Thursday, January 24, 2019

Top 20 Female Performances of 2018

Last year was such a great year for female performances that I was forced to cheat in creating this list, and lump a few of them together. This was not intended to slight the performers grouped together, but rather, make room for equally deserving ones. Enjoy!

20. Yalitza Aparicio in Roma
as Cleo
Aparicio’s beachside confession is reason enough to include her performance on this list. What a remarkable debut performance this was.

19. Thomasin McKenzie in Leave No Trace
as Tom
Thomasin McKenzie was the heart and soul of Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace. Granik has a knack for casting young actresses in star-making turns (Winter’s Bone helped make Jennifer Lawrence, Jennifer Lawrence), and here’s to hoping this is the start of what Thomasin McKenzie has to offer.

18. Raffey Cassidy in Vox Lux
as Young Celeste & Albertine
Raffey Cassidy, so good as the daughter in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, delivered two great performances in Vox Lux. In the first half of the film, she appeared as a young Natalie Portman, who becomes incredibly famous after surviving a tragedy. Later, she played Portman’s neglected daughter. I’m a sucker for dual roles, and Cassidy’s nuance helped distinguish her characters in Vox Lux so convincingly.   

17. Léa Drucker in Custody
as Miriam
Watching a person fight for their life on film can be emotionally brutal to sit through, if the performer can pull it off. Drucker’s final scene in Custody was one of 2018’s most difficult movie scenes to endure, but damn if Drucker refused to give up.

16. Andrea Riseborough in Nancy
as Nancy
Riseborough had a great year, with notable work in The Death of Stalin, Waco, and Mandy, but her finest turn was as a damaged, compulsive liar in Nancy. Imagine if you became convinced that you were kidnapped as a child, and raised by your kidnappers. What kind of hell did you endure as a child to make you believe this? Those are the depths Riseborough goes to in Nancy, and the result is startling.

15. Julia Roberts in Ben is Back
as Holly
I believed every single moment of Ben is Back, including and especially Julia Roberts’ heartbreaking turn as a mother who is trying to understand her drug-addicted son’s behavior. This is some of the most powerful work Roberts has ever done, period.

14. Toni Collette in Hereditary
as Annie
Few actors are capable of freaking the hell out as convincingly as Toni Collette does in Hereditary. Her character’s complete transformation to a maniacal monster made for one of 2018’s most terrifying cinema conclusions.

13. Joanna Kulig in Cold War
as Zula
Cold War works best when Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot are on screen together, but Kulig remained transfixing throughout the film regardless. Zula’s constant, lovesick troubles (captured in a tight 85 minutes) made for one of the best character arcs of the year.

12. Dakota Johnson in Suspiria
as Susie
Dakota Johnson was all-in for Suspiria. Her commitment to Susie – the dancing, the innocence, the third-act mayhem – helped make the film a modern, mindfuck masterpiece.

11. Claire Foy in Unsane | First Man
as Sawyer Valentini | Janet Armstrong
These performances share nothing uncommon, except for the fact that they were played by the same remarkable performer. Foy’s measured approach to Janet Armstrong was a complete departure from her unhinged work as Sawyer. I suppose it’s time that I get around to watching The Crown.

10. Nicole Kidman in Destroyer
as Erin Bell
Kidman was in full-on Monster mode in Destroyer, taking cues from Charlize Theron’s Oscar-winning work. Both physically and emotionally, Kidman was unrecognizable in Destroyer. It’s the type of dark character absorption I love to see from her, and certainly hope she dives into more.

9. Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk
as Sharon
It seems that Regina King is poised to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in If Beale Street Could Talk, and you certainly won’t hear any complaints from me. For the devastating Puerto Rico sequence alone, King deserves any and all accolades that are headed her way.

8. Natalie Portman in Vox Lux
as Celeste
Natalie Portman didn’t exist in Vox Lux. She was Celeste. I’ve never seen Portman go so deep into such a self-absorbed character. Celeste embodied everything that is wrong about modern celebrity, while consistently reminding us of the traumatic circumstances that allowed her to achieve her fame. I really wish Vox Lux had reached a broader audience; there is a lot people missed out on here.

