Terence and Robert continue their discussion of last year’s best film performances, starting with the trainwreck that the Oscar race for Best Lead Actor has devolved into and the overwhelming number of phenomenal acting from women we were blessed with…
Terence: What a group of (relatively) un-problematic people we’ve chosen to highlight! It killed me to leave Daveed Diggs out but I did love his work in Blindspotting.
Robert: The Oscar race for Best Actor this year has been just so depressing to witness. So many examples of interesting character work last year, and it’s boiled down to biopic mimicry in two bad movies.
Terence: Yeah, looking back on the decade and we’ve really only had two good winners (Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln and Jean Dujardin for The Artist) and with Rami Malek seemingly coasting towards a win, we will stay at two. Him finally “addressing” working with Singer probably sewed it up for him. My list is far from the Oscars this year, but Bradley Cooper made yours.
Robert: I am at a loss to understand Cooper’s inability to win any major precursors. As far as I’m concerned, he gave the best performance of any leading man last year. Maybe there’s something about him that people don’t like, but as you mentioned with Rami Malek, at least he’s not having to sheepishly explain his willingness to work with a monster to thoroughly disgrace the memory of one of the greatest LGBT icons of the 20th century.
But enough about bad choices, let’s talk about our good ones. Starting with the fact that there are three performances directed by women cited by us! If there are any actors reading this piece, if you take no other message from us, take this: SEEK OUT WOMEN DIRECTORS! You’ll be surprised at what they can get out of you.
Terence: The most famous of them is Joaquin Phoenix, who I normally have a tough time with ’cause I always feel like his acting choices are ACTING choices, but he was spectacular in You Were Never Really Here. Every moment rang true. One thing I noticed with him and to some extent Adriano Tardiolo in Happy as Lazzaro is how their performances are grounded in the fabric of the movie. I think with male directors the more violent and fantastical elements would have been at the forefront rather than the grounding performances. I think having women direct their movies certainly gave them a different opportunity in how to act.
Robert: The only performance you’ve cited that I have not seen yet is The Old Man and the Gun. How does this stack up against Robert Redford’s other top tier performances? Is this a peak for him?
Terence: Robert Redford in this movie reminded me of Brad Pitt in Moneyball, a bonafide movie star using their presence to great effect. The Old Man and the Gun really feels like a distillation of all his best qualities into one performance. There’s an ease to his acting, he’s super charming, but he still crafts a full character.
Robert: So it’s not as high-wire and frazzled as, say, what Alex Wolff does in Hereditary?
Terence: HA! Definitely not. I didn’t even know there was another Wolff (his brother Nat was in that dreadful Death Note movie) but he’s become my favorite of the two. He really gets to go for it with Hereditary. I liked that the movie treated that character like the high schooler he was, he gave the best pitiful performance of the year. You truly felt the terror he was experiencing, like in that first seance scene.
Wolff aside, we both seem to have gone for the soulful performances this year. Ben Foster was really affecting in Leave No Trace, as was Stephan James in If Beale Street Could Talk.
Robert: Leave No Trace has been unfairly ignored in general (though thankfully, it did just win a USC Scripter Award). Part of that is Bleecker Street’s fault for making its case for the movie with half-hearted ambivalence and its enragingly bad-faith effort to campaign Thomasin McKenzie as a “supporting” actress in the movie, but it’s still frustrating to see Foster topping himself yet again, communicating so much pain and heartache with very little dialogue, and the result is once again barely any recognition to show for it.
Terence: I’m convinced Foster is gonna have to wait till he’s, like, 70, to truly get the appreciation he deserves.
Robert: So now I have to ask, if you had to pick a “winner” among those five you singled out, who takes it?
Terence: I am a Burning stan so Yoo Ah-in takes this in a cakewalk.
Robert: I definitely give him credit for playing such a tough character. Lee Jong-su is a protagonist with such a limited perspective, and a maddeningly foggy, unclear sense of what he’s even investigating in the second half of the movie, that I wouldn’t even know what Ah-in and Chang-dong worked out among themselves to keep any progressive sense of him.
Terence: I could watch Ah-in stare in confusion and uncertainty all day!
Robert: Well, would you look at that — the one member of If Beale Street Could Talk‘s ensemble who I didn’t totally fall for is the only one you’ve cited anywhere.
Terence: KiKi Layne, to me, is a star in the making. She had to carry so much of the movie both on camera and in the voice over. I was quite enamored with her work in the movie.
Robert: I do hope this is the start of a big career for Layne. How many promising African-American actresses have we seen in just this decade not take off or get the kind of offers they deserved? I still can’t believe we haven’t seen Gugu Mbatha-Raw everywhere in the wake of her big breakouts in Beyond the Lights and Belle.
Ditto for Constance Wu in Crazy Rich Asians, while we’re at it. Asian-American performers get ignored by casting agents and awards bodies way too often.
Terence: Gugu is coming back this year, hopefully, with Fast Color.
And yes, how awesome was it to see that the two big rom coms of the year were headed up by Asian American actresses? The work that Wu and Condor got to do in their movies was really fascinating. You wanted both of those characters to find the love they deserved. I also liked that both Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before let them present the full breadth of their characters. I didn’t feel like either woman had to hold back or play stock characters.
