Our Favorite Performances of 2018
Every year when the nominees for the Academy Awards are announced, the news brings with it a wave of emotion for critics and moviegoers alike. For all of the elation, surprise, and gratification we feel when one of our favorites is selected, there is always some disappointment and frustration for those who were not. In a year with a multitude of great performances on display, the Best Acting Categories are especially contentious. Each of us here at Cinema As We Know It feel differently about who should have been nominated for an Oscar, and as such, we have selected some of the strongest and most memorable characters to celebrate for our best performances of 2018. Without further ado, let’s get started!
YALITZA APARICIO AS CLEO IN ROMA
Yalitza Aparicio is the first indigenous and second Mexican woman to ever be nominated for an Oscar, and she is without a doubt the deserving frontrunner for a win. It’s unbelievable that Aparicio, a first- time actress, is able to deliver the complex performance that she does in Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. She portrays the soft spoken and sweet Cleo, who serves as housekeeper and nanny in a bourgeois home that loves her, yet keeps her at an arm’s length. Cuarón’s camera is obsessed with her visage, and rightfully so. She reaches the highest joy and the deepest agony authentically, but is also fascinating to watch while going about her daily tasks. The banality of life is made high art. Her smallest looks and gestures convey a sea of emotion at any given moment, like a living breathing Mona Lisa. The audience feels the sensation of experiencing Cleo’s life in real time with her, inviting us in to care for her being. Additionally, Aparicio’s ability to hold her own in a number of demanding long takes would be impressive even for a seasoned professional. Overall, she is beguiling and delightful to watch.
Jesse Plemons as Gary in Game Night
Awkwardness is by no means an inherent quality in us humans (though some, like yours truly, are especially gifted). We often arrive at such situations and are mostly helpless to get out. Jesse Plemons as police officer Gary in John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s Game Night plays his awkwardness incredibly. Like a blunt instrument that doesn’t fit anywhere he is downright unsettling and it is to hilarious effect. Long underrated, he’s considered a discount Matt Damon after all, but never for a lack of effort, here he buoys much of the narrative with his gawkiness.
From our first brush with him Plemmons is simultaneously off-putting and captivating, ridden with extreme decorum and propriety, his voice is flat and his questions probing, and you can feel for his neighbors, Max and Annie played Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, as they are trapped by his conversation. He shares his strategy for getting the mail, waiting until late in the day to “spare [him] a futile trip to the mailbox,” I ask, who says that? Max and Annie, accordingly, don’t know to respond. For the audience the answer is easy: laugh. They try to break away but Plemmons persists in a measured though slightly raised voice, asking after their plans. Plemmons plays the bit stoically, his posture rigid, the pitch of his voice unwavering, the corners of his mouth on short leash. He steals every scene, rendering every interaction painful to endure for the film’s characters yet side-splitting for the audience. He draws out every line, stretches every word out, it is impressive control of voice and tone. His eventual triumph is an epic feat of calculated scheming made hilarious, again, by Plemmons portrayal of social desperation.
Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Rarely do we see an actor have so little regard for their own life as we did with Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible - Fallout. At the age of 56, the scientologist might as well be verifiably insane, but goddamnit, we’re all the better for it. From doing his own fight scenes to riding a motorcycle at high speeds through Paris to jumping across a twenty foot gap and breaking his ankle to flying a helicopter into a corkscrew nose dive while operating the camera to jumping out of an AC-130 at high altitudes and performing a HALO jump, every stunt in Fallout is performed by the man himself. No stunt doubles. No CGI. It’s all real, and it is this cavalier attitude towards death that makes his performance so breath taking. Knowing that a real human being is putting himself in these scenarios brings a tactile sense of danger that is often lost on other action films, and it elevates the film to new heights with each subsequent stunt. What Cruise does in Fallout is absolutely unbelievable, and gives credence to the actor as auteur theory. Why any human being would want to do this all himself we may never know, but the fact that we got it all on film is historic enough.
REGINA HALL AS LISA CONROY IN SUPPORT THE GIRLS
Support the Girls opens on Regina Hall sobbing in her car, then pulling herself together to go into work. It’s immediately resonant. She is warm and charismatic as Lisa, the harried manager of a “breasteraunt” who simply refuses to let her bad luck bring her down. Lisa’s benevolently navigates an unsanctioned fundraise for a server in a legal dilemma, bumbling new hires, handsy drunks, a burglar stuck in an air vent, and the establishment’s surly owner, not to name her personal troubles. Hall’s character provides a blue collar slice-of-life that anyone with experience in the food service industry can heavily relate to. She is the patron saint of every waitress who has ever been stiffed on a tip, a firm yet loving parent to her quirky family of employees. She takes pride in what she accomplishes, and her spirit of persistence and selflessness is infectious. Even though her number one rule is No Drama, she faces more than her fair share, and it’s the moments that her smiling veneer cracks that she is utterly human. Her performance is a reminder that it takes immense strength to be kind.
