2020 in Review: The Best Performances – Film

Ensemble in a Comedy
Birds of Prey
Like its predecessor Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey has an enormous cast of characters who have graced the pages of DC Comics over the past decades. But that’s where its similarities end. For one, Birds of Prey is actually good. It’s a candy-colored blast that, unlike the majority of its brethren in the DCEU, gives its characters actual definition. Margot Robbie was the only good part of David Ayer’s misbegotten adaptation, and putting her in the lead of her own movie was a no-brainer. But she’s not the only one living it up here. Rosie Perez is terrific as usual as one of the few less dirty cops in Gotham, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead brings deadpan sexiness as the Huntress. But it’s Ewan McGregor who steals the show as the vain and violent Black Mask.

Actor in a Comedy
Jean Dujardin, Deerskin
When I first saw the trailer for the latest bit of absurdity from Quentin Dupieux, I thought one of our most dashing Oscar winners was too good for this nonsense. After seeing the film, it’s clear no one else could have pulled it off. Georges experiences a mid-life crisis and pays entirely too much for a deerskin jacket. Suddenly renewed, and with a camera the seller threw in at no charge, he recasts himself as a filmmaker with a penchant for extreme cinema. As his appetite for tacky luxury fashion grows, so does his urge to kill. It’s a wild 77-minute ride that only works because Dujardin makes it believable.

Actress in a Comedy
Cristin Milioti, Palm Springs
The summer’s most pleasant surprise threw everyone for a loop, pun intended. Andy Samberg is his usual charming self, but Milioti was a revelation, playing the sister of the bride, She’s tired of her humdrum life and guilt-ridden over her terrible secret. She’s the emotional anchor of the film, and the reason it was more than just a fun diversion.

Supporting Actor in a Comedy
Bill Burr, The King of Staten Island
There’s a case to be made that this is Judd Apatow’s finest film as a director. At a minimum, it’s his most mature work to date. While Pete Davidson does surprisingly earnest work as the lead of the film, the supporting cast steals it from him regularly: Bel Powley as his on-again/off-again girlfriend Kelsey; Marisa Tomei as his long-suffering mother Margie; and especially Bill Burr as Ray, a fireman with a short fuse and genuine love for Margie. Burr has recently become one of the most popular comedians in the world for his no-fucks-given observations about changing times, but between this and his guest spots on The Mandalorian, he’s become one of our best character actors too.

Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
This was the first time 99.99% of people had seen Bakalova on-screen before, and what a jaw-dropping international debut. As Tutar, the daughter of disgraced correspondent Borat, she is every bit as fearless and funny as Sacha Baron Cohen. Because he’s too famous to do a lot of the shtick he made his name on, it was an enormous risk to hand over the reins to her for much of the film, but it paid off big time.

Ensemble in a Drama
One Night in Miami…
Kingsley Ben-Adir and Eli Goree had the added weight of having their performances judged against Denzel Washington and Will Smith, both Oscar-nominated for their portrayals of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, respectively. But they each found their own gears and personal touches to bring them to life. But it’s not as if Leslie Odom Jr. and Aldis Hodge had it any easier, portraying Sam Cooke and Jim Brown. They all had big shoes to fill, and they did it so well they made it look easy. Nothing about their performances are distracting. They’re not going for mimicry. They’re going for something more powerful, and they find it.

Actor in a Drama
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Ahmed’s been doing great work as an actor and musician for years, but this is his greatest role to date. Ruben, a drummer and former addict struggling with hearing loss, has convinced himself to white knuckle his way through any challenge, which hasn’t served him well. When he completely loses his hearing, he joins a community of deaf addicts in recovery, and tries to settle in one place after years on the road. But his arrogance and loneliness pushes him to break out of the life he’s built, bringing with it a whole new set of unexpected consequences.

Actress in a Drama
Jessie Buckley, I’m Thinking of Ending Things
While I could have easily picked a dozen women here (including Elizabeth Moss twice), I had to go with Buckley. She’s only 31 but has dazzled in films like Wild Rose and TV shows like Chernobyl. But her role in Charlie Kaufman’s mind-bender is a challenge the likes of which few actors have faced or could pull off. To say more would give away some of the twists of the film, one she holds together even as the narrative unravels.

Supporting Actor in a Drama
Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
Aside from an episode of Parks and Recreation that I haven’t seen in a decade, this was my first proper exposure to Paul Raci. As Joe, the leader of a community of deaf recovering addicts, he’s both compassionate and no-nonsense. He’s so patient and kind, yet never warm or sentimental. It’s the platonic ideal of a supporting performance.

Supporting Actress in a Drama
Youn Yuh-jung, Minari
Even after a stroke and numerous financial setbacks, there’s absolutely nothing to dim the spark of Soon-ja. She has some of the similarities of great screen grandmas past, including a sharp sense of humor. But Youn Yuh-jung gives her a vitality all her own.

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