Jeffrey Wright is a master of words in "The French Dispatch."

Back to normal service, everyone. My annual list of the best achievements in film was delayed last year, but now it’s back in December where it usually goes. Without further ado:

Ben Affleck

He’s drawing awards buzz for The Tender Bar, but I preferred him in The Last Duel, where he’s the only actor who seems to be having any fun. His Pierre, Duc d’Alençon isn’t a bad man, unless you count holding drunken orgies while his wife is giving birth to their eighth child. He would just rather get back to his drinking and orgying than preside over a messy rape case involving his male friend, so he does everything in his power to make it all go away. This guy with the clownish hair is rape culture personified, the 14th-century version, and I am fascinated by him.

Anders Danielsen Lie

The Norwegian is a licensed doctor and turns 43 on New Year’s Day. His resumé is relatively thin, but he has turned in sterling work in both his native language (Reprise) and in English (Personal Shopper). In The Worst Person in the World, he portrays the older man who takes up with the 30-year-old protagonist, but they split up because she doesn’t want kids. She sees him later after he’s been struck by pancreatic cancer, and when he tells her she was the love of his life, it lifts the comedy into something moving.


Ariana DeBose

She’s come a long way from So You Think You Can Dance. I’ll admit I wasn’t overly impressed when she made her film debut last year in The Prom, but her performance as Anita in West Side Story is worthy of an “Aw, damn.” She dominates the screen with her salsa dancing, and just try forgetting the expression on her face as she emerges from the police station after identifying Bernardo’s body. No openly gay actor has ever won an Oscar, so her performance has a real chance to make history.

Andrew Garfield

He’ll pop up again when I post my list of the best lead actors, and (spoiler alert) his turn on Spider-Man: No Way Home makes us consider whether we gave his Peter Parker a bad rap. He makes this list for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, where he portrays Jim Bakker as a self-pitying hustler whose belief that God wants us to prosper shades over into systematic sucking up to rich donors. Garfield captures the TV star’s charisma and narcissism in equal measure.

Ciarán Hinds

That first name is pronounced “Kieran,” if you’re not familiar with Irish names. You’ve seen him in the background of countless things since the turn of the century, as one of the Israeli assassins in Munich, Dumbledore’s brother in the final Harry Potter movie, and Mance Rayder on Game of Thrones. His role as the mischievous grandfather in Belfast is perhaps a shade too calculated to tug at the heartstrings, but this Northern Irishman makes the most of it anyway.

Ruth Negga

She has the flashier of the two main roles in Passing, and she makes the most of it as a Black woman who has passed for white and moves around freely in white society. Of course, how free is it when you have to lie about your identity to enjoy freedom? Her flirtatiousness and vivacity dazzles Tessa Thompson’s protagonist and 1920s Chicago society, and then once her secret is exposed, she’s gone in an instant. Until this film, I wasn’t sure what the big deal was about Negga. I get it now.

Florence Pugh

My fellow film critics might frown on giving prizes to comedy performances, or to performances in Marvel superhero movies, but (as you probably guessed) I don’t care. She outright stole Black Widow from Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff’s loosened-up fake sister who makes fun of Black Widow’s legs-splayed fighting stance and can also match her move for move. The Marvel films are going to have more of Yelena Belova’s bleak and nihilistic sense of humor. I can’t wait.

Albrecht Schuch

There’s much to admire in Berlin Alexanderplatz, but you can’t take your eyes off Schuch as the drug dealer who is at once pathetic and ruthlessly manipulative in his dealings with the main character. While the protagonist, an immigrant from Guinea-Bissau, is determined to survive in Germany and stay a good man, the drug dealer is the devil on his shoulder who ropes him into committing felonies and commits murder rather than let him take away the prostitute he likes. He is so slimy and so present that you want to take a shower after watching this film.

Jeffrey Wright

The venerable character actor gives the performance of his career in The French Dispatch as a reporter who (like James Baldwin) is a gay Black American finding it easier to move about in France and (like A.J. Liebling) has fallen in love with French cuisine. In a cast packed with so many Oscar laureates, he gives the standout turn and achieves a stoic sort of pathos as a lonely expat who still hasn’t found a home in this new country, but keeps the faith.

Honorable mention: Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos; Cate Blanchett and David Strathairn, Nightmare Alley; Jella Haaze, Berlin Alexanderplatz; Frances McDormand, The Tragedy of Macbeth; Jérémie Renier, Slalom; Alexandra Shipp, tick, tick… Boom!; Suzanna Son, Red Rocket; Anya Taylor-Joy, Last Night in Soho; Alex Wolff, Pig.