List-o-mania #2 – The Best Performances of 2022

2022 was generally an excellent year for acting, particularly on the feminine side of things – I had a difficult time whittling down the Best Actress list and ended up cheating. Do note that I am considering films that were released in Singapore in 2022, hence why 2021 US releases like Licorice Pizza and Spencer are up for consideration. Also, there is a long list of films I have not seen due to one reason or another that might have made it here (and onto my other best-of lists) – chief of which being Top Gun: Maverick, Barbarian, the Ti West duo of X and Pearl, Bodies Bodies Bodies, and The Whale. Also, The Banshees of Inisherin, Babylon and Tár will only arrive in Singapore in 2023, so they will be eligible for my 2023 lists. And without further ado …

Best Supporting Actress

Honourable Mention: Kate Hudson (Glass Onion)

It was a toss-up between Hudson and co-star Janelle Monáe for this spot, but I went with Hudson because of the fact that she has the more ‘traditional’ supporting role, with Monáe serving as co-lead with Daniel Craig in the same way that Ana de Armas did in the first Knives Out. Also, I’m a sucker for a good comeback story, and Hudson’s return to the big-ish screen (cause y’know, Netflix and all) serves as a lovely reminder of why she was such a big star to begin with. Hudson serves up a twisted spin on her winning rom-com persona from the early 00s, a charismatic flibbertigibbet who just so happens to be hopelessly self-absorbed to the point of idiocy. She lights up Glass Onion every time she appears, and even gets to deliver the silent punchline of the film’s best joke. Now if she could just keep herself from talking about being a ‘nepo baby’, she might actually parlay this into quite the second wind.

3: Elizabeth Olsen (Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness)

Look, it’s not like the Marvel Cinematic Universe has not had good actors before. It’s not even that the MCU has not had good performances before. But this is undoubtedly the first time the MCU has had a performance that falls squarely in the ‘too good for this shit’ category. It can be argued that the relationship Elizabeth Olsen and the MCU has been symbiotic to this point – it catapulted her from the other other Olsen sister to bona fide movie star and she made an indelible impression as one of the most iconic and complex characters in the Marvel stable. 1 But at this point, it’s probably best for all involved that Olsen breaks out of the diamond-studded straitjacket that is the MCU, and Multiverse of Madness is perfect proof of why. She’s the best thing about it, even when the script gives her next to nothing to work with, actually giving a serious, mature portrayal of a woman in immense pain while the film she’s in seems more interested in throwing cameo after cameo onscreen for the sake of fanservice. Olsen’s MCU contract is up, and here’s hoping that she leverages her raised profile to take on roles a little more worthy of her talents rather than to hitch her wagon to this franchise for another half-decade.

2: Keke Palmer (Nope)

It could have been so easy for this to go wrong. Emerald Haywood is precisely the type of character who, in the wrong hands, would be intolerable. An irrepressibly motormouthed grifter who sees every interaction as an opportunity for a hustle could potentially be nothing short of grating, but Palmer (along with writer/director Jordan Peele) turns Emerald into someone the audience roots for rather than against. It helps, of course, that Palmer is a uniquely magnetic screen presence, able to vary the cadence and timbre of her voice to turn even the blandest of exposition into a mesmerising monologue. Add on to that her ability to suggest hidden depths beneath Emerald’s brash exterior through the simplest of actions like pulling on a vape or mirroring her father’s actions while watching him on video, and it’s no wonder why she remains compulsively watchable throughout the entirety of Nope. Everyone in this list is obviously a good actor, but that devilish glint in Palmer’s eye suggests something more – the woman is a movie star.

1: Stephanie Hsu (Everything Everywhere All At Once)

What. A. Find. Primarily a Broadway performer with minor film and TV credits prior, Stephanie Hsu exploded onscreen (both literally and figuratively) in Everything Everywhere All At Once playing the dual roles of repressed daughter Joy Wang and all-conquering multiversal destroyer Jobu Tupaki. The real genius behind Hsu’s performance is not that she’s playing two roles. No, it’s that she’s playing one, with Joy’s rage and misery at the core of Jobu’s burn-it-to-the-ground nihilism. EEAAO is all about (among many other things) how dissatisfaction and unhappiness can curdle into something far more venomous, and few showed this better than Hsu, who sold Joy/Jobu’s pain with such veracity that I felt it in every molecule of my being. It takes a lot to act alongside veterans like Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Michelle frickin’ Yeoh and not only hold your own, but even outshine them at many points. EEAOO has many (many, many, many) high points, but chief among them might be introducing Stephanie Hsu to a much wider audience.

