20. Brooklynn Prince as Moonee in “The Florida Project”
You could probably make an argument that getting a great performance out of a child, especially one who’s only seven years old, is more of a feat of direction than it is of acting. But, not to diminish Sean Baker’s immense achievement with “The Florida Project,” but we’ve all seen ropey child actors in otherwise brilliant films, and Brooklynn Prince is extraordinary here, and she deserves every plaudit that she gets. It’s a turn that’s entirely unselfconscious and unprecocious, one that bottles fun and lightness and joy like lightning, but that also plays off her adult co-stars in a way that proves ultimately utterly heartbreaking.
19. Elisabeth Moss as Offred in “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Though she’s often great on the big screen too (particularly her team-ups with Alex Ross Perry), Elisabeth Moss is at this point arguably the face most associated with the Peak TV era, after “The West Wing,” “Mad Men,” “Top Of The Lake” and now “The Handmaid’s Tale,” where her portrayal of lead Offred might mark a new peak. Even when the show misstepped, Moss was the anchor at its centre, making you feel every torture or indignity with burning anger, but also never letting us forget June Osborne, the vibrant, funny, fierce women underneath.
18. Sam Rockwell as Dixon in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
When Sam Rockwell picks up his first Oscar nomination next month, as he’s certain to do, we will certainly be taking as overdue recognition for “Safe Men,” “Galaxy Quest,” “Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind,” “Moon,” “The Way Way Back,” “Laggies” and all the other movies he should have been honored for over the years. But it’s no “Scent Of A Woman” either — Rockwell’s work in Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards” is among the best he’s ever done. Dixon might be, as Frances McDormand’s heroine puts it, a fuckhead, but he’s a complex figure even in his unsympathetic early stages, and the deep, abiding love he has for his sheriff (Woody Harrelson) sets the stage from the start for his redemption to come.
17. Regina Williams as Regina in “Life and Nothing More”
It’s debatable whether we should include Antonio Méndez Esparza‘s “Life and Nothing More” here as it hasn’t yet had a North American release. But since Williams picked up an Independent Spirit nomination, we figured it’s eligible, and anyway, we wanted to give this small but exceptional film as much shine as possible. As the struggling single mother to a young girl and a troubled teenage boy, first-timer Williams turns in one of the performances of this (or next) year, giving this deceptively absorbing, deeply compassionate portrait of ordinary lives blighted by racism, systemic prejudice and the constant threat of poverty, its careworn but luminous sense of grace.
16. Sarah Gadon as Grace Marks in “Alias Grace”
She may not wear a red cloak in a dystopian future of female oppression, but as a Margaret Atwood character, it’s possible that Grace Marks is an even more feminist creation than the Handmaids of her cautionary tale. That’s because so much of the story’s intrigue flows directly from her, and Gadon’s riveting, quicksilver turn gives us all its shades of light and darkness and mischief, while still retaining a locked-away core of mystery and ambivalence. As the celebrated 19th century murderess, Gadon brings a disingenuous and yet duplicitous double-edge to a role which is as fascinating for what it conceals as for what it reveals.
15. Jason Mitchell as Ronsel Jackson in “Mudbound”
Since exploding with his excellent Eazy-E in “Straight Outta Compton” two years ago, Jason Mitchell has become one of those actors who threatens to be the best thing in whatever he’s in: this year alone he shone in “Kong: Skull Island,” “Detroit” and “The Disaster Artist,” but it’s “Mudbound” that provides him his best showcase to date. As former soldier Ronsel, who returns home to Mississippi to find his service doesn’t necessarily give him the respect he’s owed, Mitchell is the heart and soul of the movie: fiery, warm, sometimes swooningly romantic, and utterly moving. Let’s hope his new Showtime series “The Chi” is the one that makes him a household name.
14. Kim Min-hee as Young-hee in “On the Beach At Night Alone”
The first of Hong Sang-soo‘s three 2017 titles, all of which star Kim Min-hee, “On the Beach At Night Alone” is the strongest largely because of its unwavering focus on its gorgeous star. She had already bewitched us in Park Chan-wook‘s “The Handmaiden” but the heady mixture of faintly supernatural relationship drama and metatextual confessional (Kim is — scandalously in Korea — dating director Hong after a secret affair) gives Hong’s trademark whimsy a kind of lightning-in-a-bottle urgency. Kim is simply astonishing, navigating a role that’s partly herself but also a sad, secretive and contradictory character all its own and it’s hard not to emerge completely smitten by both the performance and the performer.
13. Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock in “Phantom Thread”
“I’m not really going to let him get away with it,” director Paul Thomas Anderson recently said about his “Phantom Thread” star and creative partner Daniel Day-Lewis. And all we can do is hope and pray that the filmmaker can convince him to grace us with his commanding presence. If not, we have one last exquisite gift in Day-Lewis’ towering and flawless performance in “Phantom Thread.” Day-Lewis plays a renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock working in the couture world of 1950 London. Woodcock is demanding, perhaps the most demanding man there is and he discards muses when they’ve worn out their usefulness. Woodcock is punctilious precision personified which is arguably the legendarily committed actor himself who learned how to sew and make dresses for the movie. “You might be gone, but the interruption is still here!” he erupts in one particular scene, Woodcock’s absolutely intolerant of disturbances in the meticulous, sacrosanct process and the essence of the character seems to mimic DDL’s DNA and craft as well. As you might imagine, the role fits like a divinely crafted, high-end and ridiculously luxuriant glove. No one can get as profoundly exasperated by someone buttering their toast too loudly like Daniel Day-Lewis can and if this is indeed the thespians final role than we should all be grateful that breakfast exists if only solely for the purpose for us to witness the greatest actor in the world become gloriously, thrillingly displeased.
12. Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
One of the criticisms levelled against Martin McDonagh‘s provocative and provoking film is that all the characters, no matter how different their worldviews, sound the same. But when the writing is this fierce and witty, and when you have Frances McDormand leading the pack, snarling out those biting, withering epithets like she’s to the manner born, who cares? The artificiality of the writing recedes into unimportance beside watching one of our greatest actresses tear into a larger-than-life role with a ferocious lack of compromise: it’s possible there’s no other actor who could have wrestled with McDonagh’s densely verbose script and emerged so thrillingly victorious.
11. Barry Keoghan as Martin in “The Killing Of A Sacred Deer”
Of all the many risks — formal, thematic and narrative — that Yorgos Lanthimos takes in this zero-degrees-Kelvin horror, perhaps the riskiest of all was resting so much of it not with veterans Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell (who are both nonetheless excellent), but with the little-known Keoghan. The young actor, best known previously from Irish TV and roles in “‘71” and “Trespass Against Us” had a big year, also appearing in Christopher Nolan‘s “Dunkirk.” But ‘Sacred Deer’ is a watershed moment: the whole, precision-tooled film revolves so much around his idiosyncratic turn as the deeply malevolent but also paradoxically hyper-ordinary Martin, a teenaged demon in scuffed sneakers.