You don’t need great performances for a great movie, we suppose — Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s mesmerizing 2016 documentary/art piece “Homo Sapiens,” for instance, doesn’t feature a single human being on screen and is still excellent. But on the whole, the two things go hand in hand: it’s impossible to imagine “Lawrence Of Arabia” without Peter O’Toole, “Star Wars” without Harrison Ford, “Cabaret” without Liza Minnelli, or “Tokyo Story” without Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama, to name but a few.
You might not believe it in a weekend that sees the release of several terrible movies, but 2017 turned out a great year for film, and with it, a great year for performances. Indeed, the range and diversity of films we loved, and the deep benches of their casts, meant that our annual Best Performances list has ballooned from 25 last year to 40 this year.
As we did last time, it’s a list that takes in both TV and film performances, ranging from blockbusters to indies, and with both likely Oscar winners and turns that the Academy will never recognize. You can see the list below, and let us know who delivered your favorite turns of 2017 in the comments.
Click here for our full coverage of the best of 2017, including The Worst Films Of The Year, Best TV, Best Scores & Soundtracks, Best Cinematography, Posters, Trailers, Horror, Action Sequences, our Best Films Of The Year, and the 100 Most Anticipated Films Of 2018.
40. Harris Dickinson as Frankie in “Beach Rats”
When so much of your role is about being insecure and self-deluding, to the point of being emotionally vacant at times, it’s a steep ask to also create a character that the audience can care about. Eliza Hittman‘s terrific, woozy and opaque “Beach Rats” revolves around the sexually confused, grieving and often substance-fuelled character of Frankie, but it’s Dickinson who grounds him in the real, as spaced-out and directionless as he is. The good news for all his newfound fans is that he is currently filming Danny Boyle‘s upcoming series “Trust” — the other Getty kidnapping project — in which he will play the kidnap victim, John Paul Getty III.
39. Dominique Fishback as Darlene in “The Deuce”
Straightforward redemption arcs have never really been David Simon‘s thing, and having been cleverly burned by “The Wire” and “Treme” in that regard, we were duly on our guard for “The Deuce.” But damned if he didn’t get us again, with the storyline of young hooker Darlene, sulkily and sweetly personified by Dominique Fishback, who already made an impression on “The Americans” and in a supporting role in “Show Me A Hero.” Darlene seems to be the one who might be rescued, a nice girl trapped by a violent pimp in a nasty profession, but her transformation is far more complex and nuanced and, in Fishback’s casually persuasive performance, vastly more interesting.
38. Margot Robbie in “I, Tonya”
Sure, “The Wolf Of Wall Street” and “Suicide Squad” put Margot Robbie on the map, but it’s with “I, Tonya” that the actress finally arrives. A showy role in a very loud and flashy picture, Robbie curses, spits, breaks the fourth wall, and gets stabbed by a steak knife. Yet, for all the broad strokes the role requires, Robbie brings nuance to her portrayal of the disgraced figure character. The biggest battles Harding faced weren’t against the media or the sports world, but the slings and arrows from her own husband and mother. Robbie finds the notes in this sequences with raw-boned sensitivity, even as she remains an unreliable narrator of her own story. It’s truly a triple axel performance, and while Harding doesn’t quite become wholly sympathetic, through Robbie’s work we come to understand, at least for a moment, how complicated her world was from the inside.
37. O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Dan Pinto in “Ingrid Goes West”
It’s not been talked about much in year-end discussions about the best ensemble casts (probably because the film around them doesn’t entirely satisfy), but everyone is great in “Ingrid Goes West,” with Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, Wyatt Russell and Billy Magnussen all doing near-revelatory work. But the most pleasant surprise was O’Shea Jackson, as Ingrid’s utterly charming, Batman-obsessed boyfriend. Jackson was impressive enough in “Straight Outta Compton,” but he was also literally playing his dad so it wasn’t clear what his longevity was going to be. Here, he has this sort of low-wattage, disarmingly sexy charisma to him that makes him utterly magnetic to watch.
