The 10 Best Movie Performances of 2021

From Ruth Negga's soulful, searing performance in 'Passing' to Daniel Craig's Bond farewell

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Oscar Isaac

The Card Counter



As a poker whiz with one of the finest, silliest pseudonyms ever conceived, William Tell, Oscar Isaac is the visible soul of Paul Schrader’s searching drama about guilt and redemption. William is haunted by anguish over his past: a former soldier, he inflicted torture at Abu Ghraib.

Now he’s adrift, and the desolate ocean in his eyes tells us how lost he really is. Isaac is the matinee idol we barely deserve in our short-attention-span world, an era when we rarely give ourselves time to read a face.

In The Card Counter, he makes having a conscience sexy.

Aunjanue Ellis

King Richard



Ellis has been giving terrific performances for decades now, both in dramas (like Ray) and in comedies (like Undercover Brother).

She shines once again here, worthy of any crown.

Kathryn Hunter

The Tragedy of Macbeth



When is just one witch better than three? When they’re all played by the same actress. Born in New York but raised in England, Kathryn Hunter—a RADA-trained actor and a member of the experimental theatre troupe Complicité—may not be a performer whose name you know.

But Hunter’s turn playing all three witches in Joel Coen’s shivery The Tragedy of Macbeth is a marvel of physicality, so gorgeous and spooky and visceral it will haunt your dreams.

Will Smith

King Richard



Will Smith has often been terrific even in mediocre movies, but in King Richard—as Richard Williams, the father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams—he steps up to a level of complexity and subtlety he’s never reached before.

Olivia Colman

The Lost Daughter



In this adaptation of an Elena Ferrante novel, Olivia Colman plays a woman who’s traveling solo through middle age, an academic who has treated herself to a working holiday in Greece—she’s the kind of figure you assume to be childless and free.

As it turns out, she’s the mother of two daughters...

Benedict Cumberbatch

The Power of the Dog



Benedict Cumberbatch’s surly rancher Phil Burbank is a character who sticks with you.

His eyes hold you hostage with their appraising squint; his intelligence cuts like a scythe.

Don’t get too close: this is a guy who can castrate a bull with a flick of the wrist.

Daniel Craig

No Time to Die



Daniel Craig’s farewell to the franchise is a work of ornery grace, and a reminder that nothing lasts forever.

We didn’t know how good we had it.

Penelope Cruz

Parallel Mothers



Penelope Cruz is one of Spanish maestro Pedro Almodóvar’s signature actresses, and her performance here is a slow-burning marvel, shifting from fragility to fortitude in the merest breath.

Always a terrific actress, Cruz has never been better than she is here.

Ruth Negga

Passing



In Rebecca Hall’s gorgeous and perceptive adaptation of Nella Larsen’s classic novel, Negga plays Clare, a Black woman passing for white in 1920s New York.

With her blond bob and wide-awake eyes, Clare has the winsomeness of a jazz-age cutie. But the burden she carries deep in heart

Anders Danielsen Lie

The Worst Person in the World



As comic-book artist Aksel in Joaquim Trier’s bittersweet romantic comedy, Anders Danielsen Lie has one of the most piercing monologues heard in any recent film—resonant especially for those who hold books and other physical media dear to their hearts.

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