Well, the year is over and a lot of people are paying attention to the awards shows and “best of year” lists. I’ve picked eight actors who gave performances that deserved attention, but were generally overlooked by critics. I’m not saying they were better than the award nominees, just that their contribution to the film – even in ones I didn’t particularly like – was a source of pleasure in itself. Also, I felt the need to include well-known actors whose work was undeservedly ignored.
They are listed alphabetically by last name name.
John Cho in “COLUMBUS”: While his was not the main story, Cho was able to leave a strong impression of an intelligent, empathetic young man, a Korean-American, who is facing the first crisis of his life. While working as a translator in Korea, he is summoned to Columbus, Indiana where his father, a famous scholar, suffered a stroke. While at the comatose man’s bedside, he realizes that he has no real direction in life, and has no meaningful relationship with his father. As a result, he becomes increasingly bitter that people expect him to act like a loyal, caring son when he feels so alienated from the man. Cho convey’s the man’s distress very quietly, but indelibly, without showy mannerisms.
Jamie Foxx in “BABY DRIVER”: This was certainly the top bad guy of the year. In fact, I felt Edgar Wright erred by killing him off early, and having a weaker Jon Hamm be top villain for the climax. Playing a member of a robbery gang, Foxx had such incredible disdain for everyone working with him that the audience was powerfully drawn in to the character. His rage, barely controlled, seemed to come from another film entirely. We saw an angry black man with seasoned criminal cunning; and I, for one, was eager for more of his story.
Charlotte Gainsbourg in “NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER”: While the film has some nice scenes of New York, it suffers from plot credibility issues and a miscast Richard Gere in the title role. But Gainsbourg makes good use of the best-written scene in the film, and her sly, subtle performance as a government lawyer is highly watchable. She plays a character whose job it is to catch her subject off-guard. Her performance caught me off-guard too; but it was fun.
Julianne Moore in “WONDERSTRUCK”: I think of Julianne Moore as the best current actress who is also a great screen beauty.Those very few, like Garbo and Ingrid Bergman, often had roles where their beauty was a hindrance, a distraction, and only their exceptional talent allowed you to accept them as just “good looking” women. In this film, Moore has a dual role: a beautiful silent film actress whose deaf daughter, Rose, comes to visit, and then as Rose herself, now an elderly woman living in New York. After overcoming the shock that the elderly Rose was Moore – she is almost unrecognizable – I was able to enjoy her totally unstrained, graceful performance.
Vero Tshanda Beya Mputu in “FELICITE”: This is the only star performance on the list, but Mputu, as well as the film, from Senegalese filmmaker Alain Gomis, are not getting the attention it deserves. Perhaps because it is non-judgmental and uplifting, which is not fashionable these days. Playing a night club singer whose teenage son needs a life-saving operation, she projects desperation, but never helplessness; somehow, with all the misfortune that she’s experienced, she believes in the basic goodness of people. And as a performer, she is soulful to the max.
Matheus Nachtergaele in “ZAMA”: This Brazilian actor doesn’t appear until the last third of this Argentinian film, but he helps enormously in holding your interest. Expectations are made high in the first part. His character, Vicuna Porto, is referred to as either a political leader or a thug, depending on who’s talking about him. When he appears, as leader of a band of lunatic guerrillas, he keeps you off balance because he seems like some hapless loner who wandered onto camp. But then, suddenly, he orders people to be tortured, and is obeyed. It is a smart, charismatic performance.
Harrison Sheehan in “BEACH RATS”: Good actors are expected to make the most of their opportunities, even in small roles. Sheehan doesn’t have a lot of screen time in this almost-coming-out gay film, but he makes an impression with his soulful eyes and infectious presence. The film’s star, Harris Dickinson, deservedly got major attention. Sheehan, as one of his hook-ups, should be noticed too.
Bria Vinaite in “THE FLORIDA PROJECT”: When an amateur actor scores a hit in a sleeper like “The Florida Project”, you don’t usually feel confident enough to predict a real career for them. But Bria Vinaite, playing Halley, a woman who is “bad news” personified, seems to have what it takes. While Brooklynn Prince, as her six-year old daughter, is getting the most critical attention, Vinaite more than holds the screen. Halley is the one of those “force of nature” characters who seem driven by pure id and rage, causing misery to everyone around them, but mostly to themselves. For an amateur to be so unselfconscious in such a role is rare.