After a long Oscar slog, the wait is finally (almost) over. Tonight, twenty actors and actresses will be entering the Dolby Theater to see who will win, who will lose, and who will break a long-standing Oscar losing streak. However, while most of these actors were phenomenal, or at least very good in very bad movies, the Academy very rarely awards actors for their best role, turning the acting categories into a chance to play catch-up. With their best performances ignored and in the rearview, I thought I’d take a break from my Best of 2018 lists and end the Oscar race with the Best Performances by the 2018 Oscar Nominees.
The rules are simple: I take the twenty nominees and break down their careers, picking one performance as their best of all time. There are only two requirements: first, if possible, I have to pick a previous performance. Obviously certain actors get nominated their first time out, but normally their best performances (or another great performance) exist in the past. And second, if they were nominated previously during the existence of this site (aka Meryl Streep-ing it), I have to pick a different performance. With that all laid out, allow me to present the Best Performances by the 2018 Acting Nominees!
Christian Bale: The Fighter
Christian Bale has had one of the strangest career arcs when it comes to awards. It took him many years to finally get nominated, after great roles in Velvet Goldmine, American Psycho, The Machinist, and 3:10 To Yuma, to finally get nominated. And since then, he’s been in American Hustle, Out of the Furnace, The Big Short, and Hostiles. However, when it comes to Bale’s eclectic, method career, no performance stands out as clearly as his work in The Fighter. Bale is truly astonishing as Dicky Eklund, the former great boxer whose career floundered after he developed an addiction to crack cocaine. Not only does Bale encapsulate the body and the mannerisms of a good-hearted addict, but he manages to fill the character with empathy and pathos in spite of his series of f*ck-ups. You can tell that he cares for his brother, even as his own jealousy, addiction, and personal problems end up ruining his brother’s life and career. It is easily the best performance of Bale’s career, a much-deserved Academy Award-winning performance, and, quite frankly, one of the best performances of all time.
Bradley Cooper: Silver Linings Playbook
I honestly believe that Bradley Cooper is the Warren Beatty of the modern age. I also honestly believe that no actor has managed to transform their career as thoroughly as Cooper. After breaking out in Wet Hot American Summer (in a performance I would also consider for this list), he managed to make a career out of playing assh*les. However, that all changed in 2012, when he took on the lead role in Silver Linings Playbook and managed to transform himself into an A-list artist. Since then, he’s had great performances in American Hustle and War Dogs, as well as great voice work in the Guardians of the Galaxy series. Hell, he has even been great in bad movies, like American Sniper and Joy. However, as for his best performance, I’ve gotta go back to that breakout in Silver Linings Playbook. Cooper is unbelievably good as Pat Solitano, an optimistic man dealing with previously-undiagnosed bipolar disorder trying to win back his wife and the respect of his family. Cooper captures the mood swings, the emotional highs and lows, and the ins and outs of mental illness, as well as both the comedy and drama of the issue. Cooper’s inability to say the right thing at any given time is hilarious, allowing him to blend his douchebag persona with the emotional soul we saw later in his career. It’s a truly great performance. In fact, Cooper is so great, I honestly believe it was the best performance of 2012 – better than Anne Hathaway, better than Joaquin Phoenix, better than co-star Jennifer Lawrence, and even better than Daniel Day-Lewis. It is, and probably always will be, the best performance of Cooper’s career.
Willem Dafoe: The Florida Project
I wrote about Willem Dafoe last year, and not much has changed since then. He still refuses to flaunt his movie star status, and he’s still incredibly weird. And he’s still great in films like Platoon, Spider-Man, and Wild At Heart (I still haven’t seen Shadow of the Vampire). Now, having used The Last Temptation of Christ last year, the film is ineligible this year, meaning that I can now pick my personal favorite Willem Dafoe performance, last year’s The Florida Project. Dafoe is an actor that can practice both extreme minimalism and explosive Big Acting, and while there’s something to be said about the latter style, Dafoe’s performance in Florida Project is a master class in the former. Dafoe keeps his performance quiet, letting newcomers Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite go loud. He just shows up to be the faux grump, badgering the women about the rent and their harassment of the guests. However, despite his hard exterior, Dafoe keeps Bobby’s heart on display at all times. He does all he can to protect his patrons, both guests and long-term, he tries to cut deals whenever he can, and most important of all, he has an emotional moment with a giant bird – be still my heart. Throughout the highs and lows of living in abject squalor, Bobby is the calming constant, always there to keep things running smoothly. And he has a moment with a creep that remains one of my favorite 2017 scenes. Bobby remains a treatise on Dafoe’s acting style – subtle, yet exterior, emotional, yet harsh, and absolutely masterful.
