Adam: Hi Patrick! How are you? I am fine. My first pick is Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman. Before taking on this role, I knew Gadot (like most everyone else) through the Fast and the Furious franchise, where I don’t think she was utilized enough. In Wonder Woman, I was really impressed to get a sense of what kind of actress she is - warm, positive, relaxed, earnest and great as an action star. Carrying a movie isn’t easy, and without Gal Gadot’s now iconic performance, Wonder Woman probably wouldn’t have reached the heights that it did. It’s not a mistake that hers and Patty Jenkins’ work resonated so much with audiences this year. Gadot’s approach felt like an actress who took a lot of personal pride in the character she’s portraying and did all she could to give a memorable performance. What is your first pick?
Patrick: Gal Gadot for sure would have been one of my picks, too. Not only do I think she’s easily the best thing about Wonder Woman (one of the only true star-making performances we got this year), but her turn as Diana of Themiscrya is, for me, one of the very best performances of the year. I know it’s not the kind of work that gets awards consideration, but I think it should in this case. She’s great.
Mayhem. She had an amazing year, with a memorable leading role in The Babysitter, a really funny supporting turn in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and her performance in Mayhem, my favorite of the three. She and Steven Yeun are so good together as average people fighting back against the system, emboldened by a rage virus that allows them to act out on their every impulse and beat the shit out of an entire office building. Unlike McG in The Babysitter, Joe Lynch doesn’t turn Weaving into a pinup fantasy, instead treating her as a real person who just happens to be more awesome than the rest of us. Weaving’s comic timing is on point and she never gets a laugh the obvious way, instead finding moments and deliveries that are just off-center enough to always be surprising. It’s the kind of performance that makes me excited to see her in a bunch more stuff.
Adam: I missed both Mayhem and The Babysitter (you caught more on the indie scene than I have this year), so I can only speak to Samara Weaving in Three Billboards. I liked her energy in that movie and it was a good introduction for an actress that is new to me. Not joking, I’m looking forward to going back and seeing her in Monster Trucks, which also has Jane Levy. Is Mayhem better than The Belko Experiment?
I want to highlight male performers too with my picks, but (to be clear) in doing that I’m not criticizing your choice to only highlight women. I support it and am happy it will give us the opportunity to praise more women in film. I’m going to go 50/50, as I have in the past for this year-end column. It would just break my heart too much not to bring attention to some performances by male actors that I admired this year. My favorite male performance of 2017 is by an actor I had never seen before and that is Algee Smith as the lead singer of the group The Dramatics in Detroit. Smith has one of the most heartbreaking shifts of any character in the film. I was crushed as I watched him portray Larry, an upbeat singer who changes overnight into a sullen and broken man caused by a night of terrible police brutality. Thankfully, Smith has a whole arc to play before and after that hour long, very tough to watch sequence, so it’s not just watching him be put through the wringer. It’s one of those performances where I left the theater and wanted to know more about the actor because his work cut through all artifice and hit me in my soul.
Patrick: I still haven’t seen Detroit! Though I will hopefully have rectified that by the time this column runs. [Ed. note: I have] And yes, Mayhem is way better than Belko (which is just ok). It’s honestly worth watching just for Samara Weaving, but there’s more to like than just her.
My next pick is Tiffany Haddish in Girls Trip, a comedy I’m glad was a huge hit even if it didn’t do a whole lot for me. The mix of the usual Malcolm D. Lee friendship melodrama (not saying that’s a bad thing) with try-too-hard raunchy comedy rarely made me laugh, with the exception of Tiffany Hadish’s go-for-broke performance. Despite being the least-known name in the cast, she steals the movie and makes her every scene come alive, finding a way to play the “party” friend in a way that isn’t annoying the way it is in every single other movie of this sort. Like Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman, it feels like a real breakout role.
Adam: I agree with your go-for-broke statement. Tiffany Haddish is great for me because she takes an obvious joke (verbal or physical) and then pushes it like ten extra yards downfield (I know you like sports analogies). The scene where she talks about torturing Regina Hall’s cheating husband until he starts to giggle and how much she likes that is one example and that grapefruiting scene is another. Tiffany Haddish in Girls Trip is so good it makes me annoyed that she’s underused in Keanu.
