It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It’s a time to celebrate the best the year had to offer and while much of the world seemed to bring about more anger and sadness, there were a lot of fictional things to love, both new and old. Over the rest of the month, I’ll be posting my lists of favorite things from this year. My normal categories of actors, characters, relationships, moments, episodes, and shows will be returning and I’ve added three new categories that I’m excited to share with you all. As always, this is a list that reflects more about who I am and what I enjoy in fiction than any attempt at an objective best. I find that I find a lot of thematic connections between the things that resonated with me in any given year and I hope that is true for many of you as well. It’s proved an excellent way to take a snapshot of the person I was when the list was written and I love being able to share myself with you all through these lists.
First up, it’s time to celebrate all of the wonderful performances we saw on television. Once again, it proved to be a stellar year for actresses with a wide variety of strong roles available to take on. In both comedies and dramas, it was often the women who stood out the most to me. The continued expansion of the types of roles we see women play excites me and I want to see it continue.
1. Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies) Hands down, this was the performance of the year. I was absolutely riveted every second Celeste was on screen. Kidman pulls off the combination of strength, fear, vulnerability, denial, and anger so well. We see the very careful facade she’s built for herself, especially during her therapy sessions with Dr. Reisman and we see the way her pain and fear shine through the cracks in the facade. We see her desire to free herself from the situation and her very real fear when Perry tells her he knows about her safe house. Above all, we feel everything because this performance is so transportative. It’s a deeply emotional role that I felt to my core and I can’t imagine anyone filling it as well as Kidman did.
2. Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) While this was a hard show and a hard role to watch at times, I can’t imagine a better casting choice. Moss is an incredibly expressive actress and the directing took full advantage of that fact in her many close-ups. In such a restrictive environment, small changes in facial expressions are all we have to know and understand Offred’s headspace in Gilead and how it changes as the season progresses. I’m not a big fan of enigmatic characters who can too often feel underdeveloped and I appreciated the fact that it was never the goal of the show to keep us guessing about June’s true feelings. We feel her anger, resentment, manipulation, and budding rebellion and would have even without the voiceovers. It takes a strong actress to convey so much with relatively little and Moss sold the performance, both on the show itself and as Offred to The Commander, every step of the way.
3. Matthew Rhys (The Americans) I’m not sure that there is anyone else on TV who can slowly fall apart quite as well as this man can. It’s happened over the course of the previous four seasons and it finally caught up to him. Philip was a man who was done with everything. He was done with the manipulation and sneaking around and the lies and it showed not just in Rhys’s expressions but his body language as well. Except for the wedding scene. It helps that he is acting alongside his actual wife, but it is the most at peace we saw Philip all season. This is why he keeps going in the morning, why he could never just walk away. There is a tenderness and love that is palpable between Rhys and Keri Russell that has always centered and informed Philip’s actions. We understand him through his love for his wife and his family and that is the part of the role that he has always played so exquisitely.