(The Best Performances of 2017)
10. Jennifer Lawrence (mother!)
mother! isn’t an easy movie. And Lawrence has the unenviable task of leading us through it, of being a witness to the horror, and the straight woman in the blackest comedy moments. While Lawrence often portrays fighters and women whose lives have earned them a slight edge, Mother, in Lawrence’s channeling of Mia Farrow, is portrayed with a kind of innocent, questioning unawareness formed by bemused smiles and tearful eyes, but Lawrence’s portrayal hardens over the course of the film, her feelings for this world conveyed with a greater complexity until we are both afraid for her and of her.
9. Mark Hamill (The Last Jedi)
The long-awaited return of Luke Skywlaker wasn’t quite what we expected. It wasn’t what Mark Hamill expected either. Hamill brings a gravitas to the role, a departure from the starry eyed kid he was. Hamill also creates just enough menace, subtle mischief, and darkly loaded looks to make us doubt Skywalker’s allegiances. While Hamill is famed for playing two of our most iconic characters, I don’t think we’ve ever fully appreciated what a great character actor he is, and hopefully this role leads to more high-profile ones.
8. Carla Gugino (Gerald’s Game)
Chained to a bed and left with only her husband’s rotting corpse and her traumatic memories for company, Jessie seems like one of the most challenging roles of the year. Gugino, an actress still undervalued despite the surplus of credits to her name, uses every tool at her disposal to convey Jessie’s increasing panic and struggle against her own abuse driven self-doubt to turn out a performance that ranks as one of the strongest in any King adaptation. From carrying on conversations with her own consciousness, to that hand scene, Carla Gugino drives home all the hardship of Mike Flanagan’s impossible adaptation for result that doesn’t seem easy but well worth it.
7. Hugh Jackman (Logan)
After seventeen years of playing Wolverine across the majority of Fox’s X-Men films, Hugh Jackman finally decided to sheathe the claws, but not before he and James Mangold delivered a fitting, poignant conclusion to the character. Jackman’s performance has always been the standout in the X-films, but here, as a broken and battered man whose wounds no longer heal, Jackman taps into Logan’s self-hatred, his loss of hope, and his grief over the loss of a role and concept that was supposed to be the future. With a hard-lined face, and a drunken fighting stance, Jackman gives Logan the send-off he deserves.
6. Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
I often think Saoirse Ronan is embodiment of class and poise within her generation, an actress ready made for period pieces and crafting strong emotional tethers between the past and the present. In Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird she is able to put that distinction to the test in a period less removed from 2017, and a role that allows her to show her offbeat comedic abilities. Ronan’s portrayal of Christine, “Lady Bird,” feels like someone we’ve all known at one time or another, and the Irish-born actress is able to tap into an expression that feels distinctly rooted in the American middle-class and its efforts to stand out in its search for identity.
5. Andy Serkis (War for the Planet of the Apes)
The master of motion capture pulled off his greatest performance yet as Caesar in Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes. There’s a depth and expressiveness in Serkis’ performance so that even the slightest movement of eyes or twitch of the mouth carries a message that has more impact than words ever could. Serkis’ evolution across three films and the subtle and major changes that Caesar undergoes form one of modern cinema’s greatest character arcs, and we feel every layer of emotion. Despite the technology at work, there’s no separation between Serkis’ mo-cap performances and the best traditional performances of any other actor and it’s time for film committees to start recognizing that.
4. Margot Robbie (I,Tonya)
Margot Robbie further stepped away from the blonde bombshell image Hollywood tried to place her in with her compassionate and multi-faceted take on infamous “white trash” ice queen, Tonya Harding. As Harding, Robbie earns both sympathy and disgust in her role as the foul-mouthed Harding, whose life-long abuse gave her the drive to achieve stardom, and allowed her to survive the fall when it was over. Robbie easily moves in and out of the perceptions of Harding that Craig Gillespie highlights in the film, allowing her to play both innocent victim and crazed villain in a way that allows her to find the truth between the two spectrums and form a complete look at an individual so many of us had made up our minds about.
3. Daniel Kaluya and Alison Williams
I’m cheating here, but Daniel Kaluuya and Alison Williams’ performances in Jordan Peele’s Get Out support each other to the point where neither would be as impactful without the other. Because the film is so founded on race relations, Chris and Rose’s relationship portrays a necessarily complex look at modern racism, and involves a fair bit of role-playing from both parties. Take the scene with the cop in the beginning of the movie for example and watch how Kaluuya tries remove any sense of threat from Chris in his attempt to be as amicable as possible, while Rose is combative, trying assert her “wokeness” in a way that puts Chris in jeopardy. This continues throughout the film, creating an unease that’s just as founded in performance as it is Peele’s filmmaking.
2. James Franco
Franco, who has made an impressive shift from Hollywood heartthrob to eccentric artist, takes on the most the eccentric artist in our film landscape with his take on Tommy Wiseau. Franco, who directed the film in character, embraces Wiseau’s weirdness, in not only an imitation of the director/actor’s voice and movement, but also changes his physical appearance to greater resemble Wiseau. While I’m not sure how Franco quite achieved Wiseau’s lazy eye, the fact that he so fully gives himself over to the role displays his commitment. Beyond that, Franco isn’t interested in just presenting a caricature or a parody of an odd individual, but a heartfelt and empathetic tribute to an artist just trying to make it in this country.
1. Sally Hawkins
Sally Hawkins’ completely silent role as Elisa in del Toro’s The Shape of Water is one of those performances that speaks right to your heart because it’s so oddly endearing. There’s such purposeful beauty and grace in her performance, and every movement is delicate and decisive, framed by the larger decisions that serve her actions. But even in her muteness, there’s a fierceness in which Hawkins portrays Elisa, a strong willed sense of self and morality in a world where such aspects are crumbling around her.