Rami Malek: Mr. Robot
There aren’t that many Rami Malek performances to choose from. At 37, Malek is still a newcomer to the industry, with only a handful of noteworthy roles to choose from, including small-but-memorable turns in Night at the Museum, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (aka The Good One), and The Master. He also had memorable television performances in The Pacific, Gilmore Girls, and a hilarious turn BoJack Horseman. Hell, he even performed in the revolutionary video game Until Dawn. However, outside of his turn in Bohemian Rhapsody this year, there’s only one Malek performance that people talk about: Mr. Robot, Malek’s Emmy-winning role that took the world by storm. Malek is excellent as Elliot Alderson, a highly-intelligent, depressed, Asperger’s-adjacent software engineer/vigilante hacker. Malek keeps the show afloat no matter how insane or surreal it gets, allowing his face to do the talking just as much as his inner monologues. We can see how the world has broken Elliot, and how he wants to change it through anarchy and chaos. It’s a rich, smart performance that echoes the breakout of Edward Norton, in all the right ways. In fact, Mr. Robot is so good, it sort of makes Rhapsody look bad – at many times, it appears that Malek is playing Freddie Mercury’s flamboyancy the exact same way he plays Elliot’s mental illnesses (unintentional, but noticeable). Malek is the frontrunner for the Oscar on Sunday, but make no mistake: he has never been better than Mr. Robot.
Viggo Mortensen: A History of Violence
I get the feeling that, outside of his work in Green Book (which, all things considered, is very good), Viggo Mortensen has always been nominated for the wrong roles. His two nominations came for Eastern Promises, which is a pretty “meh” performance, and Captain Fantastic, which is outright bad. However, Mortensen is, underneath it all, a very good actor, having given terrific performances in Lord of the Rings, Hidalgo, and A Dangerous Method. However, his best performance, far and away, is in A History of Violence. Mortensen is terrific in this modern day noir, as we watch his character slowly transform throughout, chipping away at the façade he has built. When we first meet him, he is nothing more than an innocent Midwest diner owner, with a beautiful wife and a happy household. However, after killing two escaped convicts who try to hold up his diner, his life unravels. Mobsters begin showing up in his small town, suspecting he may be a long lost Mafioso hitman, and wanting revenge for his skipping town. For two thirds of the film, Mortensen keeps things close to the chest – is he the wrong man caught up in a dangerous game, or has his entire life been built on a lie? I won’t spoil the answer, but I will say that the way Mortensen flips the switch at the halfway point is unbelievable, and the hallmark of a great actor. What Viggo Mortensen accomplished in A History of Violence is one of the great performances of the 21st century, and easily the best performance of his career.
Yalitza Aparicio: Roma
I don’t have much to write about Yalitza Aparicio, so I’m going to dedicate this time to praising her as a human being and a performer. I mean, how many people can truly give themselves over to a performance like this, without any formal acting training and at the age of 24? This is a truly magical performance. Aparicio plays Cleó as a silent observer, filled with grace and love, but never perfect. She quietly observes the issues plaguing the upper-class family she works with just as she notes the rising tensions in the lower classes she inhabits, flowing between the two worlds like water. Much of the film works because of Aparicio’s reactions, captured with authenticity and honesty – and while you can certainly credit Cuarón’s direction in keeping her off-guard throughout filming, there are certain things that not even a director can teach his actors. It requires true talent and grace to do what Aparicio does in that hospital room scene, or on the beach, or in the warehouse, or in the field with Los Halcones. And to think that she was previously a recently-graduated teacher, and her big follow-up to Roma is…more teaching! I hope Aparicio makes another film, but even if she doesn’t, she can rest easy knowing that she has given one of the most open, honest performances the silver screen has ever known.
