TOP 10: Acting Performances in 2023 Films

December 17, 2023

BY Kevin Dillon

We hope you enjoy our Best of 2023: Films episode. To go along with it, I put together a Top 10 list of my favorite film performances from 2023. Note that these picks aren’t ranked, they’re simply listed in alphabetical order by last name. These are just some of the standout performances that made me laugh, cry, and just generally knocked it out of the park in 2023.

10. Lily Gladstone as Molly Burkhart in Killers of the Flower Moon 

Lily Gladstone continues a streak of quiet brilliance in Flower Moon. I first saw her, as did Martin Scorsese, in Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women. Gladstone brings a simmering rage as she fights to keep her people safe. What makes this performance incredibly special is the balance of love and care she brings, along with a stare that says more than any two words uttered by a performer this past year.

9. Ryan Gosling as Ken in Barbie 

Gosling excels in comedic roles, and Barbie’s writing, along with his timing and wit and flare for light physical comedy, made Gosling a true standout this year. Gosling brings his natural charm infused with the male pain of Ken to make you fall in love with him and this character in a way that brings balance to Barbie. All of this and some killer dance moves and Nic Cage vibes in the Mojo Dojo Casa House — sign me up! 

8. Rachel McAdams as Barbara Simon in Are you there God? It’s Me Margaret 

It was just fate that put these two next to one another. Rachel McAdams is absolutely one of the most dependable working actresses today, and her role in Margaret gave us an engaging and loving portrayal of motherhood. Adapting iconic literature into film is a hard task, but this film gets it all right, including how to build a loving family and balance the support needed to grow as a person. One of the key success points is the performance from McAdams, who balances her effortless acting qualities with tremendous empathy. Her scene with her daughter, where she shares why her parents do not speak to them, is so poignant. 

7. Charles Melton as Joe Yoo in May December 

Charles Melton gives one of the major breakout film performances of the year. Melton plays Joe Yoo, who engaged in an underage sexual relationship with the considerably older Grace; now many years later they are married with kids. As you watch Joe engage with other adults, his own children, and Grace, you get to see the way in which Joe struggles to engage in fully being himself, wrestles with his adult identity, and is hindered by his pain. Melton brings such a formidable energy to this performance and is a true star. 

6. Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer

Cillian Murphy is incredible in Oppenheimer. Murphy is known for his roles as the Scarecrow in Batman Begins, or in Red Eye, where he brings heightened emotions to his performances. Murphy leverages some of these tools here, but ultimately grounds his work in subtlety, letting the world around him swell as his terrifying invention takes hold of him. Oppenheimer is successful because Cillian Murphy is able to carry these three hours on his back and create an engaging film experience that centers on how to re-invent and bring life to a bio-pic (take notes, kids).

5. Franz Rogowski as Tomas Frelburg in Passages 

To use the term “chaotic bisexual” would, in a way, be accurate, but would simplify Rogowski’s Tomas far too much. In Passages, we meet Tomas, a director who is in a long-term relationship with Martin (Ben Whishaw). He then meets a student while working on one of his films and falls in love with her. Throughout the film, Rogowski brings a tense and selfish energy reminiscent of iconic 1970s lead performances. Rogowski sells every moment, believing or not believing in what he wants, and this performance — and the film in general — explores sexuality and relationships in such an interesting way. 

4. Andrew Scott as Adam in All of Us Strangers 

Adam is also in the arts, a writer/director living in an isolated high rise in London, working in his next film. Scott takes Adam to new places by exploring his vulnerability with another tenant from his building, along with his attempts to navigate understanding and love from his parents, who are no longer with him. Scott builds out a performance centered around navigating loss and acceptance, while pushing to love himself. Scott provides one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking performances of the year.

3. Emma Stone as Bella Baxter in Poor Things 

One of the most iconic film characters of the year, Bella Baxter lands entirely on the shoulders of the exquisite and bananas work from Emma Stone. Stone is bold, brave, hilarious, and incredibly fun in this role. Watching Stone take Bella from young-minded and childlike to exploring her own self-actualization without the interference of men, and living a life free of systems and control, is a revelation. Stone delivers some of the funniest lines of the year and it’s exciting to see her continue to do amazing work.

2. Teyana Taylor as Inez de la Paz in A Thousand and One

I have known Taylor from her music career — she’s a true presence who has built some impressive performances in her music videos. In this film, Taylor commands attention as the other breakout star of the year, in my opinion. In A Thousand and One, you get to see her break down the artifice and highlight some of the most vulnerable moments of motherhood. Inez stole Terry (her son in the film), and watching her raise him, form love him with him as a child, and build this incredible relationship is so beautiful. This performance is a knockout.

1. Koji Yakusho as Hirayama in Perfect Days

Koji is a legend, a true icon of Japanese cinema, and this feels like a magnum opus of all of his skills. Hirayama is a toilet cleaner in Japan, and you get to follow him on the daily mundane activities of his work and life, which also include eating at his favorite restaurants, shopping for cassette tapes, etc. But as everyday factors, including other humans, start to divert him, you get to get see the power of the solo experience, and the ways in which you also need people to engage with to make meaning out of life, or at least to find a balance. Yakusho’s performance broke my heart, and left me sitting in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center a true wreck.

Did we forget your favorite film performance of 2023? Drop it in the comments?

Looking for more Top 10 Lists? Check out our archive by clicking here.

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