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Best Film Performances of 2017

Best Film Performances of 2017

These are our favorite film performances of 2017.

Tiffany Haddish in Girls Trip

Too often, supporting roles for women in Hollywood movies are just that – a role in support of another, often male, role. Subtlety is championed, and on the rare occasion a supporting actress is asked to be expressive, it’s through a male lens, either as a femme fatale or a manic pixie dream girl.

Tiffany Haddish’s Dina, a supporting character in the summer comedy Girls Trip, obliterates all of those expectations. Dina dominates every scene she is in, her actions hilariously manic and her dialogue a stream of profanity-laden jokes. And Haddish plays Dina with the kind of abandon rarely seen in these days of the calculated movie star. She attacks every scene with mischievous eyes and impeccable timing.

Beyond her sheer comic prowess, the most masterful part of Haddish’s acting is that she manages to sculpt Dina into the ideal friend. Even when she’s doing horrible things – threatening boyfriends with broken bottles, peeing on large crowds of people, inventing ill-advised sex acts involving grapefruit – the sheer love she has for her friends is always on display. Haddish’s Dina, through her loyalty and her lust for life, ends up being the best friend all of wish we had. – Mike McClelland

Hiroshi Abe in After the Storm

Hiroshi Abe’s performance as Shinoda Ryôta in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After the Storm is the pivot around which the entire film is established. He plays Ryôta as a bedraggled yet charismatic figure, one who is perpetually downtrodden and broke but ever hopeful and aspirational. Abe’s gestures and posture carry so much of the storytelling burden throughout the film, as he alternates between depressed slumping and promising perkiness, leaning against furniture while melancholy, gliding into rooms while gleeful and shifty eye contact while staring forlornly at his shoes.

Within Abe’s performance, Ryôta as a compulsive gambler, failed-yet-formerly-promising novelist and try-hard-at-times absentee father comes to life. When Abe is playing Ryôta, he embodies all of the character’s contradictions and complex emotional and professional baggage in each scene. The manic energy stemming from his certainty that this newest scheme represents his big break, the hard-learned fatalism that, deep down, tells him he is wrong and this too will fail and the subsequent emotional fallout from the failure of whatever scheme he unsuccessfully tried to launch are all there on Abe’s face in every moment. It is stunning to watch; rarely does an actor so fully bring to life such a complicated and rich character as Abe does here.

After the Storm grabs the viewer’s attention from its opening shot. Surely, that has much to do with Kore-eda’s virtuosity behind the camera, but Abe’s endearing performance as the film’s lovable rogue protagonist is certainly deserving of some of the credit, too. – Ryne Clos

Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name

The most telling sign of a truly great actor lies in their ability to communicate a world of emotion without any words. Think the slow zoom on Robert Pattinson’s face as he sits in the back of the police car at the end of Good Time; the way Daniel Day-Lewis longingly stares at Vicky Krieps when their characters first meet in Phantom Thread; the silent observations of Kristen Stewart’s grief in Personal Shopper. Through each of these performances, the actors’ output managed to express their characters’ thoughts and feelings through facial constructions and body language alone. No actor in 2017 better seized this rare talent than Timothée Chalamet in nearly every moment of Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name.

Through quick glances and gazes of desire, Chalamet effortlessly taps into his character of a young man falling in love with an older student (Armie Hammer) of his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) during a fleeting summer in Italy. So much of the film’s raw sensual power is captured simply in the ways Chalament and Hammer look at one another, which eventually leads to touch and evolves slowly into romantic sexuality.

Chalamet’s inherent aptitude in acting reaches its high point in the film’s final scene, which occurs while the final credits run over it. As his character sits and stares into a fireplace—the camera fixed solely on his face, shoulders and hands—he hits us with a wave of emotion (accompanied, quite perfectly, by Sufjan Steven’s original song “Visions of Gideon”).

His tears are our tears. His aches are our aches. And if you were to collect the waterworks from every sobbing individual affected by these final moments, you’d have yourself an ocean. – Greg Vellante

Armie Hammer in Call Me by Your Name

When interviewed about casting Armie Hammer as one of the leads in his film, Call Me By Your Name, director Luca Guadagnino described how he needed an actor anyone, regardless of gender, would fall in love with. And the audience falls hard for Hammer’s Oliver, an American grad student who visits Italy over the summer of 1983 and falls in love with the young Elio (played by Timothee Chalamet). Outside of looking like a Greek god, Hammer conveys all that makes the character attractive: he’s charming, intelligent, confident. Guadagnino never shies from letting the camera gaze on Hammer, whether it’s in the various states of undress he’s in, or in moments that put Hammer (and by extension, Oliver, on the spot). Much of the fun this year derived from seeing the actor dance to the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way,” and it plays better in the feature than in isolation. Hammer lets himself be vulnerable and free like the character is.

