NEW YORK – The fallout from the actors strike, now past 100 days, has been widespread throughout the film industry. Movies large and small have postponed. Sound stages remain shuttered. Adjacent industries have been devastated.
Another effect is that some great performances haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. For most movies, actors haven’t been able to promote their work.
As the strike pushes into Hollywood’s awards season, it’s increasingly muting the reception for some of the best performances of the year. With so many out of work due to the strike, no one should cry for muzzled Oscar campaigns. But actors deserve the chance to take a much-deserved bow.
Interim agreements have permitted some of the fall’s standouts – among them Sandra Hüller in “Anatomy of a Fall” and Cailee Spaeny in “Priscilla” – to hit red carpets and bask in standing ovations. And two of the year’s biggest hits – “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” both likely to be Academy Awards heavyweights — debuted as actors walked out.
Hopefully, the strike will end in time for some of the stars of upcoming releases to get the attention they deserve, among them Andrew Scott in “All of Us Strangers,” Aunjanue Ellis in “Origin,” Emma Stone in “Poor Things,” Jeffrey Wright in “American Fiction” and Carey Mulligan in “Maestro.” Negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the studios have continued this week.
But to give the best performances of September and October a little shine, here are some of the standouts you might have missed during the SAG-AFTRA work stoppage, and where to watch them.
Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” boasts some of the best work in years by a pair of longtime Scorsese collaborators in Leonardo DiCaprio (as the easily corrupted Ernest Burkhart) and Robert De Niro (as the venal local power broker William Hale). But this is Lily Gladstone’s movie. As Mollie Kyle, she’s the preternaturally calm and graceful presence amid a churning hive of 1920s criminality. Some could fairly wish the film was more given over to Mollie’s perspective, but Gladstone’s gentle power in “Killers of the Flower Moon” doesn’t need to assert itself. It’s self-evident. (Currently in theaters)
PAUL GIAMATTI, DA’VINE JOY RANDOLPH, DOMINIC SESSA
Choosing just one performance to isolate in Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers” is a fool’s errand. First, there’s Paul Giamatti. In his second film with Payne, following “Sideways,” he plays a curmudgeon instructor at a 1970s boarding school tasked with staying over Christmas break with a handful of students. Sessa, in his first film, is among them. Randolph, the school cook whose son has died in Vietnam, is there, too. Each is stellar in radically different ways but ultimately the same one: They comically and empathetically imbue their characters with humanity. (Playing in theaters)
Jamie Foxx has a ball playing a flamboyant personal injury lawyer who sounds more like he’s preaching from the pulpit than cross-examining a witness in Maggie Betts’ “The Burial.” Foxx’s attorney takes a case out of his comfort zone in defending a mild-mannered Mississippi funeral home owner (Tommy Lee Jones) against a corporate chain buying up local businesses. Foxx and Jones prove a surprisingly well-suited duo in this crowd-pleasing, throwback courtroom drama. (Streaming on Amazon Prime Video)
Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s “Nyad” is first and foremost a showcase for Annette Bening, who gives a tenacious, vanity-free performance as the marathon swimmer Diana Nyad. But so much of what makes “Nyad” a touch more than a conventional sports drama is Jodie Foster’s supporting turn as Bonnie Stoll, Nyad’s close friend and trainer. “Nyad” is often less about its namesake than how the people in Nyad’s life respond to her obsessive drive. Foster, a rare presence on movie screens these days, has seemingly only grown more confident and at ease as an actor. (Now streaming on Netflix)
GAEL GARCÍA BERNAL
“Cassandro,” another sports biopic with a courageous queer protagonist, chronicles the scrappy rise of Mexican American luchador Saúl Armendariz, a.k.a. Cassandro. Bernal (“Amores Perros” and “Y tu mamá también”) pours himself into the inspirational story of the groundbreaking wrestler. It’s among Bernal’s most nimble transformations — not just physically in the ring but in embodying the sheer joy and undaunted spirit of a natural performer. (Streaming on Amazon Prime Video)
You may have noted Eve Hewson, daughter of Bono, in ensembles like Steven Soderbergh’s “The Knick” or in the Irish comedy series “Bad Sisters.” But John Carney’s “Flora and Son,” a charming movie about music and rebirth, gives her center stage. Hewson stars as a working-class single mother in Dublin whose online guitar lessons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the instructor) transforms her life and her relationship with her 14-year-old son (Orén Kinlan). Just as Carney’s “Once” was a breakthrough for Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, Hewson is a revelation in “Flora and Son.” (Streaming on Apple TV+)
Colman Domingo has long been a powerhouse on screen. (Among many other things, he was the menacing pimp of “Zola.”) But George C. Wolfe's “Rustin,” a biopic of the civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, gives Domingo the kind of grand, historical platform that can define an actor. The film is set mainly during the run-up to the 1963 March on Washington, which Rustin was the architect of. Rustin was a complicated figure — a dedicated activist and an openly gay man — yet Domingo's layered, astute performance captures him fully. (Playing in limited theaters Nov. 3, streams Nov. 17 on Netflix)
Even though Garth Davis’ “Foe” is a bit of a dystopian soup, Aaron Pierre proves an arresting, penetrating presence. The film is led by committed performances by Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal, who play a couple living in an old farmhouse in a science-fiction future. But when a mysterious visitor (Pierre) arrives with disquieting news – Junior (Mescal) is to be sent to a space station – he becomes a regular, vaguely malevolent houseguest with unclear motives. Not everything quite works in “Foe” but Pierre is electrically beguiling. (Playing in theaters)
PHOEBE DYNEVOR, ALDEN EHRENREICH
In Chloe Domont's high-finance drama “Fair Play,” Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich start out lovebirds and end up bitter rivals, but the two actors steadfastly remain equally riveting throughout. The film, about two hedge fund analysts in a secret relationship, puts gender roles through a Wall Street meat grinder. For Dynevor, it's a breakthrough. For Ehrenreich, it's a kind of post-"Solo" comeback. (Streaming on Netflix)
No, that’s not a misprint. Marshawn Lynch, the former elite NFL running back known as “Beast Mode,” is tremendous in a small role in Emma Seligman’s raunchy lesbian teen comedy “Bottoms.” Most of the movie belongs to Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri – both chaotically brilliant – who play high-schoolers who start a quasi Fight Club in a convoluted scheme to bring them closer to their crushes. Lynch plays the teacher who sponsors them. It’s not just a funny performance but a poignant one for the footballer. Lynch did it, he’s said, because he had regrets about how he handled his own sister’s coming out in high school. (Playing in theaters, available for digital rental)
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Gael García Bernal's first name