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The 35 greatest performances of 2017


From moving dramas to action extravaganzas, it's been a cracking year for our greatest actors and newcomers alike. We've picked our favourites. (This list encompasses films released between 1st January and 31st December 2017 in the UK.)

James McAvoy

The movie Split

Not just the movie that reasserted M. Night Shyamalan as the master of the twisty thriller, Split also offered a brilliant showcase for Scotland's finest. McAvoy has always been a chamaeleonic actor but he one-ups himself with this eerie and disturbing portrayal of a man suffering from multiple personality disorder.

Sunny Pawar

The movie: Lion

The limelight may have been stolen by A-listers Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman but the beating heart of this engrossing family reunion drama belongs to young Sunny. The relatively inexperienced actor is outstanding as the young boy who becomes separated from his family, setting in motion the later events of a drama that is compelling and moving in equal measure.

Emma Stone

The movie: La La Land

Waltzing away with multiple Academy Awards, Damien Chazelle's triumphant musical-drama resurrected one of Hollywood's longest-standing genres. In addition to its vibrant, showstopping set pieces, the movie finds a human focus in star-crossed central couple Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. The former's desire to stay true to herself while pursuing her dreams leads down some genuinely poignant avenues.

Trevante Rhodes

The movie: Moonlight

Barry Jenkins' hypnotic drama traces three stages in the life of a young black man in 1990s Florida, a ravishing, emotional portrait that poses deep questions about our own personalities and identities. Central character Chiron is played as a kid by Alex R. Hibbert, as a teen by Ashton Sanders and, most impressively, as an adult by Trevante Rhodes, who brilliantly embodies a tormented soul haunted by the demons of his past.

Janelle Monae

The movie: Hidden Figures

The remarkable true story of three black female NASA engineers becomes a rousing, call-to-arms drama in the hands of director Ted Melfi. With a central ensemble played in rousing fashion by Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae, it's a crowd-pleaser for our times. The standout is Monae as 'human computer' Mary Jackson, whose journey towards empowerment and independence has us punching the air.

Isabelle Huppert

The movie: Elle

Basic Instinct director Paul Verhoeven proves he's lost none of his ability to shock or provoke with this icy rape revenge thriller, one garlanded with a majesterial performance from Isabelle Huppert as a woman who refuses to play victim in the wake of a vicious assault. Instead, she vows to track down the attacker herself without the aid of the police, the actress fashioning a highly complex and captivating character who has the audience veering between sympathy and repulsion.

Hugh Jackman

The movie: Logan

Back in 2000, a then-unknown Hugh Jackman took over from Dougray Scott in the role of X-Men's feral Wolverine. 17 years and umpteen films later, we get to the savage, blood-soaked and deeply powerful curtain call, as the Aussie star bows out of the role with arguably his finest turn as the comic-book legend. Getting beneath the skin of a character wracked by age and regret, yet who also finds redemption where it's least expected, Jackman reminds us of his not inconsiderable skills as an actor.

Allison Williams

The movie: Get Out

Much has been written about Daniel Kaluuya's sensational lead turn in Jordan Peele's terrific satirical horror. (Indeed, we included Kaluuya in our breakout performances of the year list.) But that shouldn't blind us to the plethora of additional treasures Get Out has to offer, not least the deceptively wholesome, apple-pie image of Allison Williams' girlfriend character, Rose. The character embodies the dark heart of the movie: that of outwardly liberal 'normality' concealing deeply malevolent undercurrents.

Annette Bening

The movie: 20th Century Women

Mike Mills' superb drama is akin to looking back through the haze of memory, a thinly veiled autobiographical account of his upbringing in sun-streaked, 1970s Santa Barbara. At the heart of the story is the typically mercurial Annette Bening, fashioning one of the year's most engrossing character performances as a fiercely independent woman struggling to adapt to the role of motherhood and the needs of a changing society.

Garance Marillier

The movie: Raw

This may have slipped under the radar for many of you, but Julia Ducournau's body-ripping coming-of-age cannibal drama is one of the year's grisliest, most entertaining surprises. French rising star Garance Marillier excels as the young vegetarian veterinary student whose exposure to meat during a hazing ritual awakens a seemingly long-dormant craving... Sexy, gory and with a pulsating soundtrack, the movie hinges on Marillier's physical, unsettling performance.