Glenn Close: Fatal Attraction
Outside of perhaps only Meryl Streep (who thankfully is not in competition this year), no actress is as accomplished or as distinguished as Glenn Close. While the legend has never won an Oscar, she has accrued a wildly successful career full of iconic performances. There’s her haunting turn in The Big Chill and her idealistic turn in The Natural, her short-but-memorable turn in Reversal of Fortune and of course her spellbinding turn in 101 Dalmatians. She memorably appeared several times on beloved shows The Simpsons, The West Wing, and Will and Grace. And I still have to see Dangerous Liasons, although it is sitting on top of a massive pile at the moment (if she’s nominated again, you’ll know where to turn). However, if there is one role people remember Glenn Close for, it is the woefully misunderstood, yet still inherently frightening Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction. Close manages to pull off three performances at once, often at the same time, and underneath the same umbrella. For the first third of the film, she has to be sexy – she’s a seductress who tempts Michael Douglas (the ultimate slimeball). In the second third, she has to be hauntingly disturbed – she’s clearly unbalanced, but it’s only hurting herself. And then in the third act, she must become unhinged – in order to win back the man she loves, she must murder all those who stand in her way, including bunnies and little girls (important to note the little girl was never in danger, as Close makes it clear, but Forrest wants us to think that she was). However, the reason the role works is because it is clear to both Glenn Close – and to modern day audiences – that despite the faux-horror ending, Alex is not the villain of the film, but the tragic heroine. She’s a woman with borderline personality disorder cast aside by an uncaring and amoral man, who wants nothing more than to feel love and to be happy. It is a testament to Close’s talents that she manages to play the role both as this tragic figure and an iconic villain, and neither reading is inherently wrong. It’s the stuff of legends, one of the greatest performances of all time, and a worthy addition to the Greatest Performances canon.
Olivia Colman: The Lobster
Olivia Colman is one of those actresses I greatly enjoy, but technically haven’t seen that much of. I haven’t seen Tyrannosaur or Peep Show, The Night Manager or Fleabag. I did see her in Hot Fuzz, but that performance is so fleeting, it barely counts. Still, I want to find a performance that truly sums up Colman’s oddball sense of humor, her iconic ability to go from minimalism to Capital-A Acting in milliseconds, and her Jim Carrey-esque ability to make every movement outrageously entertaining. And to me, no performance does that better than her work as The Hotel Manager in The Lobster. Directed by her Favourite filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, Colman is unbelievably memorable in her sardonic, dull authoritarian running a hotel for loners. Their rules are simple: either find a match in 30 days or get turned into an animal for all eternity. Colman relishes her role as both matchmaker and bureaucrat, delivering delicious lines like “If you encounter any problems [in your relationship] that you cannot resolve yourselves, you will be assigned children, that usually helps. And in one memorable scene, she and her mate try to arouse a crowd by lazily dancing (completely off-tempo, I might add) to the elevator jazz songs filling a dance hall. It is single-handedly the most memorable moment of the film, and it defined Colman as one of the greatest actresses working today.
Lady Gaga: Saturday Night Live
Lady Gaga has had a hell of a coming out party. Who is this dazzling unknown? Has she done anything before? I kid, I kid, but seriously: for Gaga’s quote-unquote debut, she could not have had a better performance. Still, I must pick something from her past, which means I have exactly two options to pick from. Now, I haven’t seen her Golden Globe-winning performance in American Horror Story: Hotel, but something tells me I wouldn’t have been picking that one anyway – call it a hunch, but I don’t think that performance is as great as the hype surrounding it. So instead, I’m picking a weirder, but more deserving choice: her fantastic work on Saturday Night Live. A one-time host and multiple-time musical guest, Gaga has popped up in a multitude of sketches and shorts – and each time she does, she is a delight. I’m going to highlight two sketches in particular, each demonstrating her natural timing, her ability to maintain character throughout, and a natural charisma that makes her born to be an actress. The first sketch, alongside former cast member Jon Milhiser, featured the duo as the overenthusiastic parents of a young girl at a fourth-grade talent show. As the parents start out mimicking the moves on stage, their routine becomes more and more bizarre and horrifically sexual. It’s a terrific one-shot that works because of Gaga’s complete commitment to the bit. The other sketch was her appearance in the SNL Digital Short (and trilogy-capper) “The Golden Rule,” where Gaga invites the “Dick In A Box” gents (Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake) to join her for a ménage à trois. In a lot of ways (ok, no ways, but bear with me), Gaga’s performance is similar to her work in A Star Is Born: she’s funny, she completes the music with her singing, and she has killer line delivery. The way she says, “You guys are still here…” as she munches on cereal might be my favorite moment in any Digital Short. Here’s hoping that these appearances (and A Star Is Born) launch a career that will last for years to come.
