Thursday, January 17, 2019

Top 20 Male Performances of 2018

From child performers to esteemed vets, in great films or good, here are my favorite male acting performances from 2018. My list of my favorite female performances will be posted shortly. Enjoy!

20. Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Green Book 
as Tony Lip and Dr. Don Shirley
If Green Book works, it is because of these two. The surface confidence and inner demons of Dr. Shirley, played against the brutish, streetwise hustle of Tony Lip, made for one best screen duos of the year.

19. John Cho in Searching 
as David
If you tell a film entirely through computer and phone screens, you damn well better have great actors to sell it. David is a single dad who desperately attempts to use technology to locate his missing daughter, and John Cho makes his every move utterly convincing. Had I not believed David’s frustration and passion, Searching wouldn’t have worked.

18. Thomas Gioria in Custody 
as Julien
Thomas Gioria was the heart of Custody, and throughout the film, we watched him struggle to survive the wrath of his abusive father. Gioria’s terrified performance made for some of the most heartbreaking, but important, film acting of the year.

17. Charlie Plummer in Lean on Pete 
as Charley
Charley is a teenage boy going at life alone. When we gets stuck, he runs, with little regard to how or even if he’ll get somewhere. Throughout Lean on Pete, I was so invested in Charley’s journey, and I couldn’t wait to see him reach a place of calm.

16. Ryan Gosling in First Man 
as Neil Armstrong
Gosling captured the emotional repression, and quiet, obsessive nature of Neil Armstrong so convincingly, that I couldn’t help but be in awe. And, again, Gosling’s final moment during the moon landing made for one of the most unexpectedly emotional scenes of 2018.

15. Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell in Beautiful Boy 
as Nic and David
I thought the fractured structure of Beautiful Boy did Chalamet and Carell a disservice, but damn if these two didn’t show the hell up throughout. This is stating the obvious, but we’re all going to be talking about Timothée Chalamet for decades to come. He’s a star.

14. Jude Law in Vox Lux 
as The Manager
Who the hell was The Manager in Vox Lux? I’m not entirely sure what he was about, but I knew exactly who he was, and that’s the mark of a great actor. Law’s every movement and word informed this character, but Law still made him such a mystery. I would love to see an entire film dedicated to this guy.

13. Lucas Hedges in Ben is Back 
as Ben
All this poor kid wanted was to prove to his family that he had his shit together, but he could not stop himself from believing that he was utterly worthless. Lucas Hedges had a great 2018, and his twitchy, tortured work as Ben is one of the best modern portrays of addiction that I’ve seen.

12. Ed Oxenbould in Wildlife 
as Joe
Here’s another domestic drama whose heart rests almost entirely on a child. Joe is a kid trying to figure out his own life while his young, complicated mother (Carey Mulligan) crumbles next to him. Simply put, Mulligan and Oxenbould’s scenes together helped make Wildlife an essential film to see.

11. Daniel Kaluuya in Widows 
as Jatemme
My favorite kinds of film psychopaths are the ones that seem bored by their own psychology. Jatemme never hinted at the fact that he was out of his mind, he just simply was. This guy was so bored by violence, that toward the end of the film, he didn’t even bother to watch the carnage he ordered to be carried out. I’m not saying this to be a contrarian, but this is my favorite performance from Daniel Kaluuya yet.

10. Brian Tyree Henry in If Beale Street Could Talk 
as Daniel
Brian Tyree Henry had one hell of a year, delivering notable performances in several films, and career-best work in the second season of Atlanta. But his finest film work was his brief turn in If Beale Street Could Talk. The bulk of Henry’s performance is a monologue in which he describes his time in prison in painful detail. During that scene, Henry manages to be charming, menacing, and completely gutted, all at the same time. I cannot wait to see how Henry’s career evolves.

9. Brady Jandreau in The Rider 
as Brady
When writer/director Chloé Zhao was researching a new film project, she met rodeo star, Brady Jandreau, who had just suffered a debilitating head injury after falling off a horse. Zhao was so taken with Jandreau’s story that she decided to make a narrative film about him, and asked him to essentially play himself. The result is an authentic performance of charm, regret, and understanding. Playing yourself in a movie may not seem that difficult, but to do it this well certainly is no easy feat.

