always fit perfectly, whether it was the chaos of a capsule spinning out of control, the sheer magnificence of standing on the moon or the unbearable weight of losing so many people you care about.

Beach House - 7
7. Beach House – 7
Without realizing it, Beach House became one of the most consistent bands of this decade. As critic Steven Hyden has noted, it’s hard to write about a group that regularly churns out good to great albums. Their fifth studio album of the 2010s is yet another collection of ’80s-influenced goth-pop jams. They wear their influences on their black sleeves, nowhere more obvious than “Pay No Mind.”

Leon Bridges - Good Thing
6. Leon Bridges – Good Thing
I did the same thing in 2015. “That kid is super talented,” I thought to myself. Then after a few more listens, I realized it was more than that. This Fort Worth native is one of the best singers alive. Bridges could have made another solid throwback to the soul records he grew up on, but Good Thing expands its horizons, dipping into jazz, country and dance. This album is not just a good thing, but a great thing.

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2018 in Review: The Best Performances – Television

While some performers could have held their titles from last year, I’m opting not to do any repeats. Better to spread the love.

Actor in a Drama Series

Jason Bateman in Ozark
Jason Bateman, Ozark
The king of snark isn’t really showing a new gear in Netflix’s addictive drama. All he’s doing is applying his particular set of skills to it. Part of what keeps the show from feeling too similar to Breaking Bad (and other prestige dramas) is that Bateman’s Marty Byrde never drops his sarcastic veneer, even when mobsters and rednecks are threatening the lives of the people he cares about.

Actress in a Drama Series

Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh in Killing Eve

Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
While most awards-giving bodies have opted only to honor Sandra Oh, I simply can’t leave off Jodie Comer here. Both are equally great in vastly different roles. The show wouldn’t work if they both weren’t doing their own things exceedingly well. Comer is the most vibrant villain in years. We don’t have to see her agonize over her bad deeds; she revels in them. Oh finally gets a character whose flaws seem real and not picked off a dartboard. Together, they’re the best pair on TV.

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Noah Emmerich in The Americans

Noah Emmerich, The Americans
In the parlance of our times, Stan is a cuck. No, his wife isn’t cheating on him. But for five seasons, he’s been duped by his best friend and neighbor. He’s spent most of his career trying to root out a couple of Soviet spies and they were living across the street the entire time. When he realizes that late into The Americans’ final season, the betrayal feels palpable. No wonder his confrontation of the Jennings’ in the finale is year’s best moment.

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Yvonne Strahovski in The Handmaid's Tale
Yvonne Strahovski, The Handmaid’s Tale
In the first season, Serena had a tendency to be a one-note bitch, an icy foil for Offred and nothing more. In its often stellar second season, the show not only offered empathy for Serena, but exposed her role in the foundation of Gilead. While this revealed how much she bought into the group’s lies, it also showed how the monster she helped create came back to bite her. People who enable oppression never think it will be used against them. But used against her it was, as her one small act of rebellion had devastating consequences.

Ensemble in a Drama Series

The cast of This Is Us
This Is Us
This is not a show that will ever make the leap to truly great television. It is not a show that will be among the best of the decade. But I will continue to watch it because its ensemble is so strong and so real, they make even the most preposterous turns of events feel believable.

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2018 in Review: The Best Shows – Honorable Mentions

With so much TV now, I had trouble cutting off my top 10. That left me with a surplus of great shows I needed to honor in some way. So here are my 15 honorable mentions, standout episodes that were either the best of a show that just missed the cut, or were shining hours in otherwise dim seasons.

Michael Gross and Glenn Howerton in A.P. Bio
A.P. Bio
– “Rosemary’s Boyfriend”
While this show never quite took a leap – which it still might do – I couldn’t help but love the ensemble of weirdo students entrusted to Jack (Glenn Howerton). Trapped in his small town after a series of career setbacks, he refuses to teach any of charges actual Advanced Placement Biology. But, of course, they end up teaching each other. In the series’ nastiest episode, Jack learns his mom was regularly boning her gentleman caller (Michael Gross), so for revenge he hooks up with the man’s daughter. It’s dark and absurd, and showed just how adrift Jack is without his classroom.

