Written by Jeff Sparks
2022 was a great year for film and television, and an equally great year for performances. Below you’ll find five performers that I’ve selected as the most exceptional in all of 2022 and an analysis of their performances and paths to where they are now.
Instead of saving it for last, I’ve decided to kick things off with the performance that impressed me the most, Béatrice Dalle’s performance in Gaspar Noé’s newest masterpiece, “Lux Æterna.” In it, she stars as a heightened version of herself who is directing a film about witch burnings. Not long after her main star (Charlotte Gainsbourg) arrives, the set descends into chaos and her with it. Dalle is always memorable in every film she’s in but this is her first best-of-the-year type performance since her debut role in “Betty Blue” all the way back in 1986. In this film she’s on another level, stealing every single scene even as she works side by side with the legendary Charlotte Gainsbourg. Dalle kicks off her heavily improvised performance in the opening scene that sees her and her co-star discussing numerous topics in an extended dialogue. Gainsbourg can barely get a word in as she rambles on, revealing personal thoughts on faith and filmmaking. An impressive note on this scene is that she actually planned on taking a break instead of filming but Gaspar asked her to improvise for thirty more minutes which she obliged. Dalle gave her best efforts on a scene that she didn’t even plan on doing that day and came up with some of the best dialogue in the film.
From there Dalle shows her character’s gradual stress build-up as numerous problems occur on set. She quickly loses it, yelling and berating anyone who gets in her way. The dialogue she spits out are lines that could never be written. Only Béatrice Dalle could come up with these things. The deterioration of her mental state culminates in a total psychotic breakdown in the final eleven minutes that sees her film set descend into complete chaos. As lights flash and sirens blare, the crew screams in agony with Dalle being the loudest as she finishes off the film with an unforgettable visceral performance that captivates like no other, all in only 51 minutes.
In 2022 Dalle also starred in “Fils de, la série.”
For years I have been singing the praises of Andrea Riseborough from the mountaintops because she’s an actress who’s always going for it in every role that she’s in, big or small. Whether stealing the spotlight in a supporting role or starring as the lead, she’s always giving 110% effort. Her trend of reliability continues in “To Leslie” where she stars as the titular character who succumbs to substance abuse and neglects her son after blowing her lottery winnings. After failing to reconnect with him as an adult, Leslie falls deeper into a pit of drugs, alcohol, and homelessness before eventually trying to put her life back together with the help of a motel owner that she meets named Sweeney. After years of great performances, this one has to be Riseborough’s best. Like a chameleon, she completely disappears into the role of Leslie. Besides the southern accent, she physically embodies Leslie’s rough state as well, looking like a tired mess in every scene.
The aspect that makes her so memorable as Leslie is the way she plays the character. Instead of having Leslie be a surface-level bad person, Riseborough makes her feel like a real person who is the way that she is for a reason. Every action that she takes is because of something that happened in her past. Besides her realistic personality, her personal thoughts that bring an authentic human level to her are shown in her deep conversations about life and the regrets that she has with Sweeney (Marc Maron in another underrated 2022 performance). These thoughts peel back layers of hopelessness and existential confusion that add valuable nuance to an already deep performance. The emotional punch and authenticity to human struggles that Riseborough demonstrates make for a career-best performance that I beg fans of acting not to overlook.
In 2022 Riseborough also starred in “Please Baby Please,” “Amsterdam,” and “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.”
For my next pick, I’m going with an underdog selection in Meredith MacNeill for her star-level performance in the second season of the cop drama/comedy show “Pretty Hard Cases.” The show itself isn’t anything great, but the dedicated performances from the main cast make it worthwhile. MacNeill plays Samantha “Sam” Wazowski, an awkward and uptight veteran detective tasked with investigating gun-running in the local criminal underworld. The main reason MacNeill is so entertaining as Sam is how she plays her comedic side. With her own quirky style of comedy MacNeill mixes a balance of scripted dialogue and improv to play the character in a way no one else could. Her character is often an oddball who struggles in social situations. This gimmick is almost done at an excessive rate but MacNeill’s grace keeps Sam genuine in her repeated blunders. Besides the originality she brings to the light-hearted moments, MacNeill also excels in the more serious scenes. Another great thing about the way she plays Sam is how she makes her a believable character while keeping her silly side intact. Unlike the more comedic first season, the second has much more drama that sees Sam go through a lot of hardships and MacNeill makes all of it believable, which is why she’s a star in my book. Her struggles as a single mother in particular are a storyline where MacNeill excels. The show “Pretty Hard Cases” is a light-hearted and extremely mainstream series. I think the fact that it’s a Freevee original speaks for itself. While it’s not bad, I think MacNeill’s terrific work on the series shows that she deserves a bigger spotlight at this point in her career. My fingers are crossed for her to be offered a starring role in something more gritty in the future.
