2022 has been a fantastic year for women!
So great in fact that eleven of the year’s fifteen best performances are given by actresses! Some are veterans doing career-best work, some are breaking through, while others are established and taking risks that pay off. It has been a very long time since women outnumbered men in the year’s best performances. I can recall some years when the Academy struggled to find five nominees for Best Actress (1975 comes to mind, 2001 another). Not this year, ladies take a bow.
Here are the top 15 performances of the year 2022 –
15. OLIVIA COLMAN IN ‘EMPIRE OF LIGHT’
This hugely gifted Academy Award winner seems unlimited in talent, managing both comedy and drama with ease. Here as a mentally ill woman she is superb and could earn yet another Academy Award nomination, which would be her fourth in a few very short years. When she is onscreen you cannot look away lest you miss some nuance she brings to the role. She is a wonder on screen, and perfectly brilliant in this film.
14. WILL SMITH IN ‘EMANCIPATION’
Will the infamous slap cost him an Oscar nomination? It might but it certainly should not as Smith digs deep to give one of his finest performances as Peter a runaway slave headed North with plans to free his family in the war-torn South. A slavery film, directed by Antoine Fuqua is also a superb action film with Smith on the run through all sorts of hell. Gator-filled swamps, snakes at every turn, braying bloodhounds on his scent, and all the while he finds the strength to move. It is a big powerful performance from a very fine actor who has had a very rough year.
13. TOBEY MAGUIRE IN ‘BABYLON’
It is just so goofy and giddy I could take my eyes off him. Always a much better actor given credit for being, Maguire is superb as a mobster in the movie town who likes the fast pace of Hollywood, the drug addicts, the scandals and the debts movie stars run up on drugs and other messes. With a cackle that suggests enjoyment from others’ tragedies, Maguire dominates each scene he is in, and he is not in very much money. That he stands out in this chaotic film suggests the greatness of his work.
12. DANIELLE DEADWYLER IN ‘TILL’
They say there is no love like that of a mother. In a performance of raw, devastating power that scorches the soul, Deadwyler is the mother of a fourteen-year-old boy who goes to visit family in the south one summer and winds up murdered. Does she take it? no. Like a mother lion, she roars to life and becomes a huge part of the Civil Rights Movement, so much more than just another grieving mother. Deadwyler captures the anger, the grief, the intensity of losing a child and the absolute rage no one seems to care about but she and her family. If enough people see the film, she could crack the final five, however as you can see, Best Actress is very crowded.
11. AUBREY PLAZA IN ‘EMILY THE CRIMINAL’
I love this actress, just love her. After first seeing her as a cold-blooded hit woman on TV’s ‘Criminal Minds’ (chilling) I have sought her whenever I could and she never disappoints. Here she is Emily, recently unemployed and hired to some illegal work scamming stores. Always the smartest person in the room, Emily figures it all pretty quickly and is soon the best at what she does, but annoys her new employers and will be forced to flee the country, with brand new skills. Plaza is whip-smart as Emily but also vulnerable and seeing her get batted around a few times is shocking. But she never lies down, she is one tough cookie and gets back up and goes at it again. Men? They are just obstacles. she is a woman hear her roar.
10. EMMA THOMPSON IN ‘GOOD LUCK TO YOU LEO GRANDE’
It has been a while since Thompson gave such a luminous performance, but here she is over sixty giving a fine, performance full of carnality that is both exciting and deeply moving. Retiring after years of teaching, she is widowed and has never experienced an orgasm, decides to hire a young sex worker to see what all the fuss is about. Not only does she finds out and like it VERY MUCH, but she also finds she likes his company and they become friends, though his time costs her. Thompson is often heartbreaking in the film but gains strength through the newly found command of her sexuality. Brilliant and I hope more people see it.
9. ZOE KAZAN and CAREY MULLIGAN IN ‘SHE SAID’
You cannot name one without the other any more than you could F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce in ‘Amadeus’ (1984). The actresses feed off one another in the film, each delivering wonderful, intelligent energy that the other grabs and makes part of their performance. Like Woodward and Bernstein in ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976) they seek the great white whale known as Harvey Weinstein and seek to bring him down for decades of raping and abusing women. Kazan is the more emotional but never once overplays that, while Mulligan is the more cerebral, though fighting depression after giving birth and not understanding why. Together they are electric, crackling with high-octane energy. A brilliant pair of actresses at their very best.
8. CLAIRE FOY IN ‘WOMEN TALKING’
There is a lot of talking in Sarah Polley’s exquisite film ‘Women Talking’, and it is urgent, necessary talking, that demands to be heard. And in the centre is the Hurrican that is Foy’s enraged woman, ready to leave the Mennonite-like community and enter the world she does not know. Sexual abuse has rained down on the women in the community for years, blamed on ghosts or Satan rather than the men of the religious village who believe it is their right. Foy most certainly does not and believes if she stays she will be driven to murder. Her clear eyes declaration of that fact is frightening, because we know she means it. A sensational performance from one of the best actresses on the rise.