Melissa McCarthy: Gilmore Girls
You know, Melissa McCarthy gets a bad rap. Sure, she appeared in films like The Happytime Murders and Identity Thief, two of the worst films of all time, but it’s easy to forget that she is one of the most talented actresses on the planet, both comedically and dramatically. She devotes herself to every performance, and genuinely cares about every character, so that even some of her lesser films, like Life of the Party, St. Vincent, and Ghostbusters end up feeling real and enjoyable. But this isn’t a list of “good performances.” I’m here to talk about the best. So let’s break this down, shall we? There’s her Boston cop in The Heat, her takedown of James Bond in Spy, work on Samantha Who? as Dena. Speaking of television, McCarthy also was terrific in Mike and Molly and on Saturday Night Live, where she stole the show as Sean Spicer (honestly their best bit of “satire” in at least five years). And it is so terribly tempting to pick her role as Megan in Bridesmaids, which made her the A-Lister she deserves to be (“Look away!” is one of my favorite line deliveries of all time). However, if there’s one role I think speaks volumes to what McCarthy does best, it’s her work as Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls. As Lorelai Gilmore’s best friend, Sookie is a much more nuanced character than the brash, eccentric, sometimes monstrous characters McCarthy has played in recent years. Sookie is an amalgamation of emotions – she’s sarcastic, sweet, clumsy, smart, talented, and shy, all at the same time. Her relationship with Jackson is the healthiest and sweetest on the entire show, and she may be the character we learn about the most in the entirety of the run. We love her eccentricities as much as her wisdom, respect her talent as a chef as much as we respect her dignity (or sometimes lack thereof), and it’s where we fell in love with Melissa McCarthy as a performer. And no, I’m not just saying this because I’m arguably the biggest Gilmore Girls fan this side of the Mississippi. McCarthy is a talented actress, and Gilmore Girls was our first proof that she had the goods that she was destined for greatness.
Mahershala Ali: Moonlight
It’s been two years since Mahershala Ali took the world by storm and became a major force in Hollywood. We’ve seen him in Hidden Figures, in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and currently killing it on True Detective. And of course, he’s still great on House of Cards, the show I wrote about for the last time he was nominated (and won!), but I think I’ll go back to the moment everything changed for the greatest working character actor and reward Ali’s work in Moonlight. Mahershala Ali is truly astonishing as Juan, a Miami drug dealer who takes a young child named Chiron under his wing. The bare bones of the performance are pretty standard: the unlikely mentor, the father figure, the Big Figure in the community, etc. However, what makes Juan different is the way Juan plays him – he’s not an intimidating or cruel figure. He’s big hearted, taking the broken boy into his heart, teaching him to swim, and pulling him away from his broken home and life. He also is accepting of the boy, whom he begins to suspect (correctly) may be gay – a choice far removed from the stereotypical portrayal of a drug dealer. However, what really makes the character so great are the little choices Ali puts into his performance – the way he responds when he discovers that he’s been dealing to Chiron’s mom, and thus making his life so difficult; or the reaction on his face when he tells the boy the truth, and crushes the soul of his mentee. In moments like that, it is clear that Ali is one of the all-time greats, and that his Oscar-winning role in Moonlight is the best of his career.