Wish Upon, a film that just missed my top 10 list. Joey King is so key to its success. It’s easy to give male and female actors credit for digging in and giving great performances with good material, but when they really commit to bad and/or bizarre writing it’s more often mocked than admired. Her professionalism is important because the audience can have more fun with the movie with her playing the things straight rather than with her winking at the material.
Patrick: You are as committed to your love of Wish Upon as Joey King is to the material in Wish Upon.
My next pick is for an indie that not a lot of people have talked about: Rebecca Spence in the Chicago-based Princess Cyd. The movie is a really small drama in which Spence plays a writer who takes in her high schooler niece (Jessie Pinnick) for a summer. I know it’s annoying when I pick something you haven’t seen because we can’t really talk about it, but I have to highlight the amazing performance from Spence, who creates a character that would be insufferable in the hands of so many other actors. Her character is very intelligent and borderline pretentious, as well as deeply pious in her commitment to her faith. In most movies, this would be the character who needs to lighten up or learn humility. Not here, though. Spence and writer/director Stephen Cone give her such dignity without ever compromising who she is. It’s amazing work.
Princess Cyd is available on VOD and iTunes now for anyone interested.
Adam: I’m more annoyed that I had to look up the word pious. With religion on the mind, my next pick is Nelson Lee in All Saints. I went to see this movie as a sheer curiosity since it stars the ever-congenial John Corbett (those are rare unicorns), and I was genuinely curious about seeing a “faith-based” movie because I had never seen one. All Saints receiving strong reviews sealed the deal. I am really happy I went for a number of reasons: 1) It is a really illuminating true story about the experience of refugees who come to America, which is a topic I gave more thought to in 2017 than I had before 2) It helped me understand better close-knit church communities. Being Jewish, I was naive to much of that experience and was happy to see the point of view from characters who are humanitarians as much as anything else and 3) Out of nowhere, I was taken with Nelson Lee, who is like giving a River Phoenix level brooding performance in All Saints. He plays the spokesperson/leader for the refugees and it’s a really powerful, underplayed performance that blew me away. I also liked how his character is just an adult and not infallible. He screws up and is noble, too. Nelson Lee is mostly a TV actor, it looks like, so I hadn’t seen much of him before All Saints and I was so impressed that if I were a director I would want to cast him (and John Corbett because John Corbett) in every one of my movies for at least a small role. So, Mr. Lee, the role of Detective Amberson (he is married to the Tammy Lauren character from the original and took her name) in Wishmaster 2000 is yours if you want it.
Patrick: Another one I haven’t seen! If nothing else, this list is going to give us each a stack of stuff we need to see, which is always a good thing. I love that your list so far includes both Wish Upon and All Saints. I don’t think there are many other movie sites or writers who are finding the good in those films.
Adam: Nice! I had not heard of this movie before now. Was it at Cinepocalypse?
Patrick: It was at Cinepocalypse. It’s a really small movie that I don’t think will end up getting the attention it deserves, which is probably why I’m going to be talking up the movie and Kate Hoffman whenever I can.
Patrick: I haven’t seen Stronger either! Did we just watch completely different movies this year? And is that better for a piece like this, since it means we’re able to cover more ground? I’m trying to rationalize not having seen All Saints, in case you’re wondering.
I’m sure she’s going to get an Oscar nomination (it’s deserved), but I’ll pick Holly Hunter in The Big Sick for my next favorite performance of the year. Everyone in the movie is really good, but Hunter manages to stand out by being such a force: feisty, strong, angry, scared, capable of forgiveness. The scene in which she starts a fight with the guy in the comedy club is one of the moments in the movie that rings a little bit false to me, but Hunter sells it because she builds up to that moment. She’s powerless and frustrated and carrying around some resentment that predates her daughter’s sickness, so she’s able to convince us that this altercation has been a long time coming. She’s also very funny, capturing the screenplay’s ability to find humor in pain more than any other actor in the film.
