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Cinema 2018 Half-Time Report: 11 Memorable Performances

Well, there is actually 12…

We joined forces to come up with just a handful of our very favourite performances of 2018 in cinema so far. And in this bunch there is more than enough to be proud of. Don’t forget to listen to our recent podcast in which we discuss the first half of the year. Have a read, and please tell us your top acting turns for the year thus far.

Hereditary

Toni Collette in Hereditary

Whether Hereditary has divided audiences and critics or not, we can’t deny the sheer power in Toni Collette’s performance as the deeply troubled mother Annie, battling demons in the metaphysical sense. As the film develops, Annie and her dysfunctional family come apart at the seams. Collette’s facial expressions become more twisted and full of suppressed emotion. She is barely able to contain herself from screaming, holding back her fear, frustration and anger. This is a woman on the edge, ready to snap at any moment, and we go from feeling sorry for her, to fearing her.

Collette presents a real depiction of someone truly haunted, but it never topples over into comedy or caricature. Often actors in the horror genre get overlooked by the Academy, but I hope Collette gets a nomination at least. This is up there with the likes of Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist and Shelley Duvall in The Shining. All have played mothers who will do whatever it takes to save their family, even if it means losing their sanity. – – – – – Bianca Garner

Red Sparrow

Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow

The prospect of Red Sparrow many moons ago was a tantalizing one. Weighed heavy by the central casting of Jennifer Lawrence. You think audiences were excited about a Russia-set spy thriller? Nope. The expectation was carried on the shoulders of Miss Lawrence, an A-lister that much of the fickle public cinema-goers have not given up on. Passengers fired and missed by a long shot, and mother! divided audiences like the red sea.

Whatever your opinion of Red Sparrow might be, Lawrence deserves credit for opting into such diverse projects, getting her hands dirty, and doing so with a gravity of uncertainty. This is a ruthless business after all. Dominika Egorova’s famous ballet career is ended with injury, and her career branches to Russian intelligence. Of course. Her character is used for sexual bait, she is tortured, and quite frankly none of this executed tastefully I might add. Lawrence gives pretty much her all in a scattered film, perhaps putting some of those leaked photos ghosts to rest with unflinching scenes of full nudity here.  – – – – – Robin Write

Lean on Pete

Charlie Plummer in Lean on Pete

There have been so many coming-of-age dramas, it is always a challenge to ensure that your film and your performance is fresh and original. This is something that Charlie Plummer manages to do here, presenting us with a character that is wholeheartedly believable, relatable and unique. A character that seems rooted in the pessimistic 1970s cinema, or the authority challenging films of the 1950s. But also seems to belong to the millennial and post millennium generation. Plummer’s character, also named Charlie, is a lonely teenager, no friends, no company (aside from his single parent father), and no real hobbies. He finds himself one summer in a dilapidated house in Portland, Oregon, having been uprooted from his Washington state hometown.

Despite his poor background, he had been a good student and promising track star, Charlie finds himself working for a nearby racecourse, for a seedy and unscrupulous horse trainer Del (Steve Buscemi). That’s where he meets the horse, Lean on Pete. Soon, Charlie becomes alone once again, but this time he has a companion, Pete. There’s something poetically beautiful about seeing the awkward teenage boy interact with the horse. No words are necessary to explain the bond these two lost, and isolated souls have. Despite his young age, Plummer proves himself to be a capable actor, wise beyond his years. – – – – – Bianca Garner

The Square

Claes Bang in The Square

Well dressed, in-the-know, successful, popular – my oh my how things can change in a short space of time. And it is that theme of space that writer-director Ruben Östlund conquers with The Square. Physical space, directly with the concept art of the title, and the chaos that promoting it causes. Danish actor Claes Bang is quite the presence here, so in tune with every single shift of momentum his character goes through. A museum curator, Christian gradually loses control of any sort of power and public stature he once had. He sleeps with a journalist (Elisabeth Moss), but awkwardly phases her out – two great scenes between them with a twist on the you-forgot-my-name faux pas and a condom disposal debate respectively.

