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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

My 50 Favourite Film Performances of 2021

Updated: Mar 13, 2022

Oof. Yet another year filled with an overload of incredible performances. Here's a list of those that resonated with me the most. The first shortlist in this needless exercise came down to 135 performances I absolutely loved, so whittling that down to 50 proved an incredibly difficult task but here we are. Yay.

Note: Some of these performances debuted in 2020, living on festival circuits where barely anyone outside of critic circles and a handful of the public could see them. So as per my silly rules, everything that qualifies here made their wider theatrical and streaming debuts in 2021 outside the confines of extremely limited and hard to access festivals.

A notable omission in this list is that of The Worst Person in the World. Despite it being on so many 2021 end of year lists from publications and critics, it only made its theatrical debut this year in the US with a wider international release slate scheduled. So that will qualify for my 2022 batch of lists instead...just in case you were wondering. Anyways, blah blah blah, here's another tedious list of my 50 Favourite Film Performances of 2021 in no particular order...

Martha Plimpton (Mass)

A true ensemble piece if there ever was one, Mass takes place years after a school shooting, pitting the parents of a victim and the parents of the shooter together in a room to talk. Plimpton along with Jason Isaacs plays Gail and Jay Perry, parents of a victim, while Ann Dowd and Reed Birney sit on the other side of the table as parents of the shooter. Plimpton is at the very centre of an ensemble that is arguably the most emotionally draining performance of the year. In lesser hands, her performance could’ve been a hammed-up overly dramatic affair, but thanks to outstanding direction and writing, Plimpton is allowed to go through the motions as it happens, in a realistic, completely believable manner as she powers through her anger and overwhelming sorrow in a bid to try to understand and forgive. Effectively taking place in real-time, Plimpton and co. are tasked with the difficulty of having to unpack and come to terms with the revelations and realisations the moment they happen and stay with it as it grows and builds, never offered the luxury of a break in the scene through edit or text that would pull them away from the scenario to analyse their development in solitude. No, they’re forced to confront it then and there, with Plimpton’s character going through a gamut of emotions in full force as she finds herself mourning for her child all over again, in desperate need of having to forgive for the health of her sanity.

Joaquin Phoenix (C’mon C’mon)

Joaquin Phoenix returns to a more grounded and real character following his show-stopping, Oscar-winning turn as Arthur Fleck in 2019’s Joker. Johnny (Phoenix) interviews kids across the country as a radio DJ, asking them about their feelings on the present and future. It’s yet another delicate Mike Mills project that connects different generations through ideas, interests and experiences that are not too different from their own. But one day Johnny is asked by his sister Viv (Gabby Hoffman) to look after her son Jesse (Woody Norman) as she leaves to deal with a mental breakdown that her husband and Jesse’s dad (Scoot McNairy) is going through. Phoenix is at his most sensitive and vulnerable since Her, delegating the pace and intention within each scene expertly as he approaches Jesse and each child he interviews with a genuine sense of curiosity and desire to connect, to relate to the very same fears and hopes for the present and future. His newfound bond with Jesse allows him to reconnect and rebuild his relationship with his sister, one that has been drifting apart for years. They still love each other, but just don’t quite know how to show it anymore. Some of the film’s best scenes feature phone calls with his sister talking about Jesse and sharing advice on how to deal with him. But it finally forces him to listen to her much in the same way he does with kids and now Jesse, further helping him understand himself a little bit better. Phoenix has a fantastic scene partner in a truly wonderful Woody Norman, but it’s with Phoenix’s experience and sensitivity that allows him to ground and gently dictate each scene so effortlessly. It’s among Phoenix’s finest performances to date, providing more evidence of the sheer versatility he possesses.

Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog)

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Phil, a hateful, closeted rancher in Jane Campion’s newest masterstroke that is the focal point for what The Power of the Dog is all about. Themes of class, sexuality, repression, identity, individuality and the need to connect all swirl around and live through his character. It’s a deceptive, multi-layered performance so careful in its level of nuance, never feeling the need to explode or overcompensate for the intense feelings brewing inside him and his character. Cumberbatch just always manages to understand the assignment which is given to him, further strengthening his position among the very best actors on the planet. He appropriately looms over and dominates every moment and scene he is in, asserting his control over everyone as he inflicts a sense of unease, fear and even morbid curiosity at every given moment. Campion’s clear and concise writing helps characterize Phil, but it’s up to Cumberbatch first and foremost to help those carefully written descriptions, actions and dialogue come to life within his character. He refuses to let us in, but when he does, it showcases just how complex Phil is and how genuinely spectacular Cumberbatch is in making us believe it. It's an authoritative performance of complete authenticity, allowing us to see ourselves within his intrinsic need to put on a different face in order to survive the cruel, intolerant world.

Patti Harrison (Together Together)

Anna (Patti Harrison) is a paid surrogate to Matt (Ed Helms), a lonely, single, middle-aged man. These two are both loners, not quite fully knowing what the next step in their life is meant to be. Upon first glance, Matt can easily be construed as the more relatable character in terms of his needs and desires for friendship and some sort of future to look forward to, but it’s Anna’s unsure, apathetic viewpoint of her present and future that allows for Harrison to take full control of and give us a character we all see ourselves in, regardless of her physical situation most people, especially myself, can’t possibly relate to. The chemistry between her and Helms is completely believable as they surpass the “will they won’t they” trope of comedies involving a relationship between a guy and a girl. The relationship feels authentic, and thankfully, so does her performance of a character that is charming, flawed and simply scared of what the future holds for not only herself but also that of the beautiful little friendship both she and Matt are fearful of losing once the contract is fulfilled. “You’re doing really good. You’re the best”, says Matt to Anna, perfectly showcasing the genuine love and respect that these characters and their performers have for one another.

Ia Sukhitashvili (Beginning)

The character of Jana is the tragic centrepiece to the biblical themes that are on hand in Beginning. Placed within the patriarchal bubble of her religious community as nothing more than a dutiful wife and mother, Jana constantly finds herself at odds with the world around her both physically and spiritually, including that of her husband and a local chancer pretending to be a police officer. Sukhitashvili channels this frustration of being a woman in a constantly hostile world in correlation with her character of Jana, a woman whose faith is constantly and unfairly rocked to its core in each cruel twist of fate that a constantly violent world looks to bestow upon her. But thankfully, Jana is never portrayed or viewed as a victim, nor a martyr, just a woman going through the usual motions of being a woman in our awful world. It’s a wise decision from both filmmaker and performer, giving us an incredibly strong (and fragile) woman fighting to discover and understand herself in all this as a mother, wife and finally, a woman of faith. Sukhitashvili is simply spectacular as Jana, and thanks to the slow cinema approach of Beginning with its long, uninterrupted shots, she is allowed to add multiple layers to her character within each scene, revealing more nuance and detail as Sukhitashvili's instinctive decision-making as a performer enriches her character’s devastating journey of tragedy and enlightenment.

Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth)

It’s incredibly difficult to deliver a performance as the titular Macbeth that hasn’t been done before. We’ve seen it done so many times before on stage and screen with so many different iterations in a story we all know. But with Joel Coen’s latest, we have never seen anything quite like it from a visual, structural and thematic point of view. Playing along to the rhythm of Coen’s surreal tragi-noir look and feel, Washington is also significantly older than what we are accustomed to seeing and expecting from the role. It changes the dynamic of both his and Lady Macbeth’s (Frances McDormand) ambitions as these two are in the twilight years of their lives, looking for a way to finally cash in on the loyalty and hard work they have put in for their king. Why can’t they finally have it all? It’s about damn time, right? Thanks to Denzel’s massive experience in both theatre and film, he is allowed to utilize both to spectacular effect, playing for both the camera and stage as he looks to utilize the same said-experience and age into a character rushing towards his doomed fate, one that will finally receive what is owed to him through blood and glory. It’s a perfectly fitting performance within a story that is so very much a Joel Coen affair, containing all the humour, surrealism and ironic foreshadowing he and his brother are known for within their filmography. More collaborations between Joel Coen and Denzel Washington in the future please, they’re perfect for each other.

Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter)

The Lost Daughter is a heavy watch. It’s an exhausting, anxiety-filled experience that has Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley and Dakota Johnson at the very top of their respective games, with Buckley and Colman playing the same woman during two different periods of her life. Colman (and Buckley) plays Leda, a college professor holidaying in Greece, but her trip is soon interrupted when she finds herself obsessing over a young mother named Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter, unlocking traumatic memories of early motherhood (this is where Buckley’s version presides). The Lost Daughter is an extremely dense and complex portrait of motherhood and its difficulties. As a male, it’s impossible for me to fully relate to any of these ideas and themes found within The Lost Daughter as they are wisely aimed towards the trials and tribulations of being a young mother. But with Colman, Buckley and Johnson, they’re able to let me into their world and show me just how difficult, aggravating and anxious this incomprehensible duty of being a mother can be. Although they don’t share scenes together, Buckley’s Leda of the past and Colman’s Leda of the present are wonderful forces of tension that paint a true portrait of guilt, regret and anxiety that Colman’s Leda often finds herself placing upon herself where she begins to overcompensate and possibly attempt to right the wrongs of her difficult past as a mother. It’s a powerful, tragic performance, with Colman being able to utilise the text to full effect, battling her demons as she tries her best to keep them at a distance, despite being unable to escape them completely.

Nicolas Cage (Pig)

Pig is a sad gem of a film about a man’s tireless journey to find his beloved truffle pig. It’s a film that thrives on subverting one’s expectations from plot to character. It’s also the perfect reminder of just how stunning Nicolas Cage still is as an actor with truly limitless range. Despite Cage’s unfairly earned reputation as an out-of-control performer through a slurry of hammy B-grade performances over a large portion of his career, people seem to have completely forgotten that he remains one of the finest talents of his generation, an undisputed genius that remains criminally underrated. It’s all about harnessing that raw, bat-shit energy to full effect. Moonstruck, Raising Arizona, Wild at Heart, Mandy, Bad Lieutenant: New Orleans, Adaptation and let’s not forget his Oscar-winning lead in Leaving Las Vegas (to name a few), all utilised Cage to full effect, showcasing the massive range the man is capable of pulling off. But to be fair, subtle is not a word most people would often consider describing Nicolas Cage and his performances, even when he has been able to pull it off with great sensitivity in the past. Thankfully, true to Pig’s form, Cage manages to subvert all the usual expectations placed upon him – providing a considerate, assured and sensitive performance riddled with grief and loss as he slowly crawls towards the inevitable confrontation he must have with himself in order to move on. After all, the external conflict of the plot and with those around him is not what is important in Pig, it’s the internal battle he faces beneath the surface that is what the film is truly about, something Cage is able to convey to us effortlessly as he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Hidetoshi Nishijima (Drive My Car)

Following the death of his wife, Nishijima plays Yusuke, an ageing, but respected theatre actor and director as he adapts Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at a residency in Hiroshima. But due to contract obligations, he is forced to hire a chauffeur, Masaki (Tôko Miura) to drive him around in his car, something with which he prefers to do himself. In the car, Yusuke rehearses the lines of Uncle Vanya using a tape recording of his deceased wife who reads the other characters' lines, a routine he had done even before her death. But it’s in these moments where we see Yusuke refusing to move on from his past life, one that is no longer the same due to unavoidable circumstances, effectively wasting his life as he refuses to confront the issues of his marriage and effectively moving on. Although he attributes it to it being a work habit, both we and Misaki see right through this as he completely neglects the need fully unpack his grief and deal with it. It’s ironic in that he refuses to reprise his role as Vanya when the production possibly requires it, claiming that the play reveals your true self to the whole world, making it increasingly exhausting. Something he just cannot do anymore. But here, in his real world, he is living through Vanya’s dialogue as a means to projecting the truth back at himself, even if he doesn't quite realise it. Nishijima understands this irony and lets his character simmer in it, refusing to outrightly admit that he is wasting his life away to the impossible loves of his previous and current states of living, much like the themes that the play discusses. It’s a quiet, appropriately bottled-up performance that develops as organically and hypnotically as one expects from Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s patient approach to plot and character throughout the film’s three-hour running time, making his journey as a character all the more rewarding when the hammer finally starts hitting the nail on the head.

Kristen Stewart (Spencer)

Stewart lives and breathes this role, fully immersing herself within the psychology of a woman who just so happens to be Princess Diana, terrified and uncertain of her role to come as a woman and as a mother. Pablo Larraín reminds us that this isn’t quite the true story, “a fable from a true tragedy”, and this, in turn, allows for Stewart to break completely free from the expectations of Spencer being a straight-up royal biopic. It isn’t that, instead, it’s a psychological drama and even a thriller of sorts. A character study that allows for Stewart’s performance to tap into the weird, magic realist feel of Spencer’s world, constantly battling with her past, present and future - a theme that is so essential to the literal and metaphorical conflict found within the film. It’s a breathtaking performance that is somehow certain and uncertain all at once - a claustrophobic panic attack that is an increasingly unique interpretation of a woman undergoing a personal crisis, revealing its finite complexities with each rewatch. Stewart makes certain that it's more than just an impersonation, crafting a multi-layered character piece true to herself as an artist and human being that places herself in the shoes of a woman constantly under the limelight, unable to truly escape from it. It’s a performance of resounding intelligence and instinct, providing further proof as to why Kristen Stewart is one of the most interesting and respected talents working today.

