Did you think we DIDN’T have something to say about this year’s performances?
Yeah, yeah, we’re late, but we’re here. Because 2018 brought us so much great work, from stage to screen, that deserves to be shouted out. These are the people who made us laugh, cry, scream, and/or sit up in our seats and take notice. They took risks. They left it all out there. And whether they’re being properly rewarded by the industry or not, we see them.
So take a gander at our list of the performers who made our year, and don’t forget to drop a comment with your own. –Sage
1) Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh – Killing Eve
They may be the 2017-2018 TV season’s most dynamic duo, yet Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh spent just a fraction of their screentime together.
Because Killing Eve is a cat-and-mouse-then-mouse-and-cat kind of game, its tight, witty, shocking first season is all about Oh’s MI5 pencil-pusher and Comer’s childlike assassin becoming fixated on each other from afar. It rocks on the knife’s edge of sex and violence, centered on a tricky, alluring mess of a relationship, all the more effective (and funny!) because each of these ladies is so confident in her interpretation of the kind of offbeat woman that we don’t see on screen often enough. (And when we do, she’s usually a. serving a man’s story or b. the token “weird girl.”)
They’re electric in their own right – Eve, a grown-up gifted student with an attraction to the illicit, and Villanelle, a stunted girl with more style than remorse. And together, they exemplify that obsessive bond that women can form with one another, when you’re not sure whether it’s hate, love, or some combination of the two. And you just have to wait until the moment of truth until you find out whether you want to kiss her or kill her. — Sage
2) Brandon Victor Dixon – Jesus Christ Superstar
No offense to John Legend, but anyone who knows Jesus Christ Superstar knows that it’s not about the titular character at all. Nay, the success of JCS always rests on the strength of its Judas. When the production was first announced, I was rooting for Adam Lambert to take the role, but I was delighted when they went the Broadway Route, casting Hamilton Alum Brandon Victor Dixon in the role.
There was a lot of pressure on Brandon, being the big unknown in the eye of the public next to John Legend and Sara Bareilles. Forgive the quite very obvious pun, but Brandon did not throw away his shot. From the moment he took the stage to sing “Heaven on Their Minds,” clad in black leather and a plunging red tank that showed off his magnificent cleavage, it was obvious that Brandon Victor Dixon did not come to play. With that first howl of “JEEEEEEEEESUSSSSSSSS,” he made it clear that this was going to be his night. From the emotional turmoil of “Blood Money” to his incredibly powerful death scene to gloriously returning to sing the title song in a sequin mesh tank and painted on spangled jeans to ending his curtain call with the Wakanda forever sign, he owned the night. Superstar, indeed. — Kim
3) The Fab Five – Queer Eye
In 2018, where it felt like every morning you woke up to a new tragedy or hate-filled rant from the White House, Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye was a beacon of hope and acceptance; it’s the warm fluffy blanket that the world may not deserve right now, but one that we desperately needed. The quintet of Bobby Berk, Tan France, Jonathan Van Ness, Karamo Brown, and Antoni Porowski were all unknowns (Karamo having the biggest claim to fame as the first out gay black man on reality TV with his stint on The Real World: Philadelphia) but it felt like we had known them our whole lives within the first 5 minutes of the premiere. Talk about lightning in a bottle.
We were captivated by our new Fairy Godfathers as they worked their way through Southern towns, all of them bringing their own special talents to brighten the lives of their subjects. There’s Bobby and his excellent design skills, his contributions to the show often unsung as he works in the background. Doncaster’s second finest export Tan, who teaches the art of the French tuck and gently pushes the men (and occasional woman) out of their fashion comfort zones but never so far that they don’t look like themselves. Karamo, always there with the comforting and soul-searching talk, the therapist we should all be so lucky to have. Antoni, always wearing his heart on his sleeve and the FIRST one who will break down crying, helping people learn not to be disasters in the kitchen. And then there was Jonathan, bulldozing his way into everyone’s hearts teaching the importance of self-care and love manifesting itself in grooming, while breaking all sorts of gender norms in the process.
