Our Favorite Performances of 2022

By Amy Kim, Aaron Isenstein, Jordan Stump, Devon Smith, Anthony Zawrak, and Jinwei Li

Although 2022 has come and gone, the phenomenal performances it has blessed us with remain. It was a remarkable year for film and television alike, and part of that is due to the terrific actors that exalt their material to turn it into something greater than anyone could have imagined. So today, we’re going to talk about our favorite performances of the year.

Amy's Pick - Kaley Cuoco (The Flight Attendant)

2022 has been an exceptionally strong year for television performances. In particular, we’ve been blessed with a lot of fantastic duos like Britt Lower and Adam Scott in Severance, Ayo Edebiri and Jeremy Allen White in The Bear, Meghann Fahy and Aubrey Plaza in The White Lotus: Sicily, Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini in Dead to Me, and Myha’la Herrold and Ken Leung in Industry. Each scene these actors have with one another is absolutely riveting, and they made for some of the most watchable dynamics onscreen this year. I would also like to briefly mention Nathan Fielder’s masterful performance in The Rehearsal, where he has to blend his actual personality with a twisted, somewhat scripted narrative. Fielder is awkward, occasionally despicable, yet consistently authentic throughout. However, my favorite performance of the year has to be Kaley Cuoco’s turn as recovering alcoholic Cassie Bowden in The Flight Attendant’s second season. She brings so much pathos and depth to both the character and the show that the latter really would not be much without her. Cuoco’s comedic timing continues to be excellent, and the way she depicts Cassie’s struggle with remaining sober is absolutely gut-wrenching. Cuoco elevates her material to deliver one of the most complex performances I’ve seen in a while and brings Cassie’s rocky arc full circle in a believable way.

Aaron's Pick - Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll)

2022 is also an amazing year for the complex, melancholic female character. Cinemas were graced with Mia Goth in Pearl and Vicky Krieps in Corsage. Meanwhile, television screens were blessed with the presences of Britt Lower in Severance and Zendaya in Euphoria. But most of all, 2022 celebrated the return of TV’s number one hot mess, Russian Doll’s Nadia Vulvokov (played by Natasha Lyonne). To say Natasha owns Russian Doll is putting it lightly; she also produces, directs, and writes the series. While Season 1 took a cynical approach to the classic time-loop trope, Season 2 reinvented itself as a dark body swap story. However, the show still continues to tackle mental health (mainly through its protagonist Nadia). Lyonne isn’t given an easy role to play. After Nadia went through dying hundreds of times, she found herself in the body of her pregnant mother. Lyonne takes on this character as an extension of herself. Nadia has the signature Natasha Lyonne spunk and crudeness, but she’s taken far beyond that. Russian Doll is such an honest portrayal of mental health and Lyonne magnificently approaches that. She is both a genius comedian and a phenomenal dramatic actress, and she blends her skills to create a perfect tonal balance. She is especially stellar in the final few scenes of the season, which will haunt me for ages.

Jordan's Pick - Janelle Monáe (Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery)

What a year of murder mystery movies we had in 2022! Growing up playing the board game Clue with my family and watching the 1985 movie over and over, I never thought I would live to see the day that old-school whodunnits would thrive again. This time, however, they’re dominated by women! So in our wonderful year of 2022, we had a plethora of entertaining murder mysteries with terrific female performances at the center of each one! We had the satiric slasher reboot Scream 5 with the amazing Jenna Ortega, who breathed so much life into a franchise that was in dire need of a fresh face. We had the Gen-Z comedy-thriller whodunnit Bodies Bodies Bodies with an impeccable Rachel Sennott (who has some of the best comedic timing I’ve ever seen). The outstanding Saorise Ronan is the star of the flawed but very classic period whodunnit See How They Run. And last but not least, we had Janelle Monae in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Rian Johnson is the reason why whodunnits are thriving in today’s world, and his latest entry brings an absolutely electric performance from Janelle. The layers they bring here are only seen to be believed, and truly blew me away. Janelle does an excellent job toeing the line between 2 different personas, and when the twist is revealed, it blew my mind that they were able to do it so convincingly. Their ability to slide between the two leads to a beast of a performance. It is so difficult to master without coming off as obvious, but they’re so convincing as both that it's almost tough to tell which is real and which is a persona. Whodunnits are such a great medium for acting performances to thrive because the mystery at the core of each one is usually kept at bay until the very end. Since the audiences are left in the dark for much of the film, they can lead to many layered performances that unfold like origami over time and blow your mind with twists and turns. Here’s to a great year of whodunnit performances! I hope this signals that there is more left to come in this genre!