Jasna Đuričić (Quo Vadis, Aida?)

If Spencer is a film that embodies anxiety in its glorious, claustrophobic self, Quo Vadis, Aida? is a full-blown panic attack. Jasna Đuričić plays Aida, a UN interpreter desperately racing against the clock to save her family as the Serbian army arrives in her town of Srebenica in Bosnia, 1995. Winner at this year’s Europen Film Awards for Best Actress, Đuričić’s physical and emotional relay race against an impending doom is a difficult viewing experience, never allowing her a moment to catch her breath as she is forced to make decisions that could ultimately affect her and her family’s fate at the snap of a finger - becoming a seemingly hopeless quest to save the last remaining connections she has to happier times before war changed their lives forever.

Sandra Guldberg Kampp (Wildland)

Following the death of her mom in a car accident, 17-year-old Ida (Sandra Guldberg Kampp) moves in with her estranged aunt and adult sons. Admittedly, Wildland’s plot can be incredibly derivative to that of the Australian crime thriller Animal Kingdom, mirroring the same crime family dynamics. But I found that a lot of the similar themes and ideas in Wildland were explored in a more compelling and challenging way – with Ida, in particular, proving to be a fascinating moving piece within the story and exploring its themes. Kampp is phenomenal as the timid, shy observer, thrown into this tricky habitat as she begins to understand her purpose within this family, forcing her loyalty when they haven’t yet earned it from her and if she even wants it at all. She doesn’t seem to have a choice as this is all she has left. She is completely guarded towards everyone including herself. She’s incredibly difficult to read, but once in a while, Kampp allows us to see small slithers of the discord she is dealing with from within, giving us a performance riddled with a quiet tragedy that captivates at every given moment.

Sir Anthony Hopkins (The Father)

The Father follows Anthony (Sir Anthony Hopkins), an ageing man living in London as his mind begins to give way to dementia. His daughter Anne (Olivia Coleman) checks in on him as he continues to lose his mind, refusing any kind of assistance. The rightful winner of last year’s Best Actor statue at the Academy Awards, Sir Anthony Hopkins is quite simply, unbelievable in The Father. Truly unbelievable. The maze-like structure of the narrative, edit and production design lets us lose our mind along with Anthony, but it’s in his performance that pushes the fear of losing our minds to very real heights. The edit and structure are effective in flaring this growing unease that builds for both Anthony and the viewer as a multitude of characters change in appearance from moment to moment, giving Anthony a sense of déjà vu as much as it does for us - further challenging our perspective of what is real and what is not. We are locked in Anthony’s world as we have no choice but to live in these moments, a never-ending nightmare with no escape in sight. It’s a hopeless, devastating performance that is without a doubt Sir Anthony Hopkins’ finest performance since The Silence of the Lambs. Hell, it might just be his greatest accomplishment to date.

Ben Whishaw (Surge)

There is a constant buzz of reckless, impulsive verve flowing through Surge’s veins. It’s a hyperactive film fraught with danger and unpredictability. And with Ben Whishaw’s portrayal of the film’s disturbed protagonist Joseph, Surge very rarely sits still, letting Joseph break free from his dead-end job and give in to his impulses over a single night. The camera never breaks away from Joseph, constantly moving in and out of motion to match Whishaw’s truly magnetic and completely unpredictable performance that has him sprinting away from the mundanity of his life and give in to those curious impulses rattling around in his head. The text barely lets us in on Joseph’s past, making it an even harder character to form a backstory that drives his actions in the present towards his uncertain future. But Whishaw mines from the vital plot beats he has at his disposal, creating a tense world that sizzles beneath Joseph’s exterior. This constantly rising internal tension lets Whishaw turn Joseph into the antagonist of his journey, pushing himself to give in to his nagging curiosities that turn Surge into an unbearably tense character study.

Han Ye-ri (Minari)

Another wonderful ensemble from 2021 is that of Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, a semi-autobiographical tale of a Korean family moving to Arkansas in search of their American dream: purchasing a large piece of land with the hopes of converting it into a farm. People will rightfully remember Youn Yuh-jung’s Oscar-winning turn as Soonja to be a major highlight of the film, but the real MVP to Minari is that of Han Ye-ri’s Monica, Soonja’s daughter and wife to Steven Yeun’s Jacob - a man so desperate to carve a piece of land out from the dirt that he is willing to sacrifice almost everything for it. The ensemble of Minari does feel like a family, and with that, Han Ye-ri fulfils this role as the true matriarch of the film’s cast. She provides a gentle, yet stern sense of levity with every scene she is in, proving to be the sensible figure within the family as she tries everything she can to keep them together.

Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)

Daniel Kaluuya is a true showstopper in Shaka King’s compelling thriller, playing the enigmatic Black Panther activist Fred Hampton. Kaluuya is pretty much flawless in emulating Hampton’s entire demeanour, but instead of falling into the trap of creating a hollow impersonation, he is given a chance to offer an effective and thoughtful interpretation of an important historical figure that goes beyond what we know of Hampton already. He’s absorbing in all his speeches, but it’s the moments between these calls to action that show off the magic of Kaluuya’s performance – providing intimate moments of humanity and relatable sensitivity that made him such a compelling figure for people to gravitate towards.

Cooper Hoffman (Licorice Pizza)

Cooper Hoffman appears to have gotten this raw, completely limitless acting ability from his father, the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman - showing a sense of genuine charm instead of the precociousness that a trained child actor may have unwittingly brought to the role of teenager Gary Valentine, a charismatic hustler in Paul Thomas Anderson’s endearing love letter to The Valley. Paul Thomas Anderson’s often overlooked theme of reinvention slots perfectly within Gary’s entire journey in Licorice Pizza, bouncing from one hair-brained scheme to another as his confidence rubs off on all those around him, including that of his love interest in 25-year-old Alana (Alana Haim). There’s an effortless air of charm about Hoffman, roping both us and Alana into his world as we move swiftly from one hilarious anecdote to another. Under the steady guidance of one of THE actor’s directors in Paul Thomas Anderson, Hoffman, a first-time actor, transitions seamlessly from scene to scene, showing that just like his father and co-star in Alana Haim, he is a damn natural. Cooper displays genuine killer instincts as a performer confidentially adept with dramatic and comedic range. His dad would be proud.

