With roughly 25 days before the list of 92 films are reduced down to 15, we right now feel that the following films will be shortlisted on December 21. But Beautiful Beings (Iceland), Return to Seoul (Cambodia), Boy From Heaven (Sweden), Girl Picture (Finland) and Mars One (Brazil) are definitely in contention as well, amongst others.
This week we're taking a look at our favourite performances of the year and there are always just so many to choose from. We've narrowed it down to twenty performances (one per film), and the following ten just missed our best of the best:
Karam Taher - Farha (Jordan) Vita Smachelyuk - Victim (Slovakia) Anahi Hoenesien - Lo Invisible (Ecuador) Oksana Cherkashyna - Klondike (Ukraine) Pierfrancesco Favino - Nostalgia (Italy) Ana Dumitrascu - Immaculate (Romania) Linnea Leino - Girl Picture (Finland) Ali Junejo - Joyland (Pakistan) Chieko Baisho - Plan 75 (Japan) Tawfeek Barhom - Boy From Heaven (Sweden)
10. BIRGIR DAGUR BJARKASON - BEAUTIFUL BEINGS (ICELAND)
It's incredible that Beautiful Beings is the acting debut for Birgir Dagur Bjarkason. Set in a violent neighbourhood, Birgir's character, Addi, is a part of a "gang" where trouble seems to be a part of their daily lives. He has the tough task of taking care of his best friends while at the same time trying to navigate through life the best way he knows how.
Birgir commands every scene that he's in with his charisma and personality. He has a tough role to play being soft-hearted on the inside yet having to be tough on the outside as he fights for survival. Addi isn't inherently thuggish but he's trained in karate and he's always capable of helping out his friends if they ever get in trouble. Added on top if this, there is incredible amounts of tenderness being shown that breaks through the veneer of toughness.
Bjarkason has been able to convey such a subtle, beautiful, likeable character set in a world that isn't beautiful. And his performance is one that'll remain ingrained in your head once it's all over.
9. PARK JI-MIN - RETURN TO SEOUL (CAMBODIA)
Another acting debut is Park Ji-Min in the incredible film Return To Seoul. Playing the character of a French-Korean woman, named Freddie, Park Ji-Min brilliantly portrays a child who is struggling with her identity. Her biological parents left her at an adoption agency when she was a baby, and now as a young women, Freddie makes an impromptu trip to Seoul in search for them.
Freddie isn't the most likeable character but that's what makes the performance so compelling. She's not trying to be likeable, just herself. She's impulsive. She's uncontrollable. She's extroverted and loud. She creates chaos because that's who she is as a person. She's an ice-cold individual who's stuck in a constant state of searching and adapting. She's reacting to the trauma placed upon her by her estranged parents. She's not Asian enough to be accepted in Korea. And she's not white enough for the French.
Park Ji-Min's performance will leave a lasting impression on the viewers once the film is all over. It's without question one of the best performances of the year and we can't wait to see what she does next.
8. KRISTOFFER JONES - WAR SAILOR (NORWAY)
Kristoffer Jones is best known for his roles in The Wave and The Revenant, but in his latest film, War Sailor, we think it's his best performance ever and perhaps he's even the best Norwegian actor working right now. Playing the character of Alfred, a sailor before, during and after World War II, the performance is an extremely physical one as the toll on war and the years of fighting to stay alive makes a number on his mental and physical state.
Alfred is a father and a husband. He's also become a sailor right in the middle of war, along with his best friend, played brilliantly by Pal Sverre Hagen. Trying to become a soldier when it's the last thing he wants to do is shown in every expression on his face. His desperation to return home when he's unable to is shown throughout his heartbreaking performance. And the physical torture is shown throughout his decomposing body.
The final moments of the film as Alfred reflects on his past life, and as he remembers everything that he had to endure to be alive, it'll leave you feeling mesmerized by Jones' killer performance.
7. TANG WEI - DECISION TO LEAVE (SOUTH KOREA)
Ever since we saw Tang Wei in Lust, Caution we knew that she would have an impressive career. And playing a complicated character as Song Seo-Rae in Decision to Leave, she's fully able to showcase her brilliant talent. As a young wife suspected of killing her husband, and as a woman who begins to feel an attraction towards the detective who's investigating the murder, Song Seo-Rae is one of the most interesting characters of the year.
It's incredible to watch Tang Wei portray Song Seo-Rae. She brings a powerful, confident yet vulnerable, seductive and detached performance that hooks you in from the opening shot to the devastatingly yet perfect ending. Her facial expressions as she cloyingly flirts with her detective. Her smirks when she's happy. Her sadness when she feels that she can't control the outcome of her life.
Tang Wei is a tour de force. Her performance is tragic. It leaves you with a feeling of being shattered. And the film wouldn't have succeeded without Tang Wei's performance as one of the greatest femme fatales ever seen on film.
6. THEKLA REUTEN - NARCOSIS (NETHERLANDS)
Thekla Reuten has had a career lasting over 20 years already and she's established herself as one of Europe's leading actresses. Already winning awards for her performance in Narcosis, Thekla plays a grieving wife and mother, Merel, after the sudden passing of her husband.
Playing the tricky role as a woman who's grieving while trying to maintain her composure is no easy task. She brings an intensity to Merel that not only embodies her character's own sorrow but reflects her feelings about the grief she's absorbing from her kids. This results in a compelling and nuanced performance. The entire cast is top notch, especially her children in the film Lola van Zoggel and Sepp Ritsema, which elevates this already spectacular film. They all draw inspiration from one another to create such perfect portrayals of a family trying to keep themselves together.
