Last year was filled with releases from some of the biggest names in cinema. 2021 featured projects from A-List directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Denis Villeneuve, Jane Campion, Ridley Scott, and countless other great filmmakers. These films, among dozens of others, had impressive work from great actors. However, many incredible performances flew under the radar due to how packed the release schedule was during the second half of 2021.
Adam Driver – “Annette”
“Annette” is the first English language feature for French director Leos Carax. His newest work is an experimental and extravagant rock opera where almost every “Annette” is the first English language feature for French director Leos Carax. His newest work is an experimental and extravagant rock opera where almost every line of dialogue is sung to music provided by the duo Sparks. The film is led by the electric Adam Driver, who delivers one of his career’s best and most intense performances. He plays an antagonistic and offensive standup comedian named Henry McHenry, that swings a microphone around while stalking his stage in a green bathrobe. McHenry becomes dangerously unhinged as the film progresses.
Critics hailed Driver’s dedicated performance, but American voting bodies have overlooked his impressive work so far. This overlooking is likely because “Annette” was not as mainstream as some of the other awards contenders, and the best actor race is simply loaded this year. However, recently, the Cesar Awards in France nominated him for best actor. Driver could be one of the few Americans ever to receive the prestigious French acting award.
Kristen Stewart – “Spencer”
One of the biggest talking points from awards season so far has been the omission of Kristen Stewart as a nominee for key awards from the Screen Actors Guild and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Her magnificent portrayal of Princess Diana was one of the major highlights in film culture in the fall when “Spencer” made its debut. She delivered a subdued and anxious performance as Diana during a brief Christmas holiday in the 1990s.
Stewart has been the most acclaimed actor of this awards season with twenty five wins from critics groups. Her work in the atmospheric character study is now becoming underrated, but remains one of the most memorable of last year.
Bradley Cooper – “Nightmare Alley”
Bradley Cooper stars in Guillermo Del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley,” a remake of the 1947 noir of the same name. The film is exceptionally made; the set design and attention to detail are unparalleled among contemporary crime films. It has an instantly recognizable visual identity that successfully leans into the shadowy noir aesthetic that it draws from. What ties all of this together is Cooper’s performance.
He takes on the role of Stanton Carlisle, a man with rotten morals and motives. His charismatic performance is the film’s engine and makes Carlisle a compelling character for the entire two-and-a-half-hour run time. In an elite cast that includes strong work from Cate Blanchett and Willem Dafoe, it is Cooper that makes the film his. Even though it is one of the actor’s best performances, it is not getting the Oscar buzz that it could be.
“Nightmare Alley” had the misfortune of coming out the same weekend as “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” a movie that made $260 million in its opening weekend in North America, according to Variety. The comic book movie was the biggest talking point in pop culture and overshadowed most other films released at the end of the year. Regardless, Bradley Cooper shined in “Nightmare Alley” and is one of the best performances of 2021.