And yet his increasing connection to Elio terrifies him, and Hammer makes the audience feel all those conflicting emotions at once. The way he expresses himself via looks and touches is both swoon-inducing and empathetic; everything he does is human and relatable. The character and performance work because it’s aware of how an audience will respond. Like Elio, you just can’t help but fall in love with him. – Kristen Lopez

James Franco in The Disaster Artist

If you’ve seen The Room, you can probably do a passable Tommy Wiseau impression. But in The Disaster Artist, James Franco achieves something that is much more than an impersonation. With 17 IMDb acting credits in 2017 alone, the one-time “Freaks and Geeks” star might be stretching himself thin, and a film about the making of a widely mocked cult comedy may seem like just another one of meta-movies that Franco seems to make over and over with the same friends, sleepwalking through an easy paycheck. Not this time. The actor immersed himself in a surprisingly tricky role with the generous help of prosthetics and a strict exercise regimen, getting the mannerisms and accent down perfectly, and he spent most of the shoot directing the movie in character. But the biggest challenge was to give a sympathetic portrayal that doesn’t make fun of his subject. More than just an impersonation, Franco captures Wiseau with a naïve vulnerability that makes this potentially horrifying and definitely deluded would-be artist into a real human being desperate to share his art with the world. It’s an impressive balancing act that’s one of the most hilarious performances of the year and one of the most touching. – Pat Padua

Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Capturing the nuance of a mother-daughter relationship is a tough ask, and the spectrum runs from idyllic “Gilmore Girls” to warring Freaky Friday. In Laurie Metcalf, however, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird finds its complex, sometimes contradictory loving mother figure. Because while Metcalf’s Marion McPherson does everything she does (including working double shifts as a nurse) for the sake of her daughter Christine, self-dubbed “Lady Bird,” she does not withhold judgement and she bears the responsibility of being the harsh, disciplining parent.

It could be easy for Marion in this situation to fall into the pattern of viewing her daughter and her husband (Tracy Letts), who never delivers the bad news and mediates emotions with tenderness, as being against her. And she does to some extent. But moreso she embraces her role in the family as the breadwinner and the voice of reason. When Lady Bird’s anger leads to rebellion and rejection of her mother and the life she’s struggled to maintain for her, Marion isn’t unjustified in worrying that her willful daughter is ashamed, even a snob. Gerwig’s script, for its part, isn’t even beyond exploring the notion of a mother who loves her daughter but doesn’t quite like the person she’s become. And all of this comes under the cloud of impending separation, as Lady Bird applies to college.

The mounting emotions at play here, as arguments erupt and are just as easily forgotten amidst tried and true therapeutic wishful thinking (aka fake house hunting), are skillfully portrayed by Metcalf. From Gerwig’s script, she captures the exasperation just as well as the resistance to letting go. And even in scenes where she is truly grappling with an unruly daughter who she wishes behaved any other way than through this spiteful rebellion, Metcalf portrays the honesty in that as well as the regret. For a character that would normally be written off as cold and exacerbating for our teen protagonist, Metcalf makes it impossible not to understand the other perspective. – Katherine Springer

Cynthia Nixon in A Quiet Passion

Emma Bell introduces the viewer to a young Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion as a brash, caustically witty individualist, a streak maintained by Cynthia Nixon in the poet’s adulthood. The grown Emily has better manners and a respectful attitude toward family and friends, but she retains a certain precociousness in her sense of humor. Nixon adopts a wide-eyed, peevish delight whenever Emily says or hears a particularly acerbic bon mot, a childlike glee and disbelief that so racy a comment could be said in her presence or escape her own lips. That conviviality is diminished, however, by Emily’s subtly shrinking bubble as her introversion pulls her further from the world outside her family home.

Nixon portrays Emily with enough fire over sexist, dismissive attitudes from publishers to make the poet seem like a modern figure stuck in a regressive past, but the actress puts that outrage to more complex use, mingling it with Emily’s emergent romantic loneliness. Crucially, Emily’s professional and personal longings are not separated, with her desiring love as well as recognition from those to whom she gives affection. Nixon gives one of the all-time great depictions of loneliness, that of free chattiness around close confidantes but a fundamental inability to articulate even to them the depths of want and need that course through her. There’s a silence to loneliness that reverberates even when one has others to speak to, and that pent-up desire to just scream aloud ultimately manifests in total physical collapse, which Nixon plays with terrifying full-body spasms. The literalization of Emily’s isolation as a writer and, eventually, a human being upends biopic neatness for something far more troubling, and Nixon above all portrays the real, physical toll of neglect on artists doomed to suffer the indignity of posthumous acceptance. – Jake Cole

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