It’s been a rather generous year, movie-wise. Not only were wide ranges of tastes and preferences covered by blockbusters and moody indies, but things we could never have imagined slipping into the mainstream genres have done just that. Looking back, some performances from films closer to the Barbenheimer popularity range or lesser-known masterpieces have been what made the experiences worthwhile. You might find your favorites on the list down below. Or this might serve as your next-to-watch list.
Robert Downey Jr. In ‘Oppenheimer’
After his illustrious run as Tony Stark/Iron Man in the MCU, Robert Downey Jr. delivered a neat performance in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. As Lewis Strauss, his animosity towards Oppenheimer was the highlight of the movie for many. Most of his dialogues were simple and straightforward, yet every word Downey uttered was intimidating. Starring in one of the most anticipated movies of 2023, Downey seamlessly played the nemesis to the titular character and outshined him in most of the third act.
Ryan Gosling In ‘Barbie’
In the biggest summer blockbuster, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie gives Ryan Gosling a chance to have fun, if nothing else. Gosling as Ken, a lovestruck doll whose life revolves around getting Barbie’s love and validation and has very little purpose otherwise, discovers patriarchy, and it dramatically changes the course of his character in the second half. From breaking out to lament his life of blonde fragility in a musical number to establishing a cartoonish form of patriarchy in Barbie Land, Gosling was more than “Kenough” in Barbie.
Cailee Spaeny In ‘Priscilla’
What’s life like for a 14-year-old teenage girl who gets approached by America’s rising Rock and Roll sensation, Elvis Presley? Cailee Spaeny, playing the girl who was groomed and trained to be the perfect wife Elvis wanted her to be, carries herself brilliantly and is basically the only reason the mostly dull movie is worth sitting through. The opening scene shows Priscilla putting on her false nails and eyelashes, reminding the audience of her iconic look, which influenced fashion in Hollywood for decades to come. From the beginning, it’s clear that the actress has imbibed Priscilla’s personality. Spaeny devotes herself to the character, making Priscilla’s transformation from a 14-year-old schoolgirl to the doting wife of an egomaniac who spent more time having affairs than with her all the more organic.
Franz Rogowski In ‘Passages’
In Passages, one of the best drama films of the year, Franz Rogowski steals the show as the charming and mercurial movie director Tomas, caught in a love triangle. With the French setting, a stellar cast, and an outstanding plot backing him, Rogowski as Tomas is affecting, despite not being a character one would root for. Ira Sachs has made perceivable attempts at not glorifying the choices Tomas makes in the movie. Yet Rogowski oozes an irresistible charm, which undeniably makes Tomas the highlight of the film.
Barry Keoghan In ‘Saltburn’
Give Barry Keoghan a repulsive character to play, and he will pull it off. And that’s almost a certainty after his outing as Oliver Quick in Saltburn, which is nonetheless one of the most talked films of 2023 directed by Emerald Fennell. An Oxford fresher who notices a dreamy, rich, and handsome Felix (played by Jacob Elordi), Oliver gets hellbent on having him and being around him at any cost. Keoghan shines in every frame as, one after the other, all the characters in the movie are craftily manipulated by Oliver and exist only to be his victims.
Sandra Huller in ‘Anatomy of a Fall’
A courtroom drama where an author finds herself facing trial, accused of her husband’s murder—Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall is one of 2023’s most compelling and dynamic films. Sandra Huller, portraying a German author on trial, facing constant poking and prodding on her marriage and personal life, is on the screen in almost every scene of the movie. Huller’s credit lies in keeping the audience hooked on the one question: did she murder her husband or not? Society is a bully when a woman owns her life choices and refuses to be apologetic about them, and in Anatomy of a Fall, it’s not all that different. As a character bold enough to own her affair with a woman and prioritize her career over playing mother, Huller’s performance is magnificent, to say the least.
Greta Lee In ‘Past Lives’
In the first leading role of her career, Greta Lee stars in Celine Song’s filmmaking debut, Past Lives. It’s about Nora and Hae Sung and where life takes them over the course of 24 years. Greta Lee as Nora delivers a subtle and delicate performance, balanced just right to bag all the awards. A playwright living in New York finds her childhood sweetheart Hae Sung online, and their reunion happens through texts and countless video calls. Past Lives is relatable—it’s humble—and Greta Lee’s splendid performance is the cherry on top.
Emma Stone In ‘Poor Things’
Based on Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel of the same name, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things takes a Frankenstein tale and turns it into a journey of self-discovery for Bella Baxter (played by Emma Stone). Bella is resurrected with the brain of a child, and the narrative follows her growth and self-acceptance. Lanthimos gives Emma Stone a character that was made for someone of her caliber, and she nails it. Bella is jolly and childish, yet her wit bamboozles men. Poor Things is hilarious slapstick meets crafty wordplay, and Emma Stone as Bella is its prized possession.
Lily Gladstone In ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’
Outperforming Leo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro in a movie directed by Martin Scorsese sounds like a flight of fancy, but Lily Gladstone managed to pull off just that. Her character, Mollie, is the heart of the movie, and the native American actor played the part with a mix of despair and resilience. Even in scenes where she didn’t have a single dialogue, she managed to shine thanks to her silent gazes. It could only happen thanks to Martin Scorsese changing his mind midway through the pre-production and deciding to tell this story from the perspective of the oppressed Osage community and making Gladstone the face of it. Gladstone probably deserves to have her name scribed on every single “Best Actress” trophy.
Charles Melton In ‘May December’
Todd Haynes’ May December, starring Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman, is surprisingly headlined by a fantastic Charles Melton, a relatively less experienced actor than the aforementioned. Melton shines as the adult Joe, a man married to the woman who’s been grooming him ever since she found him at the tender age of 12. In a film that is disturbing in every possible way, Melton’s performance leaves us wanting for more. Joe is someone who has been restless from a pretty young age, and even in his mid-thirties, we see a man-child still trying to figure himself out. In contrast to Moore and Portman, who have a pretty loud and almost conflicting dynamic going on, Melton provides subtlety and is deservingly getting applauded for that.