2020 has been the year of never ending badness, that would be the mildest statement one could make about this year. In general, it’s been a total shitshow with very few moments of happiness… so this year seems like a perfect time to start a new tradition on this blog, because why the hell not? It means I have fresh New Year’s content and that’s always nice to have fresh content so this is me saying what I felt the best performances of the year were.
Well, I say “Best” but much like with the best films of the year list, ‘BEST” in this context really means “Performances that I liked the most”. Maybe they weren’t in the best films, some of them might actually be in pretty bad films, but they’re the kind of performances that make you want to watch any film… and this is a top 20, because it’s my blog and I can do that sort of thing!
20) Billy Porter as Barrett in Like A Boss
We, as a species, do not deserve Billy Porter. The man is a consummate showman who will command your attention no matter if it’s as part of Pose, on a red carpet, or the commercial break of the Tony’s.
In Like A Boss, the forgettable comedy about an indie makeup company being bought out by a bigger makeup company, Billy Porter is the assistant who basically makes the store sing.
He’s relegated to a minor role, only getting a few small moments to shine but he does. He’s at the bottom of the list because his role is so incredibly small, but I have a chance to put Billy Porter on a list and I’m going to do it when the opportunity arises
Best Scene: Witness. My. Tragic. Moment.
19) Meryl Streep as Dee Dee Allen in The Prom
Here’s a shock, Meryl Streep gave a great performance in a movie that wasn’t great on its own.
Even though The Prom was underwhelming, Meryl gave her all in every scene. Delivering a gloriously campy over the top performance as Broadway diva Dee Dee Allen, Meryl is the powerhouse that makes the entire film watchable.
Considering that there was a time when “Meryl Streep is in a musical” yielded negative feedback, it’s nice to say that it’s turning into something I genuinely look forward to.
Best Scene: “But It’s Not About Me” (which was also recently lip synced by drag queens, which is how all musicals should be advertised)
18) Vince Vaughn & Kathryn Newton as The Butcher/Millie in Freaky
The Freaky Friday movie is always a chance for actors to really show off what they can do, specifically if they can sell that they’re playing the same role their costar played at the start of the movie (for a masterclass on this, see Jaime Lee Curtis in the Freaky Friday remake).
In a horror movie situation this means that the actress who would normally play the final girl has to take on being the killer and the actor who was hired because his size made him intimidating has to play a teenage girl.
Vince and Kathryn both do this absolutely brilliantly, making the swap as convincing as possible and neither of them holds back. Kathryn turns into a total badass sociopath who seems to keep forgetting that she’s a full foot shorter than everyone she keeps trying to kill while Vince… well, seeing Vince Vaughn playing a teenage girl is worth the price of admission.
Sure, they might not be perfectly playing the characters we saw in the beginning of the film (Kathryn has dialogue which The Butcher didn’t and Vince is more outgoing than Millie was) BUT they both show great range and create two very entertaining performances and being entertaining will do it for me every single time!.
Best Scene: The initial confrontation
17) Seth Rogen as Hershel Greenbaum in An American Pickle
Pulling double duty in a movie is usually impressive, seeing one actor take on multiple roles and making them distinct characters is a testament to their talent.
Seth Rogen pulls double duty in American Pickle and one of those roles, Ben Greenbaum, is almost a standard Seth Rogen performance but Hershel is something very different, an olden time man who is used to poverty and sadness being dragged into the modern day with his old attitudes still in tact. He’s where most of the comedy in American Pickle comes from and seeing Seth stretch himself to show off his ability to play an unlikable comedic character is such a great change of pace.
Gone are the things one normally associates with Seth, like his laugh or his stoner timing and even his voice. Hershel is the first time I’ve seen a character and not just Seth, and I would love to see more of it.
Best Scene: Herschel tells everyone what he really thinks about certain topics
16) Stonehorse Lone Goeman as Gisigu in Blood Quantum
Sometimes all you need to stand out in a film is to have a presence, an ability to command attention without saying a single word.
Stonehorse Lone Goeman, in his cinematic debut no less, has that kind of presence that just demands you watch his every move. He’s a perfect mix of comedic highlight and ultimate zombie fighting badass that holds the entire film together, every scene he’s in (which is sadly not enough, he should be the main character) is just incredible.
If this is his cinematic debut, I hope he’s being signed up to a ton more horror films
Best Scene: Gisigu’s final stand
15) Betty Gilpin as Crystal in The Hunt
In the most controversial movie of the year, Betty Gilpin had to pull a hard double duty.
As the lead character of an ensemble piece she had to stand out and be someone the audience wanted to root for AND she also had to kick ass like a world class MMA fighter. Of course, because she’s Betty Gilpin and she’s goddamn amazing, she does both of those things effortlessly.
Her performance as Crystal, the mysterious potential victim of The Hunt, is so completely committed that you buy that she can just kick anyone to death without breaking a sweat and then the stunt work… holy crap, how is this woman real?
Best Scene: “Cigarettes in Arkansas only cost six bucks. You fucked up, bitch!”
