By Zach Hester
We’re on the cusp of awards season. The film festivals are gearing up to debut the heavyweights that seek to make gains at next year’s Academy Awards. Those upcoming movies are bound to provide some great performances from some spectacular actors and actresses; however, there are plenty of award worthy performances already this year.
Since I love a good list, today I’ll be visiting the best film performances I’ve seen so far this year. Some I would consider Oscar-worthy, others are just outright enjoyable to me. Some of them are both.
Robert Downey Jr., Avengers: Endgame
Will Robert Downey Jr. be the first actor to win an Oscar for a Marvel movie? I’m hesitant to say yes, but the last hoorah for Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame does feel award worthy. Downey Jr.’s career was catapulted back into relevance with this character, so it feels fitting for him to be recognized for a vulnerable portrayal of leadership in this final installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Infinity saga.
Lupita Nyong’O, Us
Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’O does double duty in Jordan Peele’s second-ever (!) feature film, Us. She plays two distinct characters and knowing the background through behind-the-scenes featurettes show how much she dedicated to the roles of Red and Adelaide. In my opinion, along with the film’s haunting score, Nyong’O is the movie’s best hope at snagging awards early next year.
Viveik Kalra, Blinded by the Light
Blinded by the Light is easily the most heartwarming feature that I’ve laid eyes on this year. The majority of that joy is brought through the voice of Viveik Kalra, the film’s lead who carries the story on his back throughout the streets of Luton, the movie’s 1987 setting. Kalra is a fresh face on The Hollywood scene, but with this kind of start, I think he has a long career ahead of him.
Emma Thompson, Late Night
Emma Thompson is always good. In Late Night, she’s great. Katherine Newbury, a condescending but lovely and sophisticated talk show host, wound up being the perfect fit for her this year. The role demands comedic and dramatic talent to fill Newbury’s shoes and Thompson does that to perfection.
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
There’s a lot to love in the latest film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino, but nothing is more impressive than Brad Pitt’s supporting performance as Cliff Booth, a 1960s stuntman. Despite being an A-list star for so long, Pitt feels underrated as a performer, instead having more of the focus placed on his personal life. Pitt is back in rare form with this one, proving that Tarantino brings out the best in him. *see Inglourious Basterds for another great performance from Pitt*
Florence Pugh, Midsommar
Florence Pugh is a star on the rise. She’s in Little Women later this year, but her descent into madness in Ari Aster’s Midsommar is the exceptionality that casts her into the spotlight. She begins as a normal college girl and ends as the May Queen of a Swedish sunshine cult. Talk about a story coming full circle.
Ryan Reynolds, Pokemon Detective Pikachu
Do not @ me about choosing this one. Ryan Reynolds essentially played Deadpool in the body of a tiny electric mouse, sans the profanity of the Merc with a Mouth. It’s a great VFX performance in one of the best video game movies of all time. But of course, that’s not a high bar to beat.
Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell
This is a breakout performance if I’ve ever seen one. Shuzhen is a first-time actress, but with the gravitas and comedic chops she shows off in Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, you would assume that she’s been working for 50 years. Get this Grandma an Oscar.
Mena Massoud, Aladdin
Mena Massoud was the perfect Aladdin. There’s not another actor in Hollywood who could’ve been as charming and collected as he was in the lead role. Outside of a few smaller credits, this is Massoud’s cinematic debut. There’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s destined for stardom, which is great. It’s beyond time for Hollywood to have a Middle Eastern leading man.
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