Every movie year offers what feels like dozens of great performances. Some go on to win Academy Awards and other accolades while other performances get no love at all. This list is dedicated to the latter group. 2020 was a great year for performances. I was making my “Best Performance of 2020” list and was really struggling to narrow the list down, so that’s where this list comes in. This is a list of performances that I loved in 2020, but ones that you won’t be seeing at any awards show. These are my picks for the most underrated and underseen movie performance of 2020.
CHRISTOPHER ABBOTT in POSSESSOR
- Christopher Abbott has been a great character actor over the last few years, yet his performance in Brandon Cronenberg’s body-swap thriller Possessor is his best since 2015’s James White. Abbott’s performance is a weird one, as he plays Colin, a host body to
Tasya the great Andrea Riseborough), an agent who works for a secretive organization that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies to enact assassinations from high-paying clients. Abbott’s performance is insane, as he has to play the version of Colin that Tasya is playing, but also plays Colin as a character and one who realizes his body has been taken over. It’s wild stuff but Abbott is incredible.
ANGELA BETTIS in 12 HOUR SHIFT
- 12 Hour Shift is an utterly bonkers movie about Mandy (Bettis), a drug-using nurse, and her cousin as they try to find a replacement kidney for an organ trafficker after they lost the original batch. Bettis gives an incredibly captivating performance in this one. Though Mandy is addicted to snorting pills during her shift, she is great at her job. She’s an excellent nurse and though illegal, she has a great system when it comes to her organ trafficking and making sure her clients are happy and that she gets the money. But when things awry this one night, she has to not only take care of her patients in the hospital, but take care of criminals who traffic the organs before the night is over. Bettis is intense and riveting in this unpredictable thriller.
ZOEY DEUTCH in BUFFALOED
- Zoey Deutch is quickly becoming one of my favorite comedic actors. With films like Why Him?, Set It Up, and Zombieland: Double Tap (a performance that I nominated her for Best Supporting Actress in 2019), Deutch has shown her comedic chops in many different forms. Her performance in Tanya Wexler’s Buffaloed is the best of her career, as she plays a hustler in the debt-collection world who wants nothing more than to get out of her hometown Buffalo, NY. It is a balls-to-the-wall performance full of life, energy, vulgarity, and great comedy. This performance reminded me of a dirtier, grittier version of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, which is nothing short of impressive. Buffaloed is one of the most underrated movies of 2020 and Deutch is just as underrated as an actress.
TOM HANKS in NEWS OF THE WORLD
- Tom Hanks is a screen legend, so it’s weird to think that he might be one of the most underrated actors working today. Throughout the 2010’s, Hanks mastered the art of playing a man who is good at his job. From Captain Phillips to Bridge of Spies to Sully, Hanks has perfected a roll that only few actors have enough talent and charisma to pull off. Hanks’ performance in News of the World as Captain Kidd is another one of those performances, as Hanks plays a man who reads the news to local towns in Texas while also trying to get a little girl back to her family. It’s a great performance as Hanks not only portrays a man who is good at his job, but portrays a lost man in search of purpose. Just another great performance from one of the best to ever do it.
MARGO MARTINDALE in BLOW THE MAN DOWN
- Margo Martindale is one of our great character actors. With over one-hundred rolls under her belt, Martindale is bound to have been in something you have seen. Most of the performances I have seen Martindale in have been in either comedies or with her playing a motherly character of sorts. Blow the Man Down is completely different from anything I’ve seen her do, as she plays a crime boss and brothel owner in a small Maine town. Martindale balances warmth and terror brilliantly. She’ll welcome you with open arms and treat you like family unless you screw her over, in which case you need to leave town immediately before she gets ahold of you. It’s top-notch work from one of the best in the game.
MEEK MILL in CHARM CITY KINGS
- You read right. Meek Mill gives not only an underrated performance in Charm City Kings, but one of my favorite performances of 2020, period. Meek plays Blax, a man recently released from prison who runs a bike shop and rides with the Midnight Clique, the most infamous local bike gang. Blax’s attitude since prison has totally changed, as he steers away from the streets and focuses on repairing and customizing bikes and taking a young bike rider under his wing to teach him responsibility and that the streets aren’t the answer, especially being a young Black man. Mill has a commanding screen presence and steals the powerful drama. You understand Blax’s pain and feel for him when he’s put into tough situations and are rooting for him to stay clean and help this young boy out. Mill also flashes moments of intimidation, drama, and comedy, a true sign of a gifted actor. Though known for his rap career, this performance shows that Mill should really take this acting thing very seriously.
MARGOT ROBBIE in BIRDS OF PREY
- There are some people who were just born to play a roll. Margot Robbie was born to play Harley Quinn. Making her debut in The Suicide Squad, Robbie was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise horrendous movie. But Robbie really owns this performance in Birds of Prey. Everything that was great about her in Suicide Squad is even better here. The accent, the attitude, the quirkiness, the craziness, everything about Robbie’s portrayal of Quinn is spot-on. Director Cathy Yan lets Robbie off the leash and allows her to have a blast and give one of the best performances in the DCEU and give us a character that I can’t wait to see more of.
CHARLIZE THERON in THE OLD GUARD
- Speaking of another kick-ass performance, Charlize Theron gives the best performance in an action movie in 2020 in The Old Guard. Who else would you cast an ageless warrior who has lived for centuries? Theron is perfect in Gina Price-Bythewood’s explosive and exciting comic book adaptation. She’s been alive for centuries and killed thousands of people along the way and she is exhausted and lonely, as loving someone is a tough task when they’re mortal and she’s immortal. Theron wears the exhaustion and sadness in her eyes and her shoulders, yet has no problem mowing down soldiers trying to attack her and squad. I hope The Old Guard turns into a franchise so we can get more movies of Charlize kicking ass.
VINCE VAUGHN in FREAKY
- The once comedy king of the 2000’s has changed the course of his career over the last decade. From starring in dramas and television shows to taking supporting turns in smaller dramedies, Vaughn has really changed who is as an actor and for the better. His performance in Christopher Landon’s horror-comedy Freaky is not only Vaughn’s best performance in over fifteen years, but I would argue one of the best of his career, period. He plays a legendary town murderer who magically swaps bodies with a high school girl and must figure out how switch back. Vaughn is horrifying as the serial killer, using is large 6’5″ frame to show intimidation and menace. And the comedy element of the performance is even more impressive. Vaughn doesn’t do his usual dry, quick-witted schtick we saw for years. He really commits to playing the teenage girl personality that has inhabited his body but never goes too big or offensive. It’s a spectacular balancing act and Vaughn walks the tight role beautifully. Vaughn’s performance is in Freaky is what I consider to be the best comedic performance of 2020.
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