Florence Pugh

The movie: Lady Macbeth

William Oldroyd's adaptation of Nikolai Leskov's novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District moves the story's events from Russia to the wind-blasted climes of northern Britain. Florence Pugh is extraordinary as the woman forced into an unpleasant marriage of convenience, whose relationship with a lusty stable lad leads to shocking retribution. A timely story of equality and gender politics, it's a fine showcase for a rising star who gets beneath the surface of a dark, difficult character.

Julian Barratt

The movie: Mindhorn

Let's not overlook 2017's finest comedy performances. Chief among them is the wickedly funny, self-effacing turn from Mighty Boosh veteran Julian Barratt as faded actor Richard Thorncroft, coasting off past glories as truth-seeing Isle of Man detective Mindhorn. Barratt is a master at conveying deadpan comedy in the most absurd of situations, and there's something quintessentially British about getting us to root for a character so hilariously pathetic and past his prime.

Michael Fassbender

The movie: Alien: Covenant

Ridley Scott's follow-up to Prometheus sharply split opinion, leaving many viewers confused as to whether the movie was pitching itself towards splattery xenomorph horror or grandiose, Byron-invoking philosophical thriller. However, there was no denying the typically electrifying dual performance from Michael Fassbender, who positions himself at both the subtle and hammy ends of the scale, respectively, as droids Walter and the scheming, megalomaniacal David.

Anne Hathaway

The movie: Colossal

One of the year's most overlooked and original films, Nacho Vigalondo's smart inversion of monster movie cliches casts Anne Hathaway as a troubled young woman whose alcoholic and emotional problems manifest in the form of a Seoul-destroying beast. Never asking for easy sympathy, Hathaway is genuinely convincing as a person on the ropes whose chance at redemption materialises in the most surreal, shocking way possible.

Gal Gadot

The movie: Wonder Woman

Opinion was firmly split on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice but everyone agreed that Gal Gadot's Diana Prince was the best thing in it. Even so, with the varying quality of DC Extended Universe movies thus far, we had little reason to expect her solo movie, directed by Patty Jenkins, to be so witty, stylish, warm and compassionate. Filled with a wide-eyed sense of wonder as it traces Diana's journey from Themyscira to the World War I battlefront, Jenkins' movie exhibits a winning generosity of spirit, playing its material for laughs while also celebrating the legacy of its revered central character. And Gadot's utterly infectious performance is its beating heart.

Ansel Elgort

The movie: Baby Driver

How to describe Edgar Wright's typically idiosyncratic latest movie? If you were to call it a throwback car chase thriller that slams headlong into a pop musical, you wouldn't be far off. It all centres on Golden Globe nominee Elgort's brilliant lead performance as the tinnitus-suffering getaway driver who needs to be jacked into his playlist of retro pop hits at all times in order to function effectively – a typically brilliant Wright trope that allows Elgort to indulge in some fiendishly entertaining, finger-snapping choreography. As the baby-faced demon behind the wheel who's underestimated by his hardened criminal cohorts, Elgort gives one of the year's most likeable performances.

Kumail Nanjiani

The movie: The Big Sick

Shamefully overlooked at the Golden Globes, Pakistani-American comic Nanjiani (best known for TV series Silicon Valley) gives one of the year's most endearing, believable and empathetic performances as a man who must choose between his family's traditional culture or his white American girlfriend. That Nanjiani's acting strikes a note of truth is hardly surprising when one considers the script is based on his marriage to co-writer Emily V. Gordon – it truly is one of the most resonant and human rom-coms in a very long time.

Tom Holland

The movie: Spider-Man: Homecoming

It's one thing to make your mark with a scene-stealing cameo in Captain America: Civil War. It's quite something else to shoulder an entire movie by yourself. However British rising star Holland pulls it off with such ease and confidence in Homecoming that it's hard not to view him as the best Spider-Man yet. Pitching his Peter Parker at a more infectiously youthful and naive level than predecessors Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield, his Peter is a kid first and superhero second. This allows the Marvel material to be milked for pathos, laughs and, in the end, nerve-shattering tension as he goes up against Michael Keaton's Vulture.

Andy Serkis

The movie: War for the Planet of the Apes

The rebooted Apes series has taken us on one of the most remarkable character journeys in recent years, due in no small part to Andy Serkis' extraordinary motion-capture performance as intelligent ape Caesar. Conveying the full spectrum of emotions through his eyes, even when rendered unrecognisable in a CGI ape's body, Serkis stuns as the noble simian leader torn between his duty and his more animalistic impulses.

