Monday, January 20, 2020

Top 10 Actress Performances of 2019

Because 2019 was a great year for film, it was undoubtedly a great year for performances as well. I love that four of the performers below were unknown to me as 2019 began, while others have careers that I’ve followed for decades. Be sure to share your favorites as well!

10. Park So-dam in Parasite
as Kim Ki-jung
Everyone in Parasite was perfect, but Park So-damn was the highlight for me. The sarcasm, the intelligence, the smoking – Kim Ki-jung committed to her “role” is such an amusing way. I still laugh at the way she corralled that boy and whipped him into shape.

9. Laura Dern in Marriage Story
as Nora Fanshaw
In Marriage Story, divorce is well-oiled machine, thanks in part to the crafty work of skilled divorce lawyer, Nora Fanshaw. Dern’s steely, charismatic take on this character was terrifying. I keep thinking of the brief scene where Dern and Ray Liotta’s character shake hands in a courthouse hallway. It’s all smiles and handshakes, until it’s a knife in the back.

8. Lupita Nyong’o in Us
as Adelaide Wilson & Red
Even though I ultimately thought Us let Lupita Nyong’o down, Nyong’o managed to deliver two great performances in the movie, often at the same time. Adelaide and Red were diametrically opposite, and it was such a thrill to watch Nyong’o juggle one character’s rationality with another’s insanity.

7. Margot Robbie in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
as Sharon Tate
Margot Robbie gave us the version of Sharon Tate that we deserved. Robbie’s Tate wasn’t a victim, she was a wide-eyed, freshly talented Hollywood player on her way to making a name for herself. Robbie had an innocence to her here, a mystery that was so compelling. I get chills when I hear Robbie’s voice on the Cielo Drive loudspeaker toward the end of the film. She still has so much life to live.

6. Renée Zellweger in Judy
as Judy Garland
The Oscar-bait biopic performance is the closest thing Hollywood has for a scientific formula on how to win an Oscar. For the past several years, I’ve strained to believe that most of these performances actually deserved the Oscar (Best Actor 2014 and 2018, anyone?), but Zellweger lives up to the hype as Judy Garland. This will be the rare year that I have no problem with an actor utilizing that Oscar formula, and ultimately winning as a result.

5. Sofia Boutella in Climax
as Selva
I find a lot of value in an actor seemingly pushing themselves to the brink of madness. Like every performer in Climax, Sofia Boutella was stone cold sober when she shot the film. But in playing Selva, the good-spirited leader of a troupe of dancers who are all drugged with LSD, Boutella delivered one of the most convincing substance abuse performances I have ever seen. And that isn’t even mentioning Boutella’s incredible dancing that opens the film, which is arguably even more thrilling than Selva’s acid trip.

4. Elisabeth Moss in Her Smell
as Becky Something
Here’s another performance that feels just on the brink of insanity. Becky is a famed and deeply troubled punk rock star that we catch glimpses of over an 11-year period in Her Smell. We see Becky as a destructive nightmare, a buttoned-up mom, and, ultimately, as a woman struggling to make it through every day intact. Her Smell is a challenging film that deserved a bigger audience, if for no other reason than it contains Elisabeth Moss’ best work to date.

3. Sienna Miller in American Woman
as Debra
In July, I wrote that I feared American Woman would be too small of a film to be remembered come awards time. And sadly, that was right. The film premiered at TIFF in September 2018 and was quietly released in a handful of theaters for a week or so this past June. It’s a shame that the film didn’t get a better push, as it contains Sienna Miller’s finest work to date, as a woman who is relentlessly grief-stricken over the disappearance of her daughter. When the hell is Sienna Miller going to get her due?

2. Florence Pugh in Midsommar
as Dani
I’m embarrassed to admit that I still haven’t seen Lady Macbeth, the period piece indie from 2016 that put Florence Pugh on the map. So, the first time I saw Pugh was as the hopelessly devastated Dani in Midsommar. This character asks a lot out of Pugh, as Dani is almost always on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown. And whether she’s playing Dani through confusion and tears, or cries and whispers, every note of this performance is convincing. Pugh makes us feel Dani’s pain in the most unsettling way possible.

1. Taylor Russell in Waves 
as Emily
There’s a scene midway through Waves that stole my heart. It’s the moment I knew I was in love with the film. Tyler (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is in a bad way and comes home good and trashed. As he starts vomiting in the bathroom, his timid younger sister, Emily, approaches him and holds him back to normalcy. She doesn’t yell or get angry at him for puking on the floor. Instead, she keeps whispering that things are okay, that he’ll be okay, that they’ll be okay. The way Taylor Russell approached this scene, with such a distinct gentleness and calm, completely made me fall in love with the character, and the film itself.

I have to choose my words carefully here, as I know a lot of people still haven’t seen Waves. But early in the film, Emily is treated as secondary. She comes in and out of scenes, sort of in the background, stepping up where she can. Later in the film, much to my delight, Emily is given plenty more to do, and the result is one of the finest coming-of-age performances I have ever seen. By this point, Emily has been through a lot in her life, and I found the snapshot sequences of Emily becoming an adult to be simply astounding. I love that in a year of intentionally loud and frantic performances, the one that stuck out the most for me was Russell’s poised and innocent take on Emily. Culturally speaking, we’re hit with more noise than ever before, and it’s great to see a character like Emily remind us that being kind still has its place in our world.

Honorable Mentions


  1. MY TOP 10 2019

    01) - Adele Haenel in Portrait of a Lady on Fire
    02) - Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story
    03) - Park So-Dam in Parasite
    04) - Saoirse Ronan in Little Women
    05) - Laura Dern in Marriage Story
    06) - Kathy Bates in Richard Jewell
    07) - Ana de Armas in Knives Out
    08) - Florence Pugh in Little Women
    09) - Awkwafina in The Farewell
    10) - Anna Paquin in The Irishman

    1. Love these picks. Great to see more appreciation for Park So-Dam. And holy hell, when can I see Portrait of a Lady on Fire?!