Devon's Pick - Sadie Sink (Stranger Things)

(Spoilers for Stranger Things 4 below)

The highly anticipated return of Stranger Things this year brought the show up to new heights that we’d never seen before. In past seasons, Max Mayfield (played by Sadie Sink) was never really a highlight to me. However, due to all the trauma she endured throughout the series, her character was taken to an interesting place this season. In particular, episode 4 demands everything from Sadie Sink and she nails it. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a show be so gripping, but the now famous “Running Up That Hill” scene ended up becoming a pop culture phenomenon for a reason. Throughout the episode, not only does Sink perfectly displays the dread Max is facing as she realizes she will likely die the next day, but also her acceptance of that fact and the culmination of the trauma she has experienced related to her brother. The dialogue is great for sure, but it’s the sorrow breaking through in every glance she gives that is the brilliance of the performance. There are a handful of scenes throughout the season where we slow down and spend time alone with Max and Lucas, and that’s when the show is at its best. Thus, as heartbreaking as Sink’s performance is, it’d be a sin to not also mention Caleb McLaughlin, who absolutely holds his own in these moments. The relationship between these 2 characters manages to become the emotional core of the show, and every scene with them is a bittersweet stab in the heart. And there is nothing more painful than watching them plead for her life as Max dies in Lucas’s arms. It’s a rather simple line, but Sink’s delivery of “I don’t wanna die, I’m not ready” breaks my soul into a million pieces. Even months later as I type this, watching their performances still makes me cry almost as much as they do. It’s the best scene of the year bar none, and it’s the perfect showcase of the tragedy that Sink brings out every time she’s on screen.

Anthony's Pick - Mia Goth (Pearl)

With 2022 being such a great year for acting, it certainly is challenging to only pick one. From Cate Blanchett’s commanding and powerful performance in TÁR, to Ralph Fiennes’s theatrical yet enigmatic performance in The Menu, all the way down to Anna Cobb’s hauntingly authentic performance in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, it truly was a struggle to aim the spotlight at only one. But in a year stacked with crowd-pleasing performances, I truly think that nothing is more memorable than Mia Goth’s portrayal of the duck-killing, dance-loving, scarecrow-f*cking Pearl. In a performance like no other, Goth’s Pearl will have your eyes glued to the screen whether you like it or not. What really shines about Goth’s performance in Pearl is her ability to have us rooting for her. A less nuanced performance would have one only feeling afraid of this evil, villainous character. However, Goth brings the perfect balance of sadness, desire, and light to Pearl that it leaves the audience awkwardly supporting her and sympathizing with her throughout. If you also consider many of the memorable scenes led by Goth, like the audition, the monologue in the second act (which was surprisingly one take), and even the credits (which was surprisingly ALSO one take), it would be difficult to find someone that could bring this terrifying character to life better than her. While Pearl is categorized as a horror-slasher and has its visually gory and horrific moments, the true horror of this film comes from the internal warfare and longing to prevail that Mia Goth brings to Pearl.

Jinwei's Picks - Cate Blanchett (TÁR) & Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All at Once)

2022 was a year of memorable, quintessential cinematic miracles. This year, we had two career-defining, once-in-a-lifetime performances: Cate Blanchett in TÁR and Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once. I couldn’t decide who I preferred, as both of their performances are so deeply important to me. Thus, I shall honor both! I would like to briefly mention Jessie Buckley’s performances in Men and Women Talking before I begin. As a lifelong fan of hers, I was again amazed by her talent and range. Her fiercely vibrant method of acting ensures that she is the standout of every film she is in. In a weaker year, her performances in both films would easily be my favorites of the year. Alas, this year we have Cate Blanchett in TÁR, which was such a pivotal cinematic experience for me (especially as a classical music maniac). It honestly altered my view of cinema so much that it even changed my rating system. In this astonishing film, Cate Blanchett immersed herself into the role of Lydia Tár with grace and ease. Somehow, this extremely accomplished actress managed to outdo herself in what must be the magnum opus of her career. On the other hand, Michelle Yeoh’s performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once is nothing short of wondrous. My expectations for the film were sky high months before seeing it, yet it still somehow managed to completely blow me away. This is the perfect film and role for someone as legendary as Michelle Yeoh, who has deserved to get work like this for decades. As a Chinese girl who watched her movies from a young age, 杨紫琼 is my action hero forever, so it brings me so much joy to know that she is not only a household name across Asia but also now the world. I'm so ecstatic that she finally gets the global spotlight and recognition that she has always deserved, and that it is for a performance as complex and nuanced as the one she gives in Everything Everywhere All at Once.