Adam Driver (Annette)

For me, Annette is jaw-droppingly brilliant one moment, then completely unwatchable (and unlistenable) the next. File Adam Driver’s role of Henry into the former category. Annette is as ballsy as a movie can get - taking risks and sticking to them with complete and utter aplomb. Annette follows the relationship of Henry, a struggling comedian, and Ann (Marion Cotillard), a successful opera singer. The film finds itself hitting its best notes when it allows for Carax and Driver to let loose and tear the screen apart. Cotillard and Simon Helberg as The Conductor give outstanding, fully committed performances, but it is quite easily Adam Driver (who has the most screen time by far)'s take on the unapologetic Henry that serves as the compelling driving force behind the film's brilliantly wild and disorderly conduct. The scenes of Henry performing on stage at his Ape of God show is the perfect combination of Driver’s endlessly watchable, ferocious charisma and Carax’s wild, untapped, ravenous energy. It’s in these moments that make Annette undeniably entertaining, unpredictable and addictive in its ability to keep you glued to the screen, with Driver fully giving in to the sensibilities of Leos Carax.

Ariana DeBose (West Side Story)

A true star if there ever was one, DeBose takes on the role of Anita, a role made iconic by the wonderful Rita Moreno in the 1961 film version of the same name. Anita is an immigrant, happy to call America her home, a land of opportunity for her to fulfil the ambitions and dreams she could never achieve in Puerto Rico. She sings and dances with ease, but DeBose brings something new to an already familiar role. Anita has always been one the most interesting female characters in film – a woman whose sunny and positive perspective gets crushed in an instant, putting a mirror up to America and asking if the American Dream is real and if it’s at all worth it. This country simply doesn’t want her, and she doesn’t want it back. In Spielberg’s version, DeBose drives that realisation home even harder, understanding the tragedy and importance of her character’s arc within the grand context of what this much-needed interpretation and update of West Side Story means.

Caleb Landry Jones (Nitram)

Winner at last year’s Cannes Festival for Best Actor, Caleb Landry Jones plays the Port Arthur Massacre’s perpetrator Martin Bryant. Jones is not interested in this project as an acting showcase that overly accentuates the performance clichés of a mentally disturbed individual. Thankfully, along with director Justin Kurzel, they aren't interested in sympathizing with him or justifying his actions either, merely setting markers as to where the greater problems lie that caused such an event to happen from so-so gun restrictions and the sweeping-under-the-rug attitude towards mental health. And although we can never fully understand the actions and things that trigger one to do such a despicable act, director Kurzel, screenwriter Shaun Grant, and Jones wisely keep us in the dark as he gives a nervy, unpredictable powder-keg of a performance moments away from catching on fire. He hides behind his demeanour, shuffling around as his interactions grow increasingly stranger, with only Jones fully knowing what is going on inside his head as we slowly crawl towards that fateful day. Nitram is an increasingly tense and difficult film to endure, and it’s thanks to Caleb Landry Jones’ committed performance that allows the tension to reach unbearable heights.

Rodrigo Santoro (7 Prisoners)

Mainstream audiences will recognise Rodrigo Santoro from the likes of 300 (although pretty unrecognizable here. Lolz), Westworld and Lost. But it’s with 7 Prisoners that people need to take note of. It's a demanding performance that proves him to be an actor worth his salt, challenging every fibre of his moral compass as the truly despicable figure Luca, a junkyard boss embroiled in the world of human trafficking. Santoro composes a multi-layered character that pushes back hard with every attempt the protagonist Mateus (the excellent Christian Malheiros) makes in breaking free from the prison Luca has placed him in. We never quite know the extent of Luca’s backstory, and the more (or less) we learn, it becomes more apparent just how concise and brilliantly composed Santoro’s portrait of this character is. Like Caleb Landry Jones in Nitram, he rarely lets us in, giving us small tasters into the journey that led him to become this cruel monster. Santoro is completely menacing, making Luca one of the most compelling and truly terrifying film villains of 2021.

Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog)

The Power of the Dog isn’t just the spectacular performance of Cumberbatch at the centre of it, it’s a true powerhouse of an ensemble, with each of its central characters lending to the film's themes of class, sexuality, repression, identity, individuality and connection (to name a few). It’s with Rose’s (Kirsten Dunst) arrival as George’s (Jesse Plemons) new wife that proves to be the inciting incident within Phil’s journey going forward, one that he continuously hides from her, but lassos her son Peter (Kodi Smit-Mcphee) under his wing. Instead of eventually letting her in, Rose constantly falls prey to a terrifying game of intimidation and humiliation at the hands of Phil. But if it’s not Phil’s defiant acts of not welcoming her to the fold, it’s her husband’s inadvertent judgement of her that lends to the film’s discussion of class and identity. She is just never allowed to be who she is without the added pressure of pretending to be someone else as a means to appeasing her husband’s parents and ultimately herself to be happy. It's Dunst’s best performance and role since Melancholia, creating a tragic, all too fragile character whose place is constantly left undefined in the Burbank ranch, unable to escape the looming shadows of her husband’s family.

Colman Domingo (Zola)

The movie adapted from a series of tweets by real-life stripper @zola (Taylour Paige), tweets that recollect a wild weekend gone wrong with fellow stripper Stefani (Riley Keough), her boyfriend (Nicholas Braun) and pimp (Colman Domingo). It’s funny, stylish as hell and surprisingly smart - sporting one of the very best ensembles of the year. And it’s with the likes of Colman Domingo that makes every ridiculous situation of impossible hilarity and invasive tension that much more thrilling to watch. Like the rest of the cast, Domingo is offered a chance to really have fun with the existing tweets and script, letting the sheer absurdity of each scenario dictate the extremes to which he takes his character. Listen out for his real voice, an unspecified thick African accent that reveals itself in moments of anger and annoyance. It’s jarring, it’s scary, and it’s hilarious. Once again, Domingo refuses to put a foot wrong in a role that has him going well beyond what is expected of him.

Honor Swinton Byrne (The Souvenir: Part II)

Two years after the release of The Souvenir, Joanna Hogg concludes her semi-autobiographical tale of ambitious film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), as she traverses the challenges of a difficult romance with the secretive Anthony (Tom Burke). Daughter to Tilda Swinton (who stars as her mother here), Swinton Byrne returns with a heavier heart for Part II, plagued with grief and a nagging sense of curiosity, she attempts to come to terms with the tragedy of her relationship with Anthony, trying to best figure out what could’ve been done to avoid the inevitable demise of it. Joanna Hogg creates a meta-verse journey of grief, introspection, understanding and finally acceptance for Julie, allowing her to use her graduation film as a means of therapy. It lets Part II highlight the important healing power that creating has on us as we look to push through the trials and tribulations we face internally and externally. Seeing Julie battle through the uncertainty and anxiety in trying to convey her thoughts, ideas and intentions to those around her make Swinton Byrne’s performance all too easy for me to identify with, especially as a creative who often struggles to speak clearly and say how I actually feel. It feels real, as though Swinton Byrne, along with Joana Hogg, are giving us true extensions of themselves, baring all for us to see.