Harry Styles

The movie: Dunkirk

When it was announced that Christopher Nolan's World War II thriller would be stocked with an array of British thesps and also that bloke out of One Direction, more than a few eyebrows shot up. In truth, we never should have doubted Nolan's resolve, or indeed Styles' impressive commitment to both character and the movie's gritty aesthetic. Shorn of his signature locks, the pop star is excellent in a not altogether sympathetic role as a paranoid British soldier beset on all sides by death and chaos, further helping to immerse us in the emotional turmoil of Nolan's overwhelming movie.

John Boyega

The movie: Detroit

He's currently burning up the big screen as Finn in Star Wars: The Last Jedi but 2017 has proven that Boyega has many strings to his bow. For one he's a terrifically good actor in his own right, as demonstrated in Kathryn Bigelow's shattering dramatisation of the 1967 Detroit race riots. Blending fact and fiction, it's a movie informed by anger, despair and ugly truths. Yet Boyega's sensitive, tragic performance as security guard Melvin Dismukes, an innocent man who becomes an accessory to horrific events, is the story's moral centre.

Jack Dylan Grazer

The movie: IT

Andy Muschietti's blockbusting Stephen King adaptation is officially the most successful horror movie of all time at the box office, yet to describe it as such is to underestimate its many strengths. Chiefly, the movie is a coming-of-age story about young kids facing their deepest fears and, as such, the film's success hinges on the casting of its lead actors, as well as that of Bill Skarsgard as malevolent clown Pennywise. All of the young performers are fantastic but Grazer's performance as scaredy-cat hypochondriac turned clown-fighting badass Eddie steals the show, a performance rich in both humour and pathos.

Jennifer Lawrence

The movie: Mother!

Darren Aronofsky's latest is a movie experience like no other this year, throwing subtlety and narrative cohesion to the wind in favour of surreal atmosphere and all manner of Biblical allusion. We could argue until the cows come home about what the movie ultimately means, but Lawrence's quavering central performance is beyond reproach. As a young wife beset on all sides by leering, home-invading strangers and her own sense of inner torment, she gives a masterclass in escalating hysteria.

Ryan Gosling

The movie: Blade Runner 2049

Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi masterpiece is a lot of things, but emotionally accessible perhaps isn't one of them. What a remarkable achievement, then, that Denis Villeneuve's long-awaited follow-up not only honours the engrossing visual aesthetic of Scott's movie (all hail cinematographer Roger Deakins) but also creates a more palpably emotional human core in the narrative. This is down to Gosling's quietly heartbreaking performance as the android on a mission who comes to believe he is the prodigal son. Gosling conveys the collapse of an entire belief system with the subtlest of gestures.

Simon Russell Beale

The movie: The Death of Stalin

Armando Ianucci's coruscating, wickedly funny Stalinist satire features possibly the finest comedy ensemble of the year. Throw a stick and it'll land on an acting legend, from Steve Buscemi and Michael Palin to Jason Isaacs and Paul Whitehouse. Even so it's stage veteran Beale's superb performance as the sadistic, scheming Lavrentiy Beria that embodies the dark heart of the movie: a portrayal of a deeply ruthless invididual whose lust for power and political machinations are so appalling that it tips over into the blackest of black comedy.

Tessa Thompson

The movie: Thor: Ragnarok

Forget the God of Thunder Thor's abs or rampaging green rage monster the Incredible Hulk. Taika Waititi's triumphantly goofy Thor blockbuster offers a plum role to Creed actress Thompson who more than holds her own in a cast filled with razor-sharp comic performers. Gamely sending up her Valkyrie warrior character for laughs in accordance with her director's wishes, Thompson more than proves her comedy chops and, in the process, carves out a memorable Marvel character with whom we'd like to be reunited pronto.

Michael Stuhlbarg

The movie: Call Me By Your Name

Speeches are always a tricky thing in movies – very often it's clear an actor is monologuing their way towards a possible award. But that's not so with Stuhlbarg in Luca Guadagnino's lusty, intoxicating romantic drama, adapted from Andre Aciman's novel. His father figure largely remains in the background of the story, but, with his profoundly wise heart-to-heart to on-screen son Timothee Chalamet in the closing moments, runs away with the movie. It's one of the year's most breathlessly truthful moments, aided and abetted by Stuhlbarg's understated performance.

