Top 20 Best Performances of 2017

20. Sam Elliot – The Hero

Sam Elliot – The Hero

Sam Elliott was given the fun role of essentially playing himself. The Hero tells the fictional story of the biggest star of Western movies, but a good 30-40 years after his heyday. The screenplay was clearly written with the intention that Elliott star, even to the point of making references to his unmistakable voice. A role like this has a lot of potential for an actor, and Elliott nails every aspect. His performance is not only reflective, but thoughtful, innocent, and pure. This movie simply wouldn’t have worked with anyone besides Sam Elliott.

19. Tiffany Haddish – Girls Trip

Tiffany Haddish – Girls Trip

Easily the funniest performance of 2017, Tiffany Haddish had a career breakthrough with Girls Trip. It’d be a severe understatement to say that Haddish steals the show, because she does way more than that. Haddish makes the show. Her humor is over the top, absolutely ridiculous, surprisingly technical, and unmistakably her own. We’re going to be seeing a lot more of Haddish in the future, and I think everybody’s okay with that. I know I am.

18. Patrick Stewart – Logan

Patrick Stewart – Logan

Logan blew everybody away for a whole lot of reasons, most of which can be summed up by the fact that it was just a really good movie in just about every aspect. One of the best things to come from the film, however, is Patrick Stewart’s unrestricted performance as Charles Xavier. This is Stewart’s seventh time playing the role, but the film’s thematic nature and R-rating allowed Stewart to turn this role into something better than we’ve seen before. His physicality and speech is perfect, and emotionally, he brought a whole lot of people to tears with that one scene. So good.

17. Michael Stuhlbarg – Call Me By Your Name

Michael Stuhlbarg – Call Me By Your Name

Of all the names on this list, Michael Stuhlbarg is the least likely to pop up on any other Best Performances list. That being said, this is not a performance that should be overlooked. Stuhlbarg’s role in Call Me By Your Name is small and usually overshadowed by Timothee Chalamet. However, near the end of the movie we get the best scene of the film, and Stuhlbarg takes center stage. It’s a fantastic father-son moment created by writer/director Luca Guadagnino, and Stuhlbarg gives a monologue that is one of my favorite movie moments of 2017. This performance is simple, but powerful enough to deserve a spot on this list.

16. Hong Chau – Downsizing

Hong Chau – Downsizing

Downsizing was easily the most mediocre thing Alexander Payne has ever made, but it has one quality that makes it worth watching: Hong Chau. Chau’s role is relatively small and kind of falls off toward the end of the movie, but every single scene she’s in, she steals everyone’s attention. From her accent to her physicality, Chau is absolutely hilarious and simultaneously heartfelt, and easily the best part of this movie. I can’t wait to see more of Chau in the future.

15. Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water

Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water

Similar to Hong Chau in Downsizing, Richard Jenkins’ role in The Shape of Water is largely left out of the trailers, leaving for an incredibly pleasant surprise when you watch the movie. As Sally Hawkins’ neighbor and best friend, Richard Jenkins creates a character that is maybe the most likable character of 2017. Jenkins is lovable, adorable, relatable, and cool as this character, totally disappearing into the role. There were so many fantastic elements to The Shape of Water, and Jenkins’ supporting role was one of the best.

14. Adam Sandler – The Meyerowtiz Stories (New and Selected)

Adam Sandler – The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

If someone had told me a year ago that Adam Sandler would be on my Best Performances of 2017 list, I would have laughed and told them to try to get through Sandy Wexler without cringing. The truth is, though, that Sandler’s work in The Meyerowitz Stories is not just good for Adam Sandler, but an extremely thoughtful and thorough performance in general. Sandler’s work in this film is highly emotional, giving his character a certain pathetic grit and a simultaneous disturbing relatability. This is an Adam Sandler we’ve never seen before, and I sure hope we see a lot more of him in the future.

13. Jennifer Lawrence – mother!

Jennifer Lawrence – mother!