Robert: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is another one of my blind spots, I’m embarrassed to admit. Crazy Rich Asians I did see, and liked way more than I thought I would. I’m usually allergic to romantic comedies where the set up is “So on top of being impossibly charming and handsome, you’re also loaded? Argh, why didn’t you TELL ME?!” So imagine my relief when Crazy Rich Asians had a lot more on its mind than just wealth porn.
Terence: Both movies lean into the fact that their characters are Asian, who knew that by aiming to be specific with your characters, that you can actually be universal?
Speaking of blindspots, I missed Support the Girls, but I’ve always liked Regina Hall.
Robert: Support the Girls is kind of a messy film, but it fulfills every bit of the promise Regina Hall showed with Girls Trip and then some. Margaret’s mounting stress in actually achieving that vaunted “work/life balance” is pulled off with such precision by her, but she always seems at ease with the material to make it all conveyed naturally and with the more improvisational feel of the rest of the movie.
Terence: That’s great to hear. Looking over our lists and I am really struck by the amount of things actresses are expected to do and get to do. Though I think this year was good for the men, the actresses always get to be more interesting. I’m thinking particularly about Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade because we have seen the coming of age tale about young boys and yet I think I identified more with her plight in that movie than any other coming-of-age tale.
Robert: I was especially blown away when I learned that all of Fisher’s “umms” and “ahs” and awkward pauses and fidgeting, which I just assumed was improvised by her on the spot, were written in the script.
Terence: Wow, I didn’t know that! I’m interested to know what made Colman the standout to you among the three lead performances in The Favourite?
Robert: The Favourite is a movie I feel I “should” love but can only end up liking when I recall it. All three LEADS are very strong in the movie, but Colman, to me, takes the most risks and has to balance the widest variety of tonal and emotional registers.
Sarah and Abigail, as compelling as they are, ultimately have pretty easy-to-track motivations and their reactions to the obstacles and opportunities in their way. Queen Anne is the one having to deal with the tug-of-war resulting from their clear-cut agendas, and has to convincingly play off of them in a way that’s funny and sad and scary, all while also portraying a deteriorating mind and body, to the point where she’s essentially playing a child by the end. It’s an extraordinary set of demands for any actress, and she pulls every one of them off and manages to delve deeper still.
Terence: I am with you on only just liking that movie. Of the group Weisz is my MVP, but Colman is a strong runner up. I am fascinated to see who is going to win the Oscar this year. Glenn seems to be way out in front, but Colman or McCarthy, who you’ve also highlighted, are considerable threats to win
Robert: I think Glenn Close will take it in the end, and I’m… fine with that. Honestly, I’ll be happy for her. She’s been doing great work for many years and has always wanted to win one. The only thing that bothers me is The Wife itself is kind of a rubbish movie. I understand great performances can come out of terrible films, but it’s still kind of a bum asterisk on an awards narrative I would otherwise be perfectly happy see play out.
As for Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, I’m just happy she got nominated at all. It’s already hard enough to even make a movie about a middle-aged, financially-struggling gay woman, Marielle Heller’s last movie barely received any awards attention, and I assumed McCarthy’s nomination for Bridesmaids would be the only time she’d ever be cited.
Terence: McCarthy really was quite good in that film. She never once tries to make her character “likable” and we still root for her deception the entire time. I had a feeling she’d be back one day but you are right, with this type of character, it seemed like a long shot.
I know Jessie Buckley never had a shot in hell at making the list but I want to give her shoutout because she had a hard challenge in Beast. It’s like a repressed woman + women who lie to themselves story and she got every beat so right.
Robert: “Repressed women who lie to themselves” present some of the best opportunities for actresses. So do “repressed women who allow their unaddressed grief consume their families in a demonic curse.”
Terence: Toni Collette might have given one of the best performances of the decade in Hereditary, and my winner this year. There is not one moment where she isn’t honest, even when the character is saying some awful things or experiencing crazy things. I felt every emotion possible watching her on screen.
Robert: She really goes for it. I can sort of understand how she got passed over, since her movie was a mercilessly brutal horror film, but that she was even in the conversation is a sign of how much of an impact she made on even genre-averse awards bodies.
Terence: It was always a pipe dream but a wonderful one. I am going to assume that Theron in Tully is your winner then?
Robert: It’s a tough call in my mind between McCarthy, Fisher, and Colman if I had to single out “the best.” Not that Theron isn’t terrific! Tully is, to me, her finest hour on screen since Monster.
2018 was just a really, really, really strong year for lead actresses.
And so closes out Terence and Robert’s discussion of their favorite performances of 2018. Keep checking in as their talk of the best cinematic achievements of 2018 continues, and let us know who gave your favorite lead performances in the comments!
Author: Robert Hamer, CC2K Staff Writer
Robert Hamer is CC2K’s resident opinion columnist. In addition to being a self-centered 30 year-old white man living in northeastern suburbia who obsesses over movies and nerd culture ephemera, he also works to ensure Donald Trump does not succeed in permanently destroying the United States.