Introducing our Best Performances 2020 portfolio.
The movies of 2019 were unusually reflective, almost melancholic. When the neon lights go on near the end of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, an ode to the late ’60s in Los Angeles, it’s as if a bright beacon from another, happier planet were saying, “Don’t forget this place in all its glory.” Instead of Tarantino’s usual pop perspective, the film is awash in emotion—a kind of longing for a time when theaters played double features all day and movie stars did not have social-media accounts.
The Irishman, a portrait of a paid killer, is steeped in regret, and Little Women, which tells the story of the four March sisters, is a wistful exploration of female empowerment in the 19th century. Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, as reinterpreted by the writer-director Greta Gerwig, is largely concerned with the protagonists’ struggle to find meaning in their lives. They are poor, they are female, and they endure many setbacks. In a way, the struggling writer Jo March in Little Women is a sister to Megyn Kelly, played by Charlize Theron in Bombshell, a film about the women of Fox News. In both cases, a woman’s personal victory is hard-fought and comes with no small number of challenges: Every win has an undercurrent of loneliness.
Marriage Story, written and directed by Noah Baumbach, is about the end of a relationship, but it is strangely romantic. A once-happy couple is suddenly at odds and must navigate a messy divorce; Adam Driver plays the confounded and then determined husband, and Scarlett Johansson the wife who imagines a bigger, more independent life for herself. The disconnect between them mirrors the profound and disturbing divide between people in America today. As it is in the movie, it is truly an irreconcilable split.
Other remarkable and emotional performances: Cynthia Erivo seized by the spirit of Harriet Tubman in Harriet; Joaquin Phoenix transforming from Arthur Fleck into the title character in Joker with pain, subtlety, and some remarkable dance moves; Jennifer Lopez fleecing rich men in Hustlers; Eddie Murphy flexing his comedic muscles as the determined filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite Is My Name. Even superheroes felt existential angst: In Avengers: Endgame, Chris Evans, as Captain America, longed for a simple, nonheroic life. He wanted to face his death without the aid of a magical shield. In 2019, that vulnerability felt like courage.
The end of the decade coincides with our 10th edition of Best Performances. This year we salute 29 actors who risked baring their souls in one way or another, reflecting the turbulent moment we’re living through. Our aim was to convey true emotion and vulnerability, while welcoming 2020 with hopes for a new beginning.
The first time I sang onstage was in the sixth grade. It was my first play. I sang a song called “Don’t Want No Real Job,” and the popular girl in school magically liked me. I had a lead role, and we began dating during the play. When the play ended, she dumped me. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this equation: I had to get more leads.
Was she your first kiss?
Yes. You’d walk into the woods and kiss and come back, and everyone’s like, “Oooh.” So we did that.
Did you have posters on your walls?
We visited New York and I bought a giant, giant, giant poster of Sandra Bullock. I put it on the ceiling of my bedroom. Not that Sandy’s not cool, but that’s a loser thing to do.
What’s your secret skill?
I can jump really high. When I was a kid, I did tae kwon do, and we would have jumping contests.
Does that come in handy when you’re playing Captain America?
You do find ways to use it.
Be sure to check out the rest of the interviews at W Magazine!
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