Top Ten Performances of 2019

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

Monsters dominated the movies this year in one fashion or another. Be it psychotic murderers or compulsive gamblers or sleazy bosses.  This year’s acting performances covered a wide spectrum of evils.  Thankfully there were some tender and sweet roles that made the year of 2019 special.  There was not as much depth in diversity as was in 2018 but good representation across the board. Without further ado, here the best acting, both male and female, of 2019.

10. Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood)

Cliff Booth is the real deal!  A smart stuntman with heart and knowledge of his place in the world.  Pitt channels a coolness he exhibited in the Ocean’s series.  He is the lead actor in a supporting role and the movie truly moves because of him.  I can only wonder what the movie would have been without him…and his dog.

9.  Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood)

First of all, Hanks looks nothing like Fred Rogers.  Despite that, Hanks dives so deeply into Rogers’ vocalisms and mannerisms that all we can see is Mister Rogers.  He literally becomes the man!  To borrow a line from the movie, when it was announced that Hanks was playing the role, we all thought “Don’t mess my childhood!”. Hanks not only gives tribute to our childhood but introduces new “children” to a truly special and caring man.

8.  Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers)

From the moment Lopez appears on screen she is a wonder to behold.  Smart, slick and serious, J.Lo is a terrible force of nature, cutting a swath of damage along her path. Yet she transforms into a tender, sweet and loving mother figure in her interactions with her daughter and Destiny (Constance Wu).  Then we see her “love” is really Brad Pitt-Tyler Durden level manipulation!  Way to go fly girl!

7. Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell)

Clint Eastwood has been known to cast unusual people in roles (The 15:17 To Paris) but, he hit a home run with Hauser as the titular Richard Jewell.  It’s always memorable when an actor plays a loud boisterous or overbearing character but, the small performances are so much harder to pull off.  Hauser’s Jewell is naïve and almost child-like in his approach to the world.  Hauser’s face convincingly displays Jewell’s inability to comprehend the gravity of his situation in the downward gaze.  He makes the audience empathize with his pain.

6. Awkwafina (The Farewell)

Straight off her outlandish work in Crazy Rich Asians, the comedian shows significant chops as Billi, the grandchild who is appalled and confused by her family’s desire to keep her grandmother’s imminent death from her.  It is amazing and heartbreaking to watch her wrestle between her impulse to cry and her desire to just reach out and love her grandmother.

5.  Kelvin Harrison (Waves)

Because of the wide range of emotions (and behavior) that Harrison exhibits as Tyler, a graduating senior who has it all and loses it all in the blink of an eye.  Watching him go from happy and carefree to outraged and angry and then to remorseful and regretful is so good that it is scary.  Combined with his performances from Luce and All Rise, Harrison is climbing to the heights of the profession.

4.  Renee Zellweger (Judy)

In a role she was born to play, Zellweger channels the troubled past-her-prime Judy Garland.  It’s always difficult to portray an actual person, even harder when the person is a well-known celebrity the likes of Garland but, Zellweger doesn’t back down.  Whether she is singing or drinking, she convincingly, definitively is Garland!  In any other year, she would be a locked pick for the Best Actress award from the Academy…She may still be.

3.  Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems)

Perennial clown, Sandler is nowhere to be seen in this dark drama.  In a role that had been passed on and passed around since 2009, Sandler relented and took possibly his greatest role to date as the manic diamond dealer who happens to be a degenerate gambler.  Manic and impulsive, Sandler is annoying, brusque and irritating to everyone he comes across.  Sandler is totally unlikable, this time intentionally.  Sandler stated that his inspiration for the role was Howard Stern.  Not bad.

2.  Lupita Nyong’o (Us)

This is the performance that runs the risk of being overlooked.  Jordan Peele’s Us was released in February more than ten months ago and many may have forgotten how intense and compelling Nyong’o was in playing a DUAL role in the film.  Not only was she playing two roles but they were two diametrically opposing characters, the two opposite sides of the same coin.  Her voice, her eyes, the way she holds her body, everything Nyong’o does is so expressive and precise for each character that we never get confused about which person she is.  This is a stellar performance that has a little of an uphill battle for recognition.

1.  Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

Mr. Phoenix is the vanguard of the transformative actor, the actor who physically changes his appearance to embody the role which he plays.  He does not rest on his physical appearance in this movie.  Phoenix plays both softly like Hauser and loudly like Sandler in the origin of the most charismatic villain in the DC Universe, if not all comics. Empowered by a strong and complex script, Phoenix does the unthinkable in making us care about the villain.  We are forced to not only understand his motivations but dare I say that we agree?  No wonder this performance outraged so many people, Phoenix actually made us root for the bad guy.