In the Press’ penultimate look back at all-things-movies in 2017, this space is devoted to (some) of the best performances of the year. The Inland Northwest hasn’t yet seen Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread,” and the latest Meryl Streep acting showcase (in Steven Spielberg’s “The Post”) drops in local theaters today.
Even after omitting these heavy hitters, 2017 boasted several excellent performances. In a year full of icky stories about disgusting Hollywood dudes, it was especially nice to see so many outstanding female performances. Women dominate this list, and do so deservedly.
PERFORMANCES OF THE YEAR
Frances McDormand in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
The movie itself has a few detractors, but even most of them will acknowledge McDormand’s explosive, hilarious and heartbreaking role as Mildred Hayes, a person who takes bold and drastic measures to push local law enforcement into solving her daughter’s unsolved murder.
Mildred’s spectacular and profane outbursts fuel the film’s black humor, but it’s her pain and loss that provides the film’s unexpected and sometimes devastating humanity.
Anne Hathaway in “Colossal”
This is a movie to be seen, especially in how it characterizes a prevalent and still largely unspoken form of psychological abuse and masculine entitlement. Had the movie been released post-Weinstein fallout, I’m convinced it would be much more prominent in the end-of-the-year conversation.
Regardless, this is probably Hathaway’s best, most understated performance (she often gets accused of being too mannered in roles, though I’d mostly disagree). She plays a passive, functioning alcoholic sparked into conflict from both fantastic and domestic sources, and it’s Hathaway’s steady relatability in the part that keeps the movie from steering out of control.
Brooklynn Prince in “The Florida Project”
I understand how watching impoverished kids run around a seedy motel outside Disney World isn’t most people’s idea of big screen entertainment. But “The Florida Project” is just so devastatingly good — gorgeous, warm, funny, wrenching and a bold statement on just how disparate the class system has become in America.
At the center of all this is Prince, the 6-year-old at the center of the film. Kid actors can often seem stilted, and filmmakers rarely know the difference between childlike whim and cutesy pandering. Director Sean Baker avoids all this with Prince (surrounded by a couple of other terrific, naturalistic kid actors). She makes for a compelling lead, and she breaks your heart in the last few minutes.
Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf in “Lady Bird”
The fiery mother-daughter relationship at the center of “Lady Bird” is forged by the specific eccentricities of each respective character. Greta Gerwig’s script is filled with wonderful details and provides the relationship with so much of a history that the film almost always feels like an autobiography (it isn’t, really, according to Gerwig, anyway).
Perhaps more remarkable, that specificity in the relationship between Ronan’s Lady Bird and Metcalf’s Marion also taps into a universality many young people feel while coming of age around “tough” parents. These two actors, especially in scenes together, manage to transcend already excellent material.
Aubrey Plaza in “Ingrid Goes West”
Plaza, great as she was on “Parks and Recreation,” has a bit of a typecasting problem, almost always playing a grim, sarcastic hater of everything (she even voiced “Grumpy Cat”). “Ingrid Goes West” spins Plaza’s strengths into a completely different formula, amping up the insecurities while making some damning observations about millennial culture.
Tatiana Maslany in “Stronger”
Jake Gyllenhaal is certainly good in the centerpiece performance of “Stronger,” that of Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman. But Maslany, star of “Orphan Black,” is the anchor to the film’s avoidance of inspirational cliches. Playing Bauman’s tormented-but-supportive girlfriend, Maslany shows the anguish of being too reliable and too indispensable to those so desperate for strength.
Sophia Lillis in “It”
Tolerance of the frequent evil clown scares will vary, but even non-horror fans can appreciate the kid-performances that comprise “The Losers Club” in the massively successful adaptation of Stephen King’s “It.” The best of the bunch is Lillis, playing Beverly, the only girl of the group and a victim of far more than the whims of a wicked clown. Beverly’s strength and compassion drive the movie, to the point where all the nonsense with Pennywise feels secondary to the daily terrors the kids face at home and at school.
MORE GREAT PERFORMANCES
Florence Pugh in “Lady Macbeth,” Zoe Kazan and Holly Hunter in “The Big Sick,” Emma Stone in “Battle of the Sexes,” Jessica Chastain in “Molly’s Game,” Kristen Stewart in “Personal Shopper,” Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Pfeiffer in “mother!” Tessa Thompson in “Thor: Ragnarok,” Catherine Keener in “Get Out,” Carla Gugino in “Gerald’s Game,” Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman,” Rooney Mara in “A Ghost Story,” Salma Hayek in “Beatriz at Dinner,” Bria Vinaite in “The Florida Project,” Mary J. Blige in “Mudbound.”
OK, here are a few men: Willem Dafoe in “The Florida Project,” Daniel Kaluuya in “Get Out,” Gary Oldman in “Darkest Hour,” Harrison Ford in “Blade Runner 2049,” Mark Hamill in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” James Franco in “The Disaster Artist,” Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards,” Idris Elba in “Molly’s Game,” Jason Sudeikis in “Colossal,” James McAvoy in “Split.”
Tyler Wilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org