Best Supporting Actor

Honourable Mention: Rory Kinnear (Men)

More like Best Supporting Actors, amirite? Bad jokes aside, what Rory Kinnear pulls off in Men is quite spectacular, playing essentially every single supporting male role in Alex Garland’s latest mindfuck, from a misogynistic sullen teenager to a misogynistic overly familiar priest to a misogynistic dismissive policeman. What really pushes Kinnear’s performance into the stratosphere is how he consistently finds new shades in each particular character’s misogyny, while also making it abundantly clear that it all comes from the same place of fear and insecurity. There is perhaps no better example of this than the way Kinnear plays the seeming bluff and genial groundskeeper Geoffrey, whose upper-class politeness soon chips away to reveal the seething hatred beneath. It’s hard to say if the film Kinnear is in has any message greater than #yesallmen, but it still possesses a sick, enthralling power thanks in large part to the actor’s chameleonic performance and his willingness to go all the way.

3: Theo Rossi (Emily the Criminal)

Emily the Criminal is a realistically grimy little thriller that tracks how a seemingly law-abiding millennial woman (Aubrey Plaza) is forced by circumstance to turn to crime. Essentially, it’s Breaking Bad, but with student loans instead of medical debt. And fittingly, Emily the Criminal has its own Jesse Pinkman in Theo Rossi’s excellent portrayal of Youcef, whose cunning savvy is belied by a gentle spirit and a romantic soul. Rossi’s performance provides the humanity at the heart of the film, subtly shifting as Emily falls further and further into crime, from being at first the charming mentor to eventual love interest and tragic figure. It’s a quiet, understated performance that sucks the viewer into his orbit just as it sucks in Emily, and the gentle warmth of Rossi’s eyes and posture breed a sense of sympathy while also creating an undertone of dread that maybe, just maybe, for all his street smarts, this is a man who is a little too good for the life he is in.

2: Mark Rylance (Bones and All)

Chalk this up as yet another thing we have to be thankful to Steven Spielberg for. Prior to 2015, Mark Rylance was one of the most respected stage actors of his generation, but his film work was patchy at best. Then good ol’ Stevie cast him in Bridge of Spies, and cinemagoers soon realised what West End and Broadway attendees had known for a while – Mark Rylance can act. Thus far, Spielberg and the other directors who have worked with Rylance have leaned heavily on how convincingly he conveys decency, 2 but trust Luca Guadagnino to take that aspect and twist it into something terrifying. Rylance, as the veteran ‘eater’ Sully, rarely raises his voice above a whisper and speaks only in the politest of tones, but the screen practically vibrates with tension every time he appears onscreen. It is one of the most unsettling performances I can remember in a while, and it’s not surprising that it comes from an actor who is best known for being a warm and convivial presence onscreen. Normally, when Rylance smiles, it puts the viewer at ease. In Bones and All, Sully’s smile is a sign to run away as fast as possible.

1: Ke Huy Quan (Everything Everywhere All At Once)

It’s easy to get caught up in the story of Ke Huy Quan. A former child actor who had been forgotten by most of the movie industry thanks to age and anti-Asian bias, catapulted back into prominence thanks to a bona fide word-of-mouth hit film, racking up nominations and awards by the truckload? Even the hackiest Hollywood screenwriter would turn the story down for being too sentimental. But, as heartwarming and as inspirational as Quan’s narrative is, it draws focus away from what is most important – that his performance in Everything Everywhere All At Once is fucking phenomenal. It would be phenomenal from a debutant, an industry veteran, a massive movie star, or a guy who had been away from acting for two decades. It’s that good. Quan’s Waymond Wang is nothing short of the beating heart of EEAAO, and his performance carries the entire film on its back. And while Quan’s martial art scenes of Alpha Waymond or his stupendous channeling of Tony Leung in the Hong Kong scenes may be the flashiest, I return over and over again to him as meek, gentle, vulnerable Waymond, watching the world around him crumble to pieces, begging everyone to be kind, especially when we don’t know what is going on. It’s the thesis statement of the film, delivered with a beauty and sincerity that will break your heart. So yes, it’s a great story. But you know what? It’s an even better performance.