Adam Driver: Girls
Up next, we have perhaps the fastest rising star on this list, Adam Driver. Driver has been taking the world by storm since he broke out almost a decade ago. Since then, he’s had Lincoln and While We’re Young, Midnight Special and Silence. He’s truly something else in Logan Lucky as the one-armed army vet pulling off a top-notch heist. His work as the villainous Kylo Ren in the new Star Wars series will be remembered for years to come as one of the best villains of the 2010s. And while it isn’t quite long enough to make the list, I want to give a shout-out to his work in Inside Llewyn Davis (“OUTER. SPACE!”) There’s also Paterson, which I haven’t seen yet. And like many stars on this list, he turned in what could be career best work on Saturday Night Live, between “America’s Funniest Cats,” “Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base,” and “Oil Baron Parents’ Day.” However, I have to give the edge to the performance that started it all, Girls. It’s easy to look back negatively on Lena Dunham’s seminal series for a litany of reasons (a lot of them surround strange Reddit conspiracy theories surrounding Dunham and her own inability to stop talking), but make no mistake: the first three seasons were a masterpiece in exploring a specific time in a specific place. And a lot of what makes the show great was Driver’s Adam Sackler, Hannah Horvath’s spirited, troubled boyfriend. Sackler is a complicated character, prone to mood swings, abusive behavior, and personal demons, but Driver keeps him empathetic throughout. He never invites the audience to like Adam, but through comedy, empathy, and his own personal charm, he makes the alcoholic struggling actor a three-dimensional figure, with complex emotions, a sardonic sense of timing, and a brooding sexuality reminiscent of Marlon Brando (come to think of it, Driver is as much this generation’s Brando as Chalamet is their James Dean). It’s one of the best TV performances in a decade, and one of Driver’s best overall.
Sam Elliott: The Big Lebowski
Character actor Sam Elliott has been in everything. His career stretches back all the way to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid all the way back in 1969. Since then, he’s given a variety of fantastic performances, including older brother Virgil in Tombstone, sensitive biker Gar in Mask, father John Riggs in the creepy family film Prancer, John Buford in Gettysburg, General Thaddeus Ross in Hulk, Lorne Lutch in Thank You For Smoking, and (sigh) Fleetwood Yak in Rock Dog (I hate everything). While I have yet to see either film, Elliott has also received great reviews for The Hero and I’ll See You In My Dreams. And he was pretty memorable in Parks and Recreation as Ron Dunn, the hippie doppelgänger to Ron Swanson. However, if there’s one role that truly sums up Elliott, his laconic acting style, his iconic voice, and his memorable stage presence, it’s his performance as The Stranger in The Big Lebowski. The Stranger is not a large role in the seminal 1998 cult classic – it barely qualifies as a narrator. However, it is the epitome of both the Coen Brothers’ directing/writing style and Elliott’s acting. The Stranger spends most of the film as an unseen narrator, telling the story of The Dude’s life from the shadows as one would tell a story at a bar. He muddies his words, he gets off-track, and he comments and critiques the actions of the characters. This already is a funny enough premise, but it gets better when the Coens actually make The Stranger a character. Enter Sam Elliott as a modern-day cowboy, somehow omniscient but equally befuddled, sporting that famous mustache like it’s his job. Only Elliott can deliver lines like, “Sometimes you eat the bar (sic: bear), and sometimes, well…sometimes the bar eats you” and make it sound natural, funny, and sage, all at the same time. Each line flows like liquid silk, lulling us into a false sense of security so we are as at ease as The Dude as the world falls apart around us. The Dude may abide, but it is The Stranger that allows us to, and it is Elliott that gives that Stranger life.
Richard E. Grant: Withnail and I
I had heard the name Richard E. Grant around a few times before 2018, and I had even seen a couple films, but I never expected to fall in love with an actor the way that I did. Grant is far and away a modern-day legend, with the gentleness of Nicholas Ray and the swagger of Errol Flynn. He’s been around in a variety of roles, from those I know are great, like Gosford Park, The Player, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Corpse Bride, to those I’ve heard are good, like The Age of Innocence, Portrait of a Lady, and even Spice World (ok, I heard he’s the only good part of that, but it still counts). Still, you can’t write about Richard E. Grant without bringing up the seminal work known as Withnail and I. The story of two struggling actors taking a drinking holiday in the country as they deal with dwindling funds and a lack of acting gigs, Grant’s Withnail is the stuff of legends. He plays the swaggering alcoholic with a sense of witty deference that feels more akin to Laurence Olivier than any of his contemporaries. Grant can grunt, gasp, soliloquy and shriek with the best of them, from something as silly as downing a shot of lighter fluid to cope with his hangover to fearing that a monstrous man would climb through the window and kill him because he insulted him to sadly delivering a Shakespearean monologue upon realizing his career may be fading fast. Grant’s work in this film is as iconic to the current generation as Bogart’s Rick Blaine was to actors in the 70s and Robert de Niro’s Travis Bickle/Jake La Motta was to the 80s/90s. It’s one of the best characters – and best performances – of all time.
