Friday, January 19, 2018

Top 20 Male Performances of 2017

I saw more great performances in 2017 than I did great movies, so I’ve decided to bulk up this annual list to include (at least) 20 stellar male performances of the year. My favorite female performances of the year will be listed Monday. Enjoy!

20. Terry Notary  The Square
as Oleg
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
As Nicky Sloane
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
as 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
as Richard Strickland & Giles
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
as Chris
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
as Tommy Wiseau
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 Bang  The Square
as Christian
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 Bang navigate through it.

13. Gary Oldman  Darkest Hour
as Winston Churchill
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
as Ronsel Jackson
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
as Steven
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.

10. The Adult Boys of Dunkirk  Dunkirk
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
as Mr. Perlman
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
as Philip Krauss
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
as Cory Lambert
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
as Bobby
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
as Dixon
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
as Elio
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
as Martin
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
as Connie
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
as Reynolds Woodcock
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


  1. Man, i really need to watch Phantom Thread. It's not even listed for theaters here yet. I can't believe this will be Daniel Day-Lewis' last performance. But yeah, he has definitely earned his retirement. Anyway, here are my top 20 for now at least:

    20. Gil Birmingham as Martin in Wind River
    19. Algee Smith as Larry in Detroit
    18. Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland in The Shape of Water
    17. Willem Dafoe as Bobby in The Florida Project
    16. Patrick Stewart as Charles in Logan
    15. James McAvoyDennis / Patricia / Hedwig / The Beast / Kevin Wendell Crumb / Barry / Orwell / Jade in Split

    14. Sterling K. Brown as Joseph Spell in Marshall
    13. Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes
    12. Ryan Gosling as as K in Blade Runner 2049
    11. Hugh Jackman as Logan in Logan
    10. Jeremy Renner as Cory Lambert in Wind River

    9. Dustin Hoffman as Harold Meyerowitz in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
    8. Will Poulter as Krauss in Detroit
    7. Bryan Cranston as Sal Nealon in Last Flag Flying
    6. Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington in Get Out

    5. Richard Jenkins as Giles in The Shape of Water
    4. Adam Sandler as Danny Meyerowitz in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
    3. Sam Rockwell as Dixon in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    2. Robert Pattinson as Connie Nikas in Good Time
    1. James Franco as Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist

    This was a tough list to make. I keep shuffling the top five all the time. But in the end i had to put James Franco on top. Tommy Wiseau is such a bizarre person that i never though anyone could accurately emulate that, but Franco actually nailed. It's not a perfect impression, but it's still equally weird and i never saw James Franco in the performance, just Tommy Wiseau.

    1. Franco really did embody that very odd man. It was a manic joy to watch. And the fact that he directed the movie too... that must have been one hell of a set haha.

      Loved your list. Really happy you appreciated Pattinson's work as Connie as much as I did. What go-for-broke work that was.

    2. Yeah, i'm definitely gonna be keeping an eye of Pattinson from now on. What a surprise.

  2. Amazing list, so many I still need to see! But so far agree with Franco, Chalamet, Rockwell, Stuhlbarg, Jackman, Kaluuya, the guys in Dunkirk. I'm dying to see The Square.

    And so happy you liked Pattison that much. Since his work in The Rover I've been keeping an eye on him. Doesn't get enough credit.

    Not sure who'd make my Top 20 at this point but like Henrik here I also thought McAvoy in Split and Sandler in The Meyerowitz Stories were great.

    1. Thanks! The Square is so very bizarre. It's honestly like a piece of modern art that could be featured in the film itself. Very "out there" very unconventional. Pattinson was sooo good in Good Time.

      McAvoy was great in Split! I really enjoyed him in that movie.

  3. I need to see most of these, too. The ones I have seen are all definitely worthy of being here. I personally bump Jackman in Logan way up, but that's just me.

    I love what you had to say about "The Adult Boys" of Dunkirk." That so perfectly sums up what they accomplished. And Will Poulter, yes, so perfectly despicable.

    Some others I really like:

    Oscar Isaac/John Boyega in The Last Jedi
    Patrick Jane in 1922
    Algee Smith in Detroit
    Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes
    Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming
    Patrick Stewart in Logan
    Elijah Wood in I Don't Feel At Home in This World Anymore
    the rest of the men in Mudbone

    1. Everyone in Mudbound was so strong, weren't they? Great call to include them. I hope you're able to see some of the other listed performances soon!

