The Halfway Report Card – the best actress performances of 2020 so far

The Halfway Report Card – the best actress performances of 2020 so far

The following is a handful of stand-out turns from actresses over the first half of the past year. They are a mix of lead, supporting, and even cameo performances in mainstream, independent, streaming, or theatrical film releases. Hopefully, with a little luck, they will be remembered when the awards season (whenever that may be) run comes around (next Spring?).

Here are 11 performances, in alphabetical order, that had stuck with me from the 100 or so films I have watched so far this year. You can also see a similar round-up of best actor performances of the year by clicking these words.

Nicole Beharie, Miss Juneteenth

Miss Juneteenth is a character study helmed by a shooting star in Nicole Beharie (42) who brings such a lovely tenderness to the role. The film has its flaws, but Beharie’s central performance of a former beauty queen who is struggling to make ends meet while making sure her daughter doesn’t make the same mistakes she did captures a true expression of motherhood.

Haley Bennett, Swallow


Aaron Sorkin wrote a line in the West Wing that perfectly sums up Haley Bennett’s performance in Swallow: “The things we do to women.” Bennett finds herself drawn to swallowing dangerous objects like batteries, marbles, and even thumbtacks in order to deal. Bennett perfectly blends the horrors at the hands of men, and the overall power loneliness has on us.

Zoey Deutsch, Buffaloed


It’s rare for a film to feature a female lead brimming with temerity that’s full of so much **** and vinegar you may be afraid she will start to spin off her own axis. Buffaloed has it here with Zoey Deutch, who gives a career-best performance that’s funny, flawed (those Fargo accents are not a thing in Western New York), but always interesting.

Beanie Feldstein, How to Build a Girl


Beanie Feldstein portrays Catlin, in the zany coming of age comedy How to Build a Girl that, depending on who you talk to, is a semi-autobiographical tale of Catherine “Caitlin” Moran, a journalist in England, who writes for The Times. She turns in a charming, funny, and even raunchy performance while holding the film together with heart, wit, and a touch of grace.

Sidney Flanigan, Never Rarely Sometimes Always


Sidney Flanigan helps Never Rarely Sometimes Always ultimately hit its climax by the end of its second act and is the equivalent of a release of a deep breath. She utters very few words and listens to a social worker ask questions that are delivered in a rhythmic, calm, and steady tone while proving that acting is listening. What comes next is a scene of delicate therapy and beautifully done with an almost simple, yet intricate detail. The scene made my jaw drop, my heart sink, and my throat close up because of that near-perfect cinematic moment.

Allison Janney, Bad Education

The cast is exceptional in Bad Education, with a deep bench, and for my money, Allison Janey gives the performance of her career Yes, I’m talking after her star-making, four-Emmy winning turns as C.J. Cregg in The West Wing, two more for Bonnie in Mom, and her Academy Award-winning role in I, Tonya. Her unusual combination of subtle expressive emotions and the sybaritic attitude she brings to the role of someone with no one to answer to the allure of unlimited power without supervision is perfectly played.

Elisabeth Moss, Shirley

Ready Steady Cut film critic and author Michael Frank said of Elisabeth Moss’s performance in Shirley, “…has been on a tear, turning in performances widely lauded by critics and audiences alike. Her latest, Josephine Decker’s Shirley, is her best yet, giving a controlled yet manic rendition of author and horror powerhouse Shirley Jackson.” I agree it’s a turn that gives Shirley its hypnotic pull. Moss brings to life a figure that’s unlikable, crude, even repulsive, but brilliant and makes her relatable.

Bel Powley, The King of Staten Island

Bel Powley is the most interesting part of The King of Staten Island— in fact, she is so good and her character is so endlessly fascinating the way she goes against the grain, I think Powley’s Kesley is the perfect untapped resource for a spin-off sequel. She is funny, grounded, and brings a lovely authenticity to her character.

Issa Rae, The Photograph

Capture

Issa Rae is a real talent, with such range, and demonstrated that earlier this year in the drama The Photograph. Her performance is tethered to the smaller moments about everyday things and experiences that relationships are built and developed on. It’s unexpected, fresh, and doesn’t have to hold the film up with the help of the other romantic plot. Even in the absurdist comedy, The Lovebirds, her performances have a grounded honesty about them that is always there.

Eliza Scanlen, Babyteeth


The performances here are stunning, really. Scanlen should be required to stand up and take a bow after every screening of Babyteeth reaches its credits (or someone trailing them to toss roses at her feet I’m fine with either). Scanlen is a revelation, giving us insight into a world whose window may be slowly closing and is frenetically trying to live life to the fullest.

Lovie Simone, Selah and the Spades

Selah and the Spades is a character study set is a highly stylized Juvenalian satire (so much so, it’s sometimes like looking at an overtly specific Tumblr page) about today’s political climate in a realistic setting high school. Now, on the surface, this has been done before in films like Heathers and Cruel Intentions but aspires to a much higher plane to be taken seriously, like Alan Payne’s Election, but like those films, this has a central, magnetic performance. Lovie Simone (Greenleaf) plays the titular character with great, even brooding moxie and is on her way to an exciting career.


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M.N. Miller

M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.

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