Best Actress:

Honourable Mention 1: Taylor Russell (Bones and All)

Yeah, this category is so stacked I need two honourable mentions. We begin with Taylor Russell, who more than holds her own compared to the starrier names in the cast of Bones and All. As Maren Yearly, an ‘eater’ (read: cannibal) coming to terms with her insatiable compulsion, Russell is entirely believable capturing the gamut of emotions you would imagine in such a situation, from fear to loneliness to curiosity. It helps too that she has spellbinding chemistry with co-star Timothée Chalamet, conveying a sense of amour fou that you just know will end in doom and tragedy. Russell serves as the viewer’s guide through the strange new world that she is plunged into, and her naturalistic, confident performance serves to anchor the film’s progression into increasingly bizarre (and gory) territory.

HM: Alana Haim (Licorice Pizza)

And speaking of naturalism, here’s a performance so free from affectation that it barely feels like acting at all. Paul Thomas Anderson certainly deserves kudos for noticing that frequent collaborator Alana Haim had a certain onscreen x-factor, but this of course, doesn’t do enough to credit Haim for how luminous she is onscreen. Her face is an open book in Licorice Pizza, subtly bringing across exactly how she’s feeling at any point in time without the need for dialogue. It’s a liberated, liberating performance that gets better and better as the movie progresses and Haim finds new dimensions to her character as she grows and matures. It remains to be seen if this is a one-off or if Haim will continue operating in this space, but no matter what, she can be proud of her superlative work in Licorice Pizza.

3: Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All At Once)

Wait, I can explain! Ok, I can’t really explain. But it’s my list and my opinion, so … sorry? I know, I know – the first of EEAAO’s main cast to not place top in a category just so happens to be the lead performer in a role written specifically for her? One of the greatest actors of all time in a career best performance that simultaneously shows off what she’s best at while uncovering new dimensions of her already much-feted talent? Look, this is no slight to Michelle Yeoh, 3 because her performance is sublime. As the broken, beaten Evelyn Wang who eventually becomes the saviour of the universe, Yeoh carries the movie on her formidable shoulders and then some. It’s a performance that literally requires her to do (say the line, Bart!) everything everywhere all at once, from martial arts to subtle emoting to big flashy monologues, and she’s nothing short of brilliant in it. It’s a magnificent performance. But I just thought there were two better …

2: Kristen Stewart (Spencer)

Wait, I can explain! Ok, you know what? No. I don’t need to explain. I’ve been on this bandwagon a long time now, and I am not ashamed of it. Kristen Stewart is a phenomenal actor. Always has been. It’s been made clear over the past few years by now that Twilight was not the fault of its two leads, who have both gone on to give remarkable performances in much better films. I hesitate to say that Spencer is Stewart at her best (that would be her various collaborations with Olivier Assayas), but it’s certainly her at her most ‘traditional’. One reason for Stewart’s gifts being consistently underestimated is that she’s an excellent reactor, which doesn’t quite fit in with the Hollywood Award-Bait norm of shouty monologues. This is probably the closest Stewart will ever come to that paradigm in her own idiosyncratic way, with subtle nervous tics and choked whispers replacing grandstanding speeches. Her performance in Spencer is never short of magical, evoking a sort of mythical perception of Princess Diana rather than going for pure facsimile – the platonic ideal of a bird trapped in a gilded cage, her raw vulnerability barely concealed by fits of petulance and brooding. It’s been a long time coming, but one of the most interesting and unique actors of her generation has finally gotten her due.

1: Tang Wei (Decision to Leave)

Who is she? A grieving widow? A manipulative murderer? A lovelorn, lonely immigrant who just wants someone to understand her pain? A sly seductress aiming to ensnare a new target? Tang Wei’s performance in Park Chan-Wook’s magnificent Decision to Leave is somehow all of these things and yet none of them. It’s a work of unparalleled brilliance from Tang, whose update on the femme fatale leaves poor Detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) and the audience constantly chasing shadows. Tang’s slippery, superb work is what all of Decision to Leave hinges on, and it’s impossible not to empathise with Hae-jun as he gets more and more obsessed by the woman at the centre of his case. Every action, word, and minute facial expression is ripe for analysis, and Tang’s triumph is how she maintains the fragile balancing act across Decision to Leave‘s entire runtime, constantly keeping the audience guessing at her motives and her plans. But where Tang’s work crosses from merely excellent to genius is in the brief moments when the mask slips, and we see the pain, sadness, and yes, love in her eyes for the briefest of moments, only for the facade to snap back up in the very next second. It’s a performance that contains multitudes, and it would easily be the best of the year (if not for the best actor).

