Over the last few days I’ve been reflecting on the best acting performances of 2019. It’s day four and it’s time to look at the final category. We wrap things up by looking at Lead Actor. This group may not be as ripe with stellar performances as the past couple of years but it was still tough to narrow it down to only five performances. Here are my picks for the best the year had to offer.
#5 – Mads Mikkelsen (“Arctic”)
It’s sad but I don’t know of anyone who is talking about “Arctic” or more specifically Mads Mikkelsen’s rugged, stoic performance. Mikkelsen is sublime, able to carry the weight of the film on his shoulders through both his intense physical commitment and deep emotional resonance. “Arctic” is a survival film in the fullest sense and Mikkelsen sells every moment with a steely yet measured realism. Simply put, he’s great.
#4 – August Diehl (“A Hidden Life”)
Not just any performer can do well in a Terrence Malick movie. It takes a special talent to move with the filmmaker’s unique visual and storytelling rhythms. This is especially true for “A Hidden Life” and August Diehl is the perfect fit. Quiet, expressive, and deftly in sync with Malick’s meditative beats, Diehl’s ability to visualize inner turmoil, heartfelt conviction, and loving concern is astonishing. It’s one of the best performances of the year that too few people have seen.
#3 – Brad Pitt (“Ad Astra”)
A key part of Brad Pitt’s fabulous 2019 was “Ad Astra”, a quiet and contemplative slice of science-fiction. His portrayal of a highly decorated yet tortured astronaut is some of the best work of his career. It’s a subdued and understated performance, internalized yet so effective that nearly every feeling can be understood through his pained eyes. Pitt is a proven big Hollywood star who probably has a ton of projects to choose from. I love seeing him make choices like this.
#2 – Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”)
I don’t know if any actor has watched his star skyrocket quite like Adam Driver. In Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” he is in top form playing one-half of a New York City couple navigating the bruising, messy travails of divorce. Driver has done a little bit of everything throughout his career and he brings all of it to this role: tenderness, humor, naïveté, sorrow, pain, fury. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, he’s also a really good singer!
#1 – Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”)
No performance in 2019 mesmerized me and got under my skin quite like Joaquin Phoenix did in “Joker”. Phoenix is no stranger to losing himself in a role both physically and emotionally, but his transformation into the deeply disturbed and frighteningly sinister Arthur Fleck is unlike anything he has done before. Taking on such a well known character is a challenge, but Phoenix digs into it and makes it his own. It’s easily my favorite performance of 2019.
And that wraps up my look back at the 2019 movie year. What do you think of my choices for Lead Actor? Let me know in the comments section below.