Saturday, February 1, 2020

Top 10 Actor Performances of 2019

For old timers and newcomers alike, 2019 was a banner year for film acting. Some of the performances below were so strong because they subverted expectations, while others leaned directly into the actor’s respective strengths. Be sure to share your favorite roles as well!

10. Chris Cooper in Little Women
as Mr. Laurence
The ensemble of Little Women was great, but I thought Chris Cooper was stunning in this film. I’m so used to seeing Cooper play angry, gruff, and ill-tempered. And to see all of that energy harnessed into genuine grief was absolutely breathtaking.

9. Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems
as Howard Ratner
I’m not sure if Adam Sandler isn’t offered enough roles like Howard Ratner, or if Sandler is offered these roles but turns them down, but either way, I wish Sandler dove into dramatic work more often. He completely immersed himself into Howard’s manic life, and the result was arguably the best work Sandler has done yet.

8. Adam Driver in Marriage Story
as Charlie
I’ve really enjoyed watching Driver’s meteoric rise to fame over the past decade, and Marriage Story could be his finest work. The brutal argument, the night with the court-appointed evaluator, reading the letter – all scenes that will be shared during Driver’s Lifetime Achievement Award a few decades from now.

7. Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell
as Richard Jewell
I guess I’m one of the few people who really liked Richard Jewell, and much of that is thanks to Hauser, who went for broke in his heartfelt capture of Jewell. This was truly a star-making turn, and I only hope it affords Hauser more excellent roles.

6. Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
as Rick Fuckin’ Dalton
Has Leonardo DiCaprio ever had more fun on screen? The Wolf of Wall Street, maybe, but the point is that I love seeing DiCaprio throw his manic humor into a role. Dirty fuckin’ hippies.

5. Joaquin Phoenix in Joker
as Arthur Fleck
Listen you fuckers, you screwheads, here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is someone who stood up. Here is…

4. Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci in The Irishman
as Frank Sheeran. Jimmy Hoffa, and Russell Bufalino
Perhaps unfair to group these three together, but I loved all of their work in The Irishman. De Niro played such a convincingly subdued sociopath, Pacino felt born to play Jimmy Hoffa, and Pesci could have very well delivered his finest work as the boss who controls everything with a whisper. I’m not sure what films these three guys will deliver in the future, but these performances could very well be their legendary swan songs.

3. Brad Pitt in Ad Astra
as Roy McBride
I read criticism that Brad Pitt’s work as Roy McBride was bored, sluggish, absent. I suppose we all see what we see, and what I saw was Pitt inhabit an abandoned, adult boy whose traumatic childhood left him with no idea how to share a human connection. To achieve that connection, he travels to the end of our solar system, and to what avail? To learn, quite simply, that we’re all we’ve got. This performance knocks the wind out of me.

2. Kelvin Harrison Jr. in Waves
as Tyler
Kelvin Harrison Jr’s work in Waves is one of the most honest coming-of-age performances I’ve ever seen. There was so much realistic joy and tragic pain in this work. Tyler makes several poor decisions in the film, and not only did I understand why he made those decisions, but even when I didn’t agree with him (which was often), I just wanted to help the poor kid. This performance, and this film, will live in my heart forever.

1. Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
as Cliff Booth
I can’t remember the last time an actor was at such ease on screen, to such astonishing results. Whether he’s feeding his dog, fixing an antenna, picking up a hitchhiker, or just fucking driving home, every act Cliff Booth undertakes is worth watching, simply because Brad Pitt plays him with such effortless command. Please, for the love of God, let this be Brad Pitt’s Oscar. Long overdue, and long well deserved.

Honorable Mentions

More Best of 2019 Lists


  1. MY TOP 10

    01) - Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
    02) - Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
    03) - Al Pacino (The Irishman)
    04) - Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
    05) - Sam Rockwell (Richard Jewell)
    06) - Eddie Murphy (Dolemite is my Name)
    07) - Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory)
    08) - Jean Dujardin (An Officer and a Spy)
    09) - Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
    10) - Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell)

    1. Great picks. Wasn't Rockwell great in Richard Jewell? I knew exactly who that guy was, and I really appreciated how Rockwell played him. Love seeing Pesci ranked so high as well!

  2. For me so far...

    Best Actor

    1. Adam Driver-Marriage Story
    2. Song Kang-Ho-Parasite
    3. Willem Dafoe/Robert Pattinson-The Lighthouse
    4. Brad Pitt-Ad Astra
    5. Joaquin Phoenix-Joker

    Honorable Mentions: Leonardo diCaprio-Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Robert Downey Jr./Chris Hemsworth/Chris Evans-Avengers: Endgame, Tom Holland-Spider-Man: Far from Home, Zachary Levi/Asher Angel-Shazam!, and Roman Griffin Davis-Jojo Rabbit.

    Best Supporting Actors

    1. Brad Pitt-Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    2. Winston Duke-Us
    3. Sam Rockwell-Jojo Rabbit
    4. Chris Cooper/Timothee Chalamet-Little Women
    5. Chris Evans/Daniel Craig-Knives Out

    Honorable Mentions: Mark Ruffalo/Paul Rudd-Avengers: Endgame, Jack Dylan Grazer-Shazam!, Samuel L. Jackson-Captain Marvel, and Lee Sun-kyun/Choi Woo-shik-Parasite.

    1. Nice picks here. Love that Pitt's Ad Astra ranks so highly for you. I loved him in that damn movie. And, of course, Cliff Booth takes the top supporting spot. I definitely dig that.

