Move Over Oscars… Here are the 20 Best Performances of 2019

2019 was a great year for movies—and for the actors within them. Rather than bore you with a long and unyielding introduction, here are the 20 best performances—regardless of gender or size of role—of the year.

20. Alessandro Nivola, The Art of Self-Defense

Nivola plays a sociopathic martial arts sensei who teaches how to punch like a kick.

19. Adam Driver, The Report

Driver plays the most driven (obsessed?) man in America in this methodical and disturbing investigation of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program.

18. Shia LaBeouf, Honey Boy

LaBeouf portrays his own father—who wasn’t exactly the most endearing of individuals—in this creative reenactment of his troubled childhood.

17. Taylor Russell, Waves

Russell is barely in the first half of this mesmerizing drama, but when she shows up, she shows up in force.

16. Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

If anyone could pull off a

15. Antonio Banderas, Pain & Glory

The movie is a bore, but Banderas, playing a suffering filmmaker whose joy is slowly rekindled, is at the very top of his game.

14. Jessie Buckley, Wild Rose

Buckley was incredible in HBO’s Chernobyl, but she’s downright commanding in this drama that almost—almost—makes you appreciate countrymusic.

13. Rebecca Ferguson, Doctor Sleep

Ferguson somehow manages to be sexy and sinister as Rose the Hat, one of the most memorable celluloid villains of the year.

12. Awkwafina, The Farewell

While it pains me that someone named “Awkwafina” is a serious actress, Awkwafina is incredible in this understated drama.

11. Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari

Matt Damon is fantastic in Ford v Ferrari, but Bale’s turn as the eccentric Ken Miles is one for the record books.

10. Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems

When a performance gives you literal anxiety, that means you’re watching a good performance.

9. Adam Driver, Marriage Story

As good as ScarJo is, it’s Driver who delivers the most emotional punches in this depressing drama.

8. Mads Mikkelsen, Arctic

Mikkelsen carries the entire weight of this survival film on his shoulders and barely breaks a sweat. He breaks a leg, though.

7. Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Pitt was great in Ad Astra, but he’s even more impressive as the charming hero (and wife killer?) who somehow steals the show from Leonardo DiCaprio.

6. Lupita Nyong’o, Us

Should Nyong’o get mentioned twice on this list for her dual characters in Jordan Peele’s chilling thriller?

5. Robert Pattinson, The Lighthouse

As weird (too weird for me) as The Lighthouse was, it’s no shocker that Pattinson fit right in.

4. Joaquim Phoenix, Joker

Whether you loved or loathed this divisive comic book movie, there’s no denying that Phoenix absolutely immerses himself in the role.

3. Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse

Speaking of immersion, Dafoe goes full Lighthouse in The Lighthouse.

2. Florence Pugh, Midsommar

Here’s a secret: Little Women, for which Pugh will likely receive an Oscar nomination, features the actress’s third best performance of 2019.

1. Elisabeth Moss, Her Smell

Rarely do you see an actor unleash completely, but in Her Smell, Elisabeth Moss makes you believe… for the year’s best performance.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Top 10 Movie Lists