7. The Women in Widows
Please forgive my obvious cheat here, because, clearly, any and all of the women in Widows could be singled out on this list as one of the year’s best performances. Viola Davis is the clear powerhouse here (where in the ever-loving hell was her Oscar nomination?), but Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Cynthia Erivo (not to mention Carrie Coon, Molly Kunz, Jacki Weaver, and Adepero Oduye) collectively made Widows a great, unconventional heist thriller.

6. Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Kindergarten Teacher
as Lisa
Lisa’s quiet, brewing obsession was so difficult to watch in The Kindergarten Teacher. In her eyes, Lisa was trying to empower a child’s natural talent, but in reality, she was coercing a child into becoming the type of artist Lisa never could be. The final scene of this film, which largely takes place in a motel bathroom, was some of the finest work Maggie Gyllenhaal has done yet.

5. KiKi Layne in If Beale Street Could Talk
as Tish
Tish is really two characters – the young, innocence, love-drunk Tish; and the mature, determined, saddened Tish. Throughout the film, KiKi Layne navigates both stages of Tish’s life with complete confidence and poise, and never once hints at the fact that Layne had never acted before. An incredible debut from a performer we’re going to see a lot more of.

4. Olivia Colman, Rachael Weisz, and Emma Stone in The Favourite
as Queen Anne, Lady Sarah, and Abigail
Again, please excuse the cheat here, because these three could easily have their own spots on this list. The Favourite featured one of the best ensemble casts of the year thanks largely to the respective, hilariously menacing talents of Colman, Weisz, and Stone. I could watch these three characters pick each other a part for hours on end. What devious fun they all had.

3. Lady Gaga in A Star is Born
as Ally
I believed every second of Lady Gaga’s turn as Ally. Her fearlessness, her confidence, her selflessly devoted love – this is a performance that deserves to stand up to Judy Garland’s work in the same material. And the literal performances in the film, namely “Shallow,” will be remembered as one of the all-time great musical performances in cinema.

2. Carey Mulligan in Wildlife
as Jeanette
Many have suspected that one of reasons Wildlife didn’t do better is because Carey Mulligan’s performance is such an honest portrayal of a complex woman. Mulligan herself said she was berated a post-screening Q&A’s for her portrayal as Jeanette. This is a crude shame. What Mulligan did as Jeanette is capture a person in complete emotional peril, clumsily navigating through life as best she can, as we all do. This film, and Mulligan’s astounding work in it, deserved a brighter light.

1. Tilda Swinton in Suspiria
as Madame Blanc & Dr. Josef Klemperer & Helena Markos
When I watch Tilda Swinton act, rarely am I watching Tilda Swinton. Instead, I’m watching whomever she is playing, because her character immersion is unparalleled. In Suspiria, Swinton splits most of her screentime evenly playing two roles, the cold Madame Blanc, and the kind Dr. Josef Klemperer. These characters could not be more different, in their journey, conflict, and physical look (the fact that Suspiria didn’t get a Best Makeup Oscar nomination is laughable).

Because I don’t research films before seeing them, I had no idea that the gentle Dr. Josef Klemperer was actually played by Swinton. It wasn’t until after my screening that I realized what Swinton had pulled off.

Then, nearly a week later, I realized Swinton played another part in the movie, as the disfigured Helena Markos, who shows up late in the film, alongside Madame Blanc and Dr. Josef Klemperer. It’s no secret that Tilda Swinton is one of our finest living performers, but the fact that she could pull off this triple feat, made for three great performances by one genius performer. 


  1. Great list! I love a lot of these performances and some I'm still waiting to see. Of course I'm happy about Carey but I love that you mention Risenborough in Nancy, that film was so underrated.

    Mia Goth was the Suspiria stand out for me. I wish she had been the lead.

    1. Thank you! I LOVED Goth in Suspiria. I just loved everything about that movie, and everyone in it, really. I'm so glad you saw Nancy as well! I wish more people had a chance to see that one.

