This was a great year for men embodying animal characters, be it Doug Jones in The Shape of Water, or Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes. But the award for most animalistic performance has to go to Terry Notary in The Square. His lone scene as a living apeman art installation freaked me out as much as everyone Oleg “performed” for. Notary’s scene in The Square was one of the scenes of the year, thanks much in part to Notary’s go-for-broke work.
19. Billy Magnussen – Ingrid Goes West
I can’t remember the last time I saw a better incarnation of an L.A. bro than Magnussen’s Nicky Sloane. Pumped up, obnoxious, hypocritical, dependent on substances – Magnussen was so believable, I actually thought he was that guy. I had so much fun hate-loving this character.
18. Hugh Jackman – Logan
Superhero movies don’t often give actors much to do, other than react to images being digitally added to a green screen, but Jackman’s forlorn turn as the titular Logan was a great reminder that, if given the proper material, a great actor can excel in any role.
17. Michael Shannon & Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
What an arc Shannon had in The Shape of Water. When you stack up his initial, viciously insensitive monologue to his final line of the film, much of The Shape of Water clicks into context. Jenkins, inversely, was the heart of the film. These are two drastically different performances that ultimately reached the same destination. This is a movie about redemption, and understanding.
16. Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
It’s all about those eyes. The way Kaluuya, as Chris, would turn his head so far in one direction, then dart his eyes the other way, it’s as if Chris knew nothing was ever fully on the up and up. Kaluuya tapped into Chris’ confusion so well, it made us dread what was ultimately coming.
15. James Franco – The Disaster Artist
I believed it. I believed the transformation, the voice, the movement, the absurdity. And hell, what can I say, it impressed me, and it made me laugh out loud throughout. God only knows what will happen if this performance lands an Oscar nomination on Tuesday.
14. Claes Band – The Square
How much does your behavior affect what happens to you? If you behave like an entitled prick, are you destined for bad fortune? Or, if you live peacefully, is it guaranteed that life will treat you kindly? Those are the waters Christian wades through throughout The Square. I’m still not sure what this movie was all about, but I loved watching Band navigate through it.
13. Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
The Old White Guys Sit and Argue genre is one of my least favorite types of films, but damn if Oldman didn’t live up to the hype here. Gary Oldman has been fully immersing himself into roles for 30 years, and if Winston Churchill is to finally be the man’s ticket to the golden stage, then let it be so.
12. Jason Mitchell – Mudbound
There’s a scene in Mubound where Mitchell’s Ronsel is reminiscing about his time in the war, specifically concerning how European white women treated him better than American white women. There’s a longing in his delivery, a nostalgia in his silence. “But that was then and this is now, and I guess I’m right where I should be. Yep. Right where I need to be. Throwin’ my life away.” My God, what harsh acceptance.
11. Colin Farrell – The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Colin Farrell was the audience’s voice in The Killing of a Sacred Deer. His Steven called out all the shit we didn’t understand, and the reasons we didn’t understand it, which made Steven’s ultimate, brutal acceptance of the truth that much more devastating. I’m so thrilled Farrell’s career has evolved to where it is now.
There’s Tom Hardy acting with his eye, Mark Rylance yelling “Maybe!” with such conviction, and Kenneth Branagh staring at the sky in horror. All great work. But the real acting key to Dunkirk were the boys on the beach. Their young, pale, terrified faces formed as one collective soldier trying to live for one more minute. The fear in their eyes was so palpable. I mean hell, can you imagine?
9. Michael Stuhlbarg – Call Me By Your Name
Make no mistake, Michael Stuhlbarg is the fuckin’ man, and has been for years. He’s played confused, angry, and worked up as well as anyone this past decade, but damn if his quiet, understanding turn in Call Me By Your Name didn’t amount to some of his finest work yet.
8. Will Poulter – Detroit
Perhaps the most vile film character of 2017. This was an embodiment of pure, raciest evil. Poulter delivered such convincing work that it was genuinely hard to watch. Does a psychopath know they’re insane? It’s an age-old question of psychology: Are people aware of their own behavior? I would, in theory, be interested in watching an entire movie about this guy. I just don’t know if I could stomach it.
7. Jeremy Renner – Wind River
Wind River was a hopelessly bleak film that reached a devastating conclusion. Throughout the film, we’re asked to rely on Cory Lambert for emotional support, which Renner issued in stride. This is a great performance that deserved more recognition.
6. Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
My friend Dan said it best, for the first 20 minutes or so, he had trouble connecting with The Florida Project. But the more Dafoe showed up, the more Dan became invested. It was so smart of director Sean Baker to cast a known (and a great known at that) in this part. I absolutely loved Bobby, and everything he stood for.
5. Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
An actor playing an unlikeable character does not mean that performance is necessarily unlikeable. It’s very odd to me that Rockwell’s work as Dixon has gotten so much flak, simply because Dixon is a racist asshole. The character may indeed have many faults, but the performance is wonderfully assured all the same.
4. Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
I believed him. I believed Chalamet’s every feigning thought, every careful gesture, every conflicted idea. I believed he was that kid at that time in that house. What a joy it was to watch a star be born.
3. Barry Keoghan – The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Where the fuck did this performance come from? This was one of the most ruthlessly confident performances I’ve seen in years. Body language is huge for me with acting. It’s not only about what you’re saying or how you’re saying it, it’s about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. As I watched Barry Keoghan in this film, I watched a seasoned thespian who made very complicated choices and ran with them. How is this kid not in the running for every major supporting actor award?
2. Robert Pattinson – Good Time
Any and all references to Twilight, as a means of degrading Robert Pattinson’s craft, can hereby be expelled. Because Pattinson’s Connie was a ferocious rebirth unlike anything else I saw this year. Connie was a man unhinged, and Pattinson played him with a perfect about of mania.
1. Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
It must end here. It must end with a smile from Daniel Day-Lewis, with a quiet festering, a hand resting in a doorway, a stare of contempt over the brim of his glasses. And, believe me, Day-Lewis would occupy this top spot even if this wasn’t set to be his last role. Because, all told, for my money, the man is the best we have. In Phantom Thread, I watched him occupy a man in a way I hadn’t seen him do before. He was soft and kind, romantic and sweet. But he was also quietly cruel and unspeakably bitter. I loved every last thing about this movie, and the three central performances in it. And again, if this is to be Day-Lewis’ final role (Paul Thomas Anderson seems to think it will be), then what a glorious final bow to take. Enjoy yourself, Mr. Day-Lewis. God knows you’ve earned it.
2017 in Review