But the best thing about Queer Eye is seeing how the Fab Five are JUST as affected by their subjects, taking away life lessons of their own. It’s a little funny we put them in performance of the year because THAT’S THE THING with them…their genuine goodness shining through, never feeling like an act. When does season three premiere again? — Kim
4) Billie Piper – Yerma
I’m not sure if I ever hit purchase SO FAST as I did the moment it was announced that Billie Piper would be bringing her Olivier-Award winning performance in Yerma to the Park Avenue Armory for an extremely brief four week run in the spring of 2018. Anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of this blog knows that we worship the ground Billie Piper walks on, so of COURSE we jumped at the chance to see her in person.
We weren’t ready. We thought we were, but we weren’t.
Yerma is the story of a woman who seems to have it all…until she decides to try for a baby. As she struggles with infertility, she descends into madness that ultimately culminates in her taking her own life. Set in a literal aquarium with the audiences on both sides, observing her like a science experiment, Billie turned in quite possibly the most visceral and devastating performance I’ve ever seen. She went from vivacious and exuberant to downright feral in an hour and forty minutes and she did it six times a damn week. (And had it been eligible, she would have run the table with the theatre awards. I’m still mad it wasn’t, honestly.) I think the best way I can describe what it was like to watch her: Jeff Perry, aka our beloved Cyrus Beene from Scandal, himself a trained Steppenwolf actor and a master of the monologue, was sitting five rows in front of us. After the final curtain call, he sat stock still, simply staring at the stage for almost five minutes, the very definition of SHOOK. Same, Jeff. –Kim
5) Olivia Colman – The Favourite
The case could certainly be made for including all the ladies of The Favourite on this list (with honorable mentions for Nicholas Hoult and The Fast Duck), however, when it comes down to it, we are still but loyal subjects of our queen, Olivia Colman.
There’s A LOT going on in this performance. Semi-repressed sexuality, petulance, grief, power-hunger, bad makeup, GOUT. Olivia has fun with all of it – so much fun it’s infectious – without losing the emotional core of who this Queen Anne is, and why she’s suddenly being fought over by two beautiful, younger women. As silly and helpless as so many of the men at court believe she is, Anne still holds all the power. And her love is valuable.
Yes, she yells and screams and wears her leg prosthetics like a champ (not to mention a big wet sponge over her hoo-ha), but Olivia Colman also convinces us that Anne is more savvy than she lets on. The scenes where she allows herself to show Sarah and Abigail that she’s actually ENJOYING this little tug of war are exactly why this strange, sweaty, horny, little period drama is going to stand the test of time. –Sage
6) Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born
Listen, I was ALL IN on A Star is Born from the moment I saw the first trailer. It’s a role that is tailor-made for a music superstar like Lady Gaga to make a transition to the silver screen and quite frankly, it’s one she probably could have phoned in and her fans still would have lost their minds.
Fortunately for the rest of us, she did more than phone it in. And that’s entirely due to Bradley Cooper, both in front of the camera and behind it. (“There can be 100 people in the room and 99 people don’t believe in you…but I had this one.”)
When you are telling a story for the fourth time, you have to bring something new to it, something fresh, something that will make it memorable. A Star is Born hinges all on the chemistry of the two leads and Cooper and Gaga had that in spades. You know the whole time how this story is gonna end and yet it’s still devastating. The movie is fantastic all around but where it comes to LIFE is when Jackson and Ally share the stage together. “Shallow” is instantly iconic, from the way Jackson urges Ally to join him to how Ally covers her eyes to block out the crowd to the moment she finds her confidence, belting out those guttural “AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH”s with gusto. And the way Bradley fucking looks at her in that moment? THAT is why you tell this story. Now, excuse me, I’m going to watch the music video for the millionth time. –Kim
7) Michael B. Jordan – Black Panther
Michael B. Jordan has been a polished pro since he was a baby. (By the way, where’s Wallace??) So it’s about time he got his bad guy card.
