Every year brings new, exciting performances from actors old and new, and 2022 has been no different in its first six months. Here are the best. *Note: I have not yet seen Elvis but, by all accounts, Austin Butler would belong on this list
- Joel Kim Booster, Fire Island
- Mia Goth, X
- Justin H. Min, After Yang
- Glen Powell, Top Gun: Maverick
- Kali Reis, Catch the Fair One
- Alexander Skarsgård, The Northman
- Emma Thompson, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Jake Gyllenhaal, Ambulance
Your mileage will surely vary on Michael Bay’s latest action vehicle (pun intended) based purely on how much you’re willing to buy into Bay’s signature brand of coked-up enthusiasm. But one thing is undeniable, and that’s Jake Gyllenhaal’s full understanding of the assignment Bay laid in front of him. From the moment we meet his Danny Sharp, we’re never really sure what his next move will be, and Gyllenhaal plays it as if Danny doesn’t either. We never see any of the main characters doing any drugs throughout Ambulance, but Gyllenhaal goes in with so much enthusiasm throughout the 136-minute runtime that it’s assumed he’s doing bumps of cocaine whenever he’s not on screen. Gyllenhaal has always excelled at livewire personalities, and Bay cranks that ability up to eleven here, and it goes a long way to make Ambulance stand out amongst Bay’s mostly monotonous filmography.
Sofia Kappel: Pleasure
Actors tend to receive praise when giving an overly “physical” performance – think Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything or Leo in The Revenant. Sofia Kappel delivers a physical performance in the most unique way throughout Pleasure that you’ll find it hard to believe that this isn’t a pseudo documentary. That she’s able to make her performance dramatically compelling is all the more noteworthy, especially when she’s acting against non-actors in most scenes. Director Ninja Thyberg’s film could have easily become a sort of puff piece on the bad apples in charge of the porn industry, but because of Kappel’s grounded commitment, Pleasure becomes a realistic character study of someone willing to do whatever it takes to make it big.
Zoë Kravitz: Kimi
Zoë Kravitz has been a reliable actress for years in supporting roles, but has rarely been given the opportunity to lead a film all on her own. In Steven Soderbergh’s latest low-key mind-bender, Kravitz does wonders, mostly working by herself in any given scene. Soderbergh drops us right into Angela’s comfortable routine without many clues, but Kravitz keys us into her fragile mindset with ease. Even the way that Angela applies hand sanitizer feels like a well-crafted character beat. But by the second half of Kimi, Kravitz takes over with her physicality as the film goes into full-on thriller mode. Soderbergh is one of the best directors today at getting stellar performances from actors, and Kimi goes to show that Kravitz can hang with the best.
Adam Sandler: Hustle
Should we stop acting surprised whenever Adam Sandler turns in a solid dramatic performance? Sandler has been on a real roll in recent years in films like Uncut Gems, The Meyerowitz Stories, and now Hustle. Though the film doesn’t do enough to escape its Rocky-esque trappings, Sandler elevates the material thanks to his effortless chemistry with everyone he shares a scene with. But it’s the smaller moments that count just as much; the restless energy he gets when watching his newest prospect tear it up on the court; the world-weariness he displays whenever he realizes his best days may be behind him. Sandler will probably continue to churn out stinkers like Murder Mystery everyone once in a while, but he’s just as capable of giving a soulful, magnetic performance. Get used to it.
Anamaria Vartolomei: Happening
Moments before I started writing this, abortion became illegal again in the United States, thus ushering in a new, dark period for women at home and abroad. Audrey Diwan perhaps saw the writing on the wall when she directed an adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s novel. Regardless, Vartolomei anchors the film by showing a vulnerable but determined young woman as she tries to obtain an illegal abortion before her career prospects are forever altered. Vartolomei’s Anne goes through the emotional ringer throughout the film, as she continuously tries and fails to find anyone she can trust, as even her closest friends are against the idea of an abortion. Vartolomei projects a quiet but fierce determination, and in the process announces herself as an exciting screen presence to look forward to.
Michelle Yeoh: Everything Everywhere All at Once
The world has known for at least the past 20 years that Michelle Yeoh is one of the best action stars – of any gender – of our generation. But the Hong Kong star has rarely been given the opportunity to flex her dramatic muscles. That Yeoh was not only able to handle all the action that the Daniels threw her way but to carry the film’s dramatic and comedic beats – who else could have made the hot dog finger scenes sing as beautifully? – only proves that she can do just about anything. Her undeniable chemistry with Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu gave way to all manner of unbelievable moments. Yeoh’s role was reportedly written with Jackie Chan in mind, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else making Everything Everywhere as funny, smart, bad-ass, and cool as she did.