The Best Movie and TV Performances of 2023

December 29, 2023

As a former teaching colleague was very fond of saying: “You can’t make a pie out of sh*t”.  He was wrong and right. You can technically make all manner of things – up to and including pies – out of sh*t, but in the end, put any amount of sh*t in a pie and what […]

The post The Best Movie and TV Performances of 2023 appeared first on Den of Geek.

As a former teaching colleague was very fond of saying: “You can’t make a pie out of sh*t”. 

He was wrong and right. You can technically make all manner of things – up to and including pies – out of sh*t, but in the end, put any amount of sh*t in a pie and what you’ll end up with is a sh*t pie. Ingredients matter, is the point. Just ask Gordon Ramsay, or Minny Jackson from The Help

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The ingredients in the below movies and TV shows are the opposite of shit. They’re grade A, top drawer, high quality constituent parts… I really wish I hadn’t started this ‘shit’ thing. Does anybody else feel a bit queasy. And off pies? 

Any road, we salute the actors below for being particularly excellent at their jobs this year, in some similarly excellent films and shows. Top work, fellas. Keep it up. Share your own favorite 2023 screen performances with us below.  

Kingsley Ben-Adir in Barbie (Warner Bros.)

Something that gets talked about a lot when it comes to assessing an acting performance is “interiority.” Regardless of how many lines a character has on a page, they must still have a rich inner life known only to the actor portraying them and subtly communicated to the audience perceiving them. But what about a character who has seemingly no inner-life whatsoever? Isn’t that just as big a challenge? Well Kingsley Ben-Adir makes it look effortless in Barbie

All of the various Kens in Greta Gerwig’s blockbuster are vapid to varying degrees. Ben-Adir’s Ken isn’t just vapid, however … he’s nothing. There are no lights sprinkling in this doll’s eyes. Not a single thought rattling around that plastic head. And it’s absolutely captivating to watch. Even in a film filled with stupendous acting talent left and right, Ben-Adir somehow steals every scene just by bumbling around in the background, usually holding far too many things. As evidenced by his largely great work as the villain in the largely bad Secret Invasion, Ben-Adir  was perfectly capable of expressing immense interiority in 2023. That just makes his bumbling Ken all the more impressive. 

See also: Casey Affleck in Oppenheimer, James Cromwell in Succession, Ke Huy Quan in Loki, Chloe Bennett in Dave, Wanda Sykes in The Other Two – Alec Bojalad

Con O’Neill in Our Flag Means Death (HBO)

Warning for UK fans: Minor season two spoilers in clip above (but no spoilers below).

Izzy Hands – Blackbeard’s foul-mouthed, mirthless and long-suffering right-hand man in Our Flag Means Death – wouldn’t exist without Con O’Neill. His audition happened before many of the scripts were even written, and he was so perfect for the role that the show’s creator David Jenkins kept rewatching the audition tape “to get back to Izzy’s center”. Sure enough, O’Neill’s performance as Izzy across both seasons leaves not one iota in the vault, giving so much it feels like he donates a part of himself to the role. He moves so far beyond the character’s original darkness, developing a disarming vulnerability that transforms his no-nonsense style into a brutal at-any-costs honesty that is captivating to watch.

He’s funny too – deliciously, sexily funny – so from one moment to the next you aren’t sure if you’ll be laughing at his scornful frustration or reeling from a new, unexpected rawness of emotion. O’Neill is also a huge asset to a show as proudly queer as Our Flag Means Death – he’s got plenty of experience portraying complex, deeply lovable LGBTQ+ characters like Cliff in Cucumber and Val in Uncle – and even though sexuality isn’t necessarily central to Izzy’s role, he sprinkles the same magic here. It’s a superb, enduring performance – the kind that sends new fans rushing to explore the rest of Con O’Neill’s work, and they won’t be disappointed.

See also: Timothy Spall in The Sixth Commandment, Mathew Macfadyen in Stonehouse, Catherine Tate in Doctor Who, David Tennant in Litvinenko, Ruibo Qian in Our Flag Means Death, Gary Oldman in Slow Horses, Ncuti Gatwa in Sex Education – Laura Vickers-Green

Ryunosuke Kamiki in Godzilla Minus One (Toho Studios)

Godzilla films are a dime a dozen. A Godzilla TV series is currently airing on Apple TV+, and another movie is approaching in spring 2024. But with each new instalment, the same gripe is often heard: “Why do the human characters suck!?” Despite an array of talented performers, such as Matthew Broderick, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Hiroki Hasegawa, or Millie Bobby Brown, the homo sapien lead characters of the acclaimed kaiju flicks always manage to underwhelm. However, all of that changed with 2023’s Godzilla Minus One, a motion picture where the humans were equally as compelling as a skyscraper-sized lizard that can shoot nuclear explosions out of its mouth. 