As Erik Killmonger, the antagonist of the groundbreaking (and record-breaking) Black Panther, Michael brings all the gravitas that the character deserves, plus the swagger that really makes him sing. (Our theater SCREAMED at “Hi, auntie.” Screamed.) Comic book movies love a long-lost family member for a villain, but his in particular hit home, because he’s from OUR world. Killmonger’s wants are reasonable. It’s his methods that are at odds with our hero’s. But aren’t heroes afforded the ends-justifying-the-means defense more often than not?
Anyway, we were all there for the “Is Killmonger REALLY a villain?” discourse. We’re here today to talk about Michael B. Jordan’s performance, which fully invites you into Erik’s roiling soul, with all his pride, anger, and abandonment issues, while simultaneously raising the game of everyone around him. And he looked damn good while doing it. We were ALL feelin’ it, weren’t we? — Sage
8) Amy Adams – Sharp Objects
Look, it’s just a fact. Amy Adams can do anything. We’ve yet to find her weakness.
I’d been waiting for years for Gillian’s Flynn first novel (and my favorite) to be adapted, and HBO’s miniseries, helmed by Jean-Marc Vallee and starring Amy as troubled journalist Camille Preaker, was worth it.
Camille isn’t Amy Dunne. She’s sure of nothing. She’s not divorced from her emotions, they control her completely. She’s a survivor of abuse, an addict, a cutter. She’s not in any headspace to be investigating a string of murders/kidnappings, and really, how good of a journalist could she be?? The women is a train wreck, but her ace in the hole is that she knows the evils of her hometown and the corners where they hide. What Amy does so beautifully is to portray Camille’s struggle over whether or not she has the courage to LOOK.
It’s jarring at first to see a woman we know as a live-action Disney princess muttering to herself, setting her jaw, and tensing her body, but Amy is one of our generation’s chameleons. Maybe it’s time to stop being surprised by the places she’s willing to go. –Sage
9) Darren Criss – The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
I lived it, kids. Darren Criss’s rise from internet fame to Glee fame to internet boyfriend fame to internet boyfriend BACKLASH, and now, somewhat unexpectedly, to prestigious, award-winning actor status.
I’ll admit it. I misjudged you, Darren. A role like Andrew Cunanan in Ryan Murphy’s latest American Crime Story season is proof what we can’t know what actors are capable of unless someone is willing to test them. And in a weird way, it’s a little poetic that the dreamiest Warbler of them all makes an excellent narcissistic serial killer.
The whole miniseries hangs on Darren’s performance, and it is a chilling one. The actual Versace storyline unfortunately dims in comparison to Andrew’s bloody road trip, which we follow in reverse chronological order. Throughout it, Darren channels the energy of a misfit with delusions of grandeur and a talent for seduction, announcing himself as someone to be taken seriously. Just like his character wanted to be. –Sage
10) Emily Blunt – Mary Poppins Returns
Listen, Emily Blunt had some massive shoes to fill from the very moment that she was cast in Mary Poppins Returns. It HAD to be a daunting prospect stepping into a role made iconic by world treasure Julie Andrews. Most actresses would crumble under that kind of pressure. (See also: Carrie Underwood.)
Most actresses aren’t Emily Blunt though.
When I try and think of another actress who could have done this role any sort of justice, I come up short. That’s how you know a role is a perfect fit. Emily Blunt has the perfect resting bitch face that contrasts with her classic English Rose beauty, the innate sharpness to cut the sweetness, and the twinkle in her eye that tells you she’s already five steps ahead of you. Her Mary is the perfect homage to Julie Andrews, yet entirely her own creation. Never cuddly, but always loving. Always up for an adventure, but also believes in a firm bed time. And always there at the exact time you need her. –Kim
(Also, we didn’t do Honorable Mentions this year, but I have to mention how Emily turned in ANOTHER stellar performance in A Quiet Place. Combined with Mary Poppins, she had a Hugh Jackman Wolverine/Greatest Showman kind of year and I am here for it.)