Christian’s immediate problems escalate when a seemingly rehearsed street act results in his mobile phone being snatched. He also authorizes the controversial promo video for the art project without seeing it first, pretty much destroying his career. Not to mention sending out threatening letters to potential thieves, only to offend a child and painful attempts to recoil his stupidity. Bang stands tall throughout, as Christian’s desperation and nonchalance grows or grinds him down, the actor delivers such genuine reactionary motions. Through strife and discomfort, Bang is always the compelling presence. – – – – – Robin Write

Tomb Raider

Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider

As video-game adaptations go, they don’t have the best track record. There’s something about trying to capture the game-play experience that filmmakers often struggle with. How do you manage to capture that feeling a gamer has? It’s nearly impossible. Fox tried back in the early 2000s to bring the character of Lara Croft to the big screen, and Jolie gave her best shot. But Jolie seemed a little too glamorous for the role, far too sexy, exotic and otherworldly. Personally, it was hard to buy into the belief that she was willing to get dirty and go explore caves.

There’s something about Alicia Vikander that seems so down to Earth, she seems to be the type of girl who is willing to roll up her sleeves and muck in. There’s a toughness to her, with her no-nonsense approach to life. Whereas Jolie seemed to be forever stopping to pose in slow motion, Vikander is constantly on the go, fighting and getting battered, bruised and dirty. Vikander in my eyes, is the perfect incarnation of the female action hero, she’s believable, strong-willed and fearless. Most importantly, she represents a role model that young girls can look up to. – – – – – Bianca Garner

That's Not Me

Alice Foulcher in That’s Not Me

A refreshing surprise on festival circuit last year, including Santa Barbara, Phoenix, Sydney, and New Zealand International Film Festival, That’s Not Me is an Australian indie gem. Director Gregory Erdstein co-wrote the picture with wife and lead actress Alice Foulcher a la Baumbach / Gerwig – they met in film school no less. It’s a smart, sassy little comedy, one of genuine human errors and ambition. Foulcher is Polly, trying to make it as an actress, but struggling under the super-competitive industry and the fact her twin sister has just made the big time.

Often confused for her more successful sibling, Foulcher captures the misfortunes of Polly’s dream-shattering moments. The actress makes this both funny and endearing, Polly has such a breezy nature, an alluring resilience and likability. Amidst a crummy cinema job, the odd lousy choice in men, and mistaken identity auditions, Polly continues to look for a different turn when she does not have her head in her hands. Foulcher is charming, magnetic throughout, depicting someone’s naive life-drive and inevitable self-realization, and somehow a relatable heroine.  – – – – – Robin Write

The Endless

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead in The Endless

Yes, I know this cheating, but how could I possibly discuss one performance without the other? In The Endless, Benson and Moorhead play two brothers (Justin and Aaron) who receive a cryptic video message inspiring them to revisit the UFO death cult they escaped a decade earlier. They are eager to find the closure by revisiting the cult, so they can finally move on with their lives. However, upon their return, they’re forced to reconsider the cult’s beliefs when confronted with unexplainable phenomena surrounding the camp.

The film works because of the actor’s ability to serve us with a convincing portrayal of a brotherly relationship. They have a chemistry and a connection with one another, that seems very real, not at all forced. Something that comes across very natural, and more importantly, believable. The banter between the two in the film’s lighter moments, the uncomfortable silences after they have argued, and the reunion all seem somewhat realistic, capturing the little details of how sibling interact with each other.

The bond is palpable, and helps move the film along even during it’s more confusing, mind-boggling moments. Moorhead seems comfortable playing a character that is somewhat vulnerable and easily manipulated, eager to find some comfort by any means necessary. While Benson has a gruff, tough guy, rational persona but also has a hidden vulnerability in the form of his brother. Two great performances, in one of this year’s most unusual and intriguing films. – – – – – Bianca Garner

In the Fade

Diane Kruger in In the Fade

Raw, enraged, seething with a bitterness through grief, Katja just about finds the strength to carry on with an overwhelming love and hungry heart. In a rare German-language role for the, er, German actress, Diane Kruger demonstrates what we perhaps already suspected. That in her abattoir of varied screen roles over the years, one day she would rightly fully earn the role she could sink her teeth into, right down to the bone. Kruger is a terrific actress, we’ve known this a while, with In the Fade, the latest film from Fatih Akin, she is nothing short of immense.