8. Nicolas Cage in Mandy 
as Red
For the vodka scene alone, which is, perhaps, the most Nic Cage thing Nic Cage has ever done. And that is intended as a damn fine compliment.

7. Christian Bale in Vice 
as Dick Cheney
I didn’t see Christian Bale in Vice. For the entirety of the film, I only saw Dick Cheney. And what a horrifying thing it was to see the inner workings of a political monster. Oh, and, “Thank you to Satan, for giving me inspiration on how to play this role,” is one of the all-time great dedications in the history of film awards.

6. Sam Elliott in A Star Is Born 
as Bobby
Since seeing A Star Is Born in October, I’ve learned that most of the dialogue and action between Sam Elliott and Bradley Cooper was improvised. This includes Elliott grabbing Cooper’s face during a heated exchanged, and, most notably, their final interaction together. Elliott had no idea what Cooper was going to say to him, and the result is the most moving scene from 2018.

5. Stephan James in If Beale Street Could Talk 
as Fonny
Fonny is a man happily bound by love, even though, through much of If Beale Street Could Talk, he’s trapped on the other side of prison glass. As I said in my initial thoughts on the film, the chemistry between Stephan James and KiKi Layne in this movie is something that is rarely matched.

4. Joe Cole in A Prayer Before Dawn 
as Billy Moore
As I watched A Prayer Before Dawn, I never once thought I was watching an actor work. It genuinely felt like I was watching a documentary about Billy Moore, as he struggled to survive in a brutal prison in Thailand. A Prayer Before Dawn is not an easy film to stomach, but Cole’s work in it is acting at its most raw.

3. Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born 
as Jackson
Bradley Cooper’s performance in A Star Is Born is the finest acting Cooper has delivered yet. Which is not something I offer easily, as I’m a great admirer of his work. But the acting choices he made for Jackson – the voice, the walk, the compassion, the pill-crushing boot – felt entirely authentic. Jackson’s tearful apologies to Lady Gaga and Sam Elliott’s characters are reason enough for Cooper to be here. I still haven’t been able to shake those scenes.  

2. Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here 
as Joe
You Were Never Really Here is a film that explains very little. You have to focus on the moments. Pay attention to the quick cuts, read the faces, listen to the words that are chosen. And they only way that works is if you have an actor who can pull it off. I’ve always liked Joaquin Phoenix best when he’s forced to tell us something with his eyes, and never have I seen Phoenix as telling as he was here.

1. Ethan Hawke in First Reformed 
as Reverend Toller
Ethan Hawke’s entire career has been leading up to Reverend Toller. It’s the role he was born to play, his magnum opus. This isn’t to say Hawke won’t continue to deliver great work for decades to come, but, right now, Reverend Toller is the one.

Hawke can say more with his crinkled face than most actors can say with pages of dialogue. Toller’s dangerous curiosity, lies, resentment, and unexpected love made for a deeply conflicted portrayal of a man lost. The fact that Ethan Hawke isn’t the frontrunner for the Best Actor Oscar (will he even be nominated?) is the biggest film crime of 2018. Ultimately, though, awards come and go, but great performances last forever. And Reverend Toller sure as hell isn’t going anywhere.

Best of 2018 Lists


  1. Having just seen First Reformed recently, I have to say it's Ethan Hawke's best performance to date. Easily as it's just the kind of performance I would expect in a Paul Schrader film yet Hawke just manages to be so restrained and full of anguish as I hope he wins the Oscar.

    I didn't see a lot of films with major performances so here's a list of the best male performances that I've seen so far (take one) based on films that premiered in 2018:

    Best Actor

    1. Stephan James-If Beale Street Could Talk
    2. John David Washington-BlackKklansman
    3. Ryan Gosling-First Man
    4. Jason Bateman-Game Night

    Special honorable mention to the late John Huston for The Other Side of the Wind with additional credit to his son Danny for providing dubbing.

