Joaquin Phoenix Is No Joke But These Actors Also Blew Us Away in 2019

By Kate B.
Prfgw8v3decn1lc82ctxth5xzrfds7ubtx1mofmhfdz04qfejlxbht1m7 W8dvdro8pxejnxrszd1xlf3tqlrz0aoyyl0zvsifywtp30fiewspjyhkmv3cfasauwrzyl Eo Gbt5vmm61lxwa
Photo Courtesy: Claire Folger/MRC II Distribution Company L.P./IMDb

Joaquin Phoenix’s intense performance in Joker may have been the talk of Tinsel Town — and Gotham — this fall, but there were plenty of other Oscar-worthy bids by lead actors this year. Although some performances are gaining steam as we race toward Awards Season, other standout stars are in danger of being overlooked. Fire up the popcorn and tune into 10 of our favorite performances from the past year in film.

10. Willem Dafoe | The Lighthouse

Horror director Robert Eggers’ (The Witch) latest film tells the story of two grizzled lighthouse keepers — one experienced (Willem Dafoe) and one green (Robert Pattinson). While critics agree that both central performances are powerhouses, Dafoe, with his winding monologues and precise accent is a standout. The Daily Telegraph’s Robbie Collin called Dafoe "astounding," adding that the film itself is "cinema to make your head and soul ring."

Hzqmsrla71pi0dvfc Lxuixcz3rz4zmvyitssxs8vj0bkz77wrmdylleqk4mbhu9yvtzqovnmrw Esjxi Pyh99bl5jak1awuef44yq8ks60w Rg0ulemjeqi4ioos5l9 Qf31bjllstb 3c7w
Photo Courtesy: Eric Chakeen/IMDb

9. Ashton Sanders | Native Son

HBO’s update of Richard Wright’s novel of the same name allows Moonlight alum Ashton Sanders the chance to shine. Richard Roeper, critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote that Sanders’ work is "blistering" and helps the film "[leave] a lasting imprint." While some reviewers note that the source material feels "painfully relevant," others feel the material was adapted unevenly. Regardless, Sanders performance is nearly universally lauded.

G08 Ltyer8fup4vaz6ic Lq Qips4skun38dlwccgfas Nsmiuoqiq8p Jkii6sl515 Uo20rzk4 Ktj3dfre1vaxh Oejmmtvyvnekdufilvlzbqmrnxgsmptfi7icss Zeilejzgiayxnfmw
Photo Courtesy: Sundance Institute/HBO/IMDb; Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images/IMDb

8. Jimmie Fails | The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Directed and co-written by first-timer Joe Talbot, The Last Black Man in San Francisco has been called "half mood-piece, half character study… [about] the effect of gentrification on the people on the Bay Area’s margins" by critic Kambole Campbell in Empire Magazine. Writing for The Arts Desk, critic Nick Hasted notes that first-time actor Jimmie Fails, on whose life the film is partly based, "has a hurt soulfulness deeper than his surroundings. And if it is itself a touch gentrified, this matches its characters' aspirations beyond their social boxes, leaving a sweet and kindly aftertaste."

Ycntk27 Wuemxmwb06epo1j2zt9yra2qg99nzjqpmbfwufohnlo842gdv7tpvzaladc92xzoyyobniljbweqcyzqzo 0bm8zjrv 4ra 8lo21glsrpjrxo9vok76lkc3yk3uujntoy9vzgakrw
Photo Courtesy: Plan B Entertainment/A24/IMDb

7. Robert Pattinson | High Life

If Brad Pitt’s Ad Astra looked too Contact-meets-Interstellar for you, we recommend checking out High Life, the first English language film from French director Claire Denis. Robert Pattinson plays Monte, an astronaut on a doomed mission to the far reaches of the solar system. He and his young daughter are the last survivors. As the sinister tale unfolds, High Life "nonetheless delivers hard truths in a new way" (A.S. Hamrah, n+1). All the sci-fi bleakness is anchored by what The Observer calls a "subtle, exacting and unpredictable" performance by Pattinson that transmits "bone-deep loneliness."

Rlcoftx8ghc Fcavpdc Shitnavo Gwdghqcy0szmiazmkmfxzonvznc5u8v67odonm7u7w7ijchfmmg8xbrj5uinxvhptuhz Fezqxiuf6z46sqmb2ctj5jtji4jlr15ywiys1vnul807rpwa
Photo Courtesy: Pandora Film/IMDb

6. André Holland | High Flying Bird

Helmed by Academy Award winning writer Tarell Alvin McCraney and director Steven Soderbergh, High Flying Bird tells the story of sports agent Ray Burke (André Holland), who is caught between a rock and a hard place during a National Basketball Association (NBA) lockout. Steven Prokopy, a critic for Third Coast Review, notes that Holland’s performance is remarkable, writing, "absolutely ferocious in an almost unassuming way... It's a marvel to see him set loose like this."

