Now that we’ve started our process of looking back at the Best Films of 2022, it’s time to dig deeper into one facet that can make them so impactful—the mesmerizing work of their actors. Of course, every great film year leads to a surplus of great performances, and our favorites from 2022 are picked from quiet Sundance fare, auteur-driven blockbusters, future Oscar nominees, and much more. As with every year, not everything could fit on this list; and fitting to such a rewarding and challenging year of film, in particular, some of these picks will undoubtedly surprise you (or hopefully inspire you to check out what you haven’t seen).
To keep things interesting, and because it truly was hard to choose these performances, we also opted for some double picks, honoring two performances from the same movie that we find inextricable from the film’s quality.
Cate Blanchett, “TÁR”
Part of Todd Field’s “TÁR” grandiosity is that it may be the most fitting role yet for Cate Blanchett’s strengths (and given her incredible work in the past, that’s saying something). Her EGOT-winning, fictional composer and conductor, Lydia Tár (whom Field wrote with only Blanchett in mind), is obtuse, stoic, forceful, and unrelenting. And because she is all of these things at once, she is sometimes wildly funny. She clearly relishes this part. Blanchett is as commanding in this movie when lecturing her students about appreciating the Western music composer canon—throwing in some spot-on piano playing during a 10-minute shot—as she is in her many moments of chilly contemplation, deepening the mystery about how far the manipulative Lydia will go to get what she wants. Her best moment might be when the Gustav Mahler savant, losing control of her career and life, goes on an accordion-playing tear, screaming a crude song called “Apartment for Sale” (co-written by Blanchett and Field). It’s a raging requiem, filled with Blanchett’s delicious attitude, for an artist who becomes a vacancy by its haunting finale.
Daniel Giménez Cacho, “Bardo: A False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths”
Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Bardo” has been accused of being navel-gazing and self-indulgent mostly because it’s so nakedly autobiographical (to a point), centering on a Mexican journalist turned filmmaker, who left his homeland to find fame in the United States, who returns to receive a prestigious lifetime achievement award in Mexico. Sure, most of this mirrors Iñárritu’s life and career, but this oneiric, existential, and introspective “8 ½”-like odyssey into the self is really about how one tries to reconcile one’s complicated identity and sense of self when torn between borders, history, personal baggage, and more. And Mexican actor Daniel Giménez Cacho (“Zama”) breathes so much life into “Bardo,” creating a rich, complex, fully-realized portrait of a person struggling with himself; with the notion that he abandoned Mexico for the capitalistic United States and selling his soul to do so; with how he uprooted his family to California and has doomed them all to a state of otherness—no longer accepted in Mexico, and of course, never really welcome in a hostile to immigrant nation (among many of the other observational questions the film raises). Cacho’s Silverio is an admired artist to some, a fraud to others, a flawed father to his family, and maybe a disappointment to himself. And as he tiptoes through all these identities, all these condemning perspectives of his worth, with Iñárritu’s dreamy cinematics urging him forward, he does so with soul, humor, and grace.
Kerry Condon, “The Banshees of Inisherin”
Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin” is a wonderfully unsentimental portrayal of living in a small town; the simpler life isn’t always the answer. Its characters create a food chain of wisdom about how to best live this way, and while Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson squabble toward the bottom, right there at the top is Kerry Condon’s character, Siobhan. Her inner struggle is more subtle than the other low-key rows happening on the island. Still, she provides such a rich sense of a person wondering what else is out there beyond the spacious atmosphere and claustrophobic relationships that can drive some people mad. Condon has numerous soulful scenes with the other members of her island, creating a longing that she infuses with more and more melancholy about leaving everything behind. Through Condon’s performance, Siobhan’s arc is one of the most rewarding facets of the story and also one of the most carefully delivered. –
Frankie Corio and Paul Mescal, “Aftersun”
You wouldn’t know it from this list, but generally, we dislike putting two actors in one acting Best-Of category. But so many films from 2022 are just not the same without the sympatico energy transference of the two leads. In Charlotte Wells’ terrific debut and memory piece, “Aftersun,” a woman looks back on a pivotal holiday she took with her father when she was young, trying to reconcile the father she knew with the man she didn’t. Newcomer Frankie Corio plays the young Sophie, a tween who is mostly blissfully unaware of her dad’s myriad issues. Paul Mescal plays Calum, her father, a low-key, seemingly content man who eventually starts to show glimpses of how he struggles and fails in life. Corio plays impending teenagedom with curiosity, wonder, and naïve joy. Mescal is essentially a mysterious man who silently drinks too much, quietly trying to hide all his broken cracks that begin to grow as the movie progresses subtly. Their relationship is tender and intimate, but clearly, with a distance that Sophie only recognizes with age. Thanks to Wells’ nuanced direction and a script that never falters into melodramatics, the accumulation of all their moments, elated, delicately estranged, melancholy, and more, add up to something unforgettable and emotionally radiant.
Ana de Armas, “Blonde”
Ana de Armas puts every bit of herself into “Blonde” while playing its version of Marilyn Monroe—every bit of her rising star charisma, her every way to express a broken heart. It’s a performance that towers over the project itself, but de Armas’ power in the role comes from how she helps the movie illustrate its extreme version of the Hollywood superstar. De Armas provides the viewer with a wholly empathetic lens to the core emotions one might feel from Monroe’s toxic partnerships with Hollywood and some of the people she was closest to. (It’s a matter of whether one thinks that writer/director Andrew Dominik expresses that, but still.) De Armas doesn’t just meet the demands that come with wrenching, awards-ready biopics; she gives an amount of heart and soul to fill dozens of them. It’s appropriately devastating work made possible only by de Armas’ commitment to every layer of Monroe’s story. –