I have one caveat to share as I go through this annual feature. I relegated Robert Pattinson’s performance in The King to the honorable mention section because I’m not sure whether he was intentionally giving a bad performance in that film or not. Whichever it was, it was easily the most entertaining thing about that otherwise drab movie about the Battle of Agincourt, as Pattinson played the dauphin of France like the gayest vampire ever, taunting Timothée Chalamet’s King Henry V with heavily accented jabs: “Giant balls. Giant balls, with a tiny cock.” It’s worth sitting through the back half of the film for.
He would deserve an Oscar just for that one speech from The Lighthouse that I mentioned in my best movie dialogue post. The Academy has done well at recognizing his layered performances in lower-profile movies (Shadow of the Vampire, The Florida Project, At Eternity’s Gate), but his turn as Thomas Wake takes the prize for sheer craziness that makes the character funny and frightening. This movie should be screened every International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
Fun fact: She modeled her performance in Marriage Story on her own real-life divorce lawyer, who also represented Scarlett Johansson in her divorce. Everything about this high-powered Hollywood attorney rings true, from the little goodies on the tea tray in her office to the way she tears apart other lawyers in the courtroom and then goes in the hall to laugh and joke with them.
I’ll say more about Elisabeth Moss’ lead performance in Her Smell, but it takes something to stand up to that volcanic force. Deyn does outstanding work as the rock band’s lesbian lead guitarist who ignores her own cocaine problems because she’s so wrapped up in the lead singer’s plethora of drug and mental issues. The British model-turned-actress deserves to be better known on our shores.
Too often we forget just how good this Oscar winner is. He’s often overshadowed even in his best films like Django Unchained and Baby Driver. In Just Mercy, however, he’s the one stealing the film away from the leads as a condemned prisoner who has accepted his fate until a new lawyer takes his case and he dares to hope to see his family again.
First of all, in Them That Follow, he absolutely looks the part of a backwoods preacher for a Christian snake-handling cult, leading his congregation in ecstatic celebration. However, he’s downright magnificent in the film’s climactic scene, when he drapes rattlesnakes over the shoulders of his own teenage daughter, looking scarcely less terrified than her as he tests whether God has forgiven her.
She may be listed as a supporting character in Hustlers, but she dominates the proceedings as the stripper who pulls Constance Wu’s Destiny and others into her plan to defraud the Wall Street dicks who come into the club. When she’s engaged and in a role that suits her, she can do wondrous things.
“I am a golden sawfish!” “How are you dry?” “It’s like ayahuasca, but it’s Asian. It’s Asian-huasca!” Carrie Fisher’s daughter did little in Booksmart except steal every scene she was in. True, a lot of actresses could have done well with the unforgettable role of a girl who somehow beats the protagonists to every place they go, but Lourd injected the role with an unforgettable anarchy.
In my review of The Last Black Man in San Francisco, I forgot to mention the scene in which he goes up to a group of African-American thugs on a street corner and gives them notes as if he’s a theater director talking to his actors. (“I believe you, but I think we can go deeper.”) The 30-year-old Dallas native was given too little to do in Hostiles and Captive State, but found his showcase in this film and made the most of it.
So often we forget the effect that violence has on the families of the people involved. This newcomer makes sure we don’t forget in Waves, as she tries to cope with high-school life after her brother’s picture has been plastered all over the evening news. Her picking up the pieces is a messy and compelling piece of drama.
While everyone else in The Farewell is embroiled in the grief of Nai-Nai’s impending death, the old lady herself just sort of floats through the story on the breezes of making preparations for her grandson’s wedding. This 75-year-old veteran of Chinese TV and theater gave her very first film performance in this movie, and what a way to make a debut.
Honorable mention: Moisés Arias, Monos; Timothée Chalamet and Florence Pugh, Little Women; Zoey Deutch, Zombieland: Double Tap; Chris Evans, Knives Out; Shia LaBeouf, Honey Boy; Alessandro Nivola, The Art of Self-Defense; Robert Pattinson, The King; Joaquin Phoenix, Mary Magdalene; Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Wesley Snipes, Dolemite Is My Name; Keanu Reeves, Always Be My Maybe; Margot Robbie, Bombshell; Lorraine Toussaint, Fast Color.