1. Cynthia Nixon- A Quiet Passion- “I’m nobody. Who are you? Are you nobody too?” Emily Dickinson speaks these lines from one of her poems not in voiceover, as is often the case in A Quiet Passion, but to a newborn baby the first time she holds him. Staring directly into the infant’s eyes, Cynthia Nixon’s delivery is a gentle whisper that, like many other moments in Terence Davies’ extraordinary film, caught me off guard. Her performance creates an expansive emotional landscape within Dickinson’s small, increasingly reclusive world. Traditional happiness is nearly always out of reach for the poet, something that Nixon displays on her endlessly crumpling face. It’s an unforgettable blend of quick wit and despair, a performance that is more important to the overall success of a film than any other this year.
2. Timothée Chalamet- Call Me by Your Name- One of the most powerful images in a movie this year was an extended shot of Timothée Chalamet staring into a fire at the end of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. In this scene, his character Elio is replaying his unforgettable summer with Oliver, a graduate assistant who stayed with his family as a sort of understudy with his academic father. The expansive range of emotions that Chalamet displays here are astounding, as is the rest of his performance. He imbues the 17-year-old with a lanky restlessness that comes out when he plays the piano, or stalks the edges of the many different social gatherings at his parents’ luscious Italian home. Chalamet’s physicality, his cautiousness mixed with abrupt bursts of confidence, gives Call Me by Your Name a crucial sense of spontaneity.