Top Film Performances 2017


Here are the acting performances which I appreciated most this year. As I said in my post Top Films of 2017, my list approach is not so much about what is ‘best’ but instead what are my favorites, which often has more to do with the impact a performance had on me and how it sticks with me. I also don’t limit the number of performances on my list, rank them against each other, or subdivide them by gender, leading or supporting roles. I list these actors in alphabetical order grouped by film title.

Daniela Vega in A Fantastic Woman

Ms. Vega, the trans actress in the lead role, is stupendous as a woman unable to express her grief as almost everyone around her denies her humanity and rightful place as a grieving lover. Her reined in performance is tone perfect. Read Film Post

Cynthia Nixon in A Quiet Passion

Cynthia Nixon gives a vibrant performance as poet Emily Dickinson in this dramatic imagining of the poet’s life by Terence Davies. Ms. Nixon plays Dickinson as a witty, pre-feminist and willful woman who is tortured by her expectations about life, love and spirituality, and finds outlet in her writing. Just a great performance. Read Film Post

Hiroshi Abe & Kirin Kiki in After the Storm

Playing a son who is struggling to live out who he wants to be, and his widowed mother who worries that she sees in him too much of the husband she is happy to be rid of. Both are performances of delicate balance and depth, and anchor this profound film. Read Film Post

Jon Hamm in Baby Driver

Mr. Hamm also had a nice turn in this year’s Marjorie Prime, but his portrayal of Buddy is more evidence of the actor’s range and skills. Other than for its style, I remember this film most for Hamm’s work.

Holly Hunter & Ray Romano in The Big Sick

A profoundly satisfying portrayal of a couple with much more between them than meets the eye, and the performances which give the film its depth.

Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, & Michael Stuhlbarg in Call Me by Your Name

In one of the finest films of the year, all three actors do wonderful work. Foremost are Mr’s. Chalamet and Hammer who build the romance between their characters with great craft and feeling. Mr. Stuhlbarg appears twice on my list (The Shape of Water) and had another memorable turn in The Post. After so much good work throughout his career, I hope one day gets the recognition he deserves. Read Film Post

Lily Gladstone in Certain Women

In a film of tenuously connected vignettes, Ms. Gladstone creates the most memorable character and plays her with a matter-of-fact grace, strength and depth that is impossible to forget.

Haley Lu Richardson in Columbus

Ms. Richardson’s work is as delicate and profound as is the film. i look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

Mr. Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill is most definitely Oscar worthy and I quickly forgot about the actor behind the character. But Oldman’s acting resume is rife with memorable characters, and it’s great to see him getting such deserved recognition. Read Film Post

Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project

His Oscar nominated performance as a character who is an anchor in a sea of instability is deeply satisfying, and another example of Mr. Dafoe’s depth. Read Film Post

Allison Janney & Margot Robbie in I, Tonya

Both of these Oscar nominated performances are certainly among the year’s best, and even if the story is more fictionalized than documentary, these actors bring to life two amazingly complex characters.

Aubrey Plaza in Ingrid Goes West

Is there any actor whose characters are more interesting to watch? Between this and her television work on Legion, Ms. Plaza has my undivided attention. Read Film Post

Tracy Letts, Laurie Metcalf & Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird

Ms. Ronan and Ms. Metcalf give two of the standout performances of the year as daughter and mother whose relationship is the core of the film. Mr. Letts plays the go-between father who is a stabilizing force, even in the midst of his own struggle. Appearing twice on my list and in three great films this year (The Lovers, The Post) I so appreciate Letts’ ability to play decency without sacrificing complexity. Read Film Post

Hugh Jackman & Patrick Stewart in Logan

Such an unusual look at the end of superhero lives with all the miles, maladies and regrets taking their toll. Both actors are superb in showing us where they have ended up and how that’s not too different from any of us.

Tracy Letts & Debra Winger in The Lovers

Appearing twice in my list and in three great films this year (Lady Bird, The Post), it is always a pleasure to see Mr. Letts’ work. Here, in what is mostly a two-hander, he and his costar Ms. Winger reminds us of their strengths in bringing to life characters as real people.

Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky

In one of his final performances, Mr. Stanton brings to life a character near the end of his, lending richness and pathos. A wonderful performance to remember him by.

Ethan Hawk & Sally Hawkins in Maudie

Mr. Hawk’s brutish, yearning character who is not a verbal communicator is a stretch and well played. Ms. Hawkins, who appears twice in my list (The Shape of Water) again shows us the profound depth and substance of a character without relying on language to communicate.

Javier Bardem & Jennifer Lawrence in mother!

In a challenging film which elicited strong feelings for and against Darren Aronofsky’s work, the two lead performances have stuck with me. Mr. Bardem is always adept at playing someone with a little crazy below the surface that seeps out. Ms. Lawrence continues to amaze, even at playing such an enigmatic and confusing embodiment of the creative muse. Read Film Post

Ia Shugliashvilli in My Happy Family

Another great performance of a powerful woman, one who exerts that power in quiet and unflinching ways.

Melissa Leo & Julianne Nicholson in Novitiate

I could have included several more of this outstanding ensemble cast, but Ms. Leo’s and Ms. Nicholson’s were the most impressive performances in what was a very powerful film. Read Film Post

Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper

Ms. Stewart continues to impress with her depth and subtlety, and is once again wonderful in her second film for Director Oliver Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria).

Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis & Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread

Mr. Day-Lewis stuns again in what may turn out to be his swan song if he stays retired, and Ms. Manville gets the deserved recognition with her Oscar nomination. For my money it’s Ms. Krieps who has the most outstanding performance – she kills it – and is one of this year’s strongest depictions of a powerful woman. Read Film Post

Meryl Streep in The Post

What else can be said about arguably the greatest actor of her generation? Oscar nominated and worthy, again. Read Film Post

Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Another deserved Oscar nomination for Mr. Washington who carries the entire film with a stellar performance.

Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer & Michael Stuhlbarg in The Shape of Water

A fantastic ensemble has three actors with Oscar nominated performances, and all five are worthy. This is the second appearance on my list for both Ms. Hawkins (Maudie) and Mr. Stuhlbarg (Call Me by Your Name) who also had a nice turn in The Post – hella year! Read Film Post

Claes Bang in The Square

Mr. Bang’s performance of this seemingly stylish and hip curator of modern art anchors the film and helps us see the contradictions in wars vs actions. Read Film Post

Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson & Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

All three actors give stellar performances in a film I appreciated more for the acting than anything else. Listen to my podcast on this film at

Jeremy Renner in Wind River

I appreciated the depth of Mr. Renner’s portrayal of a man who is living with grief, and the ways the film showed how the source of that grief has permeated all his relationships. It’s good to see a character who is far along the path of healing but still deeply grieved, and yet, not dysfunctional. Director Sheridan avoids the clichés in many of the other performances, especially with Olsen’s and Greene’s characters.

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman

Ms. Gadot crystalizes this superhero character and her performance has a great deal to do with the record breaking success of the film. She plays the character with style, smarts and power.