Keeley Hawes and Richard Madden in Bodyguard
– “Episode 2”
Anyone can do a gripping first episode. But in my No. 11 show of the year, they took things up a notch in the second hour, including another thwarted terror attack, a late-night tryst and a harrowing shootout. More than just fireworks, each scene has a purpose, as David begins to question from whom exactly he’s supposed to be taking orders, and if he should follow them. For someone who still sees himself as a soldier, that’s a big conflict.

Jamie Lee and Pete Holmes in Crashing
– “Too Good”
The series’ best episode finds Pete trying and failing to keep alive a friendship with his one-night stand (Jamie Lee). Thanks to Pete’s endless supply of charm, he never comes off as pathetic. Over one wild night, our puppy dog of a protagonist proves himself to be a very good boy indeed.

John Mangan in Final Deployment 4
Final Deployment 4: Queen Battle Walkthrough
The creators of Too Many Cooks had to top themselves somehow, and they did just that with this extremely clever send-up of video game walk-throughs. Now, I haven’t played video games regularly in years, but even though I was unfamiliar with the set-up, every dark joke landed, including an extended, horrifying riff on PTSD.

Hong Chau and Jason Mitchell in Forever
– “Andre and Sarah”
Amazon’s metaphysical rom-com started out strong, but meandered once its big premise was revealed. But it shined brightly one last time with this stand-alone episode featuring characters we never see before or after. Even more so than the series as a whole, this half-hour encapsulated its big questions: Do we have soulmates? If so, do we only get one? What happens if we don’t move heaven and earth to be with them? Are we stuck forever and beyond with the people we did choose?

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2018 in Review: The Best Shows and Specials


The cast of Sharp Objects
10. Sharp Objects (HBO)
Unlike Big Little Lies, Jean-Marc Vallée’s latest HBO miniseries took some time to get into. But once it established its Southern Gothic horrors, it became a haunting portrait of family abuse, and how that devastation affects people in different, destructive ways.
Standout episodes: “Closer,” “Falling,” “Milk”

Julia Roberts and Stephan James in Homecoming
9. Homecoming (Amazon)
Sam Esmail adapted the popular podcast, but then broke all the rules for prestige drama. The score? All snippets from paranoid thrillers of the past. The framing? Square for half the time, until the stunning reveal of the eighth episode. And the big star? It pushes her further than ever before, not letting her rely on her movie star charm for a second. Best of all, most episodes run just 30 minutes.
Standout episodes: “Redwood,” “Test,” “Work”

The cast of American Vandal
8. American Vandal (Netflix)
The first season was an uproarious, pitch-perfect send-up of true crime docs, as we tried to figure out #whodrewthedicks. But in Season 2, it became more than just a lark. This season (most likely its last, sadly) really explored divides: between white and black, between rich and poor, and between popular and unpopular. That we got this deep dive into sociology and social media from a show that started with a re-enactment of mass diarrhea is even more impressive.
Standout episodes: “Leaving a Mark,” “All Backed Up,” “The Dump”

Ann Dowd in The Handmaid's Tale
7. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Despite an infuriating finale, The Handmaid’s Tale got even better in Season 2. If you thought its Emmy-winning first season was hopeless, this season started with an aborted mass execution at a gallows in Fenway Park. Then, an all-too-brief respite with her lover. On and on it went, until art imitated life as parents were separated from their children again and again. Whatever glimmer of hope characters get – especially Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) – it’s snuffed out just as quickly.
Standout episodes: “June,” “Seeds,” “The Last Ceremony”

Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh in Killing Eve
6. Killing Eve (BBC America)
The best acting duo of the year faced off in the year’s best espionage story. Jodie Comer is vivacious and terrifying as Villanelle, the fashion-obsessed assassin. Every bit her equal is Sandra Oh, in the best performance of her career, as Eve, the analyst-turned-spy hot on her trail. Even beyond its complex portrayal of friendship(?), the series is a masterful balance of tone, which shouldn’t be surprising considering it hails from Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Standout episodes: “Nice Face,” “Sorry Baby,” “God, I’m Tired”

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Streaming Picks: January 2019

Top Picks
Across the Universe – Netflix 1/1
Annihilation – Hulu 1/5
Eighth Grade – Prime 1/13
Across the Universe is the unjustly maligned Beatles musical from 2007. Plot-wise, well, it’s best not to think about it. But Julie Taymor’s direction, and every technical aspect, are top-notch.

But let’s get to the goods: two of 2018’s best movies. One is a horror movie about being uncomfortable around other people while having an identity crisis. The other is Annihilation!