Oscar Isaac (The Card Counter)

Oscar Isaac’s continuous rise to the top is not slowing down any time soon thanks to a trio of phenomenal performances in 2021 with Dune, Scenes from a Marriage and of course Paul Schrader’s latest slow-burning character study The Card Counter. Fresh out of prison and back on the road as a professional gambler, William Tell (Oscar Isaac) meets Cirk (Tye Sheridan), a young man hell-bent on seeking revenge against a mutual acquaintance (Willem Dafoe) of William’s chequered past as a soldier. Few actors right now can hold our attention quite like Isaac, letting us in on William’s trade secrets on reading games and effectively beating your opponents through probability and the sizing up of their character. Isaac appropriately makes use of his character’s need to hide behind a poker face, but with the slightest of nuances, can change his entire demeanour through the tone of just his eyes. Acting with the eyes is incredibly hard to pull off convincingly, but Isaac is able to convey a vast range of emotions through the subtlest of changes in how he studies and stares at the world around him. It’s a performance that requires multiple viewings to truly unpack just how dense of a construction job in creating William really was. The text is there, it’s on the page, but only Oscar Isaac could’ve made William William, sitting across from you, staring into your soul and calling your bluff before playing yet another winning hand.

Tôko Miura (Drive My Car)

Playing the chauffeur to Yusuke (Nishijima), Misaki is a guarded, mournful figure unwilling to reveal herself to both him and the audience any time soon. This is the benefit of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s often lengthy run-times, is that he allows for characters to come to terms with their internal conflict at a pace that feels real but never bores or drags on. It allows for the relationship between Misaki and Yusuke to form at an authentic pace that allows for both actors to perform true to their instincts, honouring the truth found within the text with crystal clear clarity. Miura brings that clarity to Misaki, and true to her character and the effective pace of Drive My Car, Miura’s haunting ghost-like presence keeps us at a distance until she is ready to bare her confession to us and Yusuke, finally able to move on from her history of grief, regret and anger.

Andrew Garfield (tick, tick…BOOM!)

For me, 2021 has been the year of Andrew Garfield. I have been championing his talent for years, someone who would go under too many people’s radars in discussing the finest actors working right now. Not only is he capable of nailing oddly specific regional accents with ease, he offers a wide gamut of range, letting him create deceptively complex characters with each role he commits to. Thanks to the reprisal of an iconic character in that mega-hit, mainstream audiences are suddenly only coming to the party now in showing (Andrew) Garfield the respect he has always deserved. But it’s tick, tick…BOOM! that has all but confirmed Garfield’s status as a true A-Lister thanks to an Oscar nomination and an overwhelming flow of praise for his portrayal of the late great musical theatre icon in Jonathan Larson. Not only did Garfield learn to sing and dance for this role, but he also does it convincingly. So much so that it feels as though we are seeing and hearing the actual Jonathan Larson performing for us. It’s a breathless performance that shows both restrain and bombastic showboating that feels entirely appropriate.

Kathryn Hunter (The Tragedy of Macbeth)

The Tragedy of Macbeth is unlike any adaptation of the source material you have seen. And true to the ghostly, otherworldly look and feel of Joel Coen’s interpretation, you have Kathryn Hunter giving what might just be the most mind-blowing performance of the year. Traditionally, the witches have always been played by three different actresses, but here, Kathryn Winter is tasked with the herculean duty of portraying all three. Each one distinct enough from the other as a singular entity that starts Joel Coen’s surreal, nightmarish adaptation on the perfect note. Joel Coen’s version also imagines the witches as crows and once again, Hunter is up to the task. She twists and contorts in impossible movements, cawing and screeching as the weird sisters look to invoke unimaginable chaos on this plane of existence, with Macbeth as their starting pistol. It’s the most wildly original, creative and unforgettable performance of 2021 – a stunning feat of unique interpretation and physicality.

Youn Yuh-jung (Minari)

Winner of Best Supporting Actress at last year’s Academy Awards and pretty much every other award show, Youn Yuh-jung was one of the true shining lights of cinema in 2021. Playing Monica’s mother Soonja, she could’ve been seen and treated as the clichéd grouchy, funny and young at heart grandmother that would predictably serve as the film’s comic relief. Thankfully, Minari isn’t the kind of film, and although she is a warm addition with some of the above details, Minari doesn't resort or lean back on cheap archetypes and tricks. Yuh-jung is an acting veteran in her home country and fortunately, she understands the purpose of her character as well - giving a natural performance, refusing to pander for cheap laughs and tricks that would manipulate the audience into feeling a certain way. Thanks to Lee Isaac Chung’s delicate script and sensitive approach, Yuh-jung shines as an important cog within Minari’s ensemble that doesn’t steal the spotlight but shares it with each one of them.

Tilda Swinton (Memoria)

Slow cinema is most certainly an acquired taste. Shots linger for what feels like an eternity, allowing for moments to happen in the most organic of ways without relying on bursts of action or even cutting to provoke conflict within a scene. Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a master at this, and with Memoria, he manages to blend his distinctive slow cinema stylings to create a truly sensory experience of sound, picture and performance that is unlike anything he has made to date. Tilda Swinton plays Jessica, a woman visiting her sister in Columbia, but she soon finds herself unable to escape a strange, loud banging sound that only she can hear. This sends her on a quest to try to find the source of this mysterious sound and what it could possibly mean. Like Weerasethakul, Swinton is an auteur in her own right. Slow cinema can be a very challenging and scary endeavour for any performer as there are fewer privileges offered to them in terms of pasting together a performance through edit and consistent action beats to cue specific performance beats. But it can also be a completely liberating experience for any actor as it lets them get back to the absolute bare bones of the craft. Swinton gravitates towards this with ease, digging her fingers and heels deep into the soil, completely enveloping herself within Weerasethakul’s cinematic language. Sensory memory is what drives the plot and ideas found in Memoria, something with which Swinton embraces fully, reaching deep into the recesses of her own being in order to flow with the current Memoria takes her on.

