My Favorite Performances of 2022!

Here we go again! In especially belated fashion, I’m finally getting around to my favorite performances of 2022. Once again, I’ve put myself through the agony and ecstasy of narrowing down a massive list of stupidly talented thespians. These are the cream of the crop, at least when it comes to the performances that fixed themselves in my memory banks. Hopefully, I can try to tell you why.

As in previous years, I’ve made the decision to keep my current list consistent with categories that match the Oscars. This is not an attempt to avoid talking about actors who do not identify as male or female (I consider all performances in a given year) but rather to match my own version of the awards with current award shows. I also want to ensure some level of equal representation in my list. That said, I’m still keeping the door open for a gender-neutral list in the future.

As per usual, these are preferential as opposed to “best” performances. For the second year in a row, I’m eschewing a ranked list for five nominees with one “winner” representing my favorite. Each category will still have five honorable mentions appearing in alphabetical order. We start with…

My Favorite Supporting Actors

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Ben Daniels as Dr. Rivers, Benediction

Sean Harris as Henry Teague, The Stranger

Anthony LaPaglia as Dad, Nitram

Tim Roth as David, Resurrection

Wes Studi as Lito, A Love Song


Christopher Abbott as Kevin

On the Count of Three

One of Abbott’s great strengths is his ability to play the tension of his characters in a way that’s delightfully unpredictable, and his portrayal of Kevin in Jerrod Carmichael’s tragicomic road movie may be a crowning achievement in that regard. Abbott presents us with a person at his absolute lowest moment and then imbues him with humanity, shading, and even hope as he spends his supposed “last day” with his best friend. Kevin’s dark history could have been more obvious, yet Abbott makes us feel it even in his more triumphant moments, and his boundless energy gives us a glimpse of who Kevin might have been and who he is despite his personal issues. Abbott can even turn a Papa Roach needle-drop into something poignant.


Georg Friedrich as Viktor Kohl

Great Freedom (Große Freiheit)

Friedrich is tasked with hiding convicted felon Viktor’s true feelings until absolutely necessary, meaning he must find the smallest gestures to suggest a change of heart or widen his eyes just enough to show that he cares. But Friedrich also manages to keep us off balance as he navigates the many years that we come to know him (and he comes to know Franz Rogowski’s Hans Hoffman). Kindness comes in the form of a tattoo removal, a matter of course rather than a grand gesture. And Friedrich’s careful technique waits patiently, suggesting a past fraught with tragedy and an uncertainty of his present identity. Though his character may not betray much, his eyes at least suggest the promise of yearning and fulfillment.


Brendan Gleeson as Colm Doherty

The Banshees of Inisherin

Gleeson has a bearing and temperament that usually suggests a sage and kindly presence. Brilliant, then, of writer/director Martin McDonagh and Gleeson himself to complicate that presence with Colm’s grim and unyielding obstinacy. A fine counterpoint to the sensitive hitman he played in McDonagh’s In Bruges (but teeming with even more demons), Colm veers violently down the road of depression, and even in moments of blackest comedy, Gleeson plays it all straight, especially as his measures become increasingly self-destructive. And it doesn’t mean Gleeson drops any of his natural affability; if anything, he shows us the burly misanthrope contains multitudes, whether dancing with his dog or doing a fingerless jig.


Brian Tyree Henry as James Aucoin


The always reliable Henry finally earned Oscar recognition with his portrayal of an easygoing car mechanic whose jovial nature belies a deep-seated trauma. Henry brings an easy naturalism to this role as he does to so many others, an unshowiness that’s still distinctive. Playing scenes against an excellent Jennifer Lawrence, he has enough charm to steal the film away for stretches. But it’s Henry’s sensitive handling of a heartfelt confession where we sense the hurt weighing on James’s heart, one that will likely never go away. We admire the way James has learned to live with it and recognize the struggles he still needs to make. That sense of progress (but not catharsis) makes him more than a supporting player but a desperately relatable human.