Best Actor:

HM: Harris Dickinson (Triangle of Sadness)

A portrait of studied blankness, Harris Dickinson’s vacant male model Carl is the latest victim in Ruben Östlund’s firing line. In the same vein of Östlund’s pervious protagonists, Carl is a thoroughly mediocre bourgeois white man disguising his less than savoury desires behind wishy-washy liberal rhetoric. It takes little to disrupt Carl’s equilibrium though, and Dickinson is excellent in conveying exactly how pathetic he is behind the beautiful facade. Dickinson’s performance is wonderfully physical, showing Carl’s degeneration as his insecurities rise to the fore through his walk, going from the confident runway strut to being hunched over and subservient. Dickinson’s work in Triangle of Sadness is what holds together a film that, while strong on a scene-by-scene basis, lacks overall coherence. Watching him fall further and further is an absolute delight, thanks to his superb comic timing and excellent performance.

3: Ralph Fiennes (The Menu)

One of the smarter things that The Menu does is delay the introduction of Ralph Fiennes’ Chef Slowik. His character is given the buildup equivalent to a movie monster, with Nicholas Hoult’s Tyler blowing smoke about how amazing he is while the staff of his restaurant act with cult-like devotion to him. With all this setup, the payoff had better be worth it. Just as well that Slowik is played by a bona fide legend, and Fiennes is on his finest form, blending together charm and menace – both aspects that he is best known for. Each shout or ear-piercing hand clap constantly draws the viewer back to the man at the centre of the restaurant (and the movie), regardless of all the scrambling occurring in the margins. Even when standing completely still, it’s impossible to take your eyes of Fiennes, who simply exists with so much gravitas and charisma that it is not difficult to understand why his entire staff are willing to kill and die for him.

2: Daniel Kaluuya (Nope)

Not for nothing does the plot of Get Out revolve around trying to acquire Daniel Kaluuya’s eyes. Is there a single more valuable body part in Hollywood right now? Jordan Peele obviously knows their value, which can be seen by how much Nope relies on its lead actor’s eyes to convey exactly what is going on in his head. As taciturn, introverted O.J., Kaluuya speaks little but says a great deal, largely thanks to how emotive his face, eyes, and body language are. There are few performers that can do so much with so little, and this is what makes Kaluuya’s work in Nope so emotional and affecting. O.J. is a man who has been through much, and is unable to express it, except in those moments where it bursts out of him like water from a broken dam. It takes bravado for an actor known for loud, explosive performances to subsume himself so completely into a role that requires him to keep a lid on said explosiveness, but Kaluuya, who is fast becoming one of the best performers in Hollywood, achieves all that is needed and more.

1: Paul Mescal (Aftersun) (Best Performance of 2022)

Regular readers of this blog 4 may know that I like to make the distinction between ‘acting’ and ‘Acting’. While I do not believe that one school is superior to the other, there is no question that Acting gets a lot more attention than acting, especially in terms of awards and accolades. This is a pity, because what Paul Mescal does in Aftersun is nothing short of some of the finest onscreen acting (as opposed to Acting) ever. No, not just in 2022. Ever. I spent about 90% of Aftersun forgetting that I was watching Mr. Phoebe Bridgers, because Mescal is just that convincing and natural as Calum, a young father to a pre-teen girl on holiday in Turkey. He just seemed … real. There’s no other word for it. No gimmicks or fireworks. Simply spectacular acting. He just is that character. Aftersun relies on creating a distance from the viewer and Calum through the lens of adult Sophie’s memories and child Sophie’s (Frankie Corio) lack of understanding about what her father is going through. Thus, all we have to work with is what Mescal shows, which express infinite depths through the slightest of gestures – the hesitation when Sophie apologises for losing a swimming mask in the sea, the change in expression when Sophie asks him what he thought he’d be doing in his thirties, the utter self-loathing in his eyes when he stares at a rug that he cannot afford. It’s a performance so vital, so real, so perfect that it feels almost churlish to call it mere acting. But that is ultimately what it is. It’s acting. It’s some of the best acting I have ever seen.

  1. A recent poll on the r/marvelstudios subreddit placed Wanda Maximoff as the fourth most popular character, behind only Captain America, Spider-Man, and Loki. I’d argue this would never come close to happening without Olsen.
  2. He’s second only to Tom Hanks in this regard.
  3. I could never really slight Michelle Yeoh in any way. 1. I love her too much, 2. I’m less than a nobody and 3. She could beat me up without breaking a sweat.
  4. I’m so sorry.





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