Recent Selections
The Art of the Shine – Prime 1/1
The Jazz Ambassadors – Prime 1/1
Reprisal – Prime 1/1
Rwanda: The Royal Tour – Prime 1/1
Leave No Trace – Prime 1/3
Solo: A Star Wars Story – Netflix 1/3
Support the Girls – Hulu 1/3
The Unicorn – Hulu 1/3
Beautiful Boy – Prime 1/4
Sherlock Gnomes – Hulu and Prime 1/4
Alright Now – Hulu 1/8
The Commuter – Hulu 1/8
Kusama: Infinity – Hulu 1/10
Forever My Girl – Hulu 1/14
Another Time – Hulu 1/15
Fahrenheit 11/9 – Prime 1/19
Stella’s Last Weekend – Hulu 1/21
The Pagan King – Hulu 1/21
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation – Netflix 1/24
Cruise – Hulu 1/28
Ant-Man and the Wasp – Netflix 1/29
Incredibles 2 – Netflix 1/30
Bad Reputation – Hulu 1/31
Love, Gilda – Hulu 1/31

And Breathe Normally – Netflix 1/4
El Potro: Unstoppable – Netflix 1/4
Lionheart – Netflix 1/4
The Last Laugh – Netflix 1/11
Solo – Netflix 1/11
Revenger – Netflix 1/15
Close – Netflix 1/18
Girl – Netflix 1/18
IO – Netflix 1/18
Soni – Netflix 1/18
Animas – Netflix 1/25
Polar – Netflix 1/25

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What I Watched This Week: 16 Dec 2018

Pete Holmes: Dirty Clean (B+)
What I love about Pete Holmes, in addition to his energy and affable personality, is that he’s the rare comedian whose routines seem built not out of a desire to “kill” or provoke, but just to share the joy of the weird things he finds funny and strange.

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Oscar Picks: 15 Dec 2018

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born
Black Klansman
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody

The Favourite
Green Book
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star Is Born

Falling off: First Man, Widows
Rising star: Mary Poppins Returns
The skinny: This sucks. Two of the years best movies had disappointing box office runs, and now are getting passed over for awards right and left. Widows inexplicably didn’t get a SAG nomination for its incredible ensemble cast, and it feels like First Man is done for in above-the-line categories (except Supporting Actress). That’s a real shame. It’s somewhere in my top 3 for the year currently, and it’s a leap forward for Damien Chazelle, who won Best Director for his previous film. And I guess Bohemian Rhapsody love is real, which is absolutely baffling. But hey, Mary Poppins Returns might sneak in. Cool cool cool. (And yes, I am finally relenting, and putting Black Panther in my Best Picture predictions.)

Alfonso Cuarón on the set of Roma
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Adam McKay, Vice

Falling off: Damien Chazelle, Steve McQueen
Rising star: Spike Lee (again)
The skinny: Second verse, same as the first. If the Black Klansman resurgence is real, Spike really could get his first nomination for Best Director. But that would likely come at the expense of another black filmmaker (Barry Jenkins) or Greek freak Yorgos Lanthimos, one of the most distinct working filmmakers, who’s just made his best film yet.

Christian Bale in Vice
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

Falling off: Ryan Gosling, Lucas Hedges, Steve Carell
Rising star: John C. Reilly, Stan & Ollie or The Sisters Brothers
The skinny: Don’t worry about Ethan Hawke’s Golden Globes (or possible SAG) snub. Hawke is a respected, twice-nominated actor who’s putting in the work of promoting his stellar performance in a movie the Academy will have multiple chances to see. I’d be shocked if he won, but he’ll be in the thick of it. Malek and Mortensen move in, ascending ahead of the leads of Boy Erased and Beautiful Boy, neither of which has set the indie cinema world on fire. And only if more people had seen Stan & Ollie or The Sisters Brothers, John C. Reilly could have had his first Oscar nod since Chicago.

Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Falling off: Viola Davis, Felicity Jones
Rising star: Rosamund Pike, A Private War
The skinny: The Widows oversight is so bad even Viola Davis is feeling the effects of it. This is feeling more and more like our five, though the Golden Globes nod (and a possible SAG nod) for Rosamund Pike is raising her profile. She’s giving one of the five best performances of the year, so she should be more in the conversation. And poor Felicity Jones. What seemed like a forgone conclusion – playing young Ruth Bader Ginsburg – is evaporating, just like our democracy.

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