Another year, another end-of-year list. I promise this one is different and fun though. 2022 was filled with incredible performances, perhaps more great performances than there were great shows or films. It was a near impossible task to narrow down to just a few, but this list of the best performances of 2022 is both series and unserious with two categories: film and television, plus a couple of bonuses if you’re strong enough to stick around until the end.
My criteria was simple: I narrowed this down to lead performances but included supporting performances with those who also made the cut for lead performances. I selected performances that I loved and that felt fresh both for acting as a whole and fresh from the actor themselves. From Cate Blanchett to Jon Hamm to Jon Bernthal, here are the best performances of 2022, according to me, someone who watches film and television and writes about it:
Cate Blanchett, Tár
Every choice Cate Blanchett makes in the Tár leads to Lydia Tár’s fate. Blanchett has been acting for decades and has won two Oscars. Throughout those decades she’s played a versatile array of characters including Queen Elizabeth I, an elf from Middle Earth, Katherine Hepburn, and Bob Dylan. But none of those performances were as transformative as Blanchett’s performance as Lydia Tár, a famous composer having a bit of a psychological breakdown on the brink of the end of her illustrious career. Blanchett disappears behind Lydia Tár’s mannerisms, posture, delicate hands, and piercing eyes. Her menacing demeanor brings the character to life, to the point that many people were convinced that the completely fictional character is a real person that they somehow never heard of. The power of acting!
Austin Butler, Elvis
Before I saw Elvis, I wondered “who is this Austin Butler guy and why is everyone so obsessed with him.” It doesn’t take long into the film to understand why Denzel Washington fought for this guy. He has the natural charisma of an Old Hollywood actor, the right look and body language for Elvis, and, most importantly, the modern, uninhibited edge required to appear in Baz Lurhmann’s weird and busy movies. It’s also a testament to Butler that Tom Hanks’ chaotic, so-bad-it’s-good performance works.
Colin Farrell, The Batman and The Banshees of Inisherin
In the first quarter of 2022, Colin Farrell delivered a performance no one knew he had in him in The Batman. In the very serious and sexy film, Farrell was neither serious nor sexy. Farrell played the iconic villain Penguin as if he was a Muppet version of Joe Pesci (this is a compliment). In the latter half of the year, Farrell delivered the opposite: a subtly rigorous, emotionally vulnerable performance as a simple animal-loving Irishman whose BFF suddenly decides he doesn’t want to be friends anymore. His expressive eyebrows are more expressive than ever. It’s Farrell’s best acting to date, and all the more impressive in contrast to his performance in The Batman.
Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Michelle Yeoh had a lot to do in Everything Everywhere All at Once. Her performance required meta-awareness because pretty much the entire film called back to her decades-long career as an action star. She also had to be the emotional heart of a busy, complex, unpredictable script. If neither of those worked, the entire movie wouldn’t work at all. Yeoh delivers both to the highest level possible, with a grounding emotionally vulnerable but physically strong performance that gets more interesting and more complex every time you see it. Oh, and she also had to take the hot dog fingers seriously. Only the greats can do that.
Jon Hamm, Confess Fletch
Jon Hamm’s post-Mad Men career has not gone in the direction anyone expected, most of all, probably, Jon Hamm. The Emmy-winning leading man of one of the best television shows ever made has, shockingly, had trouble translating his unique, slightly sly charisma and undeniable handsomeness in other leading roles, until Confess, Fletch. Hamm is the perfect match for the smarmy but charming (even when he is being rude) investigative journalist, and has, at last, discovered his sweet spot: Hamm is at his best when he gets to be funny and kind of mean.
Jon Bernthal, We Own This City and The Bear
In 2022, Jon Bernthal was bursting with energy. Bernthal can play big personalities that are borderline caricatures so precisely that they are as big as possible but authentic and subtle at the same time. On We Own This City, Bernthal plays the loud and hot-headed Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Bernthal plays him with all personality and no judgment, and this relentless energy is necessary to the limited crime series. For his extremely small and all-too-brief appearance on The Bear, Bernthal brings so much energy that it feels like he will somehow set your screen on fire. It’s painful how small his role is, but his presence looms large and will never leave the series, whether he shows up again or not.
Amanda Seyfried, The Dropout
Saying Seyfried’s performance in The Dropout is good is not the most original take: she did win the Emmy, after all. But the performance is so good that repeating how good it is is absolutely necessary. Television shows based on recent events are unavoidable at this point in Peak TV (everything is adapted) but Seyfried’s frenzied, funny, empathetic but slightly judgmental (and perfectly so) performance as disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes makes this ripped-from-the-headlines story essential viewing. Essentially, if you avoid this, you are missing out.
Olivia Cooke, House of the Dragon
On House of the Dragon, Olivia Cooke plays the adult version of Alicent Hightower. Cooke assimilates into the role naturally, but her best trick is her restraint. Although Alicent certainly experiences some trauma throughout the season including but not limited to her son losing an eye at the hands of her nephew/her best friend’s son, in the penultimate episode, Alicent lets it all out. Cooke delivers an explosive emotional performance when she is convinced she is about to die by Dragonfire, and in her face and body, you can see and feel years of Alicent’s trauma and pain, from being forced into being queen by her father, to being on the outs with her best friend Rhaenyra and the closest thing she had to a sister.
Everyone, The White Lotus
This one does not need much explaining: from Jennifer Coolidge shooting a bunch of gays then falling off a yacht to Tom Hollander’s quiet menace to Theo James and Meghann Fahy somehow making Cameron and Daphne perhaps the most likable characters in the end, everyone on The White Lotus delivered a memorable performance worthy of getting a new season revolving around their character.
Everyone, The Staircase
The entire cast of the masterful HBO Max series which includes Toni Collette, Colin Firth, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sophie Turner, Juliette Binoche, Parker Posey (who describes gay sex in a Southern accent), and Rosemarie DeWitt should get EGOTs for what they did.
The Donkey, The Banshees of Inisherin
Jenny the donkey is Pádraic’s (Colin Farrell) best friend. Huge spoiler here, but Jenny dies after choking on Colm’s (Brendan Gleeson) finger. When this happened I was screaming at the television and so distraught that I was sincerely rooting for Pádraic to kill Colm’s dog in retaliation. An Oscar to this donkey, please.
Jen Shah and Lisa Barlow, The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City
For the unacquainted, there is a performance element to reality television, and two of the cast members on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City have made it an art form, albeit for very different reasons. Last year, cast member Jen Shah was arrested and criminally charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and wire fraud for her involvement in a telemarketing scam. Shah plead not guilty to both charges days later, and, for over a year, she claimed she was completely innocent on the show to cast members and to the public. Her tagline that plays before every episode of the show’s current season is, “the only thing I’m guilty of is being Shah-mazing.” In July 2022, Shah plead guilty. If you want to catch up with her legal drama, Vulture has an excellent guide. Shah’s sentencing is on January 6, 2023.
Lisa Barlow, on the other hand, was simply born to be a reality TV star. The self-appointed “Queen of Sundance” and Vida tequila CEO knows how to deliver storylines and prioritizes giving the audience good television rather than making herself look good. Barlow has also established herself as a fast food influencer. If you, like so many have been bombarded with Wendy’s ads in which a brunette white lady promotes a peppermint Frosty, you have seen Lisa Barlow’s influence without ever being aware of her existence.