Sam Rockwell: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
I didn’t quite expect to be writing about Sam Rockwell so soon. I poured my soul into writing about his work in The Way, Way Back, and now I have to pick yet another film. I could go with his award-winning performance in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, but if I’m being honest, I’m lukewarm on his work on that film (he’s arguably the weakest part of the ensemble). I should go with Moon, but unfortunately I still have to see it (if he gets nominated next year for Jojo Rabbit I’ll make sure to see it before then). And I was this close to picking Galaxy Quest, in which he holds his own in an ensemble that includes Sigourney Weaver, Tim Allen, Tony Shalhoub, and Alan F*cking Rickman. But instead, I’m going with an odder, lesser known performance – and one that really helped put Rockwell on the map: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. A semi-biography of famed game show host Chuck Barris, Rockwell plays Barris with a bizarre sense of aplomb. He nails the weirdo nature, adds in a strange (but logical) undercurrent of sexual obsession, and even manages to make the assassin subplot that Barris insists is real seem sensible. Throughout, he balances that Classic Rockwell humor with a likeable, yet off-putting pathos, which makes perfect sense for the man who created The Gong Show (the original, not the one with Tommy Maitland, who is in no way Mike Myers). And it’s yet another feather in the cap of weird, wonderful characters that Rockwell has played throughout his career.
Amy Adams: Enchanted
Who doesn’t love Amy Adams? This is a real question, because I need to know who to beat up. Adams is far and away one of the most talented, most charming, most likeable actresses in all of Hollywood, brining back the old-school spunk and glamour of the era of Myrna Loy and Greer Garson. Adams has been terrific in so many films, from comedies like Talladega Nights and Julie and Julia to sincere, epic dramas like The Master, Doubt, and The Fighter. She managed to make lesser films like Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian sing as Amelia Earhart, and she’s subtly great in one of my favorite films, Her. She’s even great on television, most recently in Sharp Objects. And truth be told, I should probably pick Arrival, as that was easily one of the best performances of the decade. However, considering she was (RUDELY) snubbed for that performance, I want to go with the film I had all lined up back in 2016, Enchanted. Enchanted is the film that put Adams on the map, but it would have been a terrific performance no matter what. Adams devotes herself to the notion of playing a Disney princess let loose on the real world, chatting with the birds, approaching life with a sense of innocent wonder, and truly charming everyone she comes across. She’s the human reminder of why Disney movies are so beloved: innocent, romantic, likeable, and optimistic. All the things we want to be. And did I mention that Adams sings too? There are few moments in all of cinema as infectiously joyful as “Happy Working Song,” “True Love’s Kiss,” and “That’s How You Know.” It is an inspired performance, earnest and thoughtful in every way, and it marked the kind of debut for Adams that only Julia Roberts and Jennifer Lawrence have previously experienced.
Marina de Tavira: Secondary Effects
Marina de Tavira is the type of nominee that makes things difficult for me. It’s not that she’s an unknown, it’s just that the big films she’s been a part of are really hard to find as an American. Her works have been predominantly centered in her home country of Mexico, meaning that I either had to use Roma as the best performance (again), or track down a random Mexican film. I went with the latter, and boy am I happy I did. Because as it turns out, de Tavira was nominated for a Mexican Oscar for her performance in a film titled Efectos Secundarios, or Secondary Effects (which is how I will refer to it henceforth), and my God, is this film a joy. The story of four high school classmates who reunite and relive past traumas on the night of their reunion, de Tavira steals the show as Marina, a hyper-sensitive woman who’s just turned 30 and watches her life fall apart. Caught up on a guy from her past who very clearly was never interested (despite her delusions – so Sandra Bullock), finding her current boyfriend cheating on her, stuck with artists’ block, and having accidentally murdered her cat in the fridge, de Tavira balances physical and emotional comedy with a general sense of ease (something she revived in her Oscar-nominated role in Roma). Her journey is the emotional heart of the film, as she sets out to find love and gets run over by a car for her efforts. This is an underrated film, an underrated performance, and a testament to a great actress who hasn’t had much love this side of the border.