    Best Supporting Actor

    1. Daniel Kaluuya-Widows
    2. Brian Tyree Henry-Widows/If Beale Street Could Talk
    3. Josh Brolin-Avengers: Infinity War
    4. Michael B. Jordan-Black Panther
    5. Adam Driver-BlackKklansman

    Honorable mentions: Jude Law-Vox Lux, Tim Blake Nelson, Bill Heck, Brendan Gleeson, Harry Melling, and Tom Waits-The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Chris Hemsworth-Avengers: Infinity War, Jesse Plemons-Game Night, and Lutz Ebersdorf-Suspiria. *snickers*

    1. LOVE this list. And I really appreciated that "*snickers*" note haha. So happy you agree that First Reformed contains Hawke's best performance. I can't say I was surprised that he didn't get nominated, but still, what a damn shame.

  2. Of course, there are many I've yet to see. I do have some that I really liked though. In no particular order:

    Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther
    Russell Hornsby, The Hate U Give
    Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
    John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman
    Rohan Chand, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle
    Jesse Plemmons, Game Night
    Alex Wolff, Hereditary

    Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible Fallout

    I separated Cruise for emphasis. It's not that I place him above anyone else, because I don't. It's that his performance is different from what we normally define as great, but I don't think it's any less than any of them. It may not be some gut-wrenching, emotional turn, but the sheer physicality on display, combined with good acting during the rare slow moments make his work here spectacular, in my estimation.

    1. Nice list! I loved Cruise in Fallout. I really enjoyed that movie as a whole. And I so appreciate Jesse Plemmons making your list. That performance was absolutely hilarious.

  3. Such a great, diverse list. There are so many films I still yet to see i haven't even about a list like this. For me, Daniel Kaluuya really stands out. He was generally scary and unnerving. I felt uneasy every time I saw him

    1. Thanks! I can't remember the last time I saw a movie villain like Kaluuya's in Widows. I completely knew who that guy was, but had no idea what he was going to do next. Thrilling work.

  4. Kicking myself for not seeing First Reformed when it was in theaters... I really need to catch up on that. Another male performance that's fresh on my mind is Nicholas Hoult in The Favourite. He was so damn funny. Alex Wolff in Hereditary was one of my favorites of the year, and I really liked Tom Waits in Buster Scruggs too.

    Also that scene with Elliot and Cooper was so damn moving and perfectly simple. It said everything you needed to know. The fact that it was improvised shows a great understanding of those characters.

    1. I really enjoyed all those performances you mentioned. Hoult was having so much fun in The Favourite. And those Elliot/Cooper scenes... whew. Those things are still with me.

  5. I haven't watched nearly enough of the 2018 movies i want to check out yet, but i'll try to make a list anyway. I love your list. Our top 3 are pretty much the same. I couldn't pick just one Joaquin Phoenix performance though. He had a great year last year.

    20. Henry Cavill as August Walker in Mission: Impossible - Fallout
    19. Jonah Hill as Donny in Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot
    18. Nick Robinson as Simon in Love, Simon
    17. Jonas Strand Gravli as Viljar in 22 July
    16. Alex Wolff as Peter in Hereditary

    15. Adam Driver as Flip Zimmerman in BlacKkKlansman
    14. Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in First Man
    13. Viggo Mortensen as as Tony Lip in Green Book
    12. Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev in The Death of Stalin
    11. John C. Reilly as Eli Sisters in The Sisters Brothers

    10. Sam Elliott as Bobby in A Star Is Born
    9. John David Washington as Ron Stallworth in BlacKkKlansman
    8. John Krasinski as Lee Abbott in A Quiet Place
    7. Nicolas Cage as Red in Mandy
    6. Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Vice

    5. Mahershala Ali as Dr. Don Shirley in Green Book
    4. Ben Foster as Will in Leave No Trace
    3. Bradley Cooper as Jack in A Star Is Born
    2. Ethan Hawke as Toller in First Reformed
    1. Joaquin Phoenix as Joe in You Were Never Really Here, Charlie Sisters in The Sisters Brothers and John Callahan in Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot

    1. Great list! Phoenix really did have a great year, I just wish all three of those films received more attention. And hell yeah to Nic Cage being ranked so high!

