Despite having the lowest summer box office in over a decade 2017 has been a great year for movies. It’s actually hard to believe that the box office has been so bad given just how many great movies have come out. It’s almost like the a glut of sequels and remakes combines with going to the movies being a kind of shitty experience is starting to take a toll. Or everyone spent the summer outside. You never know.
In any event, since I haven’t been writing reviews as diligently as I should (read: at all) I’d like to present you a few performances from this year in roughly chronological order that are worth of both your time and hefty amounts of praise. Mild spoilers for all films discussed.
Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out
It’s hard to talk about this without spoiling Get Out –and you should definitely see Get Out— but Daniel Kaluuya should probably be nominated for the all the awards this year. Jordan Peele is the big story with Get Out, having written and directed a breakout horror movie that is effectively about weaponized racism that has gone on to be one of the year’s top grossers, but Kaluuya is the one who brings the story to life. The skepticism and mistrust that runs under his performance in the first half is subtle and nuanced, and once he figures out what’s really going on he gets hysterical without heading straight into overacting.
Kaluuya keeps doing great work. Between this, Black Mirror, and Sicario I’m convinced he is going to a fixture on our screens for the foreseeable future and awards stages probably sooner than later.
Dafne Keen & Hugh Jackman in Logan
Logan is far and away the best X-Men movie and that is due in large part to how good Hugh Jackman and Dafne Keen are in it as Logan and Laura. It’s never really surprising when Jackman is good: he’s a great actor and he’s been playing Logan in movies for 17 years. He knows the character inside and out and it almost feels like the entirety of the franchise has built toward this. Logan, down on his luck and completely disillusioned finding his will to fight again by suddenly having something to fight for. His transformation from a broken man back to one that is some semblance of whole again is one of the best of the year.
Keen, who as Laura gives him that something, is a revelation. Laura is angry and defensive and doesn’t know who she is or what she’s been made into and her journey to figuring that out is a hell of a big screen début, especially as for the first two-thirds of the film she doesn’t even have any lines. The nuance in her body language and the emotion she conveys with just her eyes is powerful and I’ll be shocked if she doesn’t go on to win all the awards one day.
It’s together though that their journeys work, and together these two great actors brought us one of the best movies of the year.
Michael Rooker and Karen Gillan in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
It shouldn’t be any surprise that Michael Rooker (pictured at the top) steals every scene he’s in in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; the man has made an entire career out of giving scene stealing performances. This time around Yondu gets his own story in which he starts to redeem his notorious past and Rooker brings his A-game, all at once being a murderous thug and kind of the emotional centre of much of the story. I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t seen the movie but all I am saying is that if you have daddy issues this one might make you cry.
Karen Gillan should really be more famous and I kind of hope this is the movie to do it. Her story in Vol. 2 is all about escaping abuse and dealing with the transference of anger and there’s a real, believable rage at the core of her performance. As she travels toward her own redemption –which she only partially achieves here– the mix of anger, despair, and hopelessness is palpable. Her arc in Guardians_ isn’t complete but in this middle part of the story the scenes where she gets some emotional catharsis are among the most affecting that the MCU has delivered to date.
Jason Sudeikis in Colossal
You probably remember Jason Sudeikis from something funny. Whether it’s Saturday Night Live or one of his many lead or supporting roles in seemingly a zillion comedies, he’s best known as a nice guy. This isn’t a complaint, it makes his performance in Colossal even better. It’s hard to explain why without getting into spoiler territory so if you haven’t seen Colossal maybe just accept the recommendation that you should see it and skip to the next entry in this list.
Sudeikis plays Oscar, childhood friend of Anne Hathaway’s Gloria, who she reconnects with when she moves back to her hometown after her life finally falls apart. At first welcoming and supportive it soon becomes clear that Oscar isn’t the nice guy that he seems, that he’s actually petty, self-centered, and controlling. I’m sure the women in your life can tell you about a guy like this. It’s hard to overstate how well Sudeikis sells the part, so much so that by the time the end of the film rolls around you will look back at the beginning of the story, recontexualize everything he said and did and realize that the Oscar from the end had been there the entire time and maybe you just didn’t want to see it.
It’s a fantastic performance and one that cements Sudeikis as a great actor.
Charlie Hunnam in The Lost City of Z
I haven’t enjoyed Charlie Hunnam’s performances before. I’ve definitely enjoyed his movies but even in the ones I’ve loved I’ve found his performances just ok. In this years Lost City of Z he’s a revelation. Percy Fawcett is a man living in a society where the only way to restore his family honour is with glory on the battlefield, but there aren’t any battlefields to fight on. This drive leads him to the Royal Geographical Society and a chance to gain what he’s looking for through exploration.
His slow turn from seeking glory and redemption to obsession with the titular lost city is a masterclass in subtlety and while I’ve found his acting kind of wooden in the past it turns out when you need to play a repressed but obsessed Englishman that style works pretty well.
Kevin Spacey in Baby Driver
Kevin Spacey is one of the best actors of our time but it feels to me lately like he’s been all work and no play. His role in Baby Driver as a master criminal may not be new territory but for the first time in a long time it feels like he had a blast on set. He’s mean but playful, threatening but heartfelt, and one of the best bad guys on-screen this year. The film is grounded in music with everything from footsteps to gunshots being time to the beat of whatever is playing but Spacey is the only one who clearly hears the beat even when the music isn’t playing.
Amiah Miller & Karin Konoval in War for the Planet of the Apes
Everyone talks about Andy Serkis as the father of mo-cap acting but what I find really interesting is that while he gets all the praise he’s almost never the best at it in the movies he is in. Case in point Karin Konoval playing the Orangutan Maurice in War for the Planet of the Apes has a level of expression using only body language and signs that Serkis doesn’t really achieve with half the dialogue in the movie. Maurice may be quiet but there is never any doubt about what he is thinking or why he’s doing what he is doing, or that he is probably the most caring character of all the apes.
In the film Maurice adopts a human girl he names Nova. I know I have seen Amiah MIller before but this will be the movie that I remember for noticing her. Able to communicate only through sign and body language Miller gives a performance worthy of any award this year. She’s bright and smart and I’m not ashamed to say that the one moment that brought a tear to my eye in this movie was an exchange between these two characters.
Daniel Craig in Logan Lucky
I always love when an actor does something unexpected and swings for the fences doing in and that’s exactly what Daniel Craig did this year in Logan Lucky. A southern explosives expert who is in-car-cer-ate-ed but nevertheless recruited to help the Logan brothers rob a Nascar race Craig is having more fun than almost anyone in any other movie this year. The marketing for Logan Lucky billed him with an “introducing” as a joke but his performance here is so against type and outside what you expect from a guy known almost entirely for playing suave men with English accents that it’s actually kind of warranted.
The Losers Club in It
From left to right: Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, and Jeremy Ray Taylor.
It is a great movie. There are debates about how scary it is, and even dumber whether it’s a horror movie at all (I submit that a movie starring a deranged sewer living clown who eats children after marinating them in their own fear is definitely a horror movie), but one thing that can’t be debated is that a big part of why the movie works is that the kids who play the seven main characters are all great. They each make their characters their own and more importantly you believe that they are all friends. Whether they are consoling each other after being terrorized or working together to overcome being it this group couldn’t have been better casted.
Some of these kids you will have seen before and some of them not but these kids are going places.