Enter: Kōichi Shikishima, expertly acted by Ryunosuke Kamiki. Kōichi is a kamikaze pilot who, afraid of death, deserted his mission during the waning moments of World War II. Landed on the remote Odo island, preparing for the war to cease, Kōichi and a small garrison of troops are attacked by a dinosaur-like entity the locals call Godzilla. After narrowly surviving the encounter but failing to fight back, Kōichi returns home to Tokyo, plagued by his guilt. Kamiki portrays the minute details of a broken man perfectly. From the subtle horrors behind his eyes to the large outbursts of decreasing patriotism, Kamiki manages to effortlessly capture the essence of post-traumatic stress as the ghosts of war and Godzilla haunt Kōichi. Only a performance this captivating can fully engross the viewer in a grounded human story in a film dominated by a titanic monster stomping across the screen. Ryunosuke Kamiki persists in doing the unthinkable, outshining Godzilla in his movie, cementing himself as the catalyst behind Minus One

See also: Madeleine Yuna Voyles in The Creator, Glenn Howerton in Blackberry, Charles Melton in May December, Sandra Hüller in Anatomy of a Fall, Jon Hamm in Fargo Season 5. – Lee Parham

Donnie Yen in John Wick Chapter 4 (Lionsgate)

Nobody in the year of our Lord 2023 should be surprised that Donnie Yen rules. The martial arts star has been making movies in his native Hong Kong since 1984, and he’s appeared in high profile American films such as Mulan, Rogue One, and Blade II. Likewise, the John Wick franchise has made a point of bringing in martial arts and action ringers, such as Mark Dacascos, Cecep Arif Rahman, and Yayan Ruhian in Chapter 3. In his first few moments in John Wick: Chapter 4, Yen seems to just serve an elder statesman role as Caine, the blind former assassin worried about his daughter. 

Yen continues to let viewers dismiss him even late into the first act, in which Caine slurps down noodles while a battle breaks out in the Osaka Continental. Still munching on his noodles, Caine stumbles into the battle, blithely firing his gun at nothing in particular, But as soon as an assailant fires an arrow at him, Cain slides to the side with uncanny skill. From that moment on, Yen gives a full body performance, evoking laughs as he bobbles around the room and evoking awes when he executes a blinding kick. In a movie stuffed with great performances – including those of Reeves, Scott Adkins, and Shamier Anderson – Yen lights up the screen every time. 

See also: Ryan Gosling in Barbie, Dave Bautista in Knock at the Cabin, Paulina Alexis in Reservation Dogs, Celia Rose Gooding in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Chloë Grace Moretz in Nimona. – Joe George

Rachel Weisz in Dead Ringers (Prime Video)

It’s kind of an actor’s dream to be playing twin gynecologists with opposite personalities in an adaptation of a story originally tackled by David Cronenberg and loosely based on a real case… But it’s no mean feat to deliver on that with such panache. So while Rachel Weisz might not be a very surprising choice for performance(s) of the year, not enough people watched Dead Ringers and so I fear her sterling work might be overlooked. Though the characters of Elliot and Beverly Mantle wear their hair differently, to help the audience out with recognising which is which at any given moment, it’s honestly not necessary, since Weisz imbues each with a very different energy. Elliot is fizzing, sharp, ambitious and funny, while Beverly is gentle, nurturing and maternal. The sisters love each other but will ultimately destroy one another. 

This is way more than a gimmick. Differentiating the Mantles is the least of Weisz’s load, charting the descent into drug abuse of one and the struggles with fertility of the other, their array of clients and the excruciating family meal in the standout episode (episode eight – directed by Karyn Kusama). Though the show’s ending might stretch credulity, the show as a whole is well worth watching if for Weisz’s incredible central turn alone. – Rosie Fletcher

See also: Sandra Hüller in Anatomy of a Fall and also Milo Machado Graner (the kid) in Anatomy of a Fall, Lawrence Rickard in Ghosts, 

Christina Chong in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Paramount+)

Choosing only one performance that has stayed with me throughout the year, even just within Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, is challenging. The entire cast is so good at bringing these characters and this world to life that it’s hard to choose a favorite among them. However, one season two episode in particular I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since I first watched – and that episode wouldn’t have had that impact on me without Christina Chong’s performance as security officer La’an Noonien-Singh. 

spoilers ahead

The episode “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” follows La’an as she’s transported first to an alternate reality where Earth is destroyed and James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley) is the captain of the Enterprise and then to Toronto in the 2020s. Stuck in the past with the alternate version of Kirk and tasked with preventing a tragedy that changes the future, La’an’s more rigid personality clashes with Kirk’s easygoing nature at first. But as they get to know each other, and she finally learns how to let people in, we get to see a softer side of La’an.

After losing this alternate version of Kirk in the past, La’an struggles with whether or not she should follow her heart and get to know the Kirk from her reality. The musical episode “Subspace Rhapsody” builds off of this character arc and we get to see the usually tough and stoic La’an sing about her feelings in an emotional ballad. There’s never been any doubt that La’an is tough and capable, nor that she cares deeply for her friends and crewmates, but now we get to see La’an learn how to take care of herself and go after what she wants out of life. 

