There are just a couple of days left in 2022 so I’ll be compiling various lists in the next few weeks in between reviews. I was going to post about my Worst Movies list, but I think I’ll save that till after I post my Top 10 Best list of the year. I had planned on making this list every year but clearly, I have not kept up with it as the last time I did it was back in 2014! Check out who made the list if you’re curious, most of those have gone on to have successful careers and even won an Oscar!
Well, I have a feeling we’ll see at least one or two of my picks this year whose name will come up over and over during award season, and I’m rooting for one in particular to be amongst Oscars’ Best Actor nominees. Now, the criteria for ‘breakout’ performance is that I have not seen these actors prior to this year, even if they had been in the industry for a long time and might have been quite well-known in certain markets, whether in the US or abroad. Naturally, everyone’s list is going to be different depending on which movies they’ve seen this year and how much impact an actor makes in a given film.
So without further ado, here they are in alphabetical order based on their last names:
Austin Butler – Elvis
Few names made a splash this year the way Austin Butler did as Elvis this past Summer. Apparently Butler was not completely unknown as he was in Hannah Montana and Nickelodeon shows in his youth, but I’d never heard of him (somehow I missed that he was in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) until he was cast in this movie.
I was so impressed with his performance which is nothing short of hypnotic. It transcends mere impersonation; his portrayal is an astute interpretation that captures Elvis’ charisma, talent, and most importantly, his soul. He also did his own singing too, which adds to the film’s authenticity. He’s got such a star quality that I can’t wait to see how his career would take him. He’s been cast in Dune Part 2, but hopefully he’ll land another leading role again soon.
Diego Calva – Babylon
I had just seen and reviewed Babylon so Calva’s performance is still fresh in my mind. The Mexican-born actor has been in quite a few movies and TV series, and has won several international festival awards. But he definitely got his Hollywood big break when Damien Chazelle chose him to play Manny Torres, who also got his big break in the film industry in the film.
Calva is easily the MVP of the film for me, as we see the craziness of early Hollywood through his eyes as an outsider and he conveys so much without saying a word. Calva made this bloated and overlong movie bearable and thankfully he’s got a ton of screen time here. Apparently it was a grueling casting process for him to get the role but for sure it’s one of the few things Chazelle got right with Babylon.
Wish I could find a clip of Manny’s scene but all I could find is this featurette:
Thuso Mbedu – The Woman King
The Woman King is not Thuso Mbedu’s first movie, but it’s certainly the biggest film production of her career thus far. Imagine having your first big starring role opposite such a legend that is Viola Davis, whose screen charisma is legendary. But the South African actress is able to hold her own with panache and it was gratifying to watch. Like Manny, Mbedu’s character Nawi provides the eyes and ears into the lives of the Agojie warriors as an outsider and we get to see Nawi come into her own as a result.
I’d love to see more of miss Mbedu in the future, let’s hope there’ll be other prominent roles for her whether on TV or on the big screen.
P.S. I’ve seen Lashana Lynch’s name being mentioned in a few ‘breakout star’ lists and she is actually this year’s winner of BAFTA’s EE Rising Star Award. I absolutely LOVE her performance but I would’ve placed her on the 2021 list had I made one then, as she first came to my attention in Bond’s No Time to Die where she played the first female 007.
Daryl McCormack – Good Luck To You, Leo Grande
Not many people have seen this movie which is currently streaming on HULU, but I wish they would! Obviously, the main draw for me to see Good Luck To You, Leo Grande was to see one of my faves, Dame Emma Thompson, but McCormack is absolutely amazing in this. Fans of Peaky Blinders are likely familiar with the Irish actor who plays Isaiah Jesus, but this was the first time I saw him, which showcases not only his phenomenal um, physicality but also his dramatic chops. There’s that twinkle in his eye but there’s also a certain tenderness to balance that seductive playfulness.
It’s got to be quite challenging to star in a two-hander where it’s just you and your co-star in the entire 90+ minute running time, but you wouldn’t know it from McCormack’s confident performance. He’s so charismatic, charming, and oh so easy on the eyes! I read that director Sophie Hyde said that ‘Daryl is empathetic and he relaxes everybody,’ which definitely shows in his performance. Apparently he and Thompson has grown quite close because of their work in this film which didn’t even require an intimacy coordinator.
Tang Wei – Decision To Leave
Now, Tang Wei has had 22 films under her belt and she might have been in many people’s Best Breakout Performers in 2007 when she starred in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution. Well I’ve never seen that film so the only time I’ve seen her was in Blackhat in a supporting role. Park Chan-wook’s Decision To Leave will likely be on my Best list this year (review upcoming), largely thanks to Wei and Park Hae-il’s phenomenal performances. Wei’s enigmatic, restrained portrayal as a widow at the center of her husband’s death investigation is mesmerizing.
The Chinese-born actress has an inherently alluring, mysterious quality about her that makes her perfect for the role. There’s always a femme fatale character in a neo-noir, and though she certainly fits that description of a seductively beautiful woman, there’s more depth to Song Seo-rae that really intrigues me. She also gets to speak both Chinese and Korean in this film.
I can’t find an exact clip of her scene but I love this gorgeous video set to Mahler Symphony No. 5.
I also want to highlight a few other new-to-me actors who delivered terrific, memorable performances this year. I do hope to see more of them in even bigger roles in the future!
Monica Barbaro – Top Gun: Maverick
Kerry Condon – The Banshees of Inisherin
Tenoch Huerta – Wakanda Forever
Stephanie Hsu – Everything Everywhere All At Once
Amber Midthunder – PREY
So, who would make YOUR list of favorite breakout performers this year?