Michelle Pfeiffer

The movie: Murder on the Orient Express

Much of the attention centred on Kenneth Branagh in this blockbusting Agatha Christie adaptation, the British thesp pulling double duty both behind the camera and in front of it as moustachioed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Even so, the film's best performance is of a far slippier, murkier kind: as the potential murderess harbouring skeletons in the closet, Pfeiffer is by turns antagonist and victim, before finally tearing our heart out during the genuinely moving closing moments as the mystery is solved.

Hugh Grant

The movie: Paddington 2

Grant has always been ambivalent about the so-called craft of acting but there's no denying that when he's on top form, few others possess such razor-sharp comic timing. Indeed, it's easy to underestimate the actor's comic talents, so how delightful to be reminded of them in the utterly magical Paddington sequel, one that gifts Grant with the role of a lifetime as washed-up actor turned master of disguise Phoenix Buchanan. Whether dressing up as a nun to infiltrate St. Paul's cathedral or leading a choreographed song-and-dance routine in prison, Grant is never anything less than a pleasure to watch.

Bria Vinaite

The movie: The Florida Project

One of the year's most remarkable discoveries, Vinaite had never acted before appearing in Sean Baker's captivating drama. Indeed, the director found her on Instagram – not that you'd know it, judging by her assured, faultless performance in Baker's moving film, which explores the lives of a group of motel residents on the outskirts of Florida's Disney World. As the reckless mother who invites both sympathy and revulsion, Vinaite fashions a complex character study of a woman moulded by her tough economic circumstances.

Aubrey Plaza

The movie: Ingrid Goes West

If this wonderfully vicious performance, and indeed movie, passed you by, do yourself a favour and go and check it out. Finding the perfect niche for Plaza's kooky, ever-so-slightly unhinged screen persona (wasted in so many dreadful comedies of late), it's a movie with its finger jammed firmly on the social media button, making us squirm remorselessly with its acute observations of how we live our lives through screens. But it wouldn't mean anything without Plaza: as the disturbed yet sympathetic Ingrid, she's an altogether more human kind of monster.

Jacob Tremblay

The movie: Wonder

Back at the start of 2016, upon watching devastating drama Room we were all wondering: who on earth is that kid? He of course turned out to be the sensational Jacob Tremblay, and the young actor here capitalises on that earlier raw performance with another heart-rending portrayal. He plays Auggie, a kind-hearted boy afflicted by facial deformities who must learn to navigate life at school – just try to resist Tremblay's blend of quivering emotion and wonderful humour as the character. He really is terrific, even putting veterans Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson (who play Auggie's parents) through their paces.

James Franco

The movie: The Disaster Artist

It takes real skill and empathy to craft a sincere, sympathetic portrait of somebody widely considered an outsider and a joke. That's exactly what Franco does with his terrific portrayal of film-maker Tommy Wiseau in this poignant look at the making of the latter's 2003 'disasterpiece', The Room. Nailing Wiseau's physical stance, speech and mannerisms, Franco is also skilled enough to delve beneath the surface, delicately sketching a man with both loving and monstrous sides whose sense of ambition far outweighs his abilities.

Miranda Richardson

The movie: Stronger

Jake Gyllenhaal gets the attention-grabbing role in this harrowing Boston bombing drama, playing real-life survivor Jeff Bauman, who must learn to adapt to artificial legs after losing his own in the blast. Nevertheless, the backbone of the story is Richardson's brassy portrayal of Jeff's tough-talking mother Patty, portrayed here as a loving but somewhat tactless parent who exploits her son's situation for the benefit of a media circus. It adds uncomfortable undercurrents to what could have become a schmaltzy, sanctimonious drama, and Richardson is utterly convincing in the part.

Adam Driver

The movie: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

There's a heck of a lot to take in during the latest Star Wars movie, as writer-director Rian Johnson crams every frame with all manner of incident. In the end we're stumping for the ever-compelling Driver as the villainous Kylo Ren whose palpable sense of inner anguish never fails to electrify every time he steps on screen. Moving away from simply being a proto-Darth Vader, Driver instead fashions a far more complex character whose inner tussle between the dark and light side of the Force is rendered in every gesture. We can't wait to see how Ren develops in Episode IX, due for release in 2019.

Well, that's our list. Now we want to hear your choices for the best performances of 2017. Tweet us your suggestions @Cineworld.