The farewell scene with "self acceptance" in a phone booth is nothing short of extraordinary and it's the emotional ending that hit us the hardest. We're super excited to see what Reuten will do next.
5. SALEH BAKRI - THE BLUE CAFTAN (MOROCCO)
Saleh Bakri is one of the most in demand actors today. After his debut in The Band's Visit, he's recently been in some of the best films, including Costa Brava, Lebanon, The Present, Amira, and now in The Blue Caftan. As a husband, Halim, taking care of his sick wife, Mina, and as a man struggling with his own self-acceptance as a gay man, his performance is simply one of the most heartbreaking, touching moments of the year.
As Mina's husband, Bakri is responsible for most of the intimacy we experience within the film. His is the role with the most tenderness, and it seeps its way through the rest of the film in a remarkable way. The unconditional love between Mina and Halim is moving. Every word and every glance carries the weight of years worth of love, resentment and dreams deferred. Captured gorgeously on film, his performance is gentle and restrained in a way that makes it so raw and human. The many, many gazes are some of the most powerful moments of the year. Halim has a sense of longing and sadness and desire.
It's a beautifully quiet, tender, and heart-wrenching story about a queer's man's love for his craft, his love for others, and his eventual love for himself and his own happiness.
4. EDEN DAMBRINE - CLOSE (BELGIUM)
What an acting debut for Eden Dambrine! After meeting director Lukas Dhont on a train as a 14 year old, and now being cast as the lead role in Close it has allowed himself to be the discovery of the year, giving one of the most astonishing performances by any young actor we've ever seen. As a young boy, Leo, and his best friend Remi, played brilliantly by Gustav De Waele, are about to start school, their friendship is put to the test when their classmates begin to question their relationship.
Eden delivers a sensitive central performance that threads between innocent abandon and restraint. His vulnerability and magnetism shown on every single unspoken tic in his weary face is just perfection. Dambrine is mesmerizing with his deep looks, his silences, his bursts of emotions with every appearance he makes on screen. It's a performance of rare talent. As he tries to figure out how to handle one of the most tragic moments unimaginable, his performance is based on emotions rather than words, making it that much harder of a performance to execute.
Eden Dambrine is one of the top performances of the year, portraying layers and levels of grief and confusion rarely seen on screen. We're beyond excited to see what he'll do next.
3. FELIX KAMMERER - ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (GERMANY)
Felix Kammerer gives one of the most physical, demanding performances of the year. And it's truly remarkable that this is one of his first movies that he's ever been in. Playing a naive German teenager, Paul, who wants to go to war to become a hero, not knowing what he's about to experience is only the beginning of this incredible performance which will leave the viewer speechless by the time it's all over.
Felix is able to convey so many emotions all in one film. The way that he goes from emanating innocence, pride, joy and excitement to going to war, and then drastically change to emanating fear, doubt, bitterness, joylessness and nervousness is beyond incredible. And then at the end complete numbness. It is absolutely devastating to focus on Paul as he goes from a wide-eyed smiling teen to a stone cold, robotic killing machine. His humanity though manages to shine through even in his most primal war moments.
Felix shows the loss of innocence of all youth who unnecessarily go to war to fight for something that shouldn't be happening in the first place. Kammerer is terrifyingly good, disturbingly good, and so honest and heartfelt. He made the film a masterpiece.
2. ZAR AMIR-EBRAHIMI - HOLY SPIDER (DENMARK)
Already the winner of best actress at the Cannes Film Festival, Zar Amir-Ebrahimi gives one hell of a performance in Holy Spider. Born in Tehran, Iran, the actress/producer is one of the most exciting newcomers to be coming into the scene. Playing a reporter investigating the gruesome murders of several street workers, Amir-Ebrahimi's character, Rahimi, gets embroiled right in the middle of the case, fighting for her survival.
Zar Amir-Ebrahimi is a woman pushed to her limit by her society. As the film is made from the point-of-view of her character, Rahimi is a determined woman trying to get to the truth by any means necessary. She is hindered every step of the way by men looking down on her, either with sexual harassment, and physical intimidation. Amir-Ebrahimi infuses the character with a white hot simmering rage that is barely contained. She is beautiful and headstrong as a journalist, balancing the tricky space of being brave and having to be a bit reckless with vulnerability.
Zar Amir-Ebrahimi tears through the screen with her drive and conviction. And it's a performance that we can't stop thinking about months after watching the film.
1. VICKY KRIEPS - CORSAGE (AUSTRIA)
Vicky Krieps has become one of the most in demand actresses right now. She's been producing amazing performances since her debut back in 2008, but audiences finally began to notice her after the film Phantom Thread. Since then she's become unstoppable. Her latest role is playing the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who just turned 40 and is now officially deemed an old woman.
Vicky Krieps is a total powerhouse with her performance, filled with so much nuance and delicacy. She's restless and rebellious. She's emotional and irresponsible. And she's trapped. Elisabeth wants to the take the initiative and do more things in her role, but she constantly gets shut down. Her true potential is never explored. Vicky is trapped in her useless role. She's equally subtle and powerful, as she goes through the flurry of emotions of a complicated woman. She just wants to be seen for who she is a woman. Krieps is funny and heartbreaking. She controls the screen with every gesture, the pain in her eyes as the society around her slowly destroys her piece by piece.
Vicky Krieps is riveting as the depressed, vain and often callous but always human Elisabeth. And it's a performance that we'll remember for a long time. For us, it's the performance of the year.