With another year of movies almost behind us, we break down the 20 best performances in movies from 2018.
One of the worst side effects of the revolving conversation about potential Oscar nominees is that, as the year goes on, the list of potential candidates slowly shrinks. Too often, the choices reek of the safe and familiar, which always leaves out a lot of really incredible performances.
This is especially frustrating for those great performances in smaller movies that — either by lack of money or influence — never manage to succeed in getting their names into the conversation.
However, 2018 had no shortage of special performances. From acting newcomers to awards veterans, check out our list of the 20 best performances in movies from 2018.
The best performances in movies from 2018
Several newcomers let their talent shine on screen this year in new and unexpected ways. Easily the biggest name in the bunch is Lady Gaga making her feature film debut in the newest remake of A Star Is Born. Lady Gaga’s performance is one of the most popular of the year as she pivots from rock star to budding actress. From anyone else, this might be an unwelcome change, but her performance is so good that it’s impossible not to root for her.
Whereas Lady Gaga made her film debut with more than a decade of fame behind her, more traditional newcomers stunned audiences with their work this year. Lorenzo Ferro’s performance in Luis Ortega’s Argentinian crime drama The Angel is downright devilish, successfully working to excite and intimidate the audience.
Elsie Fisher’s role in Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is also notable, particularly for how convincing her performance feels. She perfectly depicts all the struggles and insecurities that come with being in the eighth grade and not knowing who you are or where you’re going.
That same authenticity can be found in Yalitza Aparicio’s performance in Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma. Aparicio plays Cleo, a housekeeper for a family in Mexico City in the 1970s. Her performance is beautifully naturalistic, representing the best of what Roma has to offer.
Helena Howard offers a stunning performance in Madeline’s Madeline. The film itself is a daring and experimental examination of identity, trauma, and even performance itself. Howard gives a bold performance that reverberates with a unique and unmatched energy.
On the other hand, this year we also saw performances from actors who, although not necessarily newcomers, stole the spotlight for the first time in their careers by landing roles that showcased their skills making them some of the best performances in movies from 2018.
For example, Broadway favorite Cynthia Erivo landed not one but two killer roles this year in Bad Times at the El Royale and Widows. These roles, particularly in El Royale, showcased Erivo’s talent for playing believably good-hearted and earnest characters that make for great protagonists.
Thomasin McKenzie and Charlie Plummer, both of whom started as child actors, gave poignant performances in Leave No Trace and Lean on Pete. Although the plots of these movies are drastically different, they both follow teens struggling to find a safe place in the world. Their performances bring the stories to life and render them with aching beauty.
Several veteran actors gave performances this year that either reminded us of their unique talents or shed an entirely new light on their skill. One of the year’s strongest contenders is Ethan Hawke for his role in Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. The film focuses on a very modern set of anxieties — including climate change, political unrest, and more. Hawke is a stellar lens through which to view these crises. If there’s any justice, Hawke will walk away with an Oscar early next year.
However, if anyone might upset Hawke’s Oscar dreams, it’s Bradley Cooper for A Star Is Born. Say what you will about the film, but Cooper’s performance is one of the best of the year. While it’s tempting to give all the credit to his co-star, Cooper’s performance as an alcoholic rock star in love gives the movie an added layer of conflict that only enhances the film.
Toni Collette gave what is perhaps the most unsettling performance of the year in Ari Aster’s horror film Hereditary. Collette plays a mother whose life spirals into chaos after her own mother’s death. The movie is a phenomenal showcase of Collette’s talent. She has always been an actress willing to take risks and embrace the weirder side to acting; Hereditary is no exception.
Regina Hall gave what is arguably a career-best performance in Support the Girls, a humble indie film about a manager at a highway-side sports grill not unlike Hooters. Despite poor management and bad customers, not to mention a crumbling personal life, Hall’s character makes it a priority to take care of everyone else, especially her girls. The film is a poignant look into one woman’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day that will leave you feeling less alone and a little more optimistic about the world.
In Private Life, the newest feature from writer-director Tamara Jenkins about a couple struggling to conceive, Kathryn Hahn gives a beautifully rendered, remarkably vulnerable performance. The role calls for a unique blend of comedic and dramatic energy that allows Hahn to thrive, drawing upon her unique skill set.
In Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Melissa McCarthy reinvents herself and challenges our expectations. This is McCarthy as you have never seen her, a far cry and far superior performance to her Oscar-nominated role in Bridesmaids. Playing a struggling writer who begins forging literary artifacts for money, McCarthy will surprise you with this incredible performance.
Some of the other great performances this year were from younger actors who only came into their own in the last year or so. Just last year both Daniel Kaluuya and Timothee Chalamet were Oscar-nominated for their roles. This year, they’ve proved themselves to be among the best performances in movies from 2018.
In Beautiful Boy, Timothee Chalamet plays a young man struggling with meth addiction. Chalamet’s performance is thunderous; he possesses a rare skill to make himself so deeply vulnerable that he pulls the audience with him. While the film often fails to measure up to Chalamet, it remains a moving story.
Widows actors Daniel Kaluuya and Elizabeth Debicki — whose characters barely interact in the movie — are the standouts from the star-studded cast. They both exhibit an incredible energy in the film, totally changing the atmosphere and demanding the spotlight whenever they enter the frame. They should both be in the running for Supporting Actor awards. Not to mention that both actors also starred in hit projects earlier this year: Kaluuya in Black Panther and Debicki in HBO’s The Tale.
Brian Tyree Henry, also a member of the Widows cast, became one of my favorite supporting actors of the year with his performance in Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk.. Although he appears in only a few scenes, his performance embodies Jenkins’ poetic sensibilities. Regina King’s performance in the same film is equally as stunning.
Sometimes there are movies where the whole cast is working together so perfectly that it’s silly to discuss the strength of one actor when the rest of the cast is working on the same level. This year there were several films that allowed their casts to share the wealth, playing off and against one another to create an impeccable world of real and fully defined characters.
The first, and perhaps most obvious, is Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite. Emma Stone, Olivia Colman, and Rachel Weisz are a force to be reckoned with as the leading women of this film. This movie would not be what it is without these actresses who are all working at the top of their game.
Another cast of women delivered the year’s most terrifying movie: Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria. With leading performances from Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton, and supporting performances from Mia Goth, Chloe Grace Moretz, Elena Fokina, and Angela Winkler, Suspiria is a stunning and horrifying creation that wouldn’t be what it is without the superior performances from this cast. They all bring an unmatched electricity to this nightmare filled with dancing witches.
Finally, it would be plain wrong not to mention the cast of Lee Chang-dong’s newest masterpiece Burning. Although a Korean film, American audiences are surely familiar with Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead, who delivers one of the best performances in movies from 2018. Along with Korean stars Yoo Ah-in and Jun Jong-seo, Burning only works because of these performers. Each actor brings an uncanny interiority to each character, bringing the script to life in fascinating and haunting ways.