7. AUSTIN BUTLER IN ‘ELVIS’
The first time I saw the film, I griped that Butler caught everything about Elvis Presley except that sense of danger. Upon seeing it a fourth time, and I stand by that, but in the scenes on stage he is electrifying. A huge undertaking for the most gifted of actors, Butler is still young, still developing but is on his way to his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He has the moves, the look, the presence, that astounding confidence and the sexual energy to pull it off and he does so much more, slipping under the skin of Presley and becoming him. It is a remarkably accurate performance of the essence of the King. Brano to Butler. Rami Malek should watch this and realize “NOW THAT is how it is done!!!”
6. JUDD HIRSCH IN ‘THE FABELMANS’
Uncle Boris breezes in unannounced and takes over the house with his wild tales of the circus. Alone with Sammy aka Steven Spielberg he discusses following his art with the young lad. Whereas his dad called his filmmaking a “hobby”, Uncle Boris sees life and is proud of his nephew for chasing a dream. He encourages, champions and loves the boy as much for his dream as for being his blood. He does everything for the boy that his father should be doing. Warm, loving, and bombastic, the old man is a born storyteller and he sees himself in his nephew and once saw it in his sister. In less than ten minutes of screen time, Hirsch is astounding.
5. MARGOT ROBBIE IN ‘BABYLON’
A knockout of a performance from an actress who just keeps showing her range. In Chazelle’s hyperkinetic journey through Hollywood in the Golden Age, the last days of the silent picture, Robbie is electrifying. She dominates the film throughout and when she is off the screen, we miss her as she is the pulsating heartbeat of this wild ride of a movie. Her raw carnality scorches the screen, and though her character is not yet a star, she knows as do we, she will be very soon. The most committed performance of her already impressive career, the lady just keeps getting better, and she was already extraordinary to start. She is sex incarnate in this film, remarkable.
4. MICHELLE WILLIAMS IN ‘THE FABELMANS’
In a luminous performance as Mitzi, the mother of the young director meant to be Steven Spielberg, Williams is brilliant in the film. In any other year, she would be taking home the Oscar but there are too many female performances to choose from. An exciting lady Mitzi, is artistic, beautiful, and loving but needs attention and love, she proves to be flawed in the eyes of her son, until quite by accident he finds she is indeed flawed. Mitzi carries too much life in her for her husband, a good guy (which she accepts) but this live wire artist needs more, so much more. A brave fearless performance. This must have been difficult for Spielberg to direct and write, it is his mother for God’s sake.
3. COLIN FARRELL IN ‘THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN’
Farrell is wonderful as the bewildered young man who cannot figure out why his best friend turns against him overnight. One night they are the best of friends, the next day? Done. Hurt, and stunned by the rejection, Farrell is both heartbroken and often very funny as he struggles to discover what went wrong. Rarely has Farrell been so confident on-screen that may be working in his native Ireland brought out his finest. The best performance of his career, Oscar bound.
2. ANA DE ARMAS IN ‘BLONDE’
Yes, though the Netflix film was controversial, there was nothing about De Armas that was anything other than superb. Let’s admit, the scene inside her vagina was just stupid and focused entirely on De Armas’s performance. In every way, she became Marilyn and was always aware the greatest role she would ever play would be Marilyn Monroe. She seems to channel Marilyn Monroe giving us less of a performance than an inhabitation of this demanding character. Unsetting in its brilliance, eerie in its haunting accuracy. A staggering achievement from a gifted actress that has haunted me since seeing it. Come on Academy, show some guts.
1. CATE BLANCHETT IN ‘TAR’
As Lydia, one of the world’s greatest conductors Cate Blanchett gives not only the year’s very best performance but the finest of her exceptional career and among the finest ever put on film. A dislikable character, driven to perfectionism in her work, Blanchett fearlessly portrays a woman to who music is like oxygen, her blood, her everything, leaving her humanity often lacking. It is a stunning physical performance from one of the greatest, and we thought we had seen her best!! She is a miracle in the film, beautifully directed by Todd Field. Rarely are directors so smart they just turn the camera on their star and let them go.
What were your favourite performances of the year 2022? Do mention them in the comments section.
About The Author:
John H. Foote is among the best known film critics in Canada, and has been active as a critic for thirty years. His career began as co-host, co-producer of the popular movie talk and review program Reel to Real. He left the show after ten years for his first love, print criticism, he longed to write about movies. For two years he wrote for Toronto Life and Fashion Magazine, his work quote in the LA and New York Times, as well as major papers across North America. He was offered a position writing for the internet and has since wrote for incontention.com, thewrap.com, screenrant.com, awardscircuit.com and most recently thecinemaholic.com. In May, 2018 he started his own site https://Footeandfriendsonfilm.com, which has enjoyed great success its first few months. Foote was also involved in film education teaching film history and film genre at Trebas Institute before leaving to be Dean of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history and continued his work as a critic. Foote has written two books, Clint Eastwood : Evolution of a Filmmaker, and Spielberg: American Film Visionary. His third, American Cinema in the Seventies is due for release in 2020.
Through his career he has interviewed everyone in the business except Jack Nicholson.