14) Samara Weaving & Brigette Lundy-Paine as Thea & Billy in Bill & Ted Face The Music
Some roles stand on their own, some only work as part of a double act and some work on their own while using a partner to improve the greatness that is already there.
Samara and Brigette worked together to create the most charming element of an already charming moment. They were given the hard task of making characters that were clearly related to the iconic Bill & Ted without just being carbon copies and they managed to pull it off.
The two of them work so well together that it won’t shock me when we hear about Billy & Thea getting their own spin off movie because they could easily carry it.
Best Scene: Catching up with their dads in hell
13) Anne Hathaway as Grand High Witch from The Witches
When you’re going to play a role, you’re really making a series of choices and what will end up making it work is how much you commit to those choices. Anne Hathaway made the choice to eat the set and it created the most memorable performance of almost any family film this year.
Anne going all in is nothing new, she’s known for giving every bit of energy she has for a role but as the Grand High Witch you could just see her relishing every single second and providing the film it’s lifeline.
Sure, she’s not going to be as great as the original (The original is Anjelica Fucking Huston, you do not top that) but her version is so camp and over the top that you can’t help but delight in every single second she spends gnawing on the celluloid.
Best Scene: Explaining her plan to the other witches.
12) Andrew Rannells as Larry in The Boys In The Band
In an ensemble cast it takes quite a lot to stand out, especially a cast as talented as the one in The Boys in the Band.
Andrew Rannells is just talented enough to pull that off, playing the monogamy-averse Larry lets Rannells show off his snarky mean side that so rarely gets seen and he does it with aplomb. He flirts with almost everyone, throws vicious barbs at his boyfriend (boyfriend in the play and in real life, which only adds to the fun) and manages to steal focus with just a look.
In a movie full of brilliant performances, Rannells finds a way to make sure you remember him.
Best Scene: “It’s for you, Hank!”
11) Kevin James as Dominick in Becky
If you had told me at the start of the year that I’d be proclaiming Kevin James as one of the best actors of the year, I would’ve probably laughed in your face.
Well, he sure made me feel stupid with his role as a neo-Nazi gang leader in this film where he turns into one of the scariest people you will ever hope to meet. I mean, he has to be intimidating enough that it justifies the violence that Becky will do to him and his companions and he pulls it off while also making you believe that he’s going to kill this young girl.
Every single scene with him in it is genuinely incredible and makes you want him to play more villains in the future because he’s so good at it.
Best Scene: Dominick and Apex have a conversation, with a gun pointed at Dominick’s heart the entire time.
10) Russell Crowe as Man in Unhinged
Some performances are subtle and nuanced, others are violent storms that rampage through a scene and destroy everything it comes in contact with.
Russell Crowe in Unhinged is the kind of intimidating villainous performance you can only get from an Oscar winning actor who has chosen to spend his later years playing in B movies. You never wonder for a second what his character is thinking, you can see it in Russell’s eyes and it’s terrifying. You worry for the other characters the entire film, and not just because someone put a phone in Russell Crowe’s hand.
Russell’s character might not have a name, at least none he’s credited with on IMDB, but what he does have is the presense of a hurricane that blows through the movie and leaves glorious cinematic destruction in his wake.
Best Scene: The deadly lunch
9) Delroy Lindo as Paul in Da 5 Bloods
The first of the “This is probably going to be Oscar nominated” performances on this list.
Paul is the standout character from the latest film by Spike Lee and it’s all because Delroy just makes this character captivating… and considering Paul is a MAGA supporter and I’m a big old leftie, that should tell you how compelling he is for me to like him this much. His relationship with his son is one of the most important elements of the film and leads to some of Delroy’s best work. Paul also has serious PTSD and again, it just lets the actor shine in ways that other material hasn’t yet.
This is another case of a single member of an amazing ensemble cast finding a way to stand out among a pool of outstanding talent.
Best Scene: The landmine
8) Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner in Uncut Gems
In Australia this was a 2020 film so I want no arguments here.
Seeing Adam Sandler take elements of the roles that’ve made his recent film the mockable messes that they are and turning them into gold makes you wonder where this incredible dramatic actor has been this entire time. Uncut Gems is a film known for its incredible tension and all of that is because of Howard and his obscene gambling addiction. Watching the wheels in his head turning as he tries to fight the urge to just pay off his debts and instead deciding to risk everything on one big million dollar scheme is engaging and incredible.
If we could get more performances like this out of Sandler, I might start forgiving him for a lot of the Happy Maddison output.
Best Scene: The final basketball game gamble
7) Robert Pattinson as Rev. Prestin Teagard in The Devil All The Time
Sometimes a role isn’t that big, it’s a 3 scene character with a few dozen lines and it’s meant to be a quick in and out. Some actors can take that role and make it sing, and Pattinson took this role and turned it into a full opera.
Every single note of his performance is incredible, from the weird accent choice that shouldn’t work but somehow does. The mannerisms that are extreme but defined. Hell, even the way the man turns his head is all part of this larger than life character, someone so big and powerful that he commands attention and justifies the entire movie with his very existence.
