The best movie performances of 2022

The best movie performances of 2022

You’ve seen the superstars. Here are ten under-the-radar turns that deserved further attention on screen this year.

Yes, Cate is unfathomably great in TÁR, and Tom cruises to new heights in Top Gun: Maverick. But we’re here to celebrate some of the performances of 2022 that you probably won’t see in the awards-season swirl (though you should seek them out if you can; many are now streaming or on demand).

Below, our highly subjective picks for the sidekicks, sex workers, queens, and cannibals who made their indelible marks on screen this year.

Mia Goth in Pearl

You saw Goth twice (even if you didn’t realize it) in March’s X, a piece of grungy retro-horror in which she played both final girl and, buried under piles of prosthetics, a decrepit monster. Amazingly, the actress had yet a third performance in store: the cracked title character of director Ti West’s prequel, set on the same Texas farm in 1918. Not all is well with Pearl, and that’s easy enough to guess. But Goth (who also co-wrote) brings layers of vulnerability and self-delusion to the descent — and in one hypnotic, uninterrupted monologue, we see a killer taking over a soul. Joshua Rothkopf (Full review)

Daryl McCormack in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

Eager to free herself from a life of quiet desperation, the recently widowed Nancy (Emma Thompson) books an afternoon in an anonymous hotel with a young male escort. But Leo (Bad Sisters‘ McCormack) turns out to be far more than an orgasm machine for hire: He’s charming and erudite and, when pressed, fiercely opposed to her bourgeoise presumptions of how he got there. The 29-year-old Irish actor could have easily rested on pretty; instead, he goes toe-to-toe (and so many other fully exposed areas) with a two-time Oscar winner, and triumphs. — Leah Greenblatt (Full review)

Colin Farrell in After Yang

He deserves every ounce of praise coming his way for The Banshees of Inisherin, but Farrell pulled off something just as impressive (and considerably quieter) in this haunting sci-fi domestic drama about a family in crisis after its adopted android robot malfunctions. Trips to the genius bar won’t cut it, and incrementally, Farrell lets us in on the gaping chasm in his heart after the loss of what’s clearly a surrogate son. Monomonikered writer-director Kogonada gives Farrell the opportunity to stretch out, reckon with grief, and unleash a killer Werner Herzog impression. — Joshua Rothkopf (Full review)

Aubrey Plaza in Emily the Criminal

Plaza has made a career of playing women without soft corners; come for her, and you’ll be lucky to leave with a paper cut. But her character in Criminal, a would-be artist mired in debt and bad decisions, is no one-note shrew; she’s just a singularly messy millennial doing everything she can to stave off personal and financial ruin. When a light dip into credit-card fraud becomes a full-blown felonious lifestyle, the actress — nervy, furious, vibrating with desperation — taps into something elemental and startlingly true. — Leah Greenblatt (Full review)

Brian Tyree Henry in Causeway

For returning Jennifer Lawrence to her scrappy Winter’s Bone roots, Causeway would already be something to shout about. But her scene partner found a way to eclipse her: As a taciturn New Orleans mechanic with secret scars of his own, Henry eases into a study of grief without wallowing in it (or worse, fixing it for our comfort). It’s unshowy, confident acting of the highest caliber, and, along with the Atlanta actor’s fizzy turn in Bullet Train, the revelation of the year. — Joshua Rothkopf (Full review)

Hong Chau in The Menu

Consider it a just reward for spending most of The Whale pulling meatballs out of Brendan Fraser’s throat: Chau, so great in little-seen movies like Downsizing and Driveways, is literally killer as the ferociously loyal hostess of an ultra-high-end restaurant helmed by a superstar chef (Ralph Fiennes). Come for the symphony of passive-aggressive bitcheries; stay for the unforgettable way she says “tortilla.” — Leah Greenblatt (Full review)

Mark Rylance in Bones and All

An unlikely combo of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Badlands, this gory yet romantic cannibal-lovers-on-the-run movie was maybe the last thing to expect from Call Me by Your Name director Luca Guadagnino (and not an Armie Hammer cameo in sight). But the film’s details were exquisite, including a peekaboo performance from the Bridge of Spies actor, playing a fellow “eater” trapped in a lonely funk that occasionally flares into rage. More Oscar winners in horror indies, please. — Joshua Rothkopf (Full review)

Tilda Swinton in The Eternal Daughter

That’s Tildas, plural: For director Joanna Hogg, Swinton played a doting, sympathetic mother in the filmmaker’s two autobiographical Souvenir films. But The Eternal Daughter, a second sequel, has the chameleonic actress playing both parent and adult child. It’s a tribute to Swinton’s emotional openness that the doubling up doesn’t feel stunty in the slightest. Quickly, we’re locked into Hogg’s idea of the child becoming the parent (and vice versa); it takes a fearless performer to confront the realities of aging so baldly, and Swinton is nothing if not that. — Joshua Rothkopf (Full review)

Vicky Krieps in Corsage

It’s not easy to garner sympathy for a bird living in a cage as gilded as that of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. But filmmaker Marie Kreutzer’s feverish swoon of a movie — steeped in bold anachronisms and lush, dreamy cinematography — is anchored by Krieps’ multifaceted performance as a renegade queen chafing desperately at the confines of her cloistered life. Anyone who watched her bravura turn opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in The Phantom Thread will know; she may look like a flower, but pluck her petals at your own risk. — Leah Greenblatt

All the donkeys in EO

Like the silent film stars of yore, the four-legged protagonist of legendary arthouse director Jerzy Skolimowski’s sweetly melancholic road-trip fable doesn’t need to speak a word to hold your attention. That’s because he can’t, of course — he’s a donkey. But the various animal actors conscripted for the role bring outsize humanity to the little burro whose peripatetic wanderings make up the gentle, plotless wonder of Skolimowski’s soulful drama. — Leah Greenblatt

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