  2. Based on what I've seen so far... here's my take...

    Best Actress

    1. Viola Davis-Widows
    2. Natalie Portman-Vox Lux/Annihilation
    3. KiKi Layne-If Beale Street Could Talk
    4. Yalitza Aparicio-Roma
    5. Rachel McAdams-Game Night

    Honorable Mentions: Raffey Cassidy-Vox Lux, Dakota Johnson-Suspiria, Zoe Kazan-The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and Evangeline Lily-Ant-Man and the Wasp.

    Best Supporting Actress

    1. Regina King-If Beale Street Could Talk
    2. Elizabeth Debicki-Widows
    3. Tilda Swinton-Suspiria
    4. Claire Foy-First Man
    5. Stacy Martin-Vox Lux

    Honorable Mentions: Letitia Wright/Danai Gurai/Angela Bassett-Black Panther, Mia Goth-Suspiria, Laura Harrier/Ashlie Atkinson-BlackKklansman, Tyne Daly-The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Elizabeth Olsen/Zoe Saldana-Avengers: Infinity War, Tessa Thompson-Annihilation, Michelle Pfeiffer/Hannah John-Kamen-Ant-Man & the Wasp, & Michelle Rodriguez/Carrie Coon/Jacki Weaver/Cynthia Ervio-Widows.

    1. Great lists, as usual. Man, what the hell happened to Widows? Did the studio just give up on it? I thought that was perhaps, the best performance of Davis' career, so where was the awards campaign?! So strange. Also thrilled to see that you liked If Beale Street Could Talk as well. I can't wait to see that again.

    2. I blame 20th Century Fox and Bryan Singer for the reason they gave up on Widows. They put all of their Oscar campaign on that film when they should've given the money to something better. The audience that I saw the film with which was largely African-American thought it was great.

      Let's just pray that Bryan Singer goes to prison and become cell mates with depraved bitches like R. Kelly, Chris Brown, and Harvey Weinstein. They could sure enjoy the company.

    3. Jesus, I didn't think of that, but, sadly, I think you're absolutely correct. I cannot believe that movie is in serious contention for Oscars.

      And that is one hell of a prison party right there. Fuck all those guys.

  3. Love this list, what an amazing idea! I missed Suspiria, and I need to rectify that asap. Tilda Swinton is brilliant, every role I've seen her in has been completely different to the last.

    1. Thanks so much! Suspiria is absolutely insane, but if you know that going in, hopefully you can have a good time with it. Swinton is on another level in it.

  4. Lots I still have to see, but happy to see some general favorites on here. Especially Dakota. She got a bad wrap for Fifty Shades, but I'm hoping Suspiria was the start of her standing out more in a better way. Absolutely loved Andrea in Nancy. I'm not entirely on board for that film, but she gave an amazing performance.

    1. I honestly didn't know what to expect from Dakota Johnson in Suspiria, for that exact reason. But wow, did she show the hell up for it. And I hear what you're saying about Nancy. But I am glad we both liked Risenborough in it!

  5. Lots of great choices here. Lady GaGa is probably the biggest surprise of the year for me. I'm not really a fan of her music, and i had never seen her act in anything before outside of Machete Kills of all movies so i didn't really have any big expectations for her. She was amazing in A Star is Born though. I hope we get to see more performances like this from her in the future. And i still haven't gotten around to watching Suspiria or The Favorite even though i really want to. But i managed to make a list of 20 anyway.

    20. Charlize Theron as Marlo in Tully
    19. Millicent Simmonds as Regan Abbott in A Quiet Place
    18. Tessa Thompson as Detroit in Sorry to Bother You
    17. Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween
    16. Cynthia Erivo as Darlene Sweet in Bad Times at the El Royale

    15. Jennifer Garner as Emily in Love, Simon
    14. Thomasin McKenzie as Tom in Leave No Trace
    13. Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong in First Man
    12. Laura Harrier as Patrice Dumas in BlacKkKlansman
    11. Marina de Tavira as Sra. Sofía in Roma

    10. Zoe Kazan as Alice Longabaugh in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
    9. Blake Lively as Emily Nelson in A Simple Favor
    8. Emily Blunt as Evelyn Abbott in A Quiet Place
    7. Amanda Seyfried as Mary in First Reformed
    6. Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney in Vice

    5. Elsie Fisher as Kayla in Eighth Grade
    4. Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo in Roma
    3. Lady GaGa as Ally in A Star Is Born
    2. Natalie Portman as Lena in Annihilation
    1. Toni Collette as Annie in Hereditary

    It's a shame Toni Collette is getting completely overlooked this award season. She was terrifying in Hereditary. I have only watched the movie once when it was in theaters and i still can't get that movie or performance out of my head.

