My own final ballot, the six best performances by a leading actress in 2018. Many of them much-ballyhooed, many of them underrated amid the usual fracas of myopic Oscar fever, all of them worthy of recognition and supreme acknowledgement.
6. Elsie Fisher – EIGHTH GRADE
Who knew the voice of Agnes in Despicable Me was a great actress in waiting? Elsie Fisher inhabits the mind of a thirteen year-old girl like it’s her life because, well, it was her life only two years ago. In a world where every smart, empathetic young kid in film is annoyingly precocious, Fisher manages to imbue her insecure, overwhelmed protagonist Kayla with every teenage feeling under the sun and she does it without any form of manufactured child charisma whatsoever. She’s a real kid playing a real kid and the audience can feel it. Not coincidentally, her coup d’grace is the film’s own coup d’grace: a ten to fifteen minute horror show where Kayla must confront her fears and make way through the complicated zoology of an eighth grade pool party at a popular kid’s house. Her face is a house of mirrors as we watch her and weep at the relatable nightmare unfolding before us and her.
5. Lady Gaga – A STAR IS BORN
Apparently Lady Gaga can do everything. Her first real go at acting is a near tour de force of singing, dancing, crying, even the time-honored melodrama tradition of putting a fist through a wall. Of course, we knew she was a brilliant stage performer of song and dance, and Cooper’s show-stopping Shallow scene only furthers her legend on screen. It’s more than just that beautiful song, it’s her ability to act out the character’s thoughts and feelings while belting out a song like that to the back row, a talent quite uncommon actually. Ally is a wily, endearing East Coast transplant with much to prove, much like Gaga herself. And prove it she does, fine-tuning Ally from street-wise neighborhood gal to pop star sensation at the Grammys. The greatest gift of hers might be selling us on the notion that a girl that beautiful and talented could be so insecure.
4. Toni Collette – HEREDITARY
A terrifying performance from an actress quite adept at giving us such in horror films. She embodies the angry side of grief, the gnashing of teeth and the pillorying of her family in the name of deflecting her own guilt, her own legacy, the burden of family history. Whether it’s a wicked two-hander at the dinner table between her and Alex Wolff or the moment that little switch is flipped and she’s suddenly not Mommy dearest anymore, Collette is on fire as the daughter of a secretive matriarch, now deceased, and the mother of a strange girl with a hint of Grandma’s esoteric madness. When the shit hits the fan we know her character is going through the roof, and to the roof she goes, her own madness indistinguishable from the supernatural gobbledygook that might be prodding her on. Thank Toni for such wonderful ambiguities.
3. Olivia Colman – THE FAVOURITE
The scene above speaks for itself. Colman is an absolute delight and a revelation as the woeful Queen Anne caught in the middle of so many royal court shenanigans. Beset by an unspeakable past, she lives in misery despite all the food and fucking she can handle. Colman deftly blends comedy and tragedy to spellbinding effect.
2. Charlize Theron – TULLY
Early year releases and performances are often ignored come time for end-of-year accolades, be it industry awards or Film Twitter mentions. Charlize Theron in Tully is one such performance, on par with her Oscar-winning turn in Monster and a triumph of that impressive feat as old as film: dressing down. As a pregnant mother of two with number three on the way, she’s wonderfully obtuse, portraying the exhaustion of such a job so well that we can’t help but root for her to leave behind her sad existence for whatever mid-life crisis is waiting downtown at the bar. But that’s not what Tully is about, Tully is about overcoming the grind and making something better of yourself in the face of untold obstacles. Tully is about resilience and perseverance, among other things, and Theron’s work is a testament to that.
1. Emma Stone – THE FAVOURITE
Surpassing her career best turn in La La Land a mere two years later is an accomplishment worthy of a multiple award-winning actress. And while Stone likely won’t become such a thing in March, she deserves it. Abigail Hill is a former lady and cousin of Sarah Churchill, and whose corner of the family has fallen on hard times. Stone is captivating, navigating the conniving nature of her character with such warm finesse that Abigail is the more endearing of the two rivals. She elevates The Favourite beyond the sometimes fleeting joy of biting wit. Hill is both a woman beholden to social norms as well as a social climber, ambitious and aggressive in her pursuit of the tippity-top of British aristocracy, and the one time Apatow alum continues to prove she’s a long way from laughing at fat Jonah Hill’s jokes. All due respect to Superbad, one of the better comedies of the last twenty years, but Emma Stone is on a rocket ship to eternal stardom based on her delectable performance here as a most detestable (yet enjoyable) of villains.