With mother!, Jennifer Lawrence got probably the most difficult role of 2017. Darren Aronofsky’s film is something else, requiring a whole lot of reflection and a couple of repeat viewings. During none of those viewings, however, is there time or energy to pay attention to the acting. Because of this, the leading performance had to be pretty much perfect, and that’s exactly what it was. Lawrence’s performance consists of a lot of screaming, quiet closeups, and metaphorical dialogue; a nearly impossible combination for an actor. To do this, it was clear that Lawrence deeply internalized her character’s emotion, and in the most effective of ways. This movie is so confusing that it’s easy to be distracted from how good Lawrence is, when truly, she’s giving one of the best performances of the year.

12. James Franco – The Disaster Artist

James Franco – The Disaster Artist

James Franco gave probably the most talked about performance of 2017, playing the one-of-a-kind Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist. A role like this is a blessing and a curse, because it’s an extreme character, but it’s very easy to fall into doing a simple impersonation. For about 90% of the film, Franco does fall into the impersonation trap. His impersonation is great, though, and absolutely hilarious. For the other 10%, however, Franco gives easily the best performance of his career. Franco manages to provide emotion through a character who is so heavily filtered by ridiculousness that emotion rarely, if ever, seeps through. Franco makes it happen, and it’s really, really good.

11. Nicole Kidman – The Beguiled

Nicole Kidman – The Beguiled

Had The Beguiled been released in December, I’m sure it’d be more of an Oscar contender, and Nicole Kidman would be looking at a nomination. Unfortunately, Kidman’s incredible work is going to go largely unrecognized. This is a tragedy, because her performance as the headmistress of a small girls school during the civil war is one of the best performances of the year. Nearly every character in the film gets their own scene of trying to resist intense, sexual temptation, but Kidman’s blows all the rest away. It’s a quiet, dialogue-less scene with Kidman bathing an unconscious Colin Farrell, and Kidman’s acting makes it one of the best scenes of the year.

10. Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game

Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game

For starters, this role was made for Jessica Chastain. Molly Bloom is a character very similar to what Chastain plays best. More importantly, however, there just isn’t really anyone better as speaking Aaron Sorkin dialogue than Chastain. Between dialogue and narration, Chastain does a lot of talking in this movie, and every single word she punches with perfection. Chastain is in practically every single scene in this film, and I’m confident that if anyone else had been cast as Molly Bloom, the film would not have been as good. Chastain continues to proves herself as one of the best working actresses.

9. Holly Hunter – The Big Sick

Holly Hunter – The Big Sick

The Big Sick is an incredibly delightful movie, but it relies almost entirely on its screenplay. That screenplay is one of the best ever written, so it works, but there’s one element of the film that manages to stand out from the screenplay: Holly Hunter. Hunter plays the protective mother of Zoe Kazan’s character, and does so with s simultaneous timidity and confidence that totally steals every scene she’s in. The Big Sick is a movie that’s pretty hard not to love, and Holly Hunter is one of its best parts.

8. Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Like several of the entires here, Frances McDormand got a role that was perfect for Frances McDormand. The sarcastic, no-nonsense, determined, yet doesn’t-give-a-shit character that McDormand plays here is pretty much a combination of all of McDormand’s best roles over the years, and man, it’s good. Three Billboards is a film wholly focused on its characters, meaning the performances had to be perfect. As the protagonist, McDormand had the most pressure, and since she was perfect, she lands a spot on this list.

7. Timothee Chalamet – Call me By Your Name

Timothee Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name

Easily the best breakthrough performance of 2017, Timothee Chalamet gives the second best leading male performance of 2017. Call Me By Your Name is one of the most thoughtful movies I’ve ever seen, and as the protagonist, Chalamet’s performance had to be exactly that. The role is really good: character-wise, it was a fairly blank sheet of paper for an actor, but it features a wide range of emotions throughout the story. Chalamet creates his character, making him relatable and unique, and executes the emotional scenes with expertise which plays to what was needed for the scene, as well as the character he created. Expect to see a lot more of Chalamet in the future.

6. Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water

Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water

2017 was a pretty outstanding year if Sally Hawkins work in The Shape of Water is only number six. The Shape of Water is an exceedingly dynamic film, but its anchor is Hawkins’ silent character. When watching the film, the immersive dedication Hawkins had is evident. Physically, she’s brilliant, but most especially with her facial expressions, conveying a wide range of emotions which we recognize as being both intentional and unintentional from her character. Without any words, Hawkins conveys boredom, infatuation, excitement, sass, and badassery in the most delightful and effective of ways. Hawkins owns this role, owns the movie, and might just own and Oscar come March.

5. Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird

Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird

It’s hard to say who steals the show in Lady Bird, because between Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan, we have two of the five best performances of the year. Let’s just say they’re both amazing, because they are. In Metcalf’s case, her biggest role on the silver screen is also the best work of her career. Metcalf’s takes on the role of the tough, dominant mother brilliantly, balancing firmness and vulnerability with perfection. Maybe the most wonderful part of her performance, however, is the chemistry she shares with Saoirse Ronan, as the two absolutely nail the mother-daughter relationship.

4. Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Watching the trailer for Three Billboards the first time and I was sure we’d be looking at Oscar noms for Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson. Never would I have guessed that Sam Rockwell would be the best part of the movie. Surprisingly, of the three, Rockwell got the juiciest character – a character whose arc is so extreme, only a masterful actor would be able to pull it off. Which is exactly what Rockwell does. Rockwell takes the audience from hating his guts, to sympathizing with him, to rooting for him, to wondering how in the world he’s twisted our emotions so much. It’s an impressive character, and a simply outstanding performance.

3. Woody Harrelson – The Glass Castle

Woody Harrelson – The Glass Castle

The top nine on this list are all pretty safe bets for Oscar nominations, except this one, which I even considered putting at number one. This role is a very juicy one for an actor, being a dynamic character, but also a supporting character whom the plot is essentially centered around. Harrelson was perfect casting for this role, being a lovable actor, but also someone who is very good at portraying a gritty harshness. In this film, Harrelson makes the audience feel a plethora of emotions toward his character, reducing us to tears several different times. This is easily the best work of Harrelson’s career, and in my mind, it’s pretty much tied for the best performance of the year.

2. Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

To be perfectly honest, Gary Oldman had pretty much everything working in his favor. One, he had makeup and prosthetics to completely and perfectly change his appearance to the person he was portraying. Two, the entire film is pretty much structured around not just his character, but also his performance. Three, he’s playing Winston Churchill. All those things considered, Gary Oldman’s work in Darkest Hour is so much more than just another portrayal of Winston Churchill. Oldman completely disappears into the character in every way you can consider. The result is not just the best performance of his career, but a performance for the ages. Just like Woody Harrelson, in my mind, this performance is tied for best one of the year.

1. Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird

The top three entries on this list are all so good, that picking one seems silly. That being said, I still had to pick a single performance for the number one slot, and there was an obvious winner. Saoirse Ronan will surely be nabbing her third Oscar nomination for this performance, proving she’s easily the most talented actor in her age group. And this third nom, well, it’s far and away the best work of her career. The character of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is one that will be remembered for a long time, partially because of how well Grera Gerwig wrote her, but mostly because of how great Saiorse Ronan is. This is character that accurately details every single emotion a teenager goes through during their senior year of highschool, and those emotions are diverse and numerous. In every one of these, Ronan is perfect, making not only the stress, anxiety, joy, flirtation, obsession, confusion, determination, and hoplessness perfectly believable, but portraying the often abrupt transitions between them in the most realistic and effective way possible. See this movie because it’s incredible, but also see it because Saoirse Ronan gives a truly unforgettable performance.


Honorable Mentions:

Lily Collins – To the Bone

David Kaluuya – Get Out

James McAvoy – Split

Rob Morgan – Mudbound

Michelle Pfieffer – mother!

Will Poulter – Detroit

Judi Dench – Victoria and Abdul

Mary J. Blige – Mudbound

Jeremy Renner – Wind River

Jessica Chastain – The Zookeeper’s Wife

Kristin Scott Thomas – Darkest Hour

Steve Carell – Battle of the Sexes

Andy Serkis – War for the Planet of the Apes

Emma Stone – Battle of the Sexes

Robert Pattinson – Good Time

Lois Smith – Marjorie Prime


Films with Well-Reviewed Performances I Still Need to See:

Phantom Thread

The Post

Florida Project

I, Tonya

Last Flag Flying


* List will be updated upon viewing of these movies