11) Bill Hader – Barry
I sent this gif to Kim and she just said, “Wow.” Welcome to Barry! Have you heard that Bill Hader is a PIECE?
This show knocked me on my ass in so many ways, from the flawless casting (Henry Winkler as a vain, kindhearted acting teacher! Stephen Root as a paternal career criminal! D’Arcy Carden as a thin-skinned wannabe star!) to the fascinating set-up: A disillusioned assassin-for-hire catches the acting bug and tries to give up the life for his art. It’s laugh-out-loud funny at times, but in Bill’s hands, Barry is also utterly heartbreaking. And it takes a lot of skill and understanding of the human condition to play someone who’s so broken that he’s basically a blank slate, but who still dreams of normalcy, and of connecting with other people again.
It’s the smallest things that make this performance awards-caliber, since Barry, for much of the season, is mostly dead inside. And Bill Hader, a comedian we know for his big characters and dead-on impressions, has that subtlety on lock. — Sage
12) Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
I’m not quite sure why more people aren’t screaming Can You Ever Forgive Me?‘s dynamic duo of Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. In an awards season with showier performances (many of which are on this list, so I guess we’re partly responsible?), Melissa and Richard have reached a bit of “also ran” status, where sure, they will definitely be shortlisted for all the awards and make the final five cut at the Oscars (THEY BETTER), but they’ll be the nominees who really ARE just glad to be there, the ones who have zero chance of winning, so really they can just enjoy their night.
Okay, so maybe it’s not too bad to be them after all.
But in all seriousness, Melissa McCarthy turns in one of the finest performances of her career as Lee Israel, channeling all her rage at the injustices of a patriarchal industry into her work as a forger of celebrity letters, having what she admits is the time of her life pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. One of my favorite things in the world is seeing an actor mainly known for comedy turn in one hell of a dramatic performance, and quite honestly, Can You Ever Forgive Me? was some of the most fun I had at the movies in 2018. Richard E. Grant, Doctor Who‘s erstwhile Great Intelligence oozes charm as Lee’s drinking buddy and literal partner-in-crime Jack Hock. I could have sat and watched them trade barbs for hours. –Kim
13) Louis Tomlinson – The X-Factor
The wait for Louis Tomlinson’s solo album drags on, but 2018 gave us a glorious stop-gap. Louis joined the judges panel of The X-Factor, prompting me to watch the talent show for the very first time in my life. (It is I, your target audience, reporting for pandering.) And not only did he make every other judge, contestant, and viewer fall in love with him, he also WON, with his contestant, Dalton Harris.
It was just so rewarding to look on as The X-Factor‘s huge audience saw the Louis that most of the fandom sees: soft-spoken, supportive, business-minded, HAPPY, extremely cuddly – should I go on? As a mentor, he offered his team his full attention, and even those contestants who didn’t make it to live shows have shared on social media the help and guidance Louis offered them and is offering them still. One of the finalists wouldn’t have even made it back to the show if Louis hadn’t reached out to him privately after he left a previous season and picked up the bill for his substance abuse treatment.
His comments were empathetic and enlightening, which is the main point, plus he got to rib Simon in front of the whole world, get adopted by Ayda Williams, cry and celebrate with his boys, and just generally be lovely in front of an international audience. We were so fed by his parade of pricey athleisure ensembles, cozy jumpers, and meaningful graphic tees, and now we’re stocked up on reaction gifs for however long this break from the spotlight proves to be. (He’s SO EXPRESSIVE.) Most importantly, it was clear how much Louis himself got from the experience, and we’re all in favor of anything that makes the sun shine a little brighter. –Sage
14) Harry Styles – Harry Styles Live on Tour
I don’t really know where to start with this one. I’m just so proud of my child, you guys.
We got a little taste of what Solo Harry Styles was capable of in his 2017 theatre tour. We knew there would be custom Gucci suits, all the rainbow flags, and Harry living his best life jamming out to a funked up version of his favorite 1D song, What Makes You Beautiful. We THOUGHT we knew what was coming when the lights went up in Basel, Switzerland on March 11, 2018. The truth is, we had NO IDEA.
