19. Aisling Franciosi (The Nightingale)
Aisling Franciosi’s Clare faces a litany of unspeakable atrocities in the opening minutes of Jennifer Kent’s punishing 19th century excoriation, The Nightingale, but none is worse in her eyes than being compared to her reluctant Aboriginal companion, Billy (Baykali Ganambarr, who could have also made this list). That precarious balance of ingrained bigotry and murderous rage lays on the shoulders of Franciosi’s performance as she needs to realize this journey of retribution and enlightenment without ever rendering Clare’s dramatic arc as false sentiment or writerly contrivance. Kent’s touch is intentionally heavy, but Franciosi never bears the psychological weight as a cross to bear. Rather, it’s a performance of exploration and resistance, of inching back against a world that only has a vested interest in the existence of the falsely chosen. – Michael S.
Honorable Mentions: This feature could have been, and nearly was, twice as long. Here are just a few of the year’s great performances that got benched at the very last minute because life is short and this role call of greatness is already too long: Ashton Sanders in “Native Son“; George McKay in “1917“; Jonathan Pryce in “The Two Popes“; Sofia Boutella in “Climax“; Robert Pattinson in “High Life” and “The Lighthouse“; Franz Rogowski in “Transit“; Noah Jupe in “Honey Boy“; Jonathan Majors in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco“; Aisling Franciosi in “The Nightingale“; Marianne Jean-Baptiste in “In Fabric“; August Diehl in “A Hidden Life“; and Gugu Mbatha Raw in “Fast Color.” Apologies to all of the above for the outrageous, undeserved snub, and thanks for some of the most moving and excellent performances of the year.