Holly Hunter bleeds fearlessness and empowerment in everything she does. Beth was no exception. Hunter portrayed a mother carefully and angrily navigating her daughter’s illness with such brave honesty.
19. Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water
Octavia Spencer will not back down. Her characters have voices that demand to be heard. Watching Zelda help her best friend, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), pull off something absurd was one of the great cinema joys of 2017.
18. Michelle Pfeiffer – mother!
Contrary to popular belief, there was some fun to be found in mother! Watching Michelle Pfeiffer glide from room to room with side eyes, impeccable shade, and dangerous stares was fun indeed. Pfeiffer’s still got it, now give her more.
17. Elisabeth Moss – The Square
What I loved about Anne is that she was at times bewildered and at times bewildering. You never knew what emotional response she was going to throw at you, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
16. Sienna Miller – The Lost City of Z
There’s a fine line between hope and delusion, and Miller toed it gracefully as Nina. I could watch a whole movie dedicated to her character in this film. I love the direction Miller has taken her career these past few years. More roles, please.
15. Hong Chau – Downsizing
I hadn’t heard of Chau before she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her work in Downsizing, but after seeing the film, her nomination was clearly well earned. Ngoc Lan Tran is a farcical character, but one that was ultimately given so much depth. She’s easily one of my favorite characters Alexander Payne has penned yet.
14. Kristen Stewart – Personal Shopper
After a wonderfully assured supporting performance in Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart was front and center in Personal Shopper. Maureen’s ever-evolving arc of confused, scared, angry and sad made for one hell of a compelling watch. The way she plays the film’s final scene made me wish the movie had kept going, all while knowing it ended exactly where it should.
13. Rooney Mara – A Ghost Story | Una | Song to Song
Few performers can crush us with a look quite like Rooney Mara. Of her 2017 work, she had the most to do in Una, but, sadly, that movie was barely seen. All told, these three performances were yet another reminder that Mara’s capacity for emotional expression is seemingly limitless
12. Saoirse Ronan & Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
I occasionally group performances together not because it’s convenient, but because each actor does their best work in that respective film when playing off each other. At least that is true of Metcalf in Lady Bird, whose Marion kept her family afloat through hard work and occasional frustration. Many of us have known that Ronan was force to be reckoned with since her turn in Atonement 10 years ago. She has only excelled since then, ultimately reaching her new peak as a performer as Lady Bird.
11.Tiffany Haddish – Girls Trip
No performer made me laugh harder in 2017 than Tiffany Haddish. Haddish has been in the game for a long while, but damn if her Dina wasn’t a perfect way for Haddish to reintroduce herself. Also, props to Haddish’s Girls Trip co-stars for stepping out of the way and letting Haddish own the film. We’re going to see a lot more of Haddish from here on out. And we’re all better for it.
10. Garance Marillier – Raw
Raw premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival which means it was likely filmed in 2015, which means Marillier was 17 years old when this movie was shot. Seventeen. That’s insane. For my money, you can stack Marillier’s fearless, manic energy up against any performer from this year.
9. Brooklynn Prince & Bria Vinaite – The Florida Project
Vinaite’s work as a white trash young mother was reminiscent of the types of performances Andrea Arnold is so good at capturing. I believed her every misguided decision. And Prince, my god, what strength, what command. Her final scene in this film was a masterclass of raw emotion.
8. Margot Robbie & Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Allison Janney is always flawless, in any genre. Her vile LaVona was no exception, and if Janney’s Oscar is indeed waiting, you won’t hear any complaints from me. Margot Robbie, I believe, was still in the “prove yourself” phase of her career, and took this role (both as an actor and producer) with ferocious gusto. As far as I’m concerned, Robbie’s craft has very much been proven.
7. Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game
I love Jessica Chastain and I love Aaron Sorkin, and watching them work together was a great joy of 2017. I didn’t see a false note in Chastain’s Molly Bloom. She was smart, determined, and impeccably strong, but also pervious to fear and regret. Molly’s Game was two hours and 20 minutes long and I could’ve watched Chastain kill it for double that.
6. Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Tough. Tough. Tough. That’s what comes through initially when watching this film. But upon revisiting Three Billboards, I found myself so shaken by Mildred’s sadness. McDormand has many stellar scenes in the film, but her violent reaction to watching the billboards burn down fucking rattled me. The way she yells, “Robbie!” My God.
5. Jennifer Lawrence – mother!
It isn’t my desire to take anything away from Lawrence’s previous work (namely in Winter’s Bone), but what she did in mother! so wildly surpasses anything she’s done before. It’s hard to think of many actors (male and female) who would risk going where she did in this movie.
4. Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
“Cyril is always right,” her brother, Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis) says early in Phantom Thread. That’s true of Manville’s cold yet caring work as Cyril, but also of Manville herself. This is a performer who makes big choices in every role (see her work in Mike Leigh’s films for further examples). Her main choice in Phantom Thread was to observe. She’s quiet, austere, and so very intelligent. I loved (loved, loved) Manville’s scenes with Day-Lewis. They were born to play off each other.
3. Vicky Krieps – Phantom Thread
You get the idea very early on that famed dress maker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) has spent a lifetime loving and discarding weak-willed women. With Alma, he meets his match. Someone who can stand up to him and match his attitude day by day, word for word. I had never heard of Krieps before seeing this film, and now I can’t get her out of my mind. Why isn’t Krieps more in the discussion for awards? She stood toe-to-toe with the best, and excelled.
2. Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Oh, Sally. What graceful command she has on the screen. What quiet presence and reserved emotion. I’ve loved her since she played Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky, and here, as the tender, helpful Elisa, she seriously outdid herself. She carried a big movie with big ideas on her shoulders, and she did it with utter grace. If Frances McDormand is to win the Best Actress Oscar, I won’t be complaining, but my vote would go to Hawkins. What a truly beautiful performance this was.
1. Tatiana Maslany – Stronger
Before Stronger, I had never seen Tatiana Maslany act before. I missed her Emmy-winning work in Orphan Black (which I must now correct), as well as her dozens of other performances. But as I sat and watched Stronger, I simply could not believe how strong her performance was. Erin is a woman who would not back down under any circumstance. She spoke her mind and she spoke her truth, with complete and utter power.
There’s a scene in Stronger, and it should be one of the scenes of the year, in which Erin’s boyfriend, Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal), has his bandages removed following an amputation. The scene is captured in one shot, entirely from Jeff’s point of view. But in the middle of the scene, as Jeff wails out in agony, Maslany’s face slowly comes into frame, getting right next to Gyllenhaal’s face. The camera doesn’t find Maslany, she finds the camera. I can’t explain it, but the way Maslany entered the frame in that moment was one of the defining film moments of 2017 for me. I literally sat upright in my seat, and watched Maslany selflessly enter the scene, and quietly take the entire movie over. Why is no one talking about this performance?. She should be in the running for every award, period. But, alas, I cannot wait to see where Maslany goes from here.
2017 in Review