Writing about my favorite performances of the year is always one of my favorite pieces. It makes me think back to all the great performances that I watched over the year and makes me want to rewatch the great movies these performances were in. However, it is also a very stressful piece to make because there are performances I am forced to leave off my list, which really breaks my heart. 2020 is no exception to this. This was a great year for acting all around. We got excellent work from screen legends as well as a lot of impressive performances from new and up-and-coming actors. But at the end of the day, these are the best movie performances that I saw in 2020.
I broke each category down like the Oscars do. There is a Best Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Actress, and Actor, each with five nominees. I have then selected a winner from each category and explained why they won.
Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Talia Ryder, Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Amanda Seyfriend, Mank
Youn Yuh-jung, Minari
Helena Zengel, News of the World
HELENA ZENGEL, NEWS OF THE WORLD
- This was the toughest category for me to pick a winner as each of the five actresses were truly spectacular. But my winner is newcomer Helena Zengel from Paul Greengrass’ thrilling western News of the World. The twelve-year-old Zengel had never starred in an English-language film before and decided to make her debut alongside screen legend Tom Hanks. Acting next to someone with the caliber of Hanks might seem like a tall task, but Zengel steals the whole movie from the two-time Oscar winner. Zengel plays Johanna, a girl who was captured by Native Americans when she was younger and is now being returned to her family by a lonely traveling newsman (Hanks), even though she feels at home with the Native Americans. Zengel’s performance is a juggling act. Most of the performance is wordless, but Zengel’s striking blue eyes do all of the talking as we watch Johanna go from an angry girl who feels like she has been stolen from her family to someone who finds a family in Hanks’ Captain Kidd. And when Zengel does speak in the film, she’s trilingual, speaking English, Native American, and German, which adds a layer of lostness to her character. Everything about this performance is impressive and brilliant.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods
Meek Mill, Charm City Kings
Bill Murray, On the Rocks
Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
David Strathairn, Nomadland
BILL MURRAY, ON THE ROCKS
- Over the last decade or so, Billy Murray has become more of a mythical figure than actor. From the 800-number you need to get a hold of him (he doesn’t have an agent, only a number) to the projects Murray chooses, we can never quite predict when we will see Murray or what kind of performance we will see out of him. Murray’s performance in Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks is some of the best work of his career. Murray plays Felix, the absent playboy father of Laura (Rashida Jones) who begins to rekindle his relationship with his daughter when she suspects her husband of having an affair. Murray is magnetic in every scene. Felix is a larger-than-life figure who can talk his way out of any situation while also flirting with any woman he comes in contact with and Murray nails every bit ounce of Felix’s personality. But there’s a level of sadness to Felix that makes Murray’s performance great. Felix knows he wasn’t a great father, philandering around New York and not being present for his family, and sees this opportunity to make up for lost time with his daughter even if it might be too late. Murray does a brilliant job of trying to hide Felix’s sadness, yet never fully hides it and wearing it in his eyes. Murray has given some legendary performances and On the Rocks is one of his absolute best.
Carrie Coon, The Nest
Zoey Deutch, Buffaloed
Sidney Flanigan, Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
SIDNEY FLANIGAN, NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
- In a year of powerhouse performances from past Oscar nominees and winners, my pick for the best performance from a lead actress in 2020 is from an actress who had never starred in a movie before. I first saw Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always nearly one year ago at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and Flanigan’s performance has stuck with me the entire year. Flanigan plays Autumn, a teenager who must travel from her small Pennsylvanian town to New York City with her cousin (Talia Ryder, one of my Best Supporting Actress nominees) to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Hittman’s camera rarely leaves Flanigan’s face as we are taken on this long, treacherous journey and Flanigan portrays a young woman who is lost and scared but also focused and determined to accomplish what needs to be done. It’s a very reactive, quiet performance but Flanigan’s face tells us everything that is going through Autumn’s head. This is as strong and as powerful as any performance I saw in 2020.
Ben Affleck, The Way Back
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods
Steven Yeun, Minari
ANTHONY HOPKINS, THE FATHER
- Though this was a crazy year for movies, the Best Actor field was loaded. I would argue that this is the strongest Best Actor field that we have seen in over a decade. Though I only chose five nominees, there were over ten lead actor performances that I truly loved and wanted to nominate. Special shoutouts to the late, great Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Tom Hanks in News of the World, Vince Vaughn in Freaky, Andy Samberg in Palm Springs, and Mads Mikkelsen in Another Round, among many others for their great performances. But even with all the great leading actor performances that we got in 2020, Anthony Hopkins’ performance in Florian Zeller’s The Father was far and away the best performance from any actor or actress that I saw in 2020. Hopkins plays Anthony, an old man who is struggling with aging and refuses any assistance from his daughter, even though his grip on reality is slowly slipping. Anthony (the character) is charming, sweet, kind, frustrating, and heartbreaking and Hopkins makes us feel every inch of it. He transforms into Anthony and fully immerses himself into the role, something I haven’t seen Hopkins do in over a decade. Hopkins puts us inside the mind of Anthony and we feel his confusion and fear and anger in every scene. This is one of the greatest depictions of dementia I have ever seen on screen. Hopkins never goes too big and his performance always feels real. This is a masterclass performance and one that will be remembered for years to come.
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