Jeremy Pope, "The Inspection"
As a gay man entering basic training for the most dire of reasons, Jeremy Pope's performance in Elegant Bratton's autobiographical "The Inspection" is one of the most beautiful things on screen this year. Vulnerable to his emotions, his performance isn't one that causes him to hide his true nature from his fellow recruits. In fact, they all find out pretty quickly, and the rest of the film is his how he deals with the swirl of prejudice. Compounded by the fact his mother (Gabrielle Union) has essentially disowned him for his sexual orientation, Pope's magnificent, layered embodiment of a man just trying to survive (literally) in the most unforgiving of places makes us care all the more.
Ashton Kutcher, "Vengeance"
B.J Novak's social media film noir came and went in theaters pretty fast, which is a shame because it gets more interesting as it goes along and features some genuine depth (and comedy) about our relationship with each other through the thin guise of "cultures". But the minute Kutcher shows up as a laconic, slow drawl Texas record producer who may have something to do with the central murder-mystery, "Vengeance" received a sever injection of brilliance. Whether it's the way he spouts metaphysical nonsense with the cadence of a Southern psychopath or the way he commands attention with his lanky body, his role as Quentin Sellers is the stuff of genuine supporting actor charm.
Bella Ramsey, "Catherine Called Birdy"
Making her name as the braver-than-most-men in season 6 of "Game of Thrones", Bella Ramsey dons another side of her personality in Lena Dunham's whip smart medieval comedy "Catherine Called Birdy". This time she plays..... well her goofy 14 year old self. Anachronistic, playful, and comedically intelligent, Ramsey inhabits Birdy with all the charm and giggling grace of a young woman who's not only braver than most here as well, but smarter. She has a bright future ahead of her.
Hayley Lu Richardson, "After Yang" and "Montana Story"
The year of Hayley Lu Richardson continues. Or maybe the last 5 years? Her performance as an emotionally stunted daughter returning home to settle her dying father's affairs in "Montana Story" and the lovelorn young woman in her second brilliant effort with filmmaker Kogonada in "After Yang", both show her range as someone battling against her inner demons while remaining a steadfast, independent figure in vastly different realms of narrative. Both films rank as two of my favorite films of the year mostly because of her honest presence.
Key Hu Quan, "Everything Everywhere All At Once"
(image from A24)
In "Everything Everywhere All At Once", Quan is asked to play many roles as he and his family spin out of control in a whirlpool of multiverses. But through each one (especially the one that directly sinks him and Michelle Yeoh in the recesses of a Wong Kar Wai film), his uncanny ability to portray the goodness and humanity is a revelation. Oscars don't mean much to my view, but I so desperately want Quan recognized later next year for this role.