  3. Yes, Cooper in Little Women! That moment when he sat down on the stairs, listening to Beth play really got to me

    1. That was just so damn beautiful. I was surprised they didn't cut in for a close-up of him during that moment. But it was great to watch his body language play the scene out.

  4. There were so many great male performances this year as well i had a hard time putting together my own list. I still haven't gotten around to watching Waves or Richard Jewell, but other than that i agree with pretty much your entire list. I'm happy to see Paul Walter Hauser so high on it as well. I still remember him as Charlie's juggalo friend on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia so it has been great to see his career grow so much in these past few years. I can't wait to watch Richard Jewell now. But anyway here is my list so far:

    20. Wesley Snipes as D'Urville Martin in Dolemite Is My Name
    19. Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck in Joker (I wasn't a big fan of the movie, but Phoenix was really good in it.)
    18. Zack Gottsagen as Zak in The Peanut Butter Falcon
    17. Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
    16. Noah Jupe as Young Otis in Honey Boy (One of the best performances i have seen from a child actor in years.)

    15. Adam Driver as Charlie in Marriage Story
    14. Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc in Knives Out (This was such a fun performance from Craig. I hope we get to see more of this character.)
    13. Christian Bale as Ken Miles in Ford v. Ferrari
    12. Jean-Claude Van Damme as Lukas in The Bouncer (It's a shame Van Damme doesn't appear in more movies in his native language because he can be a fantastic actor then. Even if the movie itself isn't great.)
    11. Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran in The Irishman

    10. Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa in The Irishman
    9. Robert Pattinson as Thomas Wake in The Lighthouse
    8. Shia LaBeouf as James Lort in Honey Boy and Tyler in The Peanut Butter Falcon (These last few years have really turned me around on Shia. I used to really dislike him as an actor, but now i'm very excited to see where his career goes.)
    7. Kang-ho Song as Kim Ki-taek in Parasite
    6. Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite Is My Name (What a great comeback from Murphy. Let's just hope he keeps this up now.)

    5. Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Roy McBride in Ad Astra (What a fantastic year for Pitt. Two absolutely fantastic performances in one year. It was impossible to choose just one.)
    4. Willem Dafoe as Thomas Wake in The Lighthouse (That scene where he curses Pattinson for not liking his lobster is a scene i will never forget.)
    3. Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino in The Irishman (I really missed Pesci in movies, so to see him cme back with a fantasic performance like this was amazing. I hope he keeps it up.)
    2. Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Rick fuckin' Dalton! I was sure this was gonna be my favorite performance of the year until very recently.)
    1. Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner in Uncut Gems

    What a fucking performance from Sandler. Holy shit! I knew he could do serious performances, but i had no idea he could do this. I haven't been this tense watching a performance in forever. I really hope he won't just go back to his awful comedies now, but considering he just signed a new deal with Netflix i'm afraid that's inevitable.

    1. Love these picks! Sounds like I have to see The Bouncer; I always root for JCVD and I haven't even heard of that movie. I thought Sandler was incredible in Uncut Gems, and I wish he took on more roles like this too. But then I have to hand it to the guy. He's carved out his own unique niche in Hollywood and made it work. Lord knows how, but he does it.

    2. The Bouncer is an average movie at best, but worth checking out if you're a fan of Van Damme. He saves the movie. I would love to see him in a real good movie again like JCVD was. I have been wanting something more like that from him for so long. Like with Sandler, it's extra annoying to see him star in bad movie after bad movie when you know he can be so much better.

    3. I would love to see him in a JCVD-caliber movie as well. Always liked that guy. And I agree that it can be a tad frustrating to watch a performer continually take on weak roles, when they've proved they're capable of so much more. Money talks!

  5. Kelvin Harrison in WAVES!! Omg. I just saw it a few days ago and I'm still a wreck. I loved all the performances in that movie. I loved how there weren't many words and yet you didn't really need them anyway.

    I haven't seen some of these, okay, most of them but I'm going through my list like.. step by step. I just saw The Mustang and I also loved that main performance. Also very minimal but powerful.

    1. YES! A FAN OF WAVES! YESSSSSS. I fucking loved that movie and Harrison's work in it. That film has genuinely changed me, and I'm so happy you liked his work in it too!

  6. Nice picks!
    Rick is probably one of my all-time favorites of Leo. It's one where he could easily play himself, but there's a lot of hilarious and fitting layers to his freak-outs and anxiety.
    Cooper's performance in Little Women is so underrated. One of my favorites from last year.
    The Joker was Joaquin's most hollow performance. I wish he would've won for The Master, or even Walk the Line which is a horrible biopic for Johnny Cash. But it is what it is.
    I'm looking forward to Brad winning the most. It's been too long for him to finally get acknowledged.

    1. Thanks so much! Rick could very well be Leo's best. There's a lot going on in that performance, and I think it'll age really well.

  7. Love this list and have read it a few times now, big time agree on pretty much everyone here. If I had to add any, I'd go with:
    Kelvin Harrison Jr.- Luce
    Jonathan Majors/Jimmie Fails- Last Black Man in SF
    Song Kang Ho - Parasite
    Daniel Craig - Knives Out
    Mark Ruffalo - Dark Waters
    Tzi Ma- The Farewell

    1. All great calls. I'm so glad Knives Out is available to stream now. I don't think one viewing of that was enough.