It’s already July, which means we are over half way through another year of movies! Although there are a ton left to see before the year is up, there are plenty of great movies that have already come out this year. At the heart of those films are some really incredible performances. We pick nine of the best performances of the year.
Hugh Jackman, ‘Logan’
Hugh Jackman is no stranger to the character of Wolverine. Before Logan was released in theaters this year, Jackman had played the character in eight separate movies. However, even after eight movies released across 17 years, Jackman still found a way to make his portrayal feel fresh and new. Unlike the previous installments of the X-Men franchise, Logan showed audiences a much different side of this iconic superhero.
Rather than put the Wolverine first, the film focused on Logan himself. In other words, Jackman was given the opportunity to do more with the role than he ever had before. The result is impressive. Jackman mines the role for depth and as a result, discovers something not often seen in the X-Men franchise: vulnerability.
Where to watch: Available for rent or purchase.
Kristen Stewart, ‘Personal Shopper’
It’s been nearly five years since the last installment in the Twilight franchise was released in theaters and Kristen Stewart has been working hard ever since. Her credits include critical favorites like Clouds of Sils Maria and Certain Women. Her transition from the star of a vampire-romance series to an art house movie star has met with wild success and her work in Personal Shopper is just the most recent testament to that.
Stewart plays Maureen, a personal assistant for a model and a medium trying to contact her dead brother. In both concept and execution, the movie is rather unorthodox, but what Stewart does with the role is remarkable to watch. She offers so much to the audience by playing the role in such a genuine and honest way. Kristen’s naturalistic acting ticks and tendencies feel at home here, grounding the film’s more unbelievable moments.
She takes a role that could have easily felt artificial and makes it real. What’s more impressive is the way she’s able to fill scenes in the film that would otherwise feel empty. The story gives her almost nothing and no one to act against except sometimes a cell phone, but even in isolation Stewart shines.
Where to watch: Available for rent or purchase
Michael Fassbender, ‘Alien: Covenant’
The Alien franchise has not given way to many memorable performances. Save for Sigourney Weaver’s performance as Alice Ripley, the series has never been too interested in the actors’ performances. Michael Fassbender, however, seems intent on changing that. In this year’s Alien: Covenant, Fassbender played two characters – David and Walter. Rather than play them as polar opposites, Fassbender gives the two characters various similarities and differences that create a really compelling, interconnected dynamic.
Between the two characters, he adds equal measures of levity and menace, intrigue and camp to a film that’s mostly composed of characters that are blank canvases. Even more remarkable is the way Fassbender comes alive in the scenes where he plays against himself. It’s a feat that not many actors could pull off, but Fassbender does it with ease, cementing himself as the most memorable part of this new era of the franchise.
Where to watch: Available on Digital HD on August 1, 2017 and DVD/Blu-ray on August 15, 2017.
Cynthia Nixon, ‘A Quiet Passion’
Directed by Terence Davies (The Long Day Closes, Sunset Song), A Quiet Passion slipped in and out of select theaters early this spring, but Cynthia Nixon’s performance as poet Emily Dickinson left a lasting impression on those audiences who saw it. While A Quiet Passion was marketed as an Emily Dickinson biopic, Davies achieves far more than that; he turns a depiction of Emily’s life into an examination of the human condition.
Cynthia Nixon becomes Emily in a way that extends beyond a physical transformation; she allows herself to be a conduit for an enormous range of human emotion, leaving other performances looking one dimensional in comparison. Nixon expertly conveys Emily’s constant struggle against society, her family, and herself. Nixon demonstrates such an understanding of and empathy for Emily’s struggle that the audience cannot help feel the struggle themselves. The way Nixon takes someone like Emily Dickinson, a historical figure of mythical proportions, and grounds her in truth is extraordinary to behold.
Where to watch: Available on Digital HD, DVD, and Blu-ray on July 11, 2017.
Daniel Kaluuya, ‘Get Out’
Get Out hit the zeitgeist this year in a way films rarely do. It is a unique blend of social commentary and horror-comedy that struck like lightning in theaters this spring. Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, a black man taking a weekend trip to meet his white girlfriend’s parents.
His performance is akin to walking a tightrope. As a character, Chris balances several different facades and roles within the story. As an actor, Kaluuya operates as both a lens for audiences to view the story and an anchor for the film’s social commentary. Balancing the intersection of these roles is not an easy accomplishment, but Kaluuya threads the needle in a way that resonates. The role demands vulnerability and Kaluuya delivers.
There is perhaps no image that defines the film more than Kaluuya’s wide eyes staring forward into the camera filled with tears and fear. Audiences left the theater with that image still in their minds and that is a testament to the strength of Kaluuya’s performance and his embodiment of the character.