36. Gil Birmingham as Martin Hanson “Wind River”
He’s been cropping up in film and TV for a couple of decades now, with notable roles in things like “Buffy” and the “Twilight” saga, but it felt like Gil Birmingham’s really exploded in the last few years thanks to almost polar opposite turns in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Hell Or High Water.” But the one that really impressed us with his reteam this year with Taylor Sheridan, writer of the latter, on “Wind River.” The film’s handsomely performed by everyone, but Birmingham walks away with the handful of his scenes as the grieving father of the dead girl, finding warmth and even humor even as you can see what a hollowed-out shell he’s become. Frankly, the movie should have seen him and Jeremy Renner (who’s very good) swap roles.
35. Holly Hunter as Beth Gardner in “The Big Sick”
Few actresses have been as reliably great for so long as Holly Hunter, but it felt like she’d somehow fallen out of favor in recent years: aside from her wonderful turn in “Top Of The Lake,” her most notable big-screen appearance in the last decade was her utterly thankless role in “Batman V. Superman.” So praise be to Kumail Nanjiani, Emily Gordon and Michael Ian Black for getting her such a doozy of a role in “The Big Sick.” Playing the mother of Zoe Kazan’s coma-stricken young woman, Hunter (with scene partner Ray Romano, who’s just as good) builds an amazingly complete picture of a woman in a whirlwind of grief and worry who still has other shit to deal with, like an errant husband and her daughter’s ex.
34. Taliah Webster as Crystal in “Good Time”
The Safie Brothers‘ “Good Time” is peppered with memorable supporting performances. But the role that most transcends its lesser screentime is that of 16-year-old granddaughter Crystal, whose house Connie basically invades. Kind of a marker for Connie’s level of amoral desperation, newcomer Webster imbues Crystal with such self-possession and wilfulness that she becomes much more than the accomplice (and brief, underage snog) of a lead character spinning out of control. In fact, she packs such punch in her few scenes, that it’s possible to see how Crystal herself probably views Connie as a supporting character in a different drama, of which she is the immutable star.
33. Garance Marillier as Justine in “Raw”
Yes, “Raw” is a horror movie about cannibalism that famously had audience members fainting in the aisle at Cannes and TIFF. But it’s also a weirdly recognizable coming-of-age story, and much of that comes down to its young star Garance Marillier. When we meet her, dropped at veterinary school by her similarly vegetarian parents, she feels wan, withdrawn and pale. But after her first taste of meat, you can literally see something unlock in Marillier’s eyes, and it builds and builds into a performance of terrifying physicality and sexuality, to the point where you start to fear that she’ll gnaw her way through the screen and take a chunk out of your thigh.
32. Florence Pugh as Katherine Lester in “Lady Macbeth”
She was in the ensemble of Carol Morley‘s “Falling,” but there was little that could have prepared us for the icy command of Florence Pugh’s riveting turn in William Oldroyd‘s terrific “Lady Macbeth.” We are, admittedly, suckers for any female role that doesn’t give a damn about likeability, but Pugh is so frighteningly self-contained as the corseted antiheroine that it’s almost a shame when the more classically melodramatic climax builds. Then again, how could anyone have known there’d be as much impact in a close-up of Pugh’s face, with that almost palpable self-interested intelligence ticking away beneath its impassivity, as from all the more externalized scenes of overt drama?
31. Maggie Gyllenhaal as Candy in “The Deuce”
David Simon and George Pelecanos‘ neon-sleazy portrait of the 1970s Times Square hustling scene might have James Franco in a dual role, but its most interesting characters are the women — mostly prostitutes — who populates this grungy milieu. And Gyllenhaal is weary-eyed perfection as the entrepreneurial Candy, who tricks without a pimp and who is looking for an escape route into the burgeoning video porn industry. With a streetsmart sexiness but also a kind of hard-headed, seen-it-all ennui hardwired into the slouch of her shoulders and the mistrustful expression in her eyes, Candy becomes a much rarer character than a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold: a hooker with a will of iron.