by Adam Riske and Patrick Bromley
Adam: I’ll start by saying (as I do every year) that I’m not including performances here from movies that will be on my top 10 list. I’ll save those for a later discussion so I can have the opportunity to highlight my favorite performances of 2023 from movies I liked, and in some cases, didn’t like. My first pick is Denzel Washington in The Equalizer 3. I’m choosing him because it shows how a skillful actor can elevate what otherwise may have been routine. There are tough guy moments Washington has in the movie that are just as captivating as scenes from his most lauded dramatic work and in other spots he has the playfulness of Sylvester Stallone playing Rocky Balboa. I love when Washington has scenes with the townspeople in The Equalizer 3 because there’s a level of alertness there that makes every scene exciting. You can see the other performers in real time both relax and give more naturalistic performances while also elevating their game to Washington’s level because he’s giving them choices to play off. From an acting perspective, there’s a lot of generosity and joy of performance in what Denzel Washington is doing in The Equalizer 3 which I appreciate outside of what’s happening within the text of the movie. What’s your first pick, Patrick?
Patrick: I watched Equalizer 3 just for this column and I’m glad I did. It’s my favorite of the Equalizer movies, not just because of the beautiful Italian scenery and not just because it’s the most brutally violent and not just because it reunites Denzel with his Man on Fire co-star (a now grown-up Dakota Fanning) but also because it’s like the best possible “elevated” version of the movies that Liam Neeson has been making since 2009. Denzel can make anything compelling and to see him totally dialed in to a genre performance is thrilling. I love that you picked him not just for this column, but for a “performance of the year” Binness award.
Because I think Emma Seligman’s Bottoms just fell off my Top 10, so I’m going to pick Ruby Cruz as Hazel for my first choice. Every performance in the movie is great – in particular my beloved Rachel Sennott as one of the two leads – but Ruby Cruz is something special as Bottoms’ beating heart. It’s one of those sit up and take notice, Who-the-Hell-is-That? performances that makes me excited to see what she does next. I think there are so many ways that character and her take on it could have gone wrong with just the slightest push in any number of directions but Cruz keeps her grounded and sincere in a movie that presents a world that is otherwise very weird. It’s impossible not to love Hazel.
Adam: That’s a great choice! It’s impressive how Ruby Cruz steals Bottoms even though Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri are crushing it in that movie. My favorite part about Hazel is that she’s just 100% herself all the time with the surprise being that she’s also a bit of a lunatic underneath her sweet and uncomplicated nature. It’s a tricky tone to maintain in a performance and Ruby Cruz makes it seem effortless. Bottoms will make my top 10 so I’m looking forward to chatting about it with you and JB on the show.
My next pick is a performance I love from a movie that didn’t entirely work for me and that’s Alison Williams in M3GAN. I sort of have a bias against Blumhouse horror at this point but the fact that I still remember how great Williams is in that movie is testament of the impression her work made on me. It’s an interesting take on what could be described as the mad scientist part. On the surface, I get Williams’ character’s clinical nature (she sort of naturally projects that as a performer), but what’s so great about the performance is she gives the character a selflessness and vulnerability that makes her character easy to sympathize with. She’s raising her sister’s daughter and doesn’t know what she’s doing other than to do it in ways that make sense to her nature which is through intelligence and drive. It’s rewarding to see her get better at being a mom as the movie goes along. Have you noticed I’ve not really referenced the robot in M3GAN? I sort of love when that happens where the film is about one thing and then you get distracted as a viewer by something else and that’s what the movie becomes about instead.
Patrick: I love that pick because I kind of forgot about Alison Williams in that movie. I remember all the robot stuff and the memeification of M3GAN but I forget that there’s a great performance at its center, so thanks for reminding me that I definitely want to revisit that movie. I think it would have been so easy to make her cold or make her a monster but Williams does neither.
Adam: I love this pick and I love Mia Goth. I’ll watch her in anything at this point since she’s one of the most exciting actors working today. She’s great in Infinity Pool. I love how much she enjoys being evil in that role.
My last pick is Alden Ehrenreich in three movies this year - Cocaine Bear, Fair Play, and Oppenheimer. I’ve been a fan of his since I saw him in Tetro and thought he was good and unsung somewhat over the years in movies like Stoker, Rules Don’t Apply, and Hail, Caesar! He got a raw deal with the whole Solo: A Star Wars Story debacle and I’m glad he’s back this year in such a big way after a five year absence on-screen. He’s one of the only things I like in Cocaine Bear because he’s playing the material straight as a sad sack low-level criminal while everyone else is underlining the camp elements of the material. He’s on the side doing something more grounded and interesting. He’s completely different in Fair Play as a guy you think is normal and supportive but slowly loses his mind when he loses out on a promotion to his fiancée. I love Oppenheimer and one of the reasons is it embraces its big cast in a way we haven’t really seen in a while where an ensemble has meaty material to play and not in service of some YA fantasy dystopia bullshit. Of all the supporting players, Ehrenreich might be my favorite because he’s a professional just doing his job until he starts to become sick of all the duplicitous shady dealings of Robert Downey Jr.’s character. The moment where Ehrenreich dunks on Downey Jr. is one of the most satisfying movie moments of the year. Ehrenreich makes every movie he’s in better and I’m reserving this pick for him because I’m happy to see him onscreen again.
Patrick, what’s your final pick and what are some of your honorable mentions?
Patrick: For my last pick, I’ll go with Alyssa Sutherland in Evil Dead Rise. I still need to rewatch the movie one more time to decide if I really like it or if it’s just ok, but one thing I am certain about is how great Sutherland is as Ellie, a single mom raising three kids in an L.A. apartment. She gets possessed by an Evil Dead demon and spends most of the movie as the chief antagonist, becoming a kind of new horror icon in the process. She’s scary and mean and physical and over the top in all the ways we want her to be. I wasn’t familiar with Sutherland’s Australian work prior to Evil Dead Rise, but the movie immediately put her on my radar as someone to watch in anything she does. Her performance is outstanding even when I’m not sure if the movie is.Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One, Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in Barbie, Nicolas Cage in Renfield, Rachel McAdams in Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, Jennifer Lawrence in No Hard Feelings, Sunny Sandler in You Are So Not Invited to my Bat Mitzvah, Tobin Bell in Saw X, and Zac Efron in The Iron Claw.
Adam: Nice. I have some of the same favorites. My honorable mentions are Matt Damon in Air, Scarlett Johansson in Asteroid City, Kathy Bates in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Casey Metcalfe in Champions, Nicolas Cage in Dream Scenario, Donnie Yen in John Wick: Chapter 4, Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore and Charles Melton in May December, and Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi in Priscilla.
Now it’s our readers turn! Leave a comment below with who you thought gave great performances this year.