2019 saw some great Hollywood films and with the year coming to a close, it is now time for us to evaluate everything we saw at the movies. Performances like those of Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) and Robert De Niro (The Irishman) were obvious front runners even before the movies came out and they lived up to all the hype. Adam Driver (Marriage Story) and Christian Bale (Ford v Ferrari) also managed to shine with their understated yet powerful performances.
Here are the best performances by male actors in 2019:
(The list is in chronological order of film releases)
Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton in this Quentin Tarantino film. Rick is a failing actor who is wonderfully supported by his stunt double and friend Cliff, played by Brad Pitt. DiCaprio plays his character like an insecure actor who constantly requires validation, and it is this vulnerability that makes him instantly likeable. The climax of the film has DiCaprio pulling off surprises, which has Tarantino written all over them.
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
One of the finest performances by Joaquin Phoenix, the film has the actor playing the arch-nemesis of Batman. Phoenix transforms from Arthur Fleck to Joker quite menacingly in the origin story. From the bones sticking out of his body, to the dance that he performs on the steps, Phoenix convinces the audience that Arthur is a troubled man. The performance could earn him an Oscar this year.
Robert De Niro – The Irishman
The Martin Scorsese mob drama had Robert De Niro playing the role of Frank Sheeran. De Niro’s acting chops need no superlatives as we have already seen him deliver many masterful performances before and here too, he does the same. The actor transforms from a trucker to a mob boss so efficiently that you are left in awe. His two worlds – work and family – collide often and it’s in these moments that De Niro draws you into his world.
Adam Driver – Marriage Story
Adam Driver plays Charlie in Noah Baumbach’s widely appreciated film Marriage Story. Charlie is fighting to keep his son’s custody while he is losing his wife Nicole in divorce. Adam plays Charlie as a loving father and a successful director, but the scenes where his vulnerability comes across are heartbreaking. The scenes where he lashes out at Nicole or the one where he puts up a brave face after accidentally cutting himself have Adam at his best.
Christian Bale – Ford v Ferrari
This James Mangold directorial has Christian Bale playing legendary race car driver Ken Miles. Bale is known to immerse himself in his characters, and though this role wasn’t as demanding as Vice or American Psycho, the actor delivered an arresting performance.
Matthew Rhys and Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Here, Matthew Rhys plays a jaded journalist who has been assigned to write a puff piece on Mr Rogers, played by Tom Hanks. While Rhys plays the protagonist here, it is Hanks’ character who acts as the catalyst in his journey. Rhys’ performance as a traumatised son and a scared father makes you pray for his mental peace as he digs deeper into his childhood memories.
Hanks as Mr Rogers appears too good to be true, and just like Rhys, your cynical side takes over when you watch him in the beginning. However, as the film goes on, Hanks’ humility and kindness take over, and you are left with a warm feeling.
Jonathan Pryce – The Two Popes
Even though he shares the screen with Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes, Jonathan Pryce gives a performance that is worthy of an Oscar nod. The film is based on Anthony McCarten’s 2017 play The Pope which recounts the events of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation and the subsequent appointment of Pope Francis.
Adam Sandler – Uncut Gems
After appearing in many films that are hard to tell apart, Adam Sandler has pulled off a strangely good performance in Uncut Gems. The film by Safdie Brothers has Sandler playing a gambler who places one risky bet after another. He is the antagonist of his story arc, and it’s this duality that makes you root for him.
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