Cliff Curtis as Javier


The versatile Curtis has seen many character parts in his career, but seldom one as beguiling as this one in Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s twisty psychodrama. Javier is a man of constant mystery, a tycoon of dubious virtue whose ultimate purpose when visiting an old friend on the Croatian cost remains as much a mystery to us as to his hosts. He projects power with an easy smile, a would-be destroyer or benefactor, as capable of seducing our central character as providing for her best interests. This ambiguity doesn’t exist for its own sake; you get the sense Javier has cultivated it as a strategy to boost his successful career, making promises obliquely but never fully committing for his own security. Here is a specific kind of wealthy cipher, one that Curtis makes eerily real.

My Favorite Supporting Actresses

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Émilie Dequenne as Sophie, Close

Claire Foy as Salome, Women Talking

Myha’la Herrold as Jordan, Bodies Bodies Bodies

Nina Hoss as Sharon Goodnow, Tár

Stephanie Hsu as Joy Wang / Jobu Tupaki, Everything Everywhere All at Once


Kerry Condon as Siobhán Súilleabháin

The Banshees of Inisherin

Siobhán may well be the only sane character in Martin McDonagh’s dark fable, but Condon brings much more than sanity to the role. She has a face that’s stern when defying her brother’s irrational behavior but also one that softens when gently turning down a would-be suitor. We sense Siobhán’s yearning for something more than her home island can give and her vulnerability to the sting of her neighbors’ judgments. She may be the character we sympathize with most, but Condon keeps revealing new facets for us to identify with, even in ways that make us uncomfortable. Take a pivotal scene on a riverbank, where Condon’s physicality suggests both sweet release and the dark depths of despair.


Judy Davis as Mum


Actors often receive praise for their apathy toward winning our sympathy, and on that fact alone, Davis deserves the lion’s share. However, as mother to a troubled son, she manages to unlock hidden depths within an unforgiving exterior. The callous rebukes of her son and husband are measured with a pained regret that has lapsed into resignation. And once she butts heads with her son’s new living partner, we see the sense of threat in Davis’ weathered eyes, jealousy (and love) revealed, perhaps unknowable to Mum herself until that very moment. Davis has never been one to simplify her characters, and while this one is hard as granite, it’s her quiet moments that resonate.


Guslagie Malanda as Laurence Coly

Saint Omer

Malanda’s performance is largely a study in stillness (at least when it comes to actual movement), but it’s still active in its power and precision. Playing a mother on trial for abandoning her child to the ocean waves, Malanda assumes the central figure of Alice Diop’s stirring courtroom drama. But Laurence is no simple victim, and as we learn the story of her struggles living in France, her watchful eyes and intense stare offer telling contrast to the person we think we know. Malanda even verges into the vaguely supernatural, at one point turning deliberately toward our protagonist’s POV before offering a knowing smile. Whether real or imagined, Laurence’s presence will continue to haunt our protagonist (and us).


Pantea Panahiha as Mom

Hit the Road (Jaddeh Khaki)

Panah Panahi’s road movie is a true ensemble piece for the way it balances all its players, but something about Panahiha’s matriarch sticks with me. It’s in the gravity of her voice and actions even before the purpose of the family’s quest becomes clear. It’s how she dutifully tends to the family dog with the same care she affords her human family. And it’s in a sudden plea to her son, sincere in its sentiment while tempered by the reality of their situation. The way Panahiha illustrates Mom’s emotional awareness makes the character stand out, even when she loses herself to the joy of a family sing-along. There can be joy here too, even as life unveils its challenges and inexorable confrontations.


Tang Wei as Song Seo-rae

Decision to Leave (Heojil kyolshim)

Playing the widow of a recently deceased mountain climber, Tang knows all the hallmarks of a classic femme fatale—wounded, mysterious, beautiful, revealing little. It’s easy to see why our hero detective falls in love with her. Once we arrive at the film’s twist, however, we admire not only Seo-rae’s calculated schemes but the emotional pitfalls she couldn’t anticipate in all her scheming. In this way, Tang’s performance is a tribute to classic film noirs and a sharp update of them. Tang has to effectively convince us that Seo-rae is an improviser in her wiles, tempering her assuredness with the disarming nature of newfound feelings. It’s the little ways that Tang gives away Seo-rae’s “true” nature, without ever abandoning the character.