He might not be on the screen for long, but he makes every single second count.
Best Scene: The church lunch sermon
6) Maria Bakalova as Tutar Sagdiyev in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Maria would be on this list purely for the Rudy Guiliani scene because somehow getting through that moment without breaking character is a testament to her abilities as an actress.
When you throw on top of that the fact that she’s keeping up with a comedic master like Sacha Baron Cohen (Hell, at times she’s outshining him!) and manages to not only be absolutely jaw droppingly hilarious in her own right but also be the emotional core of the film, it’s astounding. This is the kind of role that makes careers and the kind of performance that people will be talking about for years to come.
She is someone to watch out for, out of everyone on this list she’s the one who I expect to have the biggest career boost from this role.
Best Scene: Rudy Guiliani
5) Ben O’Toole as Rex in Bloody Hell
Out of all the films on this list, this one might be the least well known which is a shame because Ben O’Toole delivers the kind of maniacal performance that fans of the horror genre love.
It’s an Ash from Evil Dead 2 style performance, complete with cocky arrogance and incredible physical comedy chops. Ben not only plays Rex but he also plays the manifestation of Rex’s subconscious in scenes where Rex is effectively talking to himself and it’s some of the best work that anyone has put on screen this year.
Considering that he spends a large amount of the movie chained up in a basement with a leg missing, it’s one of the most hyper animated performances of the year.
Best Scene: The bank robbery
4) Hugh Grant as Fletcher in The Gentlemen
So, not too long ago there was this commercial that I wish I could find to show you but the basic premise was to show how all western movies were the same by using multiple clips of Hugh Grant in romcoms. That was his thing, he was the romcom guy for so long that his name alone told everyone exactly what to expect… I don’t know when he decided to turn into a character actor but I love that he did because Fletcher is one of the most insanely fun characters in cinema.
Fletcher acts like the unreliable narrator for the film, telling the story to a very bored Charlie Hunnam… he also flirts with Hunnam’s character almost the entire time, like the creep he is. In a film full of larger than life characters, none is more captivatingly depraved or just plain fun as Fletcher. Every line that comes out of his mouth is hilarious, due to a combination of great writing and that exaggerated accent that Hugh’s decided to use.
Can Hugh Grant please just make the latter part of his career nothing but weird over the top characters like this, his Death to 2020 professor and his Paddington 2 villain because he has never been a more fascinating actor than he is right now.
Best scene: Any scene he shares with Charlie Hunnam… too many to count.
3) Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman in Trial of the Chicago 7
The story of the Chicago 7 is as weird as it is poignant, a group of protestors being charged for political purposes. Possibly one of the most interesting figures in that mob was Abbie Hoffman, a man who deserves a biopic of his own and should only be played by Sacha Baron Cohen.
Sacha is known mostly for his character work and it’s always fascinating just watching him dive into a character, but he’d never been better than he is playing Abbie. He knows just when to hit the joke and when to be serious, it’s a perfect performance that really shows just what Sacha can do with a character that isn’t his. He’s a scene stealer without even trying, making even the tiniest glance so perfect that you can’t help but look away from everyone else and just stare in anticipation of what Sacha’s about to do.
Seriously, someone make that Abbie Hoffman biopic and cast Sacha now.
Best scene: Abbie describes the court case in his stand-up act
2) Chadwick Boseman as Levee in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
No, this isn’t just this high because it’s Chadwick’s last performance. It’s because it’s his best, a fiery emotionally devastating performance that grabs the audience by the throat and takes them on a ride.
Chadwick was always great as an actor, but this is him at his actual best. He runs the gamut of emotions and manages to make you love and hate Levee in equal measure right up until the final scene where he just loses it. Everything about this performance is perfect, from his calmer moments when he’s leading the banter between the band to the more extreme moments when he’s giving every bit of energy that he has for a performance that had better be an award winner in the coming months.
It’s a performance to watch if you just want one hell of a reminder that we lost something special when we lost Chadwick, or just if you want to see an actor at the top of his game.
Best scene: “Your God ain’t shit”
And the best performance of the year is…
1) Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia Kass in The Invisible Man
Saying “Elisabeth Moss is an amazing actress” is nothing short of an understatement. Everyone’s known this for years, even a cursory knowledge of Moss’s work is enough to proclaim her one of the best actresses of this generation… and even knowing that, her work as Cecilia is some next level stuff.
She could’ve just delivered a typical ‘Final Girl’ horror movie performance and no one would have objected but instead she creates this wonderfully layered and compelling role of an abused girlfriend to the titular Invisible Man. From the very first second of the film, she’s giving everything to tell the audience just how bad her relationship was without ever having to explain what happened. It’s incredible, jaw dropping, the kind of performance that the rest of someone’s career could be measured by. Pick any scene in the movie and you will see Elisabeth Moss at her absolute best, it’s an incredible performance that you NEED to see.
Seriously, if she isn’t Oscar nominated this year… there will be fire!
Best Scene: The final dinner scene