Adam: (Spits out drink) I’ve seen that! The first time I saw The Big Sick (I’ve only seen it once), I noticed how much I’ve been taking Holly Hunter for granted all of these years. She’s just so consistently excellent that it’s hard for me to pick one from her performances, so I don’t. Yeah, I suck sometimes. There’s a performance in The Big Sick I adore, but it’s a boy performance and I don’t want to “Well actually” your pick so I’m relieved he was going to be an honorable mention of mine anyways.
Logan. Speaking of taking someone for granted, I don’t think I really thought about what a talent Jackman is until Logan. It was always “Oh yeah, Wolverine” and “I don’t like Swordfish! Why does my friend keep quoting Swordfish like I’m going to remember one of Cheadle’s lines from Swordfish?” When you consider all Jackman’s done since his debut in the role in 2000’s X-Men, it’s quite the body of work. I mentioned with Gal Gadot how much I appreciated her taking responsibility and ownership of the role, and that’s what Jackman has quietly done all along with Logan/Wolverine. He set the template in that regard and anyone else who took the role (No Scott Eastwood! No!) would feel like a Jackie Earle Haley-level imposter. When Jackman has his final moments in Logan, I was very moved, unexpectedly so. Part of that was because I knew he was never going to play this role again and that I was thankful he and James Mangold closed out Logan’s story as well as anyone could have. If 2017 was anything for me performances-wise, it was a year where I began to appreciate certain actors and actresses more that have been doing great work (often without much hype) year in and year out in the past seventeen years. I’ll mention at least a couple more of these performers in my honorable mentions and on the top 10 show in a few weeks.
Patrick: Good call on Hugh Jackman! So much of that movie’s power comes from the fact that we’ve lived with him playing Logan for almost two decades. He and James Mangold get that, too, and it factors into the story they’re telling. The good news is that now Disney owns the rights to the character and we may never get a Wolverine story that’s this violent and gritty and poetic again! Yay corporate mergers!
Happy Death Day. The movie is just ok, but it’s fun and I’m glad it was a big hit because it’s another horror success story this year and maybe it means more slashers will be coming. And I’m not alone in singling out Jessica Rothe’s star-making turn as the unfortunately-named Tree, the sorority girl who has to live the day she’s murdered over and over until she can solve it, as the main reason that Happy Death Day works at all. Despite seeming simple on the surface, she has a difficult part to play -- she has to, as Brian Collins has pointed out, transform from being the stereotypical bitchy girl of every slasher movie into the sympathetic Final Girl over the course of the running time. And she does! It’s not a journey I’m interested in taking, really, unless I care about the character. Rothe makes sure that I do.
Adam: Well, whaddya know? Jessica Rothe was going to be my next pick. She’s great in Happy Death Day. After I saw it, I noticed she is one of Emma Stone’s friends in La La Land and now I want to see those two in a buddy comedy. Good thing Rothe’s next movie is a Nicholas Sparks looking MF’er called Forever My Girl! Why can’t I run Hollywood? Movies would be better. Would you like to run Indie with Chaybee? I bought real estate in Indianapolis. Happy to pay for the lease.
My next choice is from a movie that really surprised me, and that’s Karen Gillan in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. I was stunned by how fun it is (I think I like it more than the original) and happy to see Gillan emerge as the standout. I’ve liked her in Oculus, enough in Guardians of the Galaxy (it doesn’t help her character is intentionally a buzzkill) but have never seen her in Doctor Who (Mike, is she good on Doctor Who?), so she might be a big deal and I just am blind to it. I will say that Jumanji should be her big breakout role if she’s not already considered a star. She is really funny in the movie and the centerpiece to many of the best scenes/biggest laughs, which I don’t want to spoil. She’s like if Tom Hanks in Big played Lara Croft.
Patrick: This is legit the first time I’ve been excited to see Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Karen Gillan was already the aspect that had me most interested because she is one of my redhead crushes and I looooove her on Doctor Who (#AmyPond4Life), and the fact that you’re saying she gets a spotlight in the movie is enough to make me go see it. So now you’re on the hook.
I’ll choose Jessica Williams in The Incredible Jessica James, another decent movie that’s elevated to “you should see this” status by a single performance. I was always a fan of Williams on The Daily Show, so it has been cool to see her transition into doing good work in small movies like People Places Things and this one, in which she really nails a very specific type of theatrical person who isn’t shy about giving her opinion on every single thing and believes it has more value than anyone else’s. Her romance with Chris O’Dowd is very charming (that dude is a romantic comedy MVP) and her growth as a character is small and authentic. I hope she keeps getting cast in movies that know how to use her.
