The best film performances of 2022

This dispatch: The five best female lead performers on film last year

By Omar Moore
January 17, 2023

FILM

CATE BLANCHETT—as Lydia Tar, in TAR

What Cate Blanchett does in Tar is go deeper than she’s ever gone in her work on the big screen. I’m not Ms. Blanchett’s biggest fan in any way but admire and respect her stands on issues. Her body of fine film work speaks volumes, and much of it has been arresting and memorable. Some of her work has felt a tad gimmicky (“I’m Not There”, “Coffee And Cigarettes”) but the depth of Blanchett’s acting on the big screen first became clear to me in “Blue Jasmine”, a hugely indelible and resonant performance in the title role. “Tar” however, represents much deeper excavation. Simply superb, dexterous work here by Ms. Blanchett as the mercurial, multi-faceted and enigmatic Lydia Tar. The best film performance of 2022.

VIOLA DAVIS — as Nanisca, in THE WOMAN KING

Viola Davis has been excellent on the big screen for so long that you take her for granted. There hasn’t been a role on screen she has performed that fails to reveals a sincere conviction, intellect and profuse commitment to character, complexity and, as Ms. Davis herself often says, “messiness”. Nanisca is a warrior general of the Agojie in the African kingdom of Dahomey and the actor gives her heft, scope and a reservoir of passion and pain. What Ms. Davis does at all times on screen is lead with presence and command — and in “The Woman King” an aura and air of confidence, unbreakable spirit and principle. Utterly compelling and magnetic, Ms. Davis invests her character in a rousing certitude. Her work here is textured acting that gives Nanisca balance and vulnerability. Nanisca has fears, unresolved questions and above all rigorous endeavor. What Ms. Davis does is towering work and in her very capable hands General Nanisca is a tour de force.

DANIELLE DEADWYLER — as Mamie Till Mobley, in TILL

Internal visceral intuition. Intuition is felt, not usually verbalized, but Danielle Deadwyler conveys the unspoken in every gesture, expression and movement and does so quietly. Cinematically each moment of revelation in Ms. Deadwyler’s terrific performance is an affirmation and magnification. Ms. Deadwyler looks into the future while she is present in the continuous moment of dread, expectation and love her character expresses and exhibits for Emmett Till (Jalyn Hall). As Mamie Till Mobley, the actor taps so adeptly and deftly into a range of expression, action and silence. This outstanding acting turn by Ms. Deadwyler is grounded in thought, percolation and the expression of silence, which on its own speaks volumes, to a volcanic extent. The harnessing of Mamie’s growth, adaptation and advocacy — and how Ms. Deadwyler turns her character’s silences and fears into action — are brilliant and astounding.

AUBREY PLAZA — as Emily, in EMILY THE CRIMINAL

A coolness, danger, allure and mystery underlie much of what Aubrey Plaza brings to her big screen characters. Ms. Plaza’s visage suggests that more percolates beneath it — mischief, empathy, malevolence or something even more volatile — or vulnerable. Ms. Plaza displays these characteristics as Emily in “Emily The Criminal” in a fluid, situational way, showing no breaks or large arcs in her performance. Ms. Plaza is carefully self-contained and even keeled throughout, never changing her language or general disposition even as Emily’s stakes and circumstances change, sometimes quite drastically. Emily makes choices on the fly, thinking on her feet, daring to leap even as she’s raring to go to places she’s never been, Ms. Plaza holds the steering wheel of restraint so sublimely that her work in “Emily The Criminal” demands an immediate second viewing.

MICHELLE WILLIAMS — as Mitzi, in THE FABELMANS

Assuredness to navigate through pain while remaining focused on what she needs to actualize her life. This is Mitzi Fabelman, as embodied so thoroughly and richly by Michelle Williams. Ms. Williams plays a character who fights her loyalties in life with what her desires are and the actor gives a delicate balance to Mitzi’s precarious position. I enjoyed the transparency of what Ms. Williams did with Mitzi as she gave elasticity to a type of character usually trapped both in screenplays and U.S. films in general. What the actor brings here is a zeal, discovery, idealism, naivety and an anguish bordering on tragedy, fueling each with maximum precision, respect and openness. Watching Ms. Williams bring Mitzi to life you see a character who is daring, riveting and proudly defiant. I embraced Mitzi, who dares to live authentically during the repressive 1950s, and beyond.

IN PHOTO: The five lead actors who stood out on film in 2022 (in order)

Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tar in TAR, directed by Todd Field. (Photo: Focus)
Danielle Deadwyler as Mamie Till Mobley in TILL, directed by Chinonye Chukwu. (Photo: Orion/MGM)
Viola Davis as General Nanisca in THE WOMAN KING, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. (Photo: Sony)
Woman with expression of mild surprise, in close-up.
Aubrey Plaza as Emily in EMILY THE CRIMINAL, directed by John Patton Ford. (Photo: Vertical/Roadside Attractions)
Smiling woman with blonde hair and bowl/pixie-like hair style in close-up
Michelle Williams as Mitzi in THE FABELMANS, directed by Steven Spielberg. (Photo: Universal/Amblin)

Previous story: The Ten Best Films Of 2022

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