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January 24, 2024


We truly are in the thick of awards season, and like usual, the majority of attention is centred on the acting categories. This year, several performances are dominating the conversation, and with actors like Lily Gladstone, Emma Stone, Cillian Murphy, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph receiving their flowers, I can’t help but smile. That said, while most of the performances being recognized are more than deserving, there are bound to be a few that have unfortunately fallen by the wayside, especially considering the incredible year in film we just had. As such, I wanted to take this opportunity to acknowledge some of my favourite performances from 2023 that, for whatever reason, are not getting the awards recognition they fully deserve.

Warning: Mild Spoilers


Some performances may seem like there is very little happening on the surface, and then there is Kōji Yakusho in Perfect Days. In theory, Yakusho isn't asked to do much at all in the Wim Wenders drama, as he's relatively silent the whole movie as he goes around Tokyo cleaning toilets and going about his day-to-day. But with how little he projects, it's what's on the inside when you look into his eyes that conveys so much more. Yakusho's character, Hirayama, constantly rides a high-wire act of dissatisfaction and heartache, but just peering into him, you can see the little things that bring him such joy. That’s what makes Perfect Days one of 2023's most endearing watches. The last shot alone, where we stay on Yakusho for a little under a minute, shows the pure talent on display. 


I've been a fan of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia for years, and I’ve always been remarkably impressed with the talent of Glenn Howerton. His line delivery always gets something out of me, especially during Dennis Reynolds' more rage-fueled moments. So, to my delight, he finally got to show off what he can do outside of Sunny with Matt Johnson's BlackBerry. As Jim Balsillie, Howerton was tasked with portraying a corporate shark with a short-tempered mentality towards his enemies. He could have played this lazily, and it still would have been entertaining. But he didn't. Yes, he yells a lot, but he becomes a room-silencing force to be reckoned with, a feeling he sometimes is able to convey with just a stare. I hope this is just the beginning of a more distinguished career for Howerton. 


When done right, a comedic performance can be just as effective as a dramatic one, and Emma Seligman's high school comedy Bottoms is filled with hysterical performances that elevate the already very funny script (shoutout to Marshawn Lynch). However, since seeing the film in August, Havana Rose Liu has remained in my mind for her pitch-perfect comedic timing throughout the film. In a film where I laughed quite a lot, the scenes where I laughed the hardest were due to Liu's starry-eyed yet strong and confident delivery. Two moments in particular that stand out to me are, one, her reaction to hearing she has been cheated on, and two, when she confronts the cheating boyfriend. The reactions are polar opposite, but firmly believable because of Liu. 


With Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone, and Robert De Niro giving knockout performances, it can be hard to remember just how incredible the entire ensemble of Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon is. It's a film filled with impactful performances compacted in smaller roles. Take Cara Jade Myers for example… As one of the victims, Myers portrays Anna Brown with a stern confidence that makes her character arguably the most memorable outside of the central three. On the surface, Brown is a reckless alcoholic, but through Myers, we have a woman aware of the wolves circling her, fearful of her fate while also fighting for her humanity. We don't get much time with her, but the time we do have makes it all the more heartbreaking when she is gone. 


After 2022's star-making turn from Austin Butler as Elvis Presley, to get another version of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll so soon seems jarring. Thankfully, Jacob Elordi's portrayal of Presley in Sofia Coppola's Priscilla allows him to capture a unique portrait of the icon. Elordi nails the Elvis of it all, in the sense that he truly feels like Elvis Presley, from the mannerisms to the voice. There are even moments where the physical resemblance is frightening (props to the hair and makeup department). That said, what makes his performance so special is how human he comes across…in beautiful ways, and more importantly, ugly ways. Elordi expresses the love he shared with Cailee Spaeny's Priscilla Presley very believably, but also the stress and weight of the world on his shoulders, resulting in the toxic side effects that are fully felt. If Butler's Elvis was meant to reaffirm our perception of Presley, Elordi's was meant to show us a side we've never seen before. 



If there is one performance this year that feels like a true lightning-in-a-bottle, star-is-born moment, it has to be Sophie Wilde for her turn as Mia in Danny and Michael Philippou's debut horror film Talk to Me. In the beginning, Mia seems like your run-of-the-mill high school senior, but little does she know, her life is about to be altered in the worst ways. In one of the year's most surreal moments, when she first begins the ritual and becomes "possessed", Wilde is unrecognizable. Her physicality in the moment is truly haunting to watch, and that's just one scene, mind you. As the film goes on and the spirits begin to fully encapsulate her, Wilde portrays her character’s descent in a way that is true to the Philippou brothers' crazy vision, but never in a way that feels fake, not for a second. Also, keep in mind, this is Wilde's feature film debut. 


Being that Zachary Wigon’s Sanctuary is a chamber piece, a weak performance can diminish the overall effect of the film. Christopher Abbott certainly brings a vulnerability to ground the film, but Margaret Qualley gives this movie a life that takes the film up several notches from scene to scene. From the beginning, even under a facade, there's something mysterious and seductive about Qualley. It isn't until her true persona and motives are revealed, when the twisted game of wills begins, that Qualley truly lets loose.  By nothing more than the way she speaks, you can tell that she holds all the power, holding Abbott's character deep in the palm of her hand. By the end, despite the character's clear flaws, Qualley has a way of even roping viewers in, making us almost root for her plight. That is the marking of a truly effective performance right there. 


Given the star power on display in Emerald Fennell's Saltburn, from rising stars Barry Keoghan and Jacob Elordi to industry titans Richard E. Grant and Rosamund Pike, it's quite impressive that, for me, the stand out is far and away Alison Oliver. As Venetia, Oliver bursts into the film silently, yet instantly alluring. Throughout the film, there's something mysterious about Oliver's cadence. You can't tell if she's mischievous or seductive. As the film goes on, we begin to see she's just broken, and only personally satisfied through pleasure. In the film's second most notable bathtub scene, Oliver's monologue displays something I feel the film needed more of: vulnerability. Yes, she's a good person, but she's still seeking happiness, and in that moment, it feels like Oliver is expressing the acceptance that Venetia will never get.


In Ari Aster's Beau is Afraid, the topic of the trauma and anxiety that toxic parental figures can inflict upon their children is taken to many, many extremes. Joaquin Phoenix's Beau is quite a damaged character, so when we finally meet the woman who caused all this torment, she had to be an immediate force of nature. With barely any screen time, Patti LuPone accomplishes just that, instantly…and I mean INSTANTLY. Mona's gaslighting and putdowns feel like gunshots, and LuPone's stern delivery cut deep into Beau, almost justifying the previous two-plus hours of him being the way he is. To be honest, if I had a mother like Patti LuPone's character, I'd probably be a neurotic oddball as well. 



Last, but most certainly not least, I must talk about a performance from my favourite film of 2023, Justine Triet's Anatomy of a Fall. Much has justifiably been said about Sandra Hüller's earth-shattering performance, but one performance that I can't help but think about is Milo Machado-Graner as Daniel. I'm always blown away when a child actor can be so comfortable and magnetic in front of the camera, and Machado-Graner is no exception. One might argue that part of what makes me so impressed with this performance is merely the fact that he was 13 years old at the time of filming, but no matter his age, what he pulls off as the grieving Daniel is truly outstanding, particularly towards the final act as the focus on him and his beloved dog, Snoop, take centre stage to deliver some of the most impactful acting of the year.

Photo Credits: Photo 1 - DCM; Photo 2 - Elevation Pictures; Photo 3, 8 - MGM; Photo 4 - Apple; Photo 5, 6, 9 - A24; Photo 7 - Neon; Photo 10 - La Pacte

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