We should have expected it, really. Harry getting THAT MUCH extra. In Basel, he debuted two new tracks that had been left off the Pink Album: the boppy “Anna” and the absolutely FILTHY “Medicine,” which, I don’t know about you guys, but I think it’s about giving head? Let’s pause and talk about how Harry practically mumbled all of the lyrics of “Medicine” through a good portion of the European leg, slowly growing in confidence as the crowd reacted to it. By the time he reached America, he was gleefully singing “I mess around with him,” forever being a tease about how the lyric “I’m gonna dream of how you…” ended (it’s “Tasted” and “Ride it,” fight me), and doing fucking body rolls on his mic stand. It was a sight to behold.
Lest you think our Harry was JUST a hoe the entire tour, let’s talk about how he sang “Sweet Creature” and “If I Could Fly” on their own stage. (The man wants us dead, I swear.) Let’s talk about how Harry interacted with his gay fans in the crowd, always checking in and asking before he could read their signs aloud. Let’s talk about how every night was a pride party, with Harry dancing with not only rainbows, but flags representing every spectrum, in addition to Black Lives Matter Flags. Sage and I both saw HSLOT three times, and truly, I don’t know how we survived the second night at Madison Square Garden, where Harry busted out with a long teased cover of Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One” with his opening act Kasey Musgraves in a fucking rainbow dress. I don’t think I will ever recover from that, honestly. (Shout out to my friend Rachel, who filmed the whole thing so I could just cry and be in my feelings.) I could go on and on (and I already have) about how special the tour was, but really I should just let FreddieIsMyQueen speak for me… –Kim
15) Juno Temple and Julia Garner – Dirty John
Dirty John is about male violence, but it’s the women who it affects who ultimately have control over the narrative. The Bravo miniseries, based on an OUTSTANDING, addictive podcast, tells the story of a divorced, upper middle class woman named Debra (Connie Britton) who meets a man online who seems to be exactly what she’s looking for. The title tips you off at the very beginning that there’s a underbelly here, but this character is so depraved, I promise you won’t see the depths of it coming.
Anyway, Debra has two grown daughters who also become entangled in John’s web of lies, and Julia Garner and Juno Temple steal every scene they’re in. Their Newport Beach blonde locks and vocal fry establish the time and place, but it’s their wariness, determination, bravery, and concern for their mother that reminds us that this awful thing REALLY happened to real people, and that women’s social conditioning is being used against them all the time. To some, they may be unlikely heroes. But Julia and Juno capture the awareness and lack of trust that millennial women have learned to carry with them, which can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. –Sage
16) Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody
We all knew we were in for something special the moment the first production stills of Bohemian Rhapsody emerged showing Rami Malek as a dead ringer for Queen’s frontman, Freddie Mercury. Rami rose above Bohemian Rhapsody‘s troubled production (why are people still hiring Bryan Singer, good god.) to deliver the performance of a lifetime, already netting him a Golden Globe and making him a frontrunner for a Best Actor Oscar.
It must not have been easy channeling Freddie, who was certainly a larger-than-life absolute HURRICANE of a man, but Rami absolutely disappears into the role, capturing all of Freddie’s flamboyance and pure animal magnetism without ever making it feel like he’s doing a mere imitation of him. It is both exhilarating and devastating watching Freddie’s meteoric rise and uncompromising vision, his fall out with his bandmates (his FAMILY) over his solo career, and the band’s triumphant return to Live Aid, in which their entire set is lovingly re-created shot for shot.
While Rhapsody‘s script didn’t delve nearly as deep as it should have into Freddie’s life (and also glossed over a LOT), Rami’s PERFORMANCE never felt shallow, doing his absolute best with the material he was given. It may not be a perfect movie, but he is perfect IN it and that’s what matters. — Kim
17) MJ Rodriguez – Pose
One of Pose‘s biggest strengths is that it’s packed with fresh, breakout talent, many names new to most of us watching. So while the choreography and thrift shop couture are polished, the performances are refreshingly not. The series, about the height of New York City’s ball scene and the people who found family there, feels authentic from the get-go, and no one is giving us more truth than Mj Rodriguez.