My Favorite Leading Actors

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Javier Bardem as Julio Blanco, The Good Boss (El buen patron)

Caleb Landry Jones as Nitram, Nitram

Park Hae-il as Jang Hae-joon, Decision to Leave (Heojil kyolshim)

Jeremy Pope as Ellis French, The Inspection

Song Kang-ho as Ha Sang-hyun, Broker (Beurokeo)


Adeel Akhtar as Ali

Ali & Ava

Akhtar has been one of those dependable character actors who’s so good that I’ve been waiting for his starring turn, and Clio Barnard’s romantic drama finally gives it to him. The way Akhtar navigates Ali’s life, the camaraderie with his tenants, the way he rocks out on the roof of a car before beginning his day—there’s no doubt he’s lived in the moor-like dregs of Bradford, England, for decades. But he’s also the charmer, boasting a lovely romantic streak with Claire Rushbrook’s Ava; Ali has faced so much loss in his life that it’s made him fearless. Akhtar wears it all in his bones, a commitment that’s both a joy and heartbreak to watch, especially when the character dares to let his guard down.


Colin Farrell as Jake / Pádraic Súilleabháin

After Yang / The Banshees of Inisherin

I’m greatly enjoying this phase of Farrell’s career, well past any questioning of his legitimacy as a leading man; his choice in projects and undeniable talent transcend any early career labels. He slides so easily into two very different roles, nursing the hangdog pathos of Jake in Kogonada’s lo-fi sci-fi film and the cheery naivete of Pádraic in McDonagh’s fiendish dramedy. But of course, there is more to these two that Farrell skillfully brings out. Take, for example, Jake explaining his passion for tea to the titular Yang, with Farrell savoring how vast that passion is. Or consider when the darkness of Pádraic’s woes is unleashed, deaf to any hope of salvation. There’s more to Farrell than first met Hollywood’s eye, but his current work obliterates any doubt.


Paul Mescal as Calum


One could argue this is more of a supporting turn (and Oscar nomination be damned), but I went with it as lead because of how the camera (and our film’s heroine) closely observes Calum. Mescal doesn’t just play the oft-absent father to a young daughter but also that daughter’s memory version of him, someone whose presence is ethereal but still convinces as flesh and blood. He makes choices and mistakes without us ever knowing exactly why, because our protagonist never knew why. But Mescal knows why, with every choice specific and often painfully sad, etched with pain and regret, yes, but also a genuine affection that fights to be known. Calum’s (and Mescal’s) presence means so much even in its ghostliness.


Franz Rogowski as Hans Hoffman

Great Freedom (Große Freiheit)

Rogowski is no stranger to my lists, and he’s so at ease on screen here, even as he plays a man imprisoned for his sexual orientation in post-WWII Germany. Part of the fascination of Sebastian Meise’s prison drama is seeing how Hans has more or less settled into life in prison, accepting its routines while also exploiting its loopholes. Rogowski lets Hans’ kindness as a lover come through, a sensitivity that guards against years of prejudice and persecution. And yet there’s also (as there must be) a certain toughness, a persona calcified for his protection. Rogowski can even make a moment that should be hopeful, lighting a match in solitary confinement and gazing intently as it burns, into a moment of desperate necessity—a moment for its own sake.


Jack Lowden as Siegfried Sassoon


Terence Davies’ films are renowned for their quick wit, and Lowden spars deftly with it as the venerated British poet, often the smartest man in any room and the most eloquent. With his ramrod posture, pointed timing, and compelling air, he channels a Gregory Peck-esque hero (at least in someone else’s movie) for his sense of righteous indignation and assumed authority. Those same features, however, take on new power as Sassoon’s life plays out in all its bitter disappointments and his perceived lack of efficacy. Lowden boasts Sassoon’s intelligence and literacy but also Sassoon’s self-awareness that he can’t be as smart or effective as he wants. He cuts an ultimately tragic figure, burdened by the knowledge of who he can and cannot be.