  4. Phantom Thread is at my local multiplex this weekend as I'm hoping to see that. For me so far...

    Best Actor

    1. Hugh Jackman-Logan
    2. Daniel Kaluuya-Get Out
    3. Ryan Gosling-Blade Runner 2049
    4. Jeremy Renner-Wind River
    5. Tom Holland-Spider-Man: Homecoming

    Best Supporting Actor

    1. Sam Rockwell-Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    2. Woody Harrelson-Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    3. Patrick Stewart-Logan
    4. Chris Pine-Wonder Woman
    5. Lil Rel Howery-Get Out

    Honorable Mentions towards the ensemble of Dunkirk, Tracy Letts of Lady Bird, Colin Farrell in The Beguiled, the male ensemble in The Last Jedi, the male ensemble in Thor: Ragnarok, Jacob Batalon and Michael Keaton in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Michael Rooker and Dave Bautista in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Keanu Reeves in John Wick Chapter 2, and Jon Hamm in Baby Driver.

    1. OK, having now just seen Phantom Thread, I can officially say that Daniel Day-Lewis is the Best Actor.

    2. Great list and I'm SO happy DDL gets the top spot for you as well. What quiet, astounding work that was. I still can't get over it.

  5. Goodness, man! You've nailed it here. So many great ones in 2017. I'm gonna have to do some thinking back, since I just saw Phantom Thread AND Call Me By Your Name in the last two days. Day-Lewis is just so great, man. And that film is masterful. Chalamet is a treat of a find. I can't fathom how such a young actor could physically embody emotion so perfectly. He fully lives in that character. It's amazing to see.

    Kudos to having Rockwell on this list. He is my number 1 as of now. Jason Dixon is a guy that exists in this country, and it almost seems that a lot of critics would just as soon not have that sort of character in movies. I live in a small Southern town and you better bet that I work and coexist every single day with people who think like him. It is a FACT. It is a long road to change. Burying your head in the sand won't help at all. We need to know people like him, and Rockwell did just that. He made this guy known.

    1. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Fucking perfect way to describe the importance of Dixon's character. You're so right, people want to take the time to bash unlikeable characters like that, just so they can pretend "We aren't that way." When, in fact, many people are.

      Love what you said about Chalamet as well.

  6. So many performances here that I feature on my today's list. I haven't seen some of those and I am eager to publish my lists already I don't expect to like Phantom Thread much since Anderson and DDL usually don't work that well for me.

    That Keoghan kid was horrifying in this movie. A lot of things there were horrifying but he was by far the worst

    1. Keoghan was a monster in that flick, and I loved it. That damn spaghetti. Phantom Thread really is nothing like There Will Be Blood, so I am curious to hear your thoughts on it when/if you check it out.

  7. Quality list. My favorite male performances of the year are Renner in Wind River, Rockwell in Three Billboards, and I have to mention Billy Magnussen in Ingrid Goes West, great call by you, god I hated that dude. Good observations under the characters pics bro.

    1. Thanks man! I have met many (many, many) Nicky Sloane's, both in LA and other places. Magnussen WAS that guy. It was hilarious. Thanks so much for the comment!

  8. There were a TON of great performances last year. So glad to see Dafoe that high and Oldman in there as well. And your top 5 is amazing! What a year. Ugh, I need to see The Square.

    1. Some very strong work this year, for sure. I would love to hear your thoughts on The Square. It's uhhhhh, really something haha

  9. Like your female performance list, this one is great too.

    I wanted to murder Bill Magnusson in Ingrid Goes West, I hated his character so much lol.

    Terry Notary is an actor that doesn't get a lot of credit. I'm looking forward to seeing THe Square, I'm only familiar with him from his work in the Planet of the Apes movies, which I love.

    1. Thanks so much! Magnusson played that role soooo well. I hated that guy, but that was great acting. Notary's work in The Square is bonkers. It honestly does not feel like he (or anyone in the scene) was acting. So, so real.

  10. I'm right there with you in terms of Robert Pattinson, Barry Keoghan and Claes Bang, the work by those three stayed with me.

    I don't know if will get attention outside of Denmark, Dar Salim delivered one of the most powerful male performances I saw in 2017 in the film Darkland. I couldn't take my eyes off what he was doing on screen! And he was in almost every scene.

    1. Damn I haven't even heard of Darkland! I hope it gets a bigger release. It sounds really interesting.