  6. The fact that Malek can win with Cooper, Bale and Hawke is just disgraceful. All of those 3 were so good I really cannot decide who to choose as my winner. They all felt like real people - even Bale who indeed completely disappeared into this role.

    1. Please, for the love of god, do not let Malek win. I mean, come on. Fuck that movie. Hawke should've gotten Malek's nomination.

  7. Dude, Sam Elliot was in A Star is Born for like a total of 5 minutes, and those 5 minutes were magnificent. Truly magnificent. I hope he pulls through and gets an Oscar nod.

    1. Hell. Yes. SO happy he got his first Oscar nom for that performance. If only he had a chance at winning.

  8. Love these! Cole and Cho being on here thrills me. They were so overlooked. And I can't wait to see Jude Law's performance. I still consider him one of today's underrated actors.

    We have some things in common:

    Best Actor:
    Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
    Daveed Diggs, Blindspotting
    Ryan Gosling, First Man
    Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
    Christian Malheiros, Socrates

    *I might move Socrates to 2019 though. Technically, it hasn't even been released yet. (I saw it as a Spirit Awards voter.)

    Best Supporting Actor:
    Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
    Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
    Brian Tyree Henry, If Beale Street Could Talk
    Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther
    Daniel Kaluuya, Widows

    1. Great picks! I haven't even heard of Socrates, so I will definitely be on the lookout for that. It's kind of a bummer when the Spirit Awards nominate films and performances before the masses can see them. I always try to see all of their nominees.

  9. Great list. I'm glad Lucas Hedge got in there, he's so underrated. People prefer to rave about Chalamet, and I get it, he is great and I love him, too, but Lucas is also a wonderful actor. Hopefully we'll hear more about him in the future. Same goes for Joe Cole- I know him from Peaky Blinders and I'm happy he's venturing into more difficult, interesting roles, his part in Peaky has pretty standard, but there was always a light there, waiting to come out (the same can be said about his brother, Finn Cole, but that's a different story).

    1. Thanks! I haven't seen Peaky Blinders, so my first exposure to Cole was in A Prayer Before Dawn... and holy shit, what a performance. I think Hedges is a terrific performer as well. I loved his work in 2018.

  10. Disappointed that Hawke didn't get nominated and frustrated that Bohemian Rhapsody got nominated in anything at all. Anyways, here's my list:

    9. John David Washington as Ron Stallworth in BlackkKlansman
    8. Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in First Man
    7. Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning in Widows
    6. Nicolas Cage as Red Miller in Mandy
    5. Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine and Sam Elliot as Bobby Maine in A Star Is Born
    4. Stephen James as Alonzo 'Fonny' Hunt and Brian Tyree Henry as Daniel in If Beale Street Could Talk
    3. Matt Dillon as Jack in The House That Jack Built
    2. Joaquin Phoenix as Joe In You Were Never Really Here
    1. Ethan Hawke as Reverend Toller in First Reformed

    1. I mean, how is it that Rami Malek is now the frontrunner? He's a good performer and seems like a good guy, but Best Actor?! I just don't understand, especially considering who made that movie.

      Anyway, I really love your list, and appreciated that we had so many in common!

  11. Lovely list as usual!

    If I had to make a top five I would put:

    5. Matt Dillon in The House That Jack Built.

    4. Nic Cage in Mandy

    3. Lucas Hedge in Ben is Back OR Timothee Chalamat in Beautiful Boy

    2. Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here

    1. Ethan Hawke in First Reformed

    I´m also curious about your thoughts on The House That Jack Built. Pretentious torture open? Profound meta-commentary disguised as a serial killer thriller? Maybe something else entirely?

    1. Thank you! The House That Jack Built was exactly what I expected it to be. I appreciated it for what it was, and thought Dillon gave a remarkably committed performance, but I don't think it is one of von Trier's best. The main problem for me wasn't the violence (it's not blood, it's red), but the extended sequence of von Trier showing clips from his own movies, and labeling it as high art. He was definitely up his own ass in The House That Jack Built, but that's seems to be von Trier's MO lately. Oh well, you know?