Best Actors, Director, and Villain of 2019

As 2019 winds to a close, we’ve had yet another great year of movies. If anyone tells you, “Movies aren’t good anymore,” all they’re telling you is, “I don’t watch many movies.” And beyond the movies themselves we were treated to a host of terrific performances, direction, characters, and more. When it comes time for the Oscar nominations to be announced on January 13th, there will be lots of arguing over snubs and surprises, and rightly so. Narrowing down my personal list was quite a task this year, and I’m sure you’ll disagree with some of these choices. However, I hope that if there’s a choice on here you haven’t seen, you’ll seek out the movie.

Please note that all runners up are listed in alphabetical order.

Best Actor

Image via Netflix

Adam Driver as Charlie Barber in Marriage Story

Runners Up:

  • Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo in Pain and Glory
  • Adam Driver as Daniel Jones in The Report
  • Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman 
  • Brad Pitt as Roy McBride in Ad Astra

When I saw Adam Driver in The Report at Sundance, I thought that no one else could give a better performance. Technically, I was right. The only person who could give a better performance was Driver in Marriage Story. Driver, who’s only 36, shows talent beyond his years and firmly establishes himself as one of the unique performers of his generation with his heartbreaking, thoughtful turn in Noah Baumbach’s divorce drama. This is a performance I really can’t stop thinking about because it feels so lived in and honest. If you don’t break at “Being Alive”, I can’t help you.

Best Actress

Image via Universal Pictures

Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson / Red in Us

Runners Up:

  • Aisling Franciosi as Clare in The Nightingale
  • Scarlett Johansson as Nicole Barber in Marriage Story 
  • Florence Pugh as Dani in Midsommar
  • Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland in Judy

Nyong’o pulled double duty in Jordan Peele’s riveting thriller, and once you know the twist, the performance becomes even more impressive with what she can and cannot express without tipping her hand. And while her turn as Adelaide is good, the way she puts on a completely different voice and demeanor as Red is shocking and haunting. In the hands of a lesser actress, Red would be unintentionally comic, but in Nyong’o’s hands, she becomes the stuff of nightmares.

Best Supporting Actor

Image via TriStar Pictures

Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Runners Up:

  • Alan Alda as Bert Spitz in Marriage Story
  • Timothee Chalamet as Laurie in Little Women
  • Baykali Ganambarr as Billy in The Nightingale
  • Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino in The Irishman

This was a tough category, but I gave the nod to Hanks because he’s not so much doing a Mr. Rogers impression as much as he’s trying to channel what made Rogers such an indelible figure. It’s not just a matter of speaking slowly and wearing fake eyebrows. The scenes where you can witness the performance aren’t a case of “most acting” but rather when Hanks is suppressing the reaction. Watch the scenes where Vogel needles Rogers and Rogers gets mad. You can see he wants the comeback. You can see the temper boiling up. And the Hanks sets it aside. You can see him practicing kindness, and that’s what the entire movie is about.

Best Supporting Actress

Image via Netflix

Laura Dern as Nora Fanshaw in Marriage Story

Runners Up:

  • Kaitlyn Dever as Amy in Booksmart 
  • Jennifer Lopez as Ramona in Hustlers
  • Florence Pugh as Amy March in Little Women
  • Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed in Dolemite Is My Name

Laura Dern has been one of our best actresses for decades, but in the past few years she’s really been hitting it out of the park. Last year was the devastating The Tale, and then she switches gears as the scathing, sharp-tongued divorce lawyer Nora Fanshaw. She’d make this list for her Mary monologue alone, but when you look at the full performance and how she interacts with different characters you can see the platonic ideal of a divorce lawyer and why that’s both inspiring and terrifying.

Best Director

Image via Neon

Bong Joon-ho for Parasite

Runners Up:

  • Greta Gerwig for Little Women
  • Sam Mendes for 1917
  • Lorene Scafaria for Hustlers
  • Martin Scorsese for The Irishman

What a year for Bong Joon-ho. After being an arthouse favorite for over a decade, he made his masterpiece with Parasite. All of his gifts are on display with the film that doesn’t need to the biggest or most audacious to show his utter mastery. Parasite is a high-wire act of conflicting tones, and Bong handles them perfectly, never letting the film tip too far so that it becomes a shocking concoction of comedy and pathos. Parasite is one of the best films of the decade, and that’s in due largely to Bong showing why he’s one of the best directors working today.

Best Villain

Image via IFC Films

Hawkins in The Nightingale

Runners Up:

  • Capitalism, Parasite
  • Financial Instruments, The Landromat
  • Roger Ailes, Bombshell
  • Sensei, The Art of Self-Defense

Sam Claflin is so recognizably terrifying in The Nightingale that I fear I’ll never be able to like him in another role ever again. In Jennifer Kent’s latest film, he is the personification of white male nationalism and the destruction it wreaks. There’s nothing good about Hawkins, but he is disturbingly human in how he feels entitled to a promotion and will take whatever he wants in order to get it. What makes Sam Claflin’s performance so smart is that he doesn’t try to add anything seductive to it. He doesn’t try to win you to Hawkins side like he’s the hero of his own story. He acts entirely in his own self-interest with no need for sympathy because he knows the world belongs to men like him. It’s chilling.

A Very Good Year

Florence Pugh in Midsommar, Little Women, and Fighting with My Family

Runners Up

  • Adam Driver in Marriage Story, The Report, The Dead Don’t Die, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker 
  • Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Toy Story 4, and Always Be My Maybe

I’ve been on the Florence Pugh bandwagon since Lady Macbeth, and I’m glad 2019 showed everyone what she’s made of. She’s poised to have an exciting 2020 with her role in Black Widow, but her work in 2019 showed her range and why she’s an actress you can’t ignore. I don’t even like Midsommar, but I was blown away by her devastating performance in that movie. She did the impossible by making Amy March likable and relatable in Little Women. And even in light film like Fighting with My Family, she elevates the entire picture. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Pugh.

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