Ztdcw68p9fpfjmy9xzciort9hxvntowwzziclqgroniowqwl1eg6xcflt7uvvjwypqd6do7azenjq Oehikchwdldtucazg9zytwx6splno1mcnbifel 95ynajjn Sotj2crmmokqdrzqopfw
Photo Courtesy: Peter Andrews/IMDb

5. Antonio Banderas | Pain and Glory

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar, Pain and Glory is about the process of creation — something that’s often difficult to capture in art because of its meta quality. Antonio Banderas plays filmmaker Salvador Mallo, who experiences re-encounters — some in-person and other remembered — during a time of physical decline. Mike Scott of The Times-Picayune writes that although the film is "laden with Almodóvar's typical penchant for soapy melodrama, it remains grounded, thanks largely to the finely tuned work of lead actor Antonio Banderas."

Qhybg2d 6bw8m6vycyfeqpkmissqluvblv2gvnprhfz413wriwqafaqxjk2eyq Rsspvfatk Ct75ece9 Xem8w91oygyl12vgnoe5po1sxtlp Efhdj Axpzftwc Jtqv7ogknfxje6h8oyqw
Photo Courtesy: null/IMDb

4. Adam Driver | Marriage Story

Starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story illustrates the end of such a story — a drawn-out, bicoastal divorce based on writer/director Noah Baumbach’s own experiences. Although the climactic argument between its two leads never boils over into the raw territory of a stage play or a film like Closer, it does showcase Driver’s chops. (And it launched about a thousand Twitter memes.) Moira Macdonald of the Seattle Times calls Driver’s career best performance "remarkably, heartbreakingly good in every scene."

Bybfa8wf Qyowq1fn9sx20tufgnwqqo54ttyoqc6o Ppvijcuf6rnuccf7x9yo7ydno0td2de0lmp47xynpi Z8u0 Ahwq Awwy578oib Buquukw Lfkam1vibak3fiwaaddfzdtoiucaoxq
Photo Courtesy: Netflix/IMDb

3. Eddie Murphy | Dolemite Is My Name

Dolemite Is My Name tells the stranger-than-fiction story of struggling comedian Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy), who had a string of showbiz-related failures — until a creative epiphany strikes. Moore takes on a persona, Dolemite, who is a larger-than-life pimp with flamboyant clothing and a whole host of wild tales. Brad Newsome of The Sydney Morning Herald writes that "This riotous, poignant and uplifting true story couldn't have been told half as well without the singular magnetism and intensity of Eddie Murphy at its heart."

Acvomxytad93uwnaf Mjqhg2mupgbril2xwzleqlarnmcphuddg6mcl9fc18svzhzqcy1bt8yap3thegcycvdewfcge17smlylbg69u24qzd2vvortcbfnqb2 Crltm Ebilnsy Kjtbbx3dua
Photo Courtesy: Netflix/IMDb

2. Adam Sandler | Uncut Gems

Every few years, Adam Sandler appears on the silver screen with an attempt to win Oscar audiences over with a dramatic turn, a la Punch Drunk Love and (the less successful) Reign Over Me. With Uncut Gems, Sandler may have finally found his Academy Award vehicle. Jocelyn Noveck penned a review for Associated Press, writing the Critics’ Choice and Gotham Awards nominee "deserves the accolades he’s getting, again proving that with the right material, [Sandler] has an uncanny ability to reach deep within us, despite our deep, DEEP annoyance."

R642yglag12yganueuuyipriubvlnk Dcfr H0tejignls1jrnpo3oc Qxqzq93obla6nlrroefiti53uv8cosm9eljzd Ddle8v618hvwziuajdlnqaeo50dybkfgh640zimeeihd2b8 Eqza
Photo Courtesy: A24/IMDb

1. Song Kang-ho | Parasite

Layered with timely social themes, Parasite has been universally lauded for its remarkable writing and direction, both by visionary Bong Joon-ho — and rightly so. However, the response to that deft script rests on the shoulders of the film’s incredible — and understated — performances. Although every actor is nearly pitch perfect in Parasite, Song Kang-ho delivers some of the film’s most raw moments. IndieWire notes that his best moments are found "in the liminal spaces… when happiness melts into horror, or duty is salted with revenge."

3lxgpxxor9rp15gv6nptjsgwkhcihdgamecrl1aumzorfform329ve63nfxowqpd3dujuh7ehunxun Dtqtuortbey3k8tp2ozzjlmlprkrr9zgt Ig2srf96w 3osxyqzzwjsdd Jycm23tjg
Photo Courtesy: Neon/IMDb

Honorable Mention: Daniel Craig | Knives Out

Rian Johnson’s murder mystery is sharper than the rest — thanks in part to a stellar cast. But we’d be remiss not to mention Daniel Craig, who trades in his martinis (shaken, not stirred) and his Aston Martin for a debonair southern accent as Detective Benoit Blanc. Knives Out is an exhilarating, hilarious whodunit, and Craig transforms a would-be caricature into an unforgettable character.

A Uhcwstze3g05vxxb3ys0sii8ia3tn2flstnpnkzycpeprl5xgqbif Lpokpnco Dwfvyvr754k8fgohrpbj6dkurv9ltv7p9ovyuaeapmshwz9j2k3k3acumrcqnxdclsee6y Xebhgdrj1w
Photo Courtesy: Claire Folger/MRC II Distribution Company L.P./IMDb