My Favorite Leading Actresses

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Penelope Cruz as Lola Cuevas, Official Competition (Competencia oficial)

Dale Dickey as Faye, A Love Song

Park Ji-min as Frédérique “Freddie” Benoît, Return to Seoul (Retour à Séoul)

Andrea Riseborough as Laura / Leslie “Lee” Rowland, Here Before / To Leslie

Ruth Wilson as Kate, True Things


Essie Davis as Bunny King

The Justice of Bunny King

One of our best working actresses keeps finding great vehicles for her talents, with Davis capturing Bunny’s indefatigable spirit and deep abiding love. She’s so good at making you root for her before we begin to ask whether we should. As more of Bunny’s history unspools and we see the desperate lengths she’s willing to go for a sense of normalcy, Davis keeps our sympathies even as we question Bunny’s judgment. What’s remarkable is how we completely believe Bunny is capable of unconditional love as well as the violence lurking in her past, making her unpredictable but never random. Living inside Bunny’s skin is another masterclass from Davis, with all of Bunny’s nuances and complexities left intact.


Danielle Deadwyler as Mamie Till


The furor over Deadwyler’s exclusion from Oscar consideration was wholly warranted, judging solely by the performance itself. Grief defines a large portion of the character, yes, and when it’s called for, Deadwyler holds nothing back. But it’s in how Deadwyler sharpens that grief into advocacy where the miracle happens. She can go from full-on crying to careful consideration to acute resolve, and each of these moments registers clearly on Deadwyler’s face. Too much of the (too little) discourse around Chinonye Chukwu’s film called it an “issue” movie, but Deadwyler offers us a way to see how tragedy can light a fire for purposeful action and justice. Hard to ask for better justice done to a real-life person.


Léa Seydoux as Sandra Kienzler

One Fine Morning (Un beau matin)

A deep sadness pervades much of Mia Hansen-Løve’s Parisian slice-of-life drama, and Seydoux is key to making it work. She does justice to Sandra’s feelings by submerging them in her day-to-day interactions. Sandra usually comes across as perfectly genial, but Seydoux invests her with a sense of weight. You can feel the heaviness just palpable enough, a near ironclad unwillingness to move on even as the world tells Sandra otherwise. Seydoux balances real moments of joy that manage to break through with sudden bursts of sorrow when life gestures back to her problems. Seydoux plays all these complexities without needing to signpost them, content to exist as another unassuming human with untold mysteries at their core.


Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Quan Wang

Everything Everywhere All at Once

True to the title of the Daniels’ wild odyssey, Yeoh really does it all, swerving effortlessly from stubborn matriarch to martial arts expert to tender lover (sometimes within the span of a few seconds). Yeoh is so versatile that she almost makes you forget that characters like Evelyn are rare in movies; she’s prickly and difficult at first, especially as she resists her daughter’s pleas for acceptance or the (seemingly) preposterous requests of her dimension-hopping husband. But Yeoh’s commitment to the character, as her adventure opens her up, lets us see not new sides to her character but a fuller picture of the vivacious person she’s always been. Evelyn’s trajectory, as she recognizes what she’s capable of, is a beautiful act of love from Yeoh.


Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár


There’s a word for a performance like this: titanic. Losing herself in the rhythms of a vaunted composer and conductor, Blanchett also commits to Lydia’s self-destructive tendencies, treating them not as flaws but inevitabilities. With a practiced elocution that cannot tell where performance ends and authenticity begins, she makes clear Lydia’s sureties and lays the groundwork for her doubts and toxicities. The same person who aces a New Yorker interview and conducts an orchestra like a sorcerer commanding the heavens can also utterly crumble, with Blanchett tracing Lydia’s downward arc with tangible fear and frailty. She can even do it facing away from the camera, as in a devastating long shot where the one sure thing in her life disappears. Blanchett may not win our hearts as Lydia, but she does reveal unsettling truths about the heights of greatness.

Another year of phenomenal work from our cinematic players. Next up will be my Top 10 Films of 2022. Soon enough!