Adam: I. JUST. WATCHED. THAT. MOVIE. LAST. WEEK. I thought it was ok, but agree Jessica Williams in the real deal. I liked her in People Places Things (which is really funny and overlooked), so it was good to see her get a lead in a movie like Jessica James where she could be the showcase.
All Eyez on Me, the biopic about Tupac Shakur from 2017 that feels like a biopic James Cagney would have starred in from 1957 (MELODRAMA!!!). All Eyez on Me is really bizarre and only for a Tupac completist, but Shipp Jr. is terrific, far surpassing just being a Tupac look-alike. It’s almost eerie how much he nails the persona, which isn’t easy because the late rapper (from what I’ve seen in interviews/his music and how I’ve heard him described) could change from sensitive to aggressive, smart to naive, etc. on a dime. If I ran Hollywood, I would want Shipp Jr. to play Tupac in more movies that aren’t biopics, kind of like how Phillip Ng played Bruce Lee in Birth of the Dragon in what is basically a Bruce Lee movie that isn’t starring the real Bruce Lee. Have I talked to you about Birth of the Dragon before? It’s a perfect movie. OMG! What if Phillip Ng teamed with Demetrius Shipp Jr, and made a Bruce Lee/Tupac thriller? Birth of a Thug? California Dragon? There are so many possibilities.
Patrick: If Bruce Lee and Tupac were both still alive, I feel like we might have gotten that team-up in the early 2000s when Joel Silver was producing all of those hip-hop action movies. Like Cradle 2 the Grave, but better. There are a few more I want to single out, but do I really need to tell people that Carla Gugino is great in Gerald’s Game or that Margot Robbie is incredible in I, Tonya? Probably not. And while I’m sure it will annoy some readers that I have so many genre movies on my list, I’ll be mad at myself if I don’t highlight the beautiful performance of Sophia Lillis as Bev Marsh in IT. She manages to be the heart in a movie that’s almost all heart. No small feat, that. But she has a really difficult role in the film, between her outsider status, her being the only girl in a group of boys, her being romantically linked to one of them while having to set up a future romance with another, the abuse stuff, the difficulty of that age...so much. And she’s so good at all of it. I don’t love one of the choices Andy Muschetti makes for her character near the end, but it does nothing to take away from Lillis’ performance. She’s great, and so is the movie.
Adam: I’m glad you picked Sophia Lillis because I had her on my list of honorable mentions. I just couldn’t decide who I wanted to represent the cast of IT, since so many of the performances were terrific. That movie is so good! Let’s hope Sophia Lillis goes on to play Jessica Chastain in the Molly’s Game prequel. Am I doing fantasy casting correct?
Speaking of honorable mentions, I want to give a shout out to these other performances I admired or loved in 2017: Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled and Killing of a Sacred Deer, Kirsten Dunst in The Beguiled, Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper, Colin Farrell in Killing of a Sacred Deer and Roman J. Israel, Esq., Ray Romano in The Big Sick, Tom Cruise in American Made, Richard Gere in Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, Beulah Koale in Thank You For Your Service and Demian Bechir in Lowriders. I can’t wait to talk about even more great performances as we run through our best of the year lists.
Patrick: Great lineup! I’m sure there are a handful of male performances I want to mention, but the only ones that come to mind are Michael Stuhlbarg in Call Me By Your Name and O’Shea Jackson Jr. in Ingrid Goes West. How wonderful is he in that movie? Give him all of the parts. Also there’s Michelle Pfeiffer in mother!, Jessica Chastain in Molly’s Game (two Molly’s Game references in the same article, yo!), Debra Winger in The Lovers, Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok, Francesca Eastwood in MFA, Haley Lu Richardson in Columbus, Garance Marillier in Raw, Melanie Lynskey in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, Christina Kirk in “Her Only Living Son,” the Karyn Kusama segment in XX...there are just so many to celebrate. Good job, actors, Good job, us.