On the Eve of Oscars, 23 of 2023’s Great Performances That No One is Talking About (and should be)

Flying under the awards radar, each of these actors delivered indelible screen portraits in a year brimming with exciting turns.

6 mins read

Every year there is too much awards-based emphasis on a mere handful of the “best” movie performances, but here are 23 of the very best 2023 lead and supporting turns you may not have seen, and which were every bit as deserving of awards consideration as the current Oscar nominees, regardless of whether their films were high profile enough, had significant enough studio publicity and campaign efforts or were seen by audiences and voters. All are available on streaming platforms.

Dar Salim – GUY RITCHIE’S THE COVENANT, as an Afghan interpreter for a U.S. Green Beret, left behind to face the Taliban after the U.S. military exit; husband, father and friend on the run in a richly conceived performance of survival and friendship.

Andrew Scott/Claire Foy/Paul Mescal – ALL OF US STRANGERS, as son and mother reuniting in life and death to explore primal, unresolved issues of family, identity and coming to terms while he explores a tentative relationship with a lonely, troubled Paul Mescal; the year’s three most moving portraits.

Teo Yoo/John Magaro – PAST LIVES, as the lifelong and loyal Korean friend and sensitive Amerian husband linked by In-yun, the Korean term for fate, and the woman between them, memorably played by Greta Lee.

Nicolas Cage – DREAM SCENARIO, using every tool in his kit as the milquetoast college professor of no distinction who becomes an immediate viral sensation, shooting to the top and then bottom, in a wild, and poignant, satire.

Willem Dafoe – INSIDE, as the high-end art thief trapped in a Manhattan penthouse whose means of survival is to commune with art, and the creation of it, in a remarkably sustained one-man show.

Gael Garcia Bernal – CASSANDRO, as the groundbreaking, real-life gay Mexican lucha libre wrestler who transformed the notion of the “exotico,” to become an unlikely icon in the ring, haunted by unresolved personal and familial dynamics.

Benoit Magimel – PACIFICTION, REVOIR PARIS, THE TASTE OF THINGS, the busiest French movie star today as a French high commissioner on Tahiti concerned about growing signs of nuclear testing, and colonialism; the survivor of a terrorist attack grappling with the aftermath; and a 19th century famed gourmet at the intersection of food and love.

Franz Ragowski – PASSAGES, as an egocentric, narcissist film director who wants to devour it all — an impatiently devoted boyfriend and unsuspecting new girlfriend — and ends up destroying everyone, including himself.

Alden Ehrenreich – FAIR PLAY, as a Manhattan hedge fund analyst secretly engaged to his colleague (Phoebe Dynevor); when she receives “his” promotion, his bruised ego and the power dynamics explode at the office and at home; the year’s most incendiary performance.

Dominic Sessa – THE HOLDOVERS, as the anarchic, troubled young prep school student sequestered over Christmas with his comically embittered professor; he should be winning Best Supporting Actor this year.

Rhys Ifhans – NYAD, as the indefatigable boat captain en route from Havana to Key West, in fine company with Jodie Foster and Annette Bening’s Diana Nyad, memorably finding his own currents and emotions.

Jessica Chastain/Jessica Harper – MEMORY, as a closed-off, deeply wounded adult survivor of abuse and the in-denial mother who will ultimately be confronted; daughter Chastain withholds then opens floods of emotion; Harper digs into her vapid, viperously matriarch.

Leonie Benesch – THE TEACHER’S LOUNGE, as the progressive, well-liked junior high school teacher caught up in an escalating situation of theft and ruin; she runs the gauntlet of cancel culture in a picture about lives torn apart by suspicion.

Tilda Swinton – THE KILLER, as a contract killer bargaining for her life in a scene of cool calculation and precision as the end of her road unexpectedly arrives over dinner in a tony, upscale restaurant.

Anne Hathaway/Marin Ireland – EILEEN, as an unlikely femme fatale and unsuspecting victim caught up in a diabolical plot circa 1960s small-town Massachusetts. Both superb.

Jane Fonda – BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER, as the successful, lifelong single bachelorette inching her way, tentatively, to the altar in a performance of the regal personified, emotionally on target in the film’s final scenes with co-star Don Johnson.

Penelope Cruz – FERRARI, as the long-suffering Laura Ferrari, wife of Enzo Ferrari, who co-built the company and her marriage but was shocked to discover her husband’s long-time secret girlfriend and “other” son; Cruz was volcanic and all-powerful.

1 Comment

  1. Some good shout-outs here. I might have given Marin Ireland her own listing as she was also great in “Birth/Rebirth,” memorable in the otherwise forgettable “The Boogeyman,” and also had a nice turn on television on “Justified: City Primeval.” 2023 was a damn good year for her.

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