Her Blanca is, as cliche as it is to say it, the heart of the show. And there are so many reasons to root for her. She’s a born nurturer, a giver, but she also protects and stands up for herself. She started her house to give HERSELF somewhere to go, but wants success and happiness and love for her children more than she wants her own trophy. She chooses joy over despair, even when it seems impossible to do so. With Mj as the anchor, Pose defines “chosen family” precisely, and I’m so glad they’ll both be back on my TV soon. –Sage
18) Bryan Tyree Henry – Everything
Should we discuss his turn as a gangster-turned-politician in Widows? Or his hardass DEA agent in White Boy Rick? What about his voice work as Miles’s police officer dad in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse? He shows up for dinner in If Beale Street Could Talk in one of the most talked about scenes in the movie. Meanwhile, he’s still starring in his own TV show, which is a modern masterpiece by pretty much every account.
Bryan Tyree Henry is striking while the iron is hot and why shouldn’t he? I’m always glad to see him (or hear him, in the case of Miles’s father); he always brings it, no matter the size of the part. In this season of Atlanta, he continued to deepen our understanding of Alfred through some funny and harrowing solo episodes. And at the movies, he showed out as the character actor he was born to be, at home everywhere, able to work with any material. This man has a huge career still ahead of him, and though I know the leads will be plentiful, there’s a lot to be said for a tremendous actor who just nails those vital supporting roles, and does it without ego. –Sage
19) Constance Wu – Crazy Rich Asians
Anyone involved with or even WATCHING the production of Crazy Rich Asians would tell you that there was a hell of a lot riding on this movie (for Asian representation, for romantic comedies as a genre) and most of that weight rested squarely on Constance Wu’s shoulders. Rachel is our entry point into Nick’s world, and if we don’t sympathize with her, if she doesn’t make us root for her to win, then the movie fails.
The movie did not fail.
What I love about Constance’s performance is that it’s so fucking complex. She’s a fish out of water, she’s a woman fiercely clinging to her independence and identity, yet she is also a woman questioning her identity and her willingness to make herself fit into some sort of pre-determined mold for the man that she loves. It’s a fierce and subtle performance all at the same time, which is for me defined by two scenes. First, is the completely silent conversation she has with Nick at the wedding, where you can see ever thought being exchanged between them JUST with their eyes. (Her tears though.) The second, of course, is her showdown with Michelle Yeoh over a game of Mahjong, with ice flowing through her veins as she deftly both puts Eleanor in her place and also takes full ownership of her upbringing. It’s a masterful moment, and I can’t wait to see what else she has in store for us. –Kim
20) Anne Hathaway – Ocean’s 8
Listen, for a good while we debated putting the entire ensemble of Ocean’s 8 on this list. I don’t think anyone would have argued with us either. But you have to admit, among an ensemble of fantastic women, that Anne Hathaway was the one who waltzed away with this movie.
There is something so deliciously sweet about watching Annie Hathaway, a golden girl turned most irrationally hated woman on the internet after she took home her Oscar, triumphantly return after a two year absence from films, especially when she is brilliantly lampooning the very It girl that made her so hated in the first place. Daphne Kluger comes off at first as a dumb starlet, with her big doe eyes and perfect hair and her incredibly fragile ego, but she is also NOT so dumb as she delivers one of the most glorious F-Bombs of the year when it’s revealed that she’s been part of Debbie Ocean’s plan the whole time. Hathaway’s performance oozes confidence, as she injects what has to be real life experience as a woman who has been through the Hollywood wringer and came out stronger on the other side. I, for one, am delighted to have her back. Let the Hatha-saince (yes, that’s a word now) begin. — Kim
Who were your favorite performers of 2018? Let us know in the comments.