The best movie performances of 2019
Some of these actors we knew well, others hardly at all. But this year, each gave cinematic performances that moved, surprised, and enthralled us.
Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Two scenes in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood best explain why Leonardo DiCaprio’s actor character, Rick Dalton, is one of the Osca r winner’s best performances. In one, between shooting scenes of his latest TV Western, Dalton chats with a wise child actress, who compels the washed-up cowboy actor to consider the state of his career. In the next, Dalton drunkenly melts down after failing to remember his lines, launching into a monologue about his fall from grace. DiCaprio plays both with deep soul and a sense of regret. Recent roles — whether getting high on quaaludes or eating raw bison liver — haven’t felt so personal. This felt thrillingly human.
Zhao Shuzhen in The Farewell
A TV veteran in China, Zhao Shuzhen wowed American audiences in her U.S. film debut as Awkwafina’s Nai Nai. There’s trickery to the character (the entire film hinges on a secret to which she is not privy), plus Shuzhen made this grandma so hilariously lovable the thought of losing her was heartrending.
Joe Pesci in The Irishman
Adam Driver in Marriage Story; The Report; Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Few have ever had this kind of year. It began in January with the splashy Sundance premiere of The Report, in which Adam Driver stars as a Senate staffer investigating post-9/11 torture programs. Then, at Telluride, Noah Baumbach unveiled Marriage Story and Driver became an Oscar front-runner for his emotionally naked portrayal of a divorcing dad. Finally, a big role in a little movie called Star Wars closed out his 2019. What else ya got?
Da’Vine Joy Randolph in Dolemite Is My Name
Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes occupy plenty of space in Dolemite Is My Name, but not enough for the indefatigable Da'Vine Joy Randolph to miss a spotlight of her own. The Tony nominee steals every one of her scenes as neophyte actress Lady Reed, playing her with comic gusto and imbuing her with rousing dignity.
Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers
Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems
For a guy as prolific as Adam Sandler, you’d think we’d know everything he could do by now. But in Uncut Gems, his most ambitious role since Punch-Drunk Love, the comedy legend plays a jeweler so detestably desperate he somehow makes him endearing. Through no small amount of effort, though — specifically, lots of blood, sweat, and tears.