Leticia Wright as Shuri in Black Panther
Ah to be young and, so cool? Perhaps not typical but that is exactly what Leticia Wright is as Princess Shuri of Wakanda in Marvel’s massive hit Black Panther. Playing the younger sister to the titular hero, or T’Challa, with the confidence befitting a superhero she is absolutely electric and absorbing, injecting some natural charm into the whole production. In the caped world the film occupies that is to be cherished. Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther rocks, the Academy thinks so handing it a Best Picture nomination, but it still a genre film, a Marvel one at that, so it is unable to escape all the tropes but whereas previous films in this cinematic universe bend to perplexing bits of humor often delivered by the wrong people, here Shuri’s character expands the world with her pop-culture sensibility and natural humor and shows how those moments can work.
Her first major film role Wright kills it, as she might say, or as Drake might say, as Wright is featured in his “Nice for What” music video which came out after Black Panther, and after this performance it’s safe to say she earned such clout. She bolster’s the film with an infectious commitment to her role, as she is lively and jests with everyone she runs into, and you can see that everyone involved loved sharing the screen with her. She seems to invoke chemistry with every interaction, from her older brother to Bruce Banner to agent Ross. Her relationship with T’Challa in particular is well drawn, and they seemingly have a grand time going back and forth between each other, ribbing with adoration. The scene where Shuri shows off the updated features of T’Challa’s new suit, and videos the physical humor gag, is funny because we believe Wright as a caring but always playful character. She has not just a future in the franchise but in Hollywood and beyond.
Matt Dillon as Jack in The House That Jack Built
At the center of provocateur Lars Von Trier’s latest movie is Matt Dillon’s Jack. In classic Von Tier fashion, the film itself divides audiences, but Dillon’s performance as the psychopathic serial killer stands to unite the sides as a truly great performance. Split into five encounters, audiences are treated to five different versions of Jack. Modulating between charming to sadistic to introverted to violent to anything in between, Jack is all over the place, operating in one mode for one second, and then shifting into another the next. Just when you think you have a pulse on Jack, he upends your expectations and goes off script. Through all the changes, Dillon conveys an unnerving, eerie, and unwieldy behavior that has you constantly questioning what he will do next and trying to find semblance of a rational human in the face of his actions. It’s random, psychotic, and deviant, and it feels like you’re walking on egg shells with a fictional character. For a film that leans into art house sensibilities and leaves much open to interpretation, one thing is for certain: Matt Dillion delivers a career best performance in the role of Jack.
TONI COLLETTE AS ANNIE GRAHAM IN HEREDITARY
It’s never been clearer that the Academy has a serious problem when it comes to ignoring genre films and the performances that come out of them, because Toni Collette has been devastatingly snubbed for her role in Hereditary. Ari Aster’s directorial debut is equal parts tragedy and horror; a story of profound loss experienced by wife and mother Annie (Collette). She is a beleaguered artist, designing miniatures based on her own family home, complete the insidious lingering of her own deceased mother. Annie is a woman whose grief and desperation drive her past the breaking point and into a waking nightmare. Though the film packs some uniquely disturbing imagery, it is Collette’s physicality that sells the entire package. It’s absorbing to watch as she throws herself into full-body sobs and snarling tirades. Her facial expressions go through transformations that seem to exceed human flexibility, and her reaction shots are the most shocking and visceral moments of the entire film. Collette completely changes again when the body no longer belongs to Annie, her stature and movements becoming inhuman and beyond unsettling. She personifies a terrifying and psychological evil, but miraculously, her acting never feels overdone. Even after the credits roll, Collette’s performance will continue to haunt your mind. And maybe the shadowy corner of your bedroom.
Joaquin Phoenix as Joe in You Were Never Really Here
Joaquin Phoenix is one of the greatest living actors alive, so it comes as little surprise that his latest performance in Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here matches his stellar track record. Phoenix stars as a Joe, a former service member who turns to rescuing trafficked girls upon returning home. Haunted by his past and driven further into mental instability by his current occupation, Joe straddles the line between life and death as he struggles with post traumatic stress. The complexity and nuance of such themes are not easy to put on screen, but through Ramsay’s direction and Phoenix’s performance, we are able to understand the inner workings of Joe’s mind with little to no words at all. Phoenix effectively conveys the internal struggles that are derived from Joe’s internal demons, and through his performance we come to understand the notion of constantly being on the edge of death, but always finding something to live.