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Hooray for Acting: My Favorite Performances of 2020

As 2020 has moved further and further away, and more movies from that odd year have been stored in my noggin, I feel it’s about time to discuss some of my favorite performances from it. And considering that many of them have garnered awards recognition this season, maybe this list will help you make your picks for who should claim a certain gold statue come late April. Regardless of their Oscar chances, here’s a list of My Favorite Performances of 2020!

Amanda Seyfried – Mank

Though Mank was certainly not my thing (though gosh darn it tried its hardest to be), Amanda Seyfried’s performance as Marion Davies was for sure. Not only did Seyfried breath new life into a forgotten (but incredibly talented) player in the classic Hollywood story, but she added thought provoking layers to someone the world had assumed they had understood. It’s a shame this gem of Seyfried’s career (like many of her greatest performances) might be pushed under the rug this year. But it definitely deserves to be celebrated, even if only by way of a nomination.

Paul Raci – Sound of Metal

Though many will discuss Riz Ahmed’s performance in this film (including yours truly below), I believe there’s something quite special about Raci’s contributions to this frustrating (yet haunting) story. Raci himself grew up as a child of deaf parents, and you can see throughout so much of his performance a genuine connection to the material. He strikes the perfect balance of being a wise Obi-Wan Kenobi-like instructor, while also not hiding his raw emotions when his methods are questioned. And as someone who had a loved one that also went into a similarly needed rehab at one point, Raci captures that fine line of warmth and focus that often gets overblown in roles like this.

Traci Ellis Ross – The High Note

To many viewers, mentioning anything from The High Note might seem like a stretch for a list like this. But Traci Ellis Ross is a gem and always has been one. And in a performances where she is getting to embody the aesthetics and persona of her mother, the great Diana Ross, it was a treat witnessing Traci put so much love into this role. Sure, she deserved more screentime than she was given, but even her briefest moments left a delicious impact thats hard to ignore.

Youn Yuh-jung – Minari

When it comes to cozy yet heart-wrenching performances, none of them can top that of Youn Yuh-jung in Minari. Playing a grandmother in any movie can be a pretty thankless and telegraphed role at times. But Yuh-jung has quite the tightrope act to follow as Soonja – she has to try and charm her way into the heart of a little boy, make sense of a new culture, come to grips with her own health struggles, all the while enjoying the delights of the WWE – it’s a lot. But Yuh-jung walks that balance like a true pro and gladly is gaining the praise (and wins) her performance deserves.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II – Trial of the Chicago 7

Many times during award season, you’ll come across a movie that left you feeling pretty “meh” by the end of it. But sprinkled throughout the less-than-exciting experience are thrilling little nuggets of acting. And that is certainly the case when it comes to Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s performance within Trial of the Chicago 7. Taking on the real life role of Bobby Seale, Yahya provides a calculated and strong performance that stands out from the majority of his fellow cast members – one that sends shivers down your spine in the midst of the film’s most gut-wrenching sequences.

But, like many of those on this list, this excellent performance also just happened to come out the same time as another truly incredible movie (with equally important portrayals) about a similar point in time. Yet Yahya Abdul-Mateen II deserves just as much recognition for his as his fellow contemporaries.

Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

In a year with so many dynamic female performances, it’s incredible to see the outpouring of celebration pushed towards Mulligan’s work in Promising Young Woman. Maybe it’s because I (like Mulligan’s character) am a 30-something who’s been through some “stuff”, but I can see so much of the pain and calculated nature of her character in even just the smallest of gestures. That isn’t to say I didn’t find myself thrilled in the exaggerated elements of her performance, but the brilliance of Mulligan is the tiny details. And though she might not have provided the typical work the Oscar’s like to award, it’s clear that what Mulligan gave was something that was career defining.

Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal

As a kid who grew up within the music scene, it’s hard to not see so many of the people I encountered within Riz Ahmed’s performance. Sound of Metal challenges this already fascinating actor to be as raw as humanly possible, in ways that might be ultimately frustrating to audiences. Yet underneath the layers of anger and humiliation, Ahmed brings an earnest quality to his portrayal of Ruben that speaks so much to the kind of well meaning individuals of this world. Those that, though they face addiction and other hurdles, do whatever possible to achieve a sense of normalcy and control. Even if they do the absolutely wrong and regrettable thing in the process.

PS: I wish in my heart of hearts that Riz’s performance could have been nominated in a different year. Because while I adore the work of the late-Chadwick Boseman, it’s obvious that this year’s Best Actor Oscar will be a celebration of Boseman’s legacy (as it should be.) But that unfortunately means that Ahmed’s performance will not gain the award it so rightfully deserves. And that’s a fact that will never lose its bittersweetness.

There are many more where these came from, but I wanna know – what were your favorite performances of this year? Let me know in the comments below!

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