  2. Lots of great performances this year. I still haven't gotten around to watching Waves, Her Smell or American Woman. I really want to watch all three of those. I haven't watched Judy either, but i honestly doubt i ever will. That seems like the type of generic Oscar bait biopic we get every year that i just don't care about. I'm guessing that movie will be forgotten about the second awards season is over even if Renée Zellweger wins. As for my favorite performances i could not just narrow it down to a top 10 so i made a top 20. Too many good ones this year.

    20. Idina Menzel in Uncut Gems
    19. Margaret Qualley in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    18. Saoirse Ronan in Little Women
    17. Julia Fox in Uncut Gems
    16. Yeo-Jeong Jo in Parasite
    15. Laura Dern in Marriage Story
    14. Scarlett Johansson in Jojo Rabbit
    13. Ana de Armas in Knives Out
    12. Shuzhen Zhao in The Farewell
    11. Da'Vine Joy Randolph in Dolemite Is My Name

    10. Florence Pugh in Midsommar
    9. Thomasin McKenzie in Jojo Rabbit
    8. Beanie Feldstein in Booksmart
    7. Margot Robbie in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    6. Clara Rugaard in I Am Mother
    5. Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story
    4. Kaitlyn Dever in Booksmart
    3. So-dam Park in Parasite
    2. Awkwafina in The Farewell
    1. Lupita Nyong'o in Us

    While Us didn't even make my top 20 movies of the year, i still absolutely loved Lupita Nyong'o in it. I have only watched the movie once back when it was in theaters, but her performance is still sticking with me way more than the actual movie. As for the rest of my picks i was sad to see The Farewell and Booksmart get completely shut out at the Oscars this year as well. Especially considering Awkwafina won best actress in a comedy or musical at the Golden Globes.

    1. Great picks! You're right about Judy, as a film. I can't honestly say there's anything special about it. But I do think Zellweger's praise for her work is justly earned. And I agree that Nyong'o's work was better than that movie. I thought the movie let her down a bit, actually.

  3. For me so far...

    Best Actress

    1. Scarlett Johansson-Marriage Story/Avengers: Endgame
    2. Saiorse Ronan-Little Women
    3. Lupita Nyong'o-Us
    4. Ana de Armas-Knives Out
    5. Brie Larson-Captain Marvel

    Best Supporting Actress

    1. Thomasin McKenzie-Jojo Rabbit
    2. Florence Pugh-Little Women
    3. Laura Dern-Little Women/Marriage Story
    4. Margot Robbie-Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    5. Scarlett Johansson-Jojo Rabbit.

    I still haven't seen a lot though I'm hoping Parasite is still at my multiplex in the coming weekend as it just came back yet I'm still dealing with my bronchitis.

    I do have American Woman and Her Smell on HBO as I hope to see them as soon as possible.

    1. Love that Robbie made the cut! Also great to see Pugh receiving so much praise this year. I can't wait to see where her career goes.

  4. No love for Rebecca in Doctor Sleep? :( You should definitely see Lady Macbeth, I think you'll like this one!

    1. I need to see BOTH of those! I honestly haven't heard much about Doctor Sleep, except on your blog. So I want to seek it out right away, because I always respect when you champion a film.

  5. Oh man, so many great performances here but so many I still need to see, too!
    I haven't seen Lady Macbeth either but I know I need to :)

    1. Same here! I've heard nothing but great things. Really interested to see Pugh's earlier work.

  6. Great list! I haven't seen American Woman or Climax so I can't speak to them, but I would've swapped Robbie for Bombshell. I didn't love how little she had to do in OUATIH but I thought she was marvelous in Bombshell. Glad to see so much love for Taylor up at the top!

    1. Thanks so much! Totally hear you on this. I actually thought Robbie had a ton to do in Hollywood, she did it with her eyes, with movement. But she was definitely great in Bombshell, and I'm so happy she was nominated. Yay for Taylor!

  7. Def dig what you say about the formulaic method to winning an Oscar, and how Zellweger deserves it. Is it a good movie tho? Should I see it.

    Couldn't get into Waves nor the characters from the second half of the movie... :\

    1. Judy is exactly what you think it's going to be, but Zellweger owns it throughout. But, yeah, like most all music biopics, I doubt I'll find a reason to watch that movie again.

      Bummed about Waves, but I get it. I heard the director say that the first half of the movie is a panic attack, and the second half is a hug. I dunno, it worked for me in every way.

  8. There's so many picks here I have to see, but nice to see your description of Renee as not a total dig at her or the movie. As a huge Judy fan, the movie was too traditional, but I was grateful it wasn't salacious and thought Renee did a fitting job. And yes, Sienna needs to get her due sometime.

    1. Nice that we agree on Judy! I honestly expected to not like that film at all, but she really brought a unique energy to it. I'm not mad at all that she'll win the Oscar.

  9. I have seen quite a few of these and I agree. Pugh is so young yet she manages to somehow embody so much life and wisdom and it's scary to witness. I liked her Midsommar performance a lot, Fighting With Family wasn't my favourite movie but she was good in it. Lady Macbeth still hasn't been watched by me either so you're not alone here! :D

    Judy was meh for me. Too.. as you said.. Oscar bait and I wasn't biting. Zellweger was good.. but for me, not memorable actually.

    I still need to watch Waves, Climax, Her Smell and American Woman.

    1. "Wisdom" is an absolutely perfect way to describe Pugh's acting. Because that's what she brings, a unique wisdom that is rare in performers her age. I can't wait to see where her career goes.