Regina King: Jerry Maguire
There is no actor on this list who has been as there as Regina King. While she’s only started receiving critical and award attention in the past four years, she has been making movies and TV better since the late 80s. From Boyz n the Hood and Friday to A Cinderella Story and Ray, from 227 and The Boondocks to American Crime and The Leftovers, King has taken every character role and supporting role in the business. In fact, she’s such a subtle, smooth character actress, it’s hard to pick just one – she’s too inherent to the fabric of the films themselves. But if I have to pick one, it would have to be Jerry Maguire, as she 100% shares a part of Cuba Gooding Jr. King plays Marcee Tidwell, star football player Rod Tidwell’s passionate, loving wife. Gooding, Jr. is great in that film, but if you actually go back and watch the film, you’ll find that most of the scenes you love so much – including “Show me the money!” work because King is there, playing off Gooding, hyping him up and making both performances shine brightly. She’s the film’s emotional heart as well as a source for laughs, and the relationship she shares with her on-screen husband feels real, loving, funny, and exciting. It makes for one of the most underrated roles in all of cinema, and easily the role that best demonstrates King’s career.
Emma Stone: La La Land
I’m really happy that Emma Stone has turned herself into a “serious” actress. She’s a real talent, and she deserves to be considered our generation’s Bette Davis (it’s the eyes; I’m referring to the eyes). Whether she’s starring in comedies like Easy A and Crazy, Stupid, Love (I also love her “John F*cking Mayer!” cameo in Friends with Benefits) or in dramas like The Favourite or The Help, Stone is constantly finding ways to challenger herself and show her range. With Birdman used in 2016, I found myself looking for an alternative. I considered Battle of the Sexes, as her performance as Billie Jean King was rich and emotional in all the right ways, but at the end of the day, how can I pass over La La Land? Stone is incredible as Mia Dolan, creating a likeable, funny, emotionally three-dimensional character that evokes Audrey Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and Grace Kelly. Every moment she’s onscreen, she’s making you feel – whether you’re laughing at her passionately petty dancing to “I Ran,” crying at her emotional ballad in “Audition,” or making you fall in love as she soft shoes to with Ryan Gosling to “A Lovely Night.” It manages to expertly balance the grace of an older generation of actors with the nuance of more modern sensibilities. It rightly won her an Oscar, and will take its place as one of her best performances for all eternity.
Rachel Weisz: The Constant Gardener
And finally, there’s Rachel Weisz. I’ll be honest, I’ve always liked Weisz, but I never knew she was this caliber of actress until The Favourite. She’s really on another level that nothing in her career has indicated as of yet. Sure, she’s incredibly likeable in The Mummy (the good one with Brendan Fraser, not the bad one with Tom Cruise), and she gives solid performances in films good (Definitely, Maybe, The Lobster), ok (The Fountain, Denial), and bad (Eragon, The Lovely Bones), but as much as I like some or all of those roles/performances, they just never screamed to me “This actress will give one of your favorite performances of all time!” There’s really only one instance where she’s come close (note: I haven’t seen Disobedience), and that’s her Oscar-winning role in The Constant Gardener. Weisz is wonderful in The Constant Gardener as Tessa, a passionate, intelligent reporter who challenges, and then falls in love with, Ralph Fiennes’s Justin Quayle. She spends much of the first half of the film demonstrating herself a lovable, emotional femme fatale before the second half starts raising questions. Filled with mystery and nuance, Weisz hides her character’s motivations from scene to scene, making us question, root, and wonder about her for every second. It was a deserving Oscar winning role, and a great performance from an undervalued actress.
Thank you for reading, and please enjoy the Oscars!