Capturing this duality and showing how far La’an has come in healing from her past trauma with the Gorn is no easy feat, and yet Christina Chong makes it look effortless. The subtle changes in her demeanor after her trip to the past betray La’an’s attempt to continue hiding her emotions behind her work and skills as a fighter. She steals glances at Kirk when he comes aboard the Enterprise, tries to act aloof when they meet for the first time, and appears slightly jealous at how quickly Kirk befriends Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding). It’s clear that Chong understands the depths of this character, even beyond what we’ve seen on screen thus far, and that’s why her performance as La’an is ultimately my favorite of the year.

See also: Walker Scobell in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Brie Larson in Lessons in Chemistry, Tim Downie, Samantha Béart, and Neil Newbon in Baldur’s Gate 3, Bella Ramsey and Keivonn Woodard in The Last of Us, Rebecca Ferguson in Silo, Willa Fitzgerald in The Fall of the House of Usher – Brynna Arens

Ella Lily Hyland in Fifteen Love (Prime Video)

Pro tennis drama Fifteen-Love has its bumpy moments, but Ella Lily Hyland’s performance in it is flawless. Hyland punches through the screen in the role of Justine – a promising young player who accuses her older male coach of historical sexual abuse. Next to Poldark’s Aidan Turner as coach Glenn, Hyland is luminous. Tricky, unpredictable and crackling with electricity, she creates a wholly convincing and compellingly watchable character.

It’s a tough role handled extremely well. Before the truth is finally revealed in flashback, Fifteen-Love dances between the possibilities that Justine is lying or telling the truth, and Hyland sells the ambiguity with ease. Her character isn’t particularly likeable, but she’s fascinating to try to figure out, both as the cocky 16-year-old Justine and the caustic early-20s version. With gutsy commitment and undeniable screen presence, your only question at the end of the series is: what next for her?

Big things is the answer. In 2024, Hyland will star in A Thousand Blows – the new Disney+ series from the writer of Peaky Blinders, and new Netflix thriller Black Doves alongside Keira Knightley and Sarah Lancashire. From there? Upwards, surely. If Bafta’s EE Rising Star Award doesn’t recognise her next year, then they haven’t been paying attention.

See also: Siobhan Finneran as Claire Cartwright in Happy Valley series three, Vinette Robinson in Boiling Point. – Louisa Mellor

Mark Ruffalo in Poor Things (Searchlight Pictures)

There are many good reasons to praise Emma Stone’s performance in Poor Things. It is a magnificent creation. Yet as wondrous as it is, it would be a mistake to ignore many of the other macabre monstrosities stitched together in that Yorgos Lanthimos joint, and Mark Ruffalo is chief among its hideously beautiful creatures. All extravagant vanities and postured airs, Ruffalo’s Duncan Wedderburn would be a caricature if he didn’t seem so consistently pleased with himself. At first.

Indeed, the pleasure of the performance is witnessing how Stone’s Bella Baxter drives this puffed shirt to unkempt ruin, inviting a mania that turns him into a peacock who has pulled out all his feathers. It’s a decadent, mad performance. It is also so refreshing to see Ruffalo abandon the “nice nerd” paces he’s been walking circles around for a decade in the MCU. A bit like another of the year’s great performances, Robert Downey Jr. in Oppenheimer, it is a delight to see Ruffalo stretch his acting muscles and go the full cad.

See also: Emma Stone in Poor Things, Robert Downey Jr. in Oppenheimer, Jeffrey Wright in American Fiction, Sandra Hüller in Anatomy of a Fall, Nicolas Cage in Dream Scenario, Lily Gladstone in Killers of the Flower Moon, Robert De Niro in Killers of the Flower Moon, Ryan Gosling in Barbie, Greta Lee in Past Lives, Karen Gillan in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and Paul Giamatti in The Holdovers. – David Crow

Billy Crudup in The Morning Show (Apple TV+)

The Morning Show’s third season is nothing if not completely and utterly bonkers. It’s true that  it’s always been far-fetched and soapy, but several times in this series I found myself slack jawed and completely confused at the goings on at UBA network. In the show’s third outing, Jon Hamm joined the show as an Elon Musk-esque tech billionaire, Reese Witherspoon continued to look distressed at every turn as maverick and voice of the people (apparently?) Bradley Jackson, and Jennifer Aniston did more great work as Alex Levy, but the best performance of the series hands down was Billy Crudup as Cory Ellison. 

As the network’s ambitious and cutthroat CEO, Crudup absolutely shines. Cory is not someone who would traditionally be easy to like but somehow Crudup’s performance has you rooting for him. Yes he would trample over you and anyone else who got in his way to stay at the top, and yes he’s a touch nefarious, but up against this series’ villains is he really the good guy? The performance is made all the more enjoyable because Crudup looks like he’s having a really excellent time in every scene. The Morning Show may be ridiculous these days but as long as Crudup/Cory is driving the UBA ship, sign me up for as many seasons as Apple wants to make.

See also: America Ferrera in Barbie, John Magaro in Past Lives, Jason Clarke in Oppenheimer, Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One, Zack Fox in Abbott Elementary, Young Mazino in Beef, Jeff Hiller in Somebody Somewhere, Da’Vine Joy Randolph (the only good thing) in The IdolElizabeth Donoghue

The post The Best Movie and TV Performances of 2023 appeared first on Den of Geek.

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