Where to watch: Available for rent or purchase
Nicole Kidman, ‘The Beguiled’
To say that 2017 has been the year of Nicole Kidman would be an understatement. Nicole Kidman has allowed the world to rediscover her talent in big ways this year. After earning an Oscar nomination for Lion and a hit HBO miniseries Big Little Lies, Kidman is now starring in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled. Her work is one of several great performances in the film – Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and Colin Farrell all deliver fantastic performances as well.
But it’s Kidman’s portrayal of the headmistress of an all-female Southern boarding school that stands out from the rest. She plays the character with sharp wit and unyielding authority, asserting her power over her peers and pupils. Kidman appears at home in the world Coppola creates. She bears much of the responsibility for how fully formed the atmosphere of the school is. Moreover, she plays the character with great range; some moments are played with camp, some for laughs, and others with outright terror. The Beguiled may not be Nicole Kidman’s best performance. It may not even be her best performance this year. But it’s still a sheer delight to see an actor on the top of their game.
Where to watch: Now in theaters
Charlie Hunnam, ‘The Lost City of Z’
Director James Gray returned to the big screen this year with The Lost City of Z. Starring Charlie Hunnam as Percy Fawcett, the film follows one man’s devout search for purpose in the midst of the chaos and turmoil in his life. Charlie Hunnam does some career best work in the film. He is challenged in ways audiences haven’t seen before. Unlike some of his more successful projects like The Sons of Anarchy or Pacific Rim, Hunnam’s looks are of little consequence to the story. Hunnam spends most of the film trudging through the Amazon rain forest, beleaguered and near death.
The Lost City of Z is the tale of an explorer searching for something he may never find and Hunnam’s performance is inspired. He vacillates between determined and devastated, open-minded and obstinate, but he is always authentic. That authenticity is essential for the audience, ensuring that they believe in the film’s adventure. It’s an adventure with little payoff, but Hunnam understands that. As time passes in the film, Hunnam’s performance change from youthful vigor to an old-age assuredness. Through his performance, he articulates to the audience that the search for purpose is bound to be more rewarding the any achievement.
Where to watch: Now available on Digital HD. DVD and Blu-ray release on July 11, 2017.
Holly Hunter, ‘The Big Sick’
If you haven’t heard the name Holly Hunter before, you’re in for a big surprise. Holly Hunter is the star of some really incredible movies including The Piano and Broadcast News and this year, she appears alongside Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan in The Big Sick. The movie tells the story of one couple’s struggle with cultural differences and an unforeseen illness as their romance grows.
Hunter plays Beth, the fierce, overprotective, quick-witted mother to Emily. It is a supporting role that might have been easily looked over if played by anyone else, but Hunter brings something really special to the table. From the minute her character is introduced, she brings a fresh energy to the film. Unlike the protagonists of the film that are understandably young and naïve, Hunter offers a more defined, astute perspective that doesn’t cave to the film’s more saccharine sensibilities. She is always frank, but entirely genuine. Hunter takes a minor role and runs away with it, stealing the spotlight in almost every scene she’s in.
Where to watch: Now in theaters
Jake Gyllenhaal, ‘Okja’
Most of the performances on this list are notable for how successfully they contribute to the very foundation of the film, but Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as Johnny Wilcox in Bong Joon-ho’s Okja is a performance of immensely hyperbolic proportions. You have never seen Jake Gyllenhaal like this. With a thick mustache, high waisted shorts, wild eyes, and a wide-brimmed hat, Gyllenhaal feels like a cartoon character brought to life and he milks every moment. He brings a chaotic attitude and comical accent to the role. Every second he is on screen is electric.
Joon-ho seems fond of these larger than life characters. In his 2013 film Snowpiercer, Tilda Swinton played Mason with a similar level of exaggeration. Gyllenhaal’s performance as Johnny Wilcox has met with some criticism for being too over the top. However, without Gyllenhaal’s over-the-top performance, Okja would lack a necessary balance.
Whereas most of the film depends on vague sentimentality to convince the audience to root for Okja, Wilcox represents a necessary evil ensuring Okja receives the audience’s sympathy. Gyllenhaal understands the function of his character and pushes it to the very limit. In the process, he does some of the best character work of his career.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix
Melanie Lynskey, ‘I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore’
Macon Blair’s I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January, was released on Netflix less than a month later and promptly forgotten about. It’s a wacky little movie that aims for laughter and bloodshed in equal measure. At the heart of the film is Melanie Lynskey. She plays Ruth, a depressed woman who becomes obsessed with tracking down the individuals responsible for burglarizing her home.
The movie itself is by no means a must see, but Lynskey finds something worthwhile in the material. She turns what might otherwise be a superficial role into a truly poignant performance. As the film escalates the violence, Lynskey’s Ruth remains distinctly normal; she does not feel superhuman or heroic, but astoundingly ordinary. There is something very admirable about Lynkey’s devotion to that and it makes it one of the most rewarding performances of the year to watch.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix