The 20 Best Movie Performances of 2017: A Year of Black, Gay, and Trans Excellence

Despite the raging fire that has swept through Hollywood since Harvey Weinsteins monstrous behavior finally came to light, if you managed to escape to the cinema this year you may have found more hope for Hollywoods future. As new sexual misconduct cases ariseand our memories flood with the realization that this industry we celebrate so often has victims whose artistry will never be realized because of the iniquitous systems in place to keep their voices quelledits a wonder that anything actually moving, anything with a soul manages to reach the silver screen.

But 2017 flourished with performances that highlighted what it means to to be a gay man, a trans woman, a black woman, an immigrant who specializes in holistic medicine, an HIV-positive activist, a struggling mother or even a fallen Valkyrie. This week, a Los Angeles Times cover celebrating actresses calling for a change in the way many stories are told featured only white actresses on the cover: Margot Robbie, Diane Kruger, Saoirse Ronan, Annette Bening, Kate Winslet, and Jessica Chastain. When called out on it, Chastain responded, Its a sad look that theres no WOC in this pic of us promoting our female lead films. The industry needs to become more inclusive in its storytelling.

Its absolutely true: theres much work to be done in this industry for more inclusion in front ofand even more, behindthe camera. But we as an industry also need to look beyond the Chastains, the Meryl Streeps, etc. when we celebrate the actors who illuminate our spirits. With that in mind, I found a selection of twenty performances this year that bewitched me, made me cry, made me laugh, made me struggle with my own identity or simply made me want to stand up and cheer.

20. Nicole Kidman, The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Nicole Kidmans best performance this year was in HBOs Big Little Lies, but that doesnt mean she didnt also deliver in Yorgos Lanthimos chilly, terrifying horror film The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Weve seen Kidman portray a mother desperate to protect her children at any costs, but never has she seemed so broken down, so utterly defeated. Kidman giving a handjob in a hospital parking lot is perhaps the darkest scene shes ever performed.

19. Hong Chau, Downsizing

Downsizing is a horrific movie and honestly, Hong Chau deserves accolades for acting against Matt Damon in yet another role as a clueless white guy who somehow gets it right in the end. Her performance as a Vietnamese immigrant couldve been hackneyed and offensive, but Chau brings a sentimentality and humanity to the character that the script doesnt seem to care about that much.

18. OShea Jackson, Jr., Ingrid Goes West

OShea Jackson, Jr. can do so much with a smile. In the little-buzzed-about Ingrid Goes West, which admittedly collapses into a bit of a mess in its third act, Jackson is a breath of fresh air among a slew of characters who are absolute psychopaths. A bright spot of 2017 has been the deepening of depictions of black men we see on film, and Jacksons cool, aloof, Batman-obsessed Venice dweller is the best part of Ingrid.

17. Salma Hayek, Beatriz at Dinner

Salma Hayek is almost unrecognizable as a working class healer who practices holistic medicine in Beatriz at Dinner. Its some of her most moving and emotional work and its a shame that such a strong and confident turn from a frequently stunning actress has been lost amid some of the more flashier performances of the year.

16. Josh OConnor, Gods Own Country

Taking cues from Brokeback Mountain, Francis Lees directorial debut manages to expand on what we think about gay romances. At the center of this deep, character-driven drama is Josh OConnor depicting a farmer whos closeted and comes to realize what he needs to sacrifice in order to have love in his life. Its an incredibly stirring performance in one of many beautiful additions this year to the queer cinema canon.

15. Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Get Out is one of the years most important filmsand one of its best. Years from now, well look back at Jordan Peeles movie as the beginning of an onslaught of thought-provoking horror films about the black experience in America, and at its center, Daniel Kaluuya holds it all together. Look no further than when Catherine Keener places him in The Sunken Place, a scene which requires all of Kaluuyas skill as an actor as he performs against a CGI backdrop. Its thrilling and unlike anything thats ever been put on film before.

14. Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread

Where the hell did Vicky Krieps come from? Paul Thomas Anderson isnt usually great at female roles, but theres something about Krieps in Phantom Thread that makes you want to inhale her intoxicating performance.

13. Holly Hunter, The Big Sick

Im hopeful that The Big Sick will usher in a new era of romantic comedies that depict their lovers like real human beings. Even more refreshing than Zoe Kazan and Kumail Nanjianis realistic romantic journey is Holly Hunters performance as Kazans mother. Often, the secondary characters in rom-comsand especially parentsturn into ridiculous caricatures but Hunters character feels real and lived-in. It should be remembered as one of her finest performances.

12. Kelvin Harrison Jr., It Comes at Night

Amidst the fervor for Get Out this year, not much attention has been paid to another black horror film: It Comes at Night. The post-apocalyptic saga manages to be horrifying and thought-provoking all at once and Kelvin Harrison Jr.s quiet, intimate performance is one we rarely see afforded to young black men on film.

11. Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Despite finding Three Billboards nauseatingly tone-deaf when it comes to its depiction of race, theres no denying Frances McDormand is a force of nature in this film. An actress of that caliber is expected to rise above the material, but itd be nice if the material put as much into McDormands character as she put into the film.

10. Tessa Thompson, Thor: Ragnarok

Theres so much to love about Taika Waititis take on the Thor mythos, but the addition of Valkyrieand casting her with Tessa Thompsonmade it that much more magnificent. Thompsons beer-swilling, joke-cracking, punch-throwing Valkyrie is the best part of the film. When she puts on her Valkyrie swag at the films conclusion and sashays down Bifrst, Asgards rainbow bridge, youll stand up and cheer and demand we get a solo Valkyrie film immediately.

9. Michelle Williams, All the Money in the World

Its been years since Michelle Williams found a melodrama like Brokeback Mountain to truly sink her teeth into. In a perfect world, Douglas Sirk would still be alive to cast her as the lead in one of his lush dramas (or Todd Haynes would find a better way to serve her talents than he did in Wonderstruck). All the Money in the World is a magnificent drama, dizzying caper, and taut thriller but at the center of it lies Williams, who drives it forward with verve.

8. Timothe Chamalet, Call Me By Your Name

As much as Michael Stuhlbarg may be the MVP of Call Me By Your Name, the film doesnt work without Timothe Chamalets performance. He absolutely lives in Elios body and carries the vivid Italian fantasy from the first frame to the last, which is a fucking knockout of a shot. In my review of the film, the description of Elio could double as a description of how Chamalet seduces the audience. His seduction is in his movements: how he wriggles his hips like Michael Jackson, David Bowie, or Madonna in their early 80s videos, how he keeps his bedroom door open at night to let the moonlight suggest his intentions, how he darts around Olivers body during conversations like an archaeologist examining an unearthed statue.

7. Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Laurie Metcalfs best performance is obviously Debbie Salt in Scream 2, but seeing as how it went woefully unrecognized by the Academy, heres hoping they celebrate her nuanced and emotional turn as the mother of a rebellious teenager in Greta Gerwigs Lady Bird.

6. James Franco, The Disaster Artist

I disliked I, Tonya, which felt tonally all over the place and at the end managed to make its subject a punchline. On the other hand, The Disaster Artist avoids those pitfalls by finding the humor in The Room director Tommy Wiseaus absurd personality while also peeling that persona away to examine the human underneath. James Franco has never been better.

5. Daniela Vega, A Fantastic Woman

If Daniela Vega makes history as the first transgender woman to be nominated for the Academy Award nominee for Best Actress, it will be wholly earned. Chilean director Sebastian Lelios portrait of a trans woman who loses her partner and fights for the right to mourn him succeeds thanks to Vegas bold and confident performance. More than a film that depicts the difficulty of asserting your trans identity in this world, it also shows a trans womans journey to finding her voice as an artist and leads to a beautiful, stirring conclusion. Vega is an actress we deserve more of.

4. Betty Gabriel, Get Out

In a year where black women have been celebrated for showing up at the ballot box to save Americas slide into moral corruption, there should be much more attention paid to Betty Gabriels stirring performance in Jordan Peeles horror film Get Out. Depicting a black woman trapped in her own mind and held prisoner by white captors, theres no character that resonates more when it comes to the erasure of black womens voices in Americaand the industry at largethan Gabriels, and her performance is truly the most unsettling of the films barrage of horrors. Naturally, shes the one who tries to save Daniel Kaluuyas character Chris Washington. Leave it to black women to try and save the day, as usual.

3. Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name

Michael Stuhlbarg has been one of my favorite actors since A Serious Man, but for most of the runtime of Call Me By Your Name you might feel like hes being underutilized. No, thats just because director Luca Guadagnino and screenwriter James Ivory were saving his skills until you werent prepared for Stuhlbarg to utterly devastate you. Much has been said about Stuhlbargs monologue at the conclusion of this gorgeous romance, but its probably all understatement. Not since Viola Davis in Doubt has a master done so much with so little.

2. Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip

To describe how shocking it was that Tiffany Haddish didnt get a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in Girls Trip is to be rendered speechless. Haddishs performance was self-assured and infectious and the main reason Girls Trip was the most fun Ive had at the movies this year. Thankfully, Haddish herself is just as endearing, and America seems to have fallen in love with her. Therell be more performances from Haddish in the future, but now that we know how magnificent she is, therell probably be none as surprising and lightning-in-the-bottle as this.

1. Nahuel Prez Biscayart, BPM (Beats Per Minute)

Robin Campillos BPM (Beats Per Minute) sadly didnt make the shortlist for Best Foreign Film at the upcoming 2018 Academy Awards, which is why I will spend every chance I get next year championing the best film I saw this year. This French drama captures the story of Paris ACT UP activists fighting for recognition from the government in the 1990s, but its not just a film about how devastating the AIDS crisis was and is, its a film about what it means to truly crave life. Biscayarts lively performance as passionate activist Sean Dalmazo, whose body begins to fail him, embodies this year perfectly. Despite his condition, he never stops fighting for others and for his own life. Take for instance a poignant backlit scene in a hospital room, when Biscayarts character is given a handjob by his boyfriend. Its a beautiful scene where Biscayart, even as a disease ravages his body, is still given a chance to experience the humanity in sexual intimacy. What a stunning thing to behold, and just one reason why Biscayart gives the most beautiful performance I saw all year.

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