The 15 best acting performances in movies in 2020

Chadwick Boseman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Elisabeth Moss

  • 2020 hasn't seen as many movies released as film buffs would have liked, with a host of pictures delayed until next year.
  • But there's still been plenty of movies worth celebrating, including a slew of Netflix flicks, and with awards season fast approaching, Insider has looked back at the best performances featured in 2020 movies.
  • Sacha Baron Cohen has been one of the performers of the year, and nailed it again in "Borat 2," while Chadwick Boseman's final live-action performance is tipped for an Oscar nomination.
  • Meanwhile, actresses like Vanessa Kirby and Elisabeth Moss make the cut thanks to their tremendous performances in "Pieces of a Woman" and "The Invisible Man."
  • Scroll down for a full list of the 15 best performances in movies this year.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Amanda Seyfried played Marion Davies in 'Mank'

Gary Oldman was excellent as the titular Herman J. Mankiewicz in this Netflix movie, and he very nearly made this list, but his costar Amanda Seyfried was such a scene-stealer that it's her performance you'll remember.

Seyfriend plays actress Marion Davies, the lover of Charles Dance's William Randolph Hearst, in this David Fincher movie about the making of "Citizen Kane."

Chadwick Boseman could win a posthumous Oscar for 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom'

"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" features a Chadwick Boseman performance that sums up exactly why the world will always remember him. In this movie adapted from August Wilson's stage play of the same name, Boseman is funny, intelligent, and full of life as the ambitious and lively trumpeter Levee. It's a joy to watch him on-screen, and it may just be his most skillful piece of work to date in what is his last live-action performance.

The narrative of a posthumous Oscar win is always a powerful one, but more powerful is his performance. Boseman would be up for an Oscar for this movie no matter what, that's how authentic his role is in the movie.

Elisabeth Moss gave a powerful performance in Leigh Whannell's horror movie 'The Invisible Man'

Elisabeth Moss delivers a devastating and thoroughly believable performance as a victim of abuse unable to escape her violent partner in this horror movie from Leigh Whannell. She is what drags the audience along with the movie, sucking you in so that you are as anxiety-filled as she is in the movie. The horror genre deserves awards love, too.

Frances McDormand could win a third best actress Oscar for 'Nomadland'

Frances McDormand is no stranger to award show glory, having won two Oscars already. She won her first for a quirky performance in "Fargo" in 1998, and her second for a cutting, more brutal role in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" in 2018. 

Both of those roles featured plenty of killer dialogue, but here she delivers a much more stripped-back, bare performance with only the minimum dialogue needed.

McDormand is so expressive with her features and body language as a drifter making her way through life after losing everything in the recession. Such personal acting works beautifully against the sparse backdrops this movie is set in. 

Henry Golding gave a masterclass of understated acting in 'Monsoon'

Henry Golding delivers a masterclass in understated acting and restraint in the little-seen "Monsoon." A far cry away from the lavish spectacle of "Crazy Rich Asians," Golding is laid bare here in this movie that premiered at the Karlovy Internationa Film Festival in 2019 but was released in 2020.

Like McDormand, Golding has only minimum dialogue as a man returning to his homeland of Vietnam for the first time in decades and not recognizing where he once lived. Goldman is quiet, but there is so much emotion and thought going on behind his face adorned with lazy stubble. It may not get him the role of Bond, but performances like these always deserve more recognition than they get.

Hugh Grant gave one of the most colorful performances of the year in 'The Gentlemen'

While the movie itself divided audiences — the talent of Hugh Grant is undeniable yet again.

In a late-career renaissance, Grant has been delivering some of his most interesting work and this is no different. Grant plays a sleazy, unscrupulous journalist attempting to blackmail gangsters for some big bucks, and from the opening moments, it's clear this movie belongs to him.

It's one of his most colorful characters, and he's unrecognizable in the part complete with tinted glasses and a brilliant accent. It's another role that proves Grant has the acting talent and range up there with some of the best character actors around.

Kacey Rohl emerged as a true talent in the hidden gem 'White Lie'

Perhaps the least-known movie on this list, this intriguing and dark indie movie follows Kacey Rohl as a young woman who is faking having cancer for attention and financial gain.

The movie played at a smattering of film festivals in 2019, but released internationally in 2020  — although it won't be available in the USA until the New Year.

Rohl is sublime as one of the most complex and twisted characters on this list, and even though the character is fairly unlikeable, Rohl ensures the audience stays along for the ride in a captivating performance as the lie begins to unravel. A bright future for Rohl.

Leslie Odom Jr. stood out in the excellent ensemble cast of 'One Night in Miami'

Behind the camera, Oscar-winner Regina King proves she is a real talent as a director, and she marshals a terrific ensemble cast in front of the camera.

Kinsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X), Eli Goree (Muhammed Ali), Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), and Leslie Odom Jr. (Sam Cooke) nail every scene as the main four, but it's the latter actor that just about steals the show.

Odom Jr's Sam Cooke faces off against Ben-Adir's Malcolm X more than once, and it's their tension-filled fights that have the biggest impact. Odom Jr. manages to pull off both the charisma and the determined fighting spirit of Cooke, and he is magnetic on-screen. Out of the four, Odom Jr. may be most likely for a well-deserved best supporting actor Oscar nod.

Mads Mikkelsen was reliably brilliant in 'Another Round'

Mikkelsen has starred as a 007 villain in "Casino Royale," faced off against Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange in the MCU, and has recently replaced Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald in the "Fantastic Beasts" franchise, but it's great to see him still doing indie movies like this Danish offering, too.

This time, Mikkelsen plays a teacher who agrees to try out a theory with his friends that states that staying constantly slightly drunk will improve their lives. It's a stellar tragicomedy with plenty of laughs to go with its insightful study of what is essentially middle-age depression and midlife crisis.

Bonus fact: Mikkelsen and his fellow actors actually stayed slightly drunk themselves to better help with their performances.

Maria Bakalova deserves an Oscar nomination for her 'Borat Subsequent MovieFilm' role

Sacha Baron Cohen probably summed it best himself when he argued that his "Borat 2" costar and on-screen daughter Maria Bakalova deserves an Oscar nomination. A gem found for this movie, Bakalova is at once funny, smart, heartfelt, and more daring in this one performance than most actors care to be in their entire careers.

Like horror movies, comedies deserve awards love too, no matter how broad they may be. It's a tribute to Bakalova and her blossoming career that she arguably steals the movie from Baron Cohen himself.

Paul Bettany elevated Alan Ball's 'Uncle Frank' with a classy, intelligent performance

"Uncle Frank" received mixed to middling views, but the performance of Paul Bettany has been greeted with praise. Stepping away from his role as Vision in the MCU, as well as a villainous turn in "Solo: A Star Wars Story," Bettany returns to the sort of character-driven role that helped cement him as one of the best, most underrated actors, working today.

As the titular Frank, Bettany blends canny wit with more than a dash of tragedy. The movie isn't the most refined piece of work, but Bettany's performance certainly is.

Riz Ahmed played a drummer who loses his hearing in 'Sound of Metal'

This Amazon Prime movie gives representation to one of cinema's most under-represented groups: the hard of hearing. As a drummer who begins to lose his hearing, Riz Ahmed gives an emotionally-intelligent performance that feels truly genuine.

It's a fairly experimental movie, too, so be prepared for a cinematic experience, particularly sound-wise, quite set apart from any other. But the movie also serves as a showcase for Ahmed's continuing blossoming talents with this tour de force role.

Sacha Baron Cohen proved yet again that comedy deserves more awards with 'Borat Subsequent MovieFilm'

Like his costar Bakalova, Baron Cohen proves that even broad comedy requires great insight and skill. This might be a role full of crass jokes on the surface, but really it's an example of method acting at it's finest. Like Daniel Day-Lewis and Robert De Niro before him, Baron Cohen immerses himself in the role from make-up and hair to accent and physicality.

The only difference is, Day-Lewis or De Niro didn't spend five days holed up with two Trump supporters unable to break character for even a second, nor did they risk their lives at a pro-gun rights campaign pretending to be a country singer. If that doesn't deserve a best actor nod, what does?

'The Crown' alumni Vanessa Kirby came into her own as a performer in 'Pieces of a Woman'

Vanessa Kirby stole the early seasons of "The Crown" as Princess Margaret, but since leaving the Netflix show, she's not done too badly for herself. She's appeared in the "Mission: Impossible" franchise alongside Tom Cruise, and appeared in some serious Oscar-fare, including this one.

Here, she plays a woman whose home birth ends in tragedy and is forced to learn to live with her grief. It's a heartbreaking and intense performance from Kirby, who stars alongside Shia LaBeouf and gives the performance of her career so far.

Viola Davis gave yet another Oscar-tipped performance in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom'

Viola Davis won a long-overdue Oscar in 2017 when she was awarded best supporting actress for "Fences." Every performance she has ever given, from her starring role in "How to Get Away With Murder" and her Oscar-nominated roles in "Doubt" and "The Help" has always been met with acclaim.

This one is no different. While her late costar Chadwick Boseman may receive a larger share of plaudits given it's his final live-action performance ever, Davis lights up the screen as much as he does as the titular Ma Rainey, the "Mother of the Blues." Davis gives a passionate, commanding performance and is in with way more than just a shout for her second Oscar and first best actress win.

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