    1. Nice list! I'm really surprised Hereditary has been shut out of major awards attention. Thank god for the Indie Spirit Awards, which, with every passing year, seem to be the most honest movie awards there are.

      And Gaga was a huge surprise for me as well, because I frankly hadn't seen her deliver a good performance before. But she was fantastic as Ally. What a remarkable achievement.

  6. I wasn't a fan of Tilda playing all those roles. Felt like a total gimmick since the characters weren't really connected. Glad to see Gaga so high on the list! Her Ally really felt like an actual person

    1. I hear that. It felt like an old theater performance, when, out of financial necessity, the same actor would play different parts that had nothing to do with each other. Kind of like the cast in Angels in America, or something. I dug everything about that movie, but I know I stand a bit alone there.

      And I LOVED Gaga as Ally. I really wish she had a chance to win the Oscar. But it seems like Close's to lose.

  7. What a great post! All the ladies in The Favourite killed it for me. They were brilliant! Lady Gaga was actually a huge surprise for me; I wasn't expecting much from her performance, but she blew me away.

    I can't WAIT to see Cold War! It comes here in about a week or so. I'm ready!

    1. Thank you! The Favourite, god, I just loved them. All of them. Gaga too, that performance came out of nowhere for me. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on Cold War!

  8. Haven't seen Suspiria yet and had no idea Swinton was playing multiple roles. I'm a bit more intrigued by it now.

    I'm a bit sad Collette wasn't nearer the top of the list, but happy you included her. After all, like you said, this was a great year for female performances. Some others I thought were great...

    Michelle Yeoh in Crazy Rich Asians
    Tessa Thompson in Sorry to Bother You
    Charlize Theron in Tully
    Bel Powley in White Boy Rick
    Madeline Brewer in Cam
    Ashlie Atkinson in BlacKkKlansman

    1. Nice list! Believe me, I had no idea Swinton played multiple roles either, so when I figured it out after the fact, I was stunned. And I loved Collette in Hereditary. It was a damn strong year for female performances!

  9. 10. Natalie Portman as Lena in Annihilation
    9. Elsie Fisher as Kayla Day in Eighth Grade
    8. Olivia Coleman as Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz as Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough and Emma Stone as Abigail in The Favourite
    7. Kiki Layne as Tish Rivera and Regina King as Sharon Rivera in If Beale Street Could Talk
    6. Ando Sakura as Nobuyo Shibata and Miyu Sazaku as Aki Shibata in Shoplifters
    5. Lady Gaga as Ally in A Star Is Born
    4. Toni Collette as Annie in Hereditary
    3. Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo in Roma
    2. Carey Mulligan as Jeanette Brinson in Wildlife
    1. Tilda Swinton as Madame Blanc/Dr. Josef Klemperer/Helena Markos in Suspiria
    We seem to be of the same mind in regards to the top 2 performances of the year for actor and actress.

    Though if I were to pick a "Best Female Performance" that includes television, it would have to go to Amy Adams as Camille Preaker in Sharp Objects. It might be the best work she's done yet. It's something to behold.

    1. Love this list, by the way. It reminds me I still need to see The Kindergarten Teacher. Maggie Gyllenhaal has been killing it in The Deuce.

    2. GREAT list! Love that we have so many in common. And, yeah, if we opened this up to TV, it would be insane. The Deuce, like every other show David Simon has made, is the best show on TV right now that no one is watching. I always watch his shows live and beg people to check them out. I still only know like 4 people who have seen Treme, and that thing was remarkable. Really curious to see how The Deuce concludes.