Tears Left to Cry: Jeon Do-yeon in Secret Sunshine
The Cannes-award-winning lead performance in Lee Chang-dong’s masterful melodrama captures both the pain and perverse pleasure of public crying.
Silent Treatment: Kim Min-hee in On the Beach at Night Alone
In her most explicitly autobiographical collaboration with director Hong Sang-soo, the once reviled actress conveys a deep inner life through a series of understated moments.
The Funny Man with the Pardon: Billy Gilbert in His Girl Friday
The famously blustery comedy veteran transforms into a hilariously timid messenger in Howard Hawks’s fast-talking screwball masterpiece.
Too Close for Comfort: Theresa Russell in Bad Timing
A true acting iconoclast, Theresa Russell unleashes a torrent of emotion in this tale of sexual obsession, her first collaboration with the director Nicolas Roeg.
Less Is More: Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria
No one has utilized the actress’s elusive minimalism and artful underplaying to more brilliantly complicated effect than French director Olivier Assayas.
Outlier Looking In: Emmanuelle Devos in A Christmas Tale
Amid the tumultuous family dynamics on display in Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale, Emmanuelle Devos delivers a performance of remarkable subtlety and lyricism.
Beauty and the Beast: Ralph Meeker in Something Wild
Known for playing sexy noir toughs, Ralph Meeker underwent a startling transformation as the anguished, slovenly male lead in Jack Garfein’s psychological drama.
Constant Compass: Uma Das Gupta in Pather Panchali
Writer Durga Chew-Bose explores her personal connection to Uma Das Gupta’s quietly captivating performance as a carefree young girl in the masterful opening installment of The Apu Trilogy.
All-American Medea: Shirley Stoler in The Honeymoon Killers
A tragedian at heart, Shirley Stoler found her Medea in the role of a glowering bandit on the run in Leonard Kastle’s seedy true-crime drama.
Experience Necessary: Deborah Harry in Videodrome
Traveling through the subterranean portals of Videodrome like an introverted wraith, Deborah Harry carries herself with the wry, burned-out, but still titillated instincts of a voyager buying a one-way ticket for the outer limits. A vivid, smallish p…
High Brow: Gloria Grahame in In a Lonely Place
Any paean to noir seductress nonpareil Gloria Grahame—mine included—can’t hope to surpass this encomium from Boyd McDonald, one of her most ardent and articulate devotees. Saluting Grahame’s performance in In a Lonely Place (1950) in his esse…
Michael’s Turn: Michael Jeter in The Fisher King
The late character actor Michael Jeter had a profound effect on me as a child, but as with so many things, I didn’t realize it until I was an adult. Twenty-five years ago this month, I saw my first Tony Awards broadcast. Amid all the spectacle—os…
The Woman in Back: Lily Tomlin in Nashville
Today, the idea that comedian-actor-writer Lily Tomlin possesses dramatic versatility is so received that one might not realize how unexpected it was for audiences to see her in a serious role in Robert Altman’s Nashville in 1975. At that point, sh…
Man with a Plan: William Greaves in Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One
We don’t often talk about documentaries as featuring performances. But consider the highly performative people at the centers of Grey Gardens, General Idi Amin Dada, and last year’s The Act of Killing, or even the seemingly more modest souls …
The Witch Upstairs: Patsy Kelly in Rosemary’s Baby
In Rosemary’s Baby, one of the first exclamations that Minnie Castevet (Ruth Gordon) makes on hearing the news that her young neighbor Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is expecting a little bundle of joy is “I can’t wait to tell Laura-Louise!” Earlier…
In Time: Emmanuelle Riva in Hiroshima mon amour
Hiroshima mon amour (1959) is a groundbreaking portrait of a world come undone. Even more memorably, thanks to the brilliant precision of Emmanuelle Riva’s performance, it’s a study of a woman unraveling. In this first leading role in an astonish…
Pain and Nourishment: Kirin Kiki in Still Walking
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Still Walking is an exquisitely lived-in portrayal of family life. It takes place largely over the course of one day, at the home of the aging Yokoyamas, Toshiko (Kirin Kiki) and Kyohei (Yoshio Harada), as they welcome visiting …