Katja’s marriage to a Kurdish man with a drug-trafficking past has unimaginable consequences. Heartbreak and emotional reconciliation go hand-in-hand, as Katja attempts to take her own life, but even on the brink of despair, finds it in herself to seek justice. The path is bumpy, of course, and with such longing for a kind of redemption comes a relenting, painful journey. Kruger shows such heart-breaking troubles with every word, movement, outburst, not afraid to scream at the top of her lungs, or elicit pure venom in her glares. A well-deserved Best Actress prize at Cannes last year, this is a performance that still deserves to be talked about, and awed over.  – – – – – Robin Write

Unsane

Claire Foy in Unsane

Foy plays stalker victim Sawyer Valentini, who relocates from Boston to Pennsylvania to escape the last two years. While consulting with a therapist, Valentini unwittingly signs in for a voluntary 24-hour commitment to the Highland Creek Behavioral Center. Foy manages to present us with a very convincing performance of how one might act if they were told they were ”crazy”. It is a very physically and psychologically demanding role which requires Foy to act spontaneous, switching from one emotion to the next. We begin to question whether Sawyer is really telling the truth, whether she really is sane as she claims to be. Especially when she can so effortlessly switch from passive and obedient patient, to a violent, foul-mouthed, aggressive, even animalistic individual.

The character of Sawyer is never presented to us as just a victim, she’s resourceful, intelligent and adaptable, taking on any challenge. This could have been easily played as a straight melodramatic role, with Foy potentially over-acting, but instead we buy into her performance as this woman who won’t allow the authorities and her stalker to strip her of her own identity. The final shot of the film is of Foy rushing out onto the street, the camera is tight on her face creating a close-up, wide-eyed and full of fear. This is a woman who will never truly recover. – – – – – Bianca Garner

Thoroughbreds

Anton Yelchin in Thoroughbreds

In a film full of high-class performances, how do I pick just one? Both Anna Taylor-Joy and Oliva Cooke are superb as teen divas / would-be-murderers Lily and Amanda. I felt there was one performance which hasn’t been discussed enough, and that is the late Anton Yelchin as drug dealer, amateur bad boy Tim. It is a small role, but one that is crucial to the story, and with every scene that Yelchin appears in he brings a sense of normality to the situation. Often he seems to be the only one attempting to speak sense. In what could have easily been a simple, unremarkable role, Yelchin manages to essentially steal his scenes.

Tim seems to be the most realistic and relatable character in Thoroughbreds. There’s something slightly tragic about Tim’s situation, being outsmarted by two sociopaths, and being manipulated and played with so they can use him as a scapegoat. We feel sorry for him for being used in such a way, and we have a feeling that he’s not going to come out of this situation all in one piece. Seeing Yelchin’s performance in Thoroughbreds only heightens my sorrow at his passing, and I can’t help but wish he was still with us. – – – – – Bianca Garner

Loveless

Maryana Spivak in Loveless

Little Alyosha is a blatantly saddened kid in the midst of a vicious divorce of his parents. Boris, the father, is settling into a new family life with his expecting girlfriend. He’s a placid soul, flattened by the marital conflict – he barely says a word. The mother, Zhenya, on the other hand, vocalizes her animosity, no holds barred, often accompanied by a chilling death stare. Actress Maryana Spivak executes a troubled, bitter woman with such inner turmoil as well as a certain headstrong poise. Zhenya, too, wants to get on with her new life with the older Anton. The parental strains, though, seem oblivious to their poor son, who disappears long before they even notice.

Zhenya and Boris are awkwardly, traumatically brought together in this worrying turn of events. Zhenya hurls her toxic, but honest, thoughts at Boris whenever events or comments trigger such. Spivak does something quite magical, in that hardened shell every now and then emerges a sore wound, teary eyes, a swallow of guilt and potential loss. An angry woman she may well be, but your heart still goes out to her when she, and Boris, have to identify a dead child who matches Alyosha. It is not him, but the overwhelming tension cracks her, and she bursts into tears. Both subtle and explosive, Spivak is first-rate. – – – – – Robin Write

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One Comment

  1. Dell on Movies (@w_ott3) Dell on Movies (@w_ott3) July 11, 2018

    So far I’ve only seen 3 of these: Hereditary, A Quiet Place, and Thoroughbreds. The performances you highlighted from those are all wonderful. I will say Yelchin is not my fave from that movie, but that’s more because Taylor-Joy and Cooke are both amazing. Looking forward to seeing the rest.

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