Winston Duke (Nine Days)

Will (Winston Duke) interviews five unborn souls over the course of nine days to determine who will live a life on Earth after one of his previous chosen candidates dies in a tragic accident on Earth. Nine Days is a film that easily could’ve been overshadowed by its high concept idea, but thankfully director/writer Edson Oda manages to flesh out fascinating characters that play as almost an amalgamation of traits and characteristics a lot of us may see in ourselves. Each of these characters is so important in helping us figure out Will and his backstory, one with which Oda and Duke cleverly reveal to us through important character beats and dialogue that never feel like cheap, easy fixes through exposition. He serves as judge, jury and executioner, seemingly trying to pick the textbook perfect choice to avoid the heartache and regret he is undergoing, obsessively unpacking the why’s and how’s of an unforeseen tragedy on Earth - giving us glimpses into his past filled with the very same instances of heartache and regret. Winston Duke carries this all on his shoulders, eventually delivering a thrilling monologue that does just what Nine Days intends to do: celebrate life.

Agathe Rousselle (Titane)

Agathe Rousselle is simply astonishing as the especially complex character of Alexis in Julie Docournau’s Palm d’Or winning body horror that is Titane, an absolutely wild experience following a dancer with a plate in her head that embarks on a strange journey in search of connection, love and acceptance. Plying her trade as a professional photographer, she was invited to audition for Titane based purely on her unique looks. The fact that she has no acting experience is a testament to her incredible instincts and bravery as a performer thrown into the serious deep end of a film this extreme. It also showcases Ducournau's insurmountable talent as a director able to evoke a performance that demands two extremes of the spectrum: one that is unabashedly who she is, while the other hides deep undercover, yearning to break free. It’s a performance that is heartfelt and extremely physical, putting Alexis through the wringer at every given turn. It's one of the most impressive performances of the year that deceives with its dangerous appearance, only to have an incredibly sweet and delicate heart at the centre of it.

Steven Yeun (Minari)

We can’t talk about the majesty of Minari without talking about Steven Yeun. For years, Yeun has been one of the most interesting talents to watch, thriving as an indie art-house darling post-The Walking Dead. Playing the patriarch of the Yi family, Jacob moves them to rural Arkansas with the hopes of fulfilling his American Dream: owning a farm. The film is told mostly from the perspective of young David (Alan Kim). He sees a proud, stoic father, ready to conquer the world as he works and tends to his land in hopes of finally digging up a chunk of the American Dream he has worked so hard for. Yeun is one of the most watchable actors around and as Jacob, it’s no different. He holds our attention at every given moment, effortlessly taking the spotlight as well as giving it back to his fellow castmates. And although he is seen through the eyes of David, Lee Isaac Chung’s script never just sees him through the rose-tinted glasses of youth. It allows for Yeun to find and discretely display the faults in his character, one so desperate to hide his weaknesses in an attempt to remain strong for not only his family but himself as well.

Noée Abita (Slalom)

Noée Abita commits fully to an incredibly difficult and emotionally taxing role as Lyz, a teenage skiing prodigy and the relationship she has with her strict, predatory coach. It’s an appropriately difficult watch, addressing sexual exploitation and manipulation through the relationship of Lyz and her coach. Writer & director Charlène Favier consistently uses tight, invasive shots, but she never turns it into tasteless exploitation, focusing on the internal trauma Lyz is going through, even if she doesn’t realise or understand it herself. Abita’s quietly expressive turn courts Lyz to key moments of self-realisation, making it an increasingly devastating performance made more effective by the quietness of it all.

Tessa Thompson (Passing)

Tessa Thompson is quickly shaping up to be one of my favourite actors. She chooses interesting and challenging characters regularly, displaying the same instinctive tact and maturity of veteran powerhouses in the medium. Adapted from the 1929 novel of the same name by Nella Larsen, Passing takes place mostly in Harlem where Irene (Tessa Thompson) reunites with her childhood friend Clare (Ruth Negga), who is now passing as a white woman and reaping from the benefits of it. Dealing with themes of racial identity and class, Thompson once again brings that laser-focused instinct to the role of Irene. Thompson aligns perfectly with Rebecca Hall’s wonderful script and delicate direction, interpreting and translating the text precisely, never falling into the trap of heavy-handedness that films about race often end up doing. It’s a performance of expert restrain and observation, fully in control as she hones in on the specific themes of race and identity that makes Passing a film everyone needs to see.

Lee Hye-young (In Front of Your Face)

Hong Sang-soo is one of South Korea’s most interesting directors. His simplistic stripped-down approach lets actors act, consistently prioritising performance over visual flair. Lee Hye-young mirrors elements of her career here, playing a former actress returning to South Korea to visit her sister. Hye-young used to be a popular actor in her nation during the 90s, but like her character of Sangok in the film, she hasn’t done much since. Sangok contemplates a return to acting, accepting an impromptu meeting with a director interested in working with her. Alcohol flows, plans are made. But there seems to be a forlorn sadness to Sangok as she drifts around from conversation to conversation, reconnecting with people and places from her past but most importantly, remaining in her present. It’s one of the most honest performances of the year featuring some of the most naturally free-flowing improv that captivates thanks to Hong Sang-soo’s simple, yet highly effective observational style - with Lee Hye-young, a true veteran of the game, dipping her feet back into craft with ease.

Dev Patel (The Green Knight)

David Lowery’s latest is a majestic adaptation of the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It’s a fittingly epic road trip that takes King Arthur’s nephew of Sir Gaiwan (Dev Patel) on a journey across mysterious lands to confront The Green Knight, a mysterious giant who first appeared at Camelot proposing a game of bravery. The original poem is a fantastical tale of bravery, chivalry and truth, with Sir Gaiwan skipping from different scenarios, testing each one of those themes as he fulfils his knighthood with resounding success. Although a classic piece of literature that is rightfully loved and picked apart for deeper introspection, I feel that Lowery’s reinterpretation of the material improves every one of the ideas originally discussed in the source material. His version truly challenges Gaiwan in every aspect, painting him as a highly flawed individual completely aware (and unaware) of how he possibly may not be the brave knight he claims to be. Dev Patel is a force of nature, balancing a cocky, arrogant sense of entitlement while also being fully aware of the chinks in his armour that make him a coward with each part of his journey being a true test of his valour and bravery. It’s a fine balancing act of self-proclaimed entitlement with which he soon begins to realise he hasn’t earned at all - challenging the themes of the poem in a far more truthful manner. Dev Patel does just that, creating a grounded, believable character that always remains the focal point in a film drenched in gorgeous visuals.

Clayne Crawford (The Killing of Two Lovers)

Clayne Crawford is rightfully the centrepiece of the storm brewing in The Killing of Two Lovers, a film about a man struggling to come to terms with a separation from his wife. Crawford never plays it in an obvious manner as David, a character that could so easily, and very nearly, lash out at those around him. Instead, he rages beneath the surface as someone trying to keep it together for his family, something he simply cannot afford to lose. The remarkable work of the sound and music in the film helps amplify his impending breakdown, but none of it is possible without his tense, claustrophobic performance as he is on the cusp of completely snapping at any given moment. Despite the film’s lack of close-ups, it’s in Crawford’s carefully considered demeanour that we get a sense of everything brewing inside him. And when Crawford is given close-ups, most notably that of a car scene between David and his wife, he bares his soul, showing bits of his former self as he tries to convince her that he’s still the same David just fighting to them for the greater good.

Ingrid Schram (My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To)

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is a gorgeously textured and intimate horror drama about two siblings (Patrick Fugit and Ingrid Schram) having to take care of their sickly brother (Owen Campbell) who may or may not be a vampire. It’s an incredibly smart and multi-layered domestic drama more than it is a horror, challenging the dynamics of a family as they shape their lives around one person, never able to grant freedom to Thomas (the sickly brother) as well as themselves. Dwight (Fugit) goes through the motions of wanting and even needing to abandon this tiring sense of responsibility, while Jessie (Schram) is having to bear the brunt of all the responsibilities on her shoulders. Although Jessie would appear to be the most dedicated to this cause, it’s through the tiniest of subtleties granted to us by Schram’s strict, detailed performance that shows us how this all affects Jessie as well. She is having to take the helm of being both matriarch and patriarch of the family, trapping herself in the responsibilities she feels she owes to her siblings - never breaking free from the emotional, psychological and physical toll it continues to place on all of them. It’s a performance of both chilling realization and denial amidst the inevitable outcome that needs to happen in order for them to live their lives for themselves once more.

Alana Haim (Licorice Pizza)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s love letter to The Valley is an infectious, hysterical affair. It stacks one anecdote on top of the other as he gives us a nostalgic trip to our youth that isn’t thematically dead-set on the era of its time (the 1970s). Reminding us what it was like to be young, both ambitious and unambitious, and the constant need to reinvent as our uncertain future zeroes in on us at an alarming pace. The pressure was most certainly on for Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman to deliver as the dual protagonists here, especially considering that this is their acting debuts, but they are completely effortless here. Their chemistry is out of this world, giving us the feeling that these two are indeed best friends bound to find each other. They bounce off each other’s energy, bringing out the best and worst in one another through a relationship that is at times both toxic and completely joyous. Haim taps into the frustrations of needing to grow up despite being completely uncertain of what her future holds. It’s a performance that is somehow completely assured in her character’s lack of certainty and desperate desire to find a meaningful and fruitful purpose in life. It’s a performance for the ages that lets Licorice Pizza reach additional heights of pure movie magic.

Ann Dowd (Mass)

Ann Dowd is without a doubt, one of the best actors on the planet. She is best known for playing the villains Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid's Tale and even better, Patti Levin in The Leftovers - a role that had us hating, sympathizing and eventually loving her throughout its tight three-season run. With Mass, Dowd displays a specific level of versatility in being able to create a conversation through sympathy and understanding of a character playing the mother of what would be a real-life villain: a school shooter. Mass is a powerful piece of conversational cinema because it is literally a conversation. It’s effective in allowing parents of both the victim and perpetrator to hash it out, trying best to understand each other’s circumstances. Ann Dowd displays another layer of her repertoire, developing a heartbreaking character desperate to understand what she should've done differently, and if it could've made a difference at all, culminating in a final moment of acceptance and grief with Martha Plimpton's Gail that is a devastating gut-punch.

Simon Rex (Red Rocket)

…and the award for “most improved” goes to Simon Rex for his portrayal of Mikey Saber, a washed-up porn star plotting his return back to the big time from his hometown in Texas, one that barely tolerates him. Ok, so “most improved” just seems like he did the bare minimum of not being bad, but holy hell, Simon Rex gives one of the absolute best performances I have seen over the past few years. Sean Baker always manages to pull incredible performances from non-actors, but when you have Simon Rex, an actor whose work isn’t really considered the bastion of quality by even himself (you’ll recognize him from the Scary Movie franchise and the series What I Like About You), it feels as though we are watching the birth of a new talent entirely. Mikey is objectively a despicable character, he’s a psychopathic con man, a suitcase pimp willing to screw everyone over to get what he wants. So why the hell do we enjoy him so damn much? Rex adds a boyish charm and charisma to him that, along with the townspeople, we end up falling for, despite us seeing how gross he actually is. There’s an air of liberation to Simon Rex throughout Red Rocket, embracing the challenge Sean Baker and the script has entrusted him to pull off. It’s a level of trust between director and actor that is so clear from the film's opening moments – affording Rex with a new level of responsibility he controls with ease. No one could’ve performed the role of Mikey Saber so effectively, drawing upon archetypal real-life characters from the porn industry and mainstream Hollywood, as well as his own experience of trying to be relevant again. Better late than never, Simon Rex has officially arrived.

Ruth Negga (Passing)

One of the glaring snubs in this year’s Best Supporting Actress category at the Oscars, Ruth Negga’s Clare is the inciting incident in Irene’s (Tessa Thompson) story, exposing the themes of racial identity, class and even sexuality found within Passing. Clare reunites with childhood friend Irene by chance, bumping into her in a public place while both passing in an upmarket, white part of the city. This awakens a desire to reconnect with her roots, but Passing denies us the chance to really get to know Clare. The film is seen entirely through the perspective of Irene as she judges Clare from a distance. Irene is hypocritical with her judgement of her, even turning her nose up at the help in her own black neighbourhood of Harlem while Clare does the complete opposite. This makes Ruth Negga’s performance all the more alluring. She charms us and those around her with a shroud of mystery and charisma. In a film that opts for subtleties in the smallest of gestures and looks, Negga expertly hides the internal dilemmas Clare faces - knowing all the secrets that we don't, giving us tiny snippets into her world that will help us relate to and understand why she chooses to do what she does.

Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog)

Tormented by, but soon taken under the wing of Cumberbatch’s Phil, Peter is a highly intelligent young man who is both creative and inquisitive, sensitive yet oddly thick-skinned as he proves to be a surprisingly worthy opponent to Phil’s bullish nature. His mother Rose (Dunst) sees his forming bond with Phil to be that of a power play in his game of intimidation and bullying, fearing she will lose Peter to him. But it’s the opposite, Phil is drawn to him, determined to teach him how to blend into the environment and be the typically rugged vision of masculinity to protect who he really is. It’s a fascinating character that also provides a possible insight into who Phil was and really is as he hides behind a facade of cruelty and intolerance. But Peter isn’t nearly as sensitive as perceived by everyone, showing moments of calculated cruelty at the behest of his very own instincts and no one else’s. McPhee, an already versatile and highly experienced actor, adds a finite menace to his character that grows increasingly more apparent as Phil shows more of himself to him.

Vincent Lindon (Titane)

Vincent (Vincent Lindon) is the perfect catalyst to Alexis’ (Agathe Rousselle) journey of extreme physical and emotional change. Filled with grief and regret, he is trying his best to keep his head above water and like Alexis, Vincent goes through an intensive battering of his physical and emotional state that forces them to come together, accepting one another's glaring flaws in a bid to finally receive and give the love they have needed all this time. Lindon gives such nuance to a character that could very easily have been played and misinterpreted as yet another maximal piece of Titane’s abrasive puzzle. Thankfully, he doesn’t do this, helping the film and Rousselle reach surprising heights that can be heart-warming and genuinely sweet underneath the bloody, furious carnage that takes place in Titane.

Charlie Shotwell (John and the Hole)

A strange Yorgos Lanthimos-esque absurdist thriller, John and the Hole follows the events of John's (Charlie Shotwell) decision to trap his family in an underground bunker in the woods behind their house. Taissa Farmiga, Jennifer Ehle and Michael C. Hall make up an excellent ensemble, but the film’s creepiness reaches another level thanks to an unsettling and highly assured performance from young Charlie Shotwell, managing to balance curiosity, innocence and menace all so seamlessly. His unnerving questions and reactions to answers make him an incredibly hard character to dissect as he displays both psychopathic and sociopathic behaviour, allowing for him to never give anything away to the audience for free. Charlie Shotwell makes John a fascinatingly distant character that barely lets you in, delivering one of the most complex and difficult performances of 2021.

Mercedes Hernández (Identifying Features)

Fernanda Valadez co-writes and directs this border drama that follows Magdalena (Mercedes Hernández), a woman in search of her son who is presumed dead after leaving to cross the border from Mexico into America in search of work. Identifying Features is an increasingly nightmarish voyage into the heart of darkness that reminds me a lot of Apocalypse Now – sending Magdalena down a path that is surreal and strangely beautiful as she draws closer to unspeakable evils. Hernández is outstanding as Magdalena. Her instincts as a performer allow her to avoid the obvious quirks and choices one would make as a mother desperately searching for her son. There are no hysterical overreactions or emotional breakdowns pandering for “wows” from audience members. It’s a beautiful, subdued performance that is rooted appropriately in the world that Valadez and her team have crafted visually and sonically.

Mahershala Ali (Swan Song)

Cameron (Mahershala Ali) is dying of a terminal illness. He doesn’t have time. So in a bid to spare his family of overwhelming heartache and loss, he goes through with a procedure that replaces him with a clone. It’s an interesting concept that has Cameron coming into full contact with his mortality – the future which he will both have and completely miss out on. Would you spare your loved ones of this tragedy if you had the chance? Most people will foolishly chalk up playing identical versions of a character to just be a case of doubling up on the same behaviour, body language, etc. but as mentioned before, Ali is essentially playing two completely different people. Original Cameron’s journey becomes embroiled with jealousy, anger, sorrow and paranoia while clone Cameron goes through the motions of falling in love again as well as the overwhelming guilt he feels in his inevitable replacement of the original Cameron. They’re two deeply complex and distinctly individual versions of the same character developed clearly on the page, but it is ultimately Mahershala Ali that brings them to vivid life in a deceptively simple sci-fi drama about letting go.

Noomi Rapace (Lamb)

Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) live a quiet life of routine and solitude as they tend to their flock of sheep and toil the fields together. But something is missing. It can be felt and seen as they try to let the routine of their daily lives mask this inescapable feeling of sadness and emptiness. But once they discover a strange newborn in the barn, there is an immediate understanding between the two of them: Is this the missing piece that could effectively "fix" them? It’s a smartly layered concept that pits mother earth and man against each other as the keyword of “mother” plays a vital part in the themes on hand within Lamb that includes grief, family and yup, motherhood. Noomi Rapace’s performance demands the same subtleties of the text in order for us to truly get a feeling for what the film and her character is well and truly all about. After all, it’s not just a fantastical horror folk tale. Instead, it’s an intimate story of motherhood and the joys and pains found within. Rapace brings sorrow, rage and desperation into a performance of perfectly calibrated nuance that slots precisely within a story filled with a surprising amount of beauty, mystery heartache and ultimately, horror.

Luke Kirby (No Man of God)

No Man of God is an overlooked gem. It’s an incredibly tense and effectively simple character study of Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) as he begins confessing his crimes to Special Agent Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood) leading up to his execution. We have seen many Ted Bundy performances over the years but this is without a doubt the best one to date. Once again, when playing any figure from history that is so deeply entrenched in popular culture, there’s a danger of turning that performance into a mere impersonation as opposed to a fully formed interpretation. He's terrifying, sounding and behaving exactly like Bundy, but Kirby doesn’t end his performance there. Even when giving an impersonation, people can quickly remind themselves that it’s just that, an impression. But with Kirby, who not only closely resembles Ted Bundy, it feels as though he is becoming Bundy as we sit across from him, a physical representation of brooding evil. Kirby’s injection of nuance in his character is effective, building a monster beneath the surface that he lets come up for air with the slightest change in looks and stinging delivery of his dialogue. Luke Kirby doesn't let him off the hook though, exposing the cowardice of him and his actions once he realises his physical demise is all but inevitable, eventually pleading for mercy as the judgement of his soul will soon be at hand.

Very Honourable Mentions

Gaby Hoffmann (C'mon C'mon)

Udo Kier (Swan Song)

Taylour Paige (Zola)

Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter)

Vicky Krieps (Bergman Island)

Rachel Sennott (Shiva Baby)

Jamie Dornan (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar)

Joanna Scanlan (After Love)

Julia Vysotskaya (Dear Comrades!)

Mike Faist (West Side Story)

Rachel Zegler (West Side Story)

Steve Zahn (Cowboys)

Jesse Plemons (The Power of the Dog)

Magdalena Koleśnik (Sweat)

Jodie Comer (Help)

Bradley Cooper (Licorice Pizza)

Dan Stevens (I'm Your Man)

Richard Ayoade (The Souvenir: Part II)

Ed Helms (Together Together)

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