Dafne Keen – Logan
Dafne Keen was born the year that I graduated from high school. At the young age of twelve (at the time of filming), Keen brought the mutant child X23, Laura, to life and created half of one of the best film duos of 2017 in Logan. The restraint that Keen displays in her performance is mesmerizing. Talented beyond her years, she communicates with her eyes and body language with the poise of an adult. This is out of necessity as Laura does not speak until the third act of the film. Actions like eating a bowl of cereal, sitting atop a mechanical horse ride, and watching a western on TV all give way to startling aspects of her character. She is the source of comedy, terror, and soul-crushing sadness throughout the film, and the viewer grows to love her as the film progresses and concludes. Keen is a primary reason for my love of Logan, and this film will always remain close to my heart because of Laura.
Beanie Feldstein – Lady Bird
There are some actors who have the ability to bring a big smile to your face no matter what they are doing on the screen. In Lady Bird, Beanie Feldstein demonstrated this ability to its full extent. She plays Julie, the best friend of the film’s titular character and every line that she delivers is just purely delightful. Julie and Lady Bird are very similar in many ways. They both are somewhat unpopular at their school, they have similar hobbies and interests, and they both are two lower class girls in a school filled with many upper class students. The interesting part about their dynamic is that Julie serves as a contrasting personality type to Lady Bird. Whereas Lady Bird is overly cynical of her life and where she is stuck in it, Julie tends to be much more optimistic and happy with where she is. Feldstein’s ability to be absolutely the most charming thing on screen at any given moment really drives this contrast home and makes it really work. Feldstein isn’t in a huge amount of the film, but she was a truly vital aspect of what made Lady Bird great.
Lily Collins – To The Bone
Lily Collins was one of the best revelations of the year in To The Bone. Telling the story of a young woman dealing with anorexia, her’s was the performance that moved me to tears more than any others. Collins has a history of anorexia herself so the look she achieved for the film was carefully done in order to avoid a relapse for her (a sign of her dedication to accuracy that isn’t lost on me). That lived-experience, both from her and her director, is felt throughout the film. The performance and the film felt real and genuine. Plus, like another actress on this list, Collins’ character has an equally heartbreaking moment where she calls out to a parent. I literally had tears streaming down my face during that particular scene.
It isn’t all sadness with Collins’ performance though. To The Bone is actually quite funny and she is a huge part of that. Her character has a pretty dark and depressing outlook on life and she wields sarcasm as a weapon throughout, both for comedic and dramatic purposes. Overall, it is a performance that has made me extremely excited to see more from her and also very confused as to why it did not get more awards attention. Like many of the other actors on this list though, Lily Collins is someone that won’t be going away any time soon.
Anne Hathaway – Colossal
I’ll be totally honest: before Colossal, I had seen exactly two Anne Hathaway films. And neither of those performances featured her as a lead. In general, I don’t think of Hathaway when I ponder the best working actresses in the film industry. But Colossal proves, in Kaiju-sized fashion, that I was sorely mistaken for looking past her.
2017 was a fantastic year for complicated female characters. Anne Hathaway began that trend in her portrayal of the disheveled, alcoholic mess, Gloria. Kicked out of her boyfriend’s apartment in NYC, Gloria moves back upstate to her hometown. Watching every single thing that Gloria does throughout the film is simply amazing. At times, we as the viewers laugh; at other points we cringe. I think we all know someone like Gloria and we see them in Hathaway’s performance. The lovable mess that she portrays is heartwarming and sad, but we root for her until the very last seconds of the film. I will absolutely be checking out more films starring Anne Hathaway in the near future.
Brooklynn Prince – The Florida Project
Sean Baker took a big risk when he decided to focus The Florida Project around an extremely young cast of children, but that risk paid off and made the film one of the most endearing and heartfelt films of the year. Of the young cast, Brooklynn Prince, who plays a girl living with her out of work mother in a technicolor hotel in Orlando, was by far the biggest revelation. At only six years old it is amazing how well she carried herself and how vital she was to The Florida Project’s success. I ran the full gamut of emotions while watching her performance. I laughed hysterically at her childhood antics and ramblings. I reminisced about my childhood as I watched her and her friends go on their little adventures. I remembered the confusion of childhood when adults would make decisions that didn’t really make sense. And most importantly, when Prince cried near the end of the film it nearly broke me. It was a truly unique performance, she is a fantastic talent, and I look forward to seeing her take on even more challenging roles in the future.
Florence Pugh – Lady Macbeth
Remember the name Florence Pugh because, in several years, she’ll be everywhere. Watching her performance in Lady Macbeth felt like I was watching Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, Emma Stone in Superbad, or Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina. The role is completely different from any of those roles, but I knew right away that I was watching a star be born.
There’s something to be said for an actor’s ability to command the screen and, as Katherine, Pugh demands your attention and your curiosity from the very beginning. What makes Katherine (And Pugh’s performance) so fascinating is how we are never really sure who she is. We see her as both meek and a force to be reckoned with. We see her as loving, but also extremely cold. The entire film, Pugh is giving us enough of a kernel of who Katherine is without revealing her true identity, so when we get to that final cold, terrifying stare at the end of the film, it is all the more powerful. Who is Katherine? Look into her eyes, if you dare, and you may find out.