Best Actors of 2017: Top 15 Standout Performances in Feature Films

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Best Actors of 2017

I spent a considerable amount of time attempting to nail down which actor delivered the best performance in 2017, vacillating between two stunning performances. Two actors stood apart from the pack, and ultimately I went with the performance that solidified a veteran actor’s status as a chameleon capable of completely transforming into any character.

1. Gary Oldman crawled into the skin of Sir Winston Churchill and brought The British Bulldog back to life on the screen in Darkest Hour. It’s a stunning performance and one that exemplifies Gary Oldman’s ability to disappear into any character in any genre or time period.

2. Call Me By Your Name‘s Timothée Chalamet delivered an incredible breakthrough performance that was both heart-wrenching and life-affirming. Chalamet, who had supporting roles in 2017’s Hostiles and Lady Bird, completely inhabited the role of a young man experiencing his first love. It’s a beautiful, textured performance, and all the attention Chalamet’s receiving is well deserved.

3. The remaining 13 actors who made my annual “Best Actors” list were each worthy of the #3 spot behind Oldman and Chalamet. If you consider the multiple personalities James McAvoy had to play in Split as individual characters, he could have filled out a Top 15 list all on his own. Unfortunately, McAvoy’s not earning the awards attention he should, most likely due to Split‘s early release and its genre.


4. Jeremy Renner delivered one of the most controlled performances of his career in the character-driven thriller, Wind River. It’s not a flashy film, or a flashy performance, and it’s easy to overlook the complexity of the story and the layers Renner brings to his character.

5. James Franco not only starred in but also directed The Disaster Artist based on the true behind-the-scenes story of the filming of The Room. The Room‘s considered one of the worst films ever made and Franco manages to refrain from making its writer/director Tommy Wiseau into a two-dimensional caricature, a trap he could have easily fallen into. Plus, the bizarre accent and rhythm of speech he adopts as Wiseau must have been incredibly difficult to maintain throughout filming and yet he never slips out of it for a single scene.

6. Andy Serkis is the master of performance capture work. No one does it better than Serkis, and his final film of the Planet of the Apes trilogy – War for the Planet of the Apes – is his best work to date. It’s such an honest, heartbreaking performance that it makes you forget he’s playing a talking ape.

7. Robert Pattinson has left all remnants of sparkling vampire Edward Cullen behind, moving on to roles that challenge him to stretch his acting muscles. Pattinson’s lead role in Good Time takes his acting to a completely new level. It’s such an outstanding performance that even if you don’t enjoy the film (which I didn’t), he makes you stick with it to the bitter end.

8. Charlie Hunnam has been keeping busy since the end of Sons of Anarchy, and The Lost City of Z marks his best choice in feature film roles since hanging up his SAMCRO jacket. The Lost City of Z is based on the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett, and Hunnam does a terrific job of capturing Fawcett’s passion for and obsession with the Amazon.

9. Talk about taking the audience for a wild ride… Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya leads the incredible cast of one of 2017’s best films. Kaluuya does an outstanding job of allowing us inside his character’s head as he realizes he’s fallen into a trap from which escape seems unlikely.

10. Hostiles hasn’t received the attention you’d expect for a Western starring Christian Bale and directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Black Mass, and Out of the Furnace). Reviews have been mixed, but even those who don’t admire Cooper’s vision agree Bale’s performance is awards-worthy. Bale can always be counted on to fully immerse himself in a role, and that definitely holds true for his performance in this dark and disturbing Western.

11. It’s not often the lead in a comic book-inspired film is singled out for attention. Christian Bale earned rave reviews for his take on Batman, but for the most part performances in superhero films are pretty much ignored. However, it’s impossible to overlook Chris Hemsworth‘s entertaining, joyous performance in his third solo Thor film, Thor: Ragnarok. Hemsworth and director Taika Waititi served up an incredibly entertaining, fun, forget-your-problems film just when the world needed it most.

12. Unfortunately for movie fans, Daniel Day-Lewis has confirmed Phantom Thread will be his final theatrical film before he retires from acting. The twisted drama reunites the actor/director team of Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson from There Will Be Blood, the 2007 critically acclaimed movie that was nominated for eight Oscars and won two. There Will Be Blood is a superior film, but Day-Lewis’ captivating performance in Phantom Thread is more textured and nuanced.

13. Bill Skarsgard is terrifying as Pennywise the Clown in It, based on Stephen King’s bestselling novel. Skarsgard had massive clown shoes to fill taking on the role that Tim Curry owned in the 1990 TV mini-series, and Skarsgard managed to make the character his own. His Pennywise is absolutely terrifying yet a different creature than Curry’s clown. Also, kudos to Bill Skarsgard for scarring a new generation of moviegoers who will have nightmares over this contorted, kid-eating clown for years.

14. Dunkirk was a true ensemble piece, with filmmaker Christopher Nolan assembling an amazing group of veteran actors and newcomers to tell the harrowing, heroic true story of the rescue of Allied troops. Fionn Whitehead has very few feature film acting credits under his belt, and yet he not only held his own but excelled among a cast that included Sir Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Mark Rylance.

15. I’m surprised Stronger and its leads – Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany – aren’t receiving more awards attention. The inspirational film’s based on the true story of Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman, and Jake Gyllenhaal does an outstanding job of showing Bauman as a decent man thrust into an extraordinary situation. The film currently sits at 93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with nearly all the positive reviews applauding Gyllenhaal’s stellar performance as a working class guy whose life and legs were shattered in the blink of an eye.

Gyllenhaal’s one of the most talented actors of his generation and has managed to never repeat himself or phone it in. (Even in bad films he’s 100% committed.) 2017 was a strong year for lead roles for men, which is the only reason Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t showing up on more lists recognizing the year’s best actors.

2017’s Top 10 Best Actors:

  1. Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
  2. Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
  3. James McAvoy – Split
  4. Jeremy Renner – Wind River
  5. James Franco – The Disaster Artist
  6. Andy Serkis – War for the Planet of the Apes
  7. Robert Pattinson – Good Time
  8. Charlie Hunnam – The Lost City of Z
  9. Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
  10. Christian Bale – Hostiles
  11. Chris Hemsworth – Thor: Ragnarok
  12. Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
  13. Bill Skarsgard – It
  14. Fionn Whitehead – Dunkirk
  15. Jake Gyllenhaal – Stronger

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