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

June 29, 2020
M.N. Miller 0
Features, Film

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 mix lead, supporting, and even cameo performances in mainstream, independent, streaming, or theatrical film releases. Hopefully, with a bit of 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 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 to deal with. 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 p**s and vinegar you may be afraid she will start to spin off her 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 Never helps Rarely Sometimes Always hit its climax by the end of its second act and is equivalent to a release of a deep breath. She utters very few words and listens to a social worker ask questions delivered in a rhythmic, calm, and steady tone while proving that acting is listening. Next is a scene of delicate therapy and beautifully done with an almost spartan 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 performs 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 Award-winning Academy role in me, 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 exciting 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


Issa Rae is a natural talent, with such range, and demonstrated that earlier this year in The Photograph. Her performance is tethered to the smaller moments about everyday things and experiences built on and developed relationships. 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. 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 okay 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 extraordinary, even brooding moxie and is on her way to an exciting career.

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