I can’t say there seem to be a lot of strong Oscar contenders at this point in the year, but if you’re a fanatic like Tim and want to make your nomination guesses, you can’t look further for a shoo-in in the performance category than Margot Robbie in the new Mary, Queen of Scots. The beautiful actress slowly becomes more decrepit and monstrous as the movie goes along, and if there’s one thing Oscar loves, it’s a beautiful person gluing on a prosthetic nose, donning a bald cap, or gaining twenty pounds and calling it a “performance.” These movie roles are almost always packaged under the deliciously brutal Hollywood term “brave.”
A “brave” performance can be as simple as not wearing makeup, and that can win somebody an Oscar. But not all of these performances are just gimmicks. In this list I’d like to highlight five actors who made “brave” choices (at least in the eyes of Hollywood) but still delivered a performance worth applauding.
#5 Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool
Ryan Reynolds has built essentially his entire career on his square jaw and the series of impossible squares arranged on his midsection, so choosing to undergo the Deadpool makeup and stick with it for an entire set of movies is an incredibly brave act on his part, but it also proves that his charm extends beyond the surface, whether or not you love the movie itself. Certainly the makeup here is more forgiving than the way the character looked in the comics, but the man proves he has charisma in a role that isn’t specifically a sex object.
#4 Naomie Harris in Moonlight
Naomie Harris doesn’t just change her appearance to play Chiron’s strung-out mother in the 2017 Best Picture winner. She changes her entire being. Her appearance in this role is just a costume she wears that allows her to inhabit this character body and soul, and make her relationship with her son that much more gut-wrenching.
#3 Toni Collette in Muriel’s Wedding
For one of her earliest roles, indie powerhouse Toni Collette gained 15 pounds to highlight her character’s insecurity and separation from the glamorous world of her friends from town. Now for us normal people, that doesn’t sound like a lot, but for someone attempting to make it int he industry, that’s a big decision. And wouldn’t you know it, but she delivers one of the best performances of her career, turning Muriel’s sadness into an electromagnetic force that sucks you right into her awkward, lonely world until your nerves twinge at her every decision, pumping you with more tension than any other role she’s ever played, and I’m including Hereditary.
#2 Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her
The bulk of this movie might be dedicated to how glamorous these two are, but it’s also about the insecurities of aging actresses, putting their faults and flaws front and center. Not a lot of actresses would willingly embrace this kind of role, let alone the full-tilt body horror that the film quickly slides into. But Streep and Hawn are elegant, hilarious, and gruesome in equal measure, perfectly capturing the satirical bent of the film.
#1 Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road
There aren’t a lot of actors out there who would jump at the chance to play a bald, pale, goon covered in irradiated tumors and boils, but Nicholas Hoult certainly made the right decision. His performance is genius, providing the character with a madcap, manic intensity that perfectly fits the heightened energy of the entire film. His work is a testament to George Miller, who had such a strong vision that we could trust all this madness would come together, but it’s also a powerful example of how commitment to a role, no matter how silly, is an incredibly powerful tool.
Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. And when you’re talking to him about something else, he’s probably thinking about horror movies. You can find his other work on his Dread Central column applying film school theory to silly horror movies, his Ghastly Grinning column pairing the week’s releases with the perfect classic horror double feature, and his blog Popcorn Culture where among other movie reviews, he is running through every slasher film of the 1980’s. Also check out his podcasts, Scream 101, where he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror reviews with a new sub-genre every month, and Attack of the Queerwolf!, an LGBTQ discussion of horror classics that he produces for the Blumhouse Podcast Network.