John C. Reilly
Most people know John C. Reilly for his comedic work in movies like “Step Brothers” or “Walk Hard.” While I appreciate his unique style of humor in those types of releases, I find that his dramatic work is among the best. As a matter of fact, I even think that his newest performance in the HBO series “Winning Time: The Rise of The Lakers Dynasty” is his best to date. He plays Jerry Buss, the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s. As Buss, we see Reilly take over the franchise and turn the team into champions whilst turning the NBA into a glamorous league with the flashy style that he brings to the game. Reilly plays the character as a hotshot. He’s always chasing the next big score for his team and when he’s not, he’s building up to it. Although extremely confident on the exterior, his luck is constantly in danger of running out and Reilly shows the cracks with just the right touch.
While his mix of bravado and subtlety shine, his rare over-the-top fits of anger or sadness impress as well. As he struggles to keep his dream afloat it always feels like he’s building the character, like he’s holding something back. So when he finally does explode it feels like an earned development rather than just a standalone scene. Michael Shannon was originally supposed to play the character but dropped out during production. I found this disappointing as I believe Michael Shannon to be among the best actors I’ve ever seen and one of my absolute favorite performers. But upon witnessing Reilly’s great performance I can’t imagine anyone else playing the character. Not even Shannon.
In 2022 Reilly also had a small role in “Stars At Noon.”
Christina Applegate & Linda Cardellini
Netflix struck gold for three seasons with their comedy/drama series “Dead To Me” which stars Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini. The two play Jen and Judy, two women who form a strong friendship at a point in their lives where they are engulfed by loss. While the writing of the show is particularly engaging, the real highlight is the duo of Applegate and Cardellini. During the filming of this third and final season, Applegate was diagnosed with MS, which halted production on the project. Later on, she bravely returned even though she was in constant battle with the disease. Since her work as Jen Harding is one of my favorite performances in any series I personally appreciate her dedication to the project as I would have fully understood if she chose not to return.
Throughout the series, Applegate shines with the bite that she gives Jen to show the character’s bitterness toward the loss of her husband. Jen is often rude and self-righteous but Applegate makes every line hilarious. Cardellini’s happy-go-lucky Judy contrasts her spiteful friend with her positive outlook that hangs around even in the worst of situations. Judy’s bubbly personality has so much energy that it feels like Cardellini might burst through the screen at any moment. While Applegate gives one of the funniest performances of the year, Cardellini gives one of the funnest. The two’s chemistry is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Their comedic timing with one another is genius in every scene they’re in together. Their dramatic work is very good as well, especially in the heartfelt scenes toward the end.
Even with battling MS through filming, Applegate hasn’t missed a step as Jen. Her dark humor and captivating presence remain intact. Throughout filming it was so hard for her to walk that at times crew members had to assist her in standing up. Her struggles are noticeable in the final product. In most scenes, she is either sitting or about to sit. With her being one of my favorite actresses this was hard to watch at times. Even though her struggles rattled my brain while I was watching, they didn’t affect the final product because she really gave it her all in every scene just like she has for the past two seasons. If she chooses not to act again, season three of “Dead To Me” would be a strong last dance for her. I never paid much attention to it, but her strong performance as the assertive Jen always gave me the impression that she is a tall person. Upon doing research about her condition I learned that she is only five foot five. Even though I’m aware of her height now, her commanding presence on the screen will always make her remain ten feet tall in my mind.
In 2022 Cardellini also appeared in two episodes of “Robot Chicken.”
You can follow Jeff Sparks on Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.