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The Second Annual Awards Radar Awards (Part One): The Best Performances of 2021

Welcome to the end of the year! With only a few days left in 2021, it’s time to start giving out some prizes. Today, we kick off the Second Annual Awards Radar Awards, also known as the Joey Awards (because, as mentioned last year, when you own a site, you get to name a prize after yourself). Throughout the week, we’ll be highlighting my favorites of the year. What makes a worthy winner for me? It’s simply a gut feeling, so don’t necessarily expect just Oscar contenders on these lists. Academy hopefuls are represented, to be sure, but it’s hardly just prestige titles. After all, it’s my tastes, which are decidedly eclectic.

For part one of this awards series, we’re going to be tackling the best performances of the year. Quickly, before I reveal the winners, I want to give an extra shout-out to the runner-up in each field. In the Actor category, it’s Nicolas Cage for Pig. In the Actress category, it’s Renate Reinsve for The Worst Person in the World. More on them both later on this week, but it’s time to get down to the winners. Who took home the first wave of the second installment of the Awards Radar Awards, acquiring the clearly coveted Joey Prizes? You’re about to find out. Here we go, ladies and gentlemen…

The Best Performance by an Actor in 2021 – Simon Rex in Red Rocket

A24

As unexpected as a performance as it is brilliant, Simon Rex blew me away in Red Rocket. What easily could have been a completely gross character is instead an incredibly hypnotic one. Rex finds the rapscallion aspect of the hustler, allowing you, if not to root for him, but be dying to see what he does next. From my rave review out of the New York Film Festival: “Simon Rex is an absolute force of nature here. He attacks the role of Mikey with a zest that’s so hypnotic, you completely understand how so many could wind up under his spell. Rex’s washed up former porn actor is a complete narcissist and about as oily as it gets, but he’s also almost child-like in his actions. He does terrible things, but you want to believe he’s not an irredeemably bad human being. Rex blew me away with a turn that won’t soon be forgotten about.” This movie truly doesn’t work without Rex. His candidacy for Best Actor at the Oscars may be a bit of a long shot, but nothing else by an actor his blown me away like this.

The Top Ten Performances by an Actor in 2021

NEON

10. Jamie Dornan in Belfast

9. Troy Kotsur in CODA

8. Mark Duplass in Language Lessons

7. Tim Blake Nelson in Old Henry

6. Jason Isaacs in Mass

5. Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog

4. Peter Dinklage in Cyrano

3. Ben Affleck in The Tender Bar

2. Nicolas Cage in Pig

1. Simon Rex in Red Rocket

Honorable Mentions (Spoiler Alert below)

Focus Features

Reed Birney in Mass

Clifton Collins Jr. in Jockey

Daniel Craig in No Time to Die

Colman Domingo in Zola

Andrew Garfield in Tick, Tick… Boom! (and *redacted*)

Cirian Hinds in Belfast

Oscar Isaac in The Card Counter

Luke Kirby in No Man of God

Woody Norman in C’mon C’mon

Joaquin Phoenix in C’mon C’mon

J.K. Simmons in Being the Ricardos

Will Smith in King Richard

Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Power of the Dog

The Best Performance by an Actress in 2021 – Kristen Stewart in Spencer

NEON

Nothing matches what Kristen Stewart accomplished with her work in Spencer. She’s downright incredible, disappearing into a challenging role. Truly, she will haunt your dreams and memories with this all-timer of a turn. As I said in my review out of the Toronto International Film Festival: “Kristen Stewart deserves to win the Oscar for Best Actress, full stop. Disappearing into the role of Diana, there isn’t a moment in Spencer where you’re seeing Stewart. It’s only the Princess of Wales. It certainly doesn’t hurt that some of the paparazzi elements and external pressures laid at Diana’s feet resemble things the actress has gone through, but it’s still a performance for the ages. Tightly wound but full of personality, she shows you why this human being captured the imagination of so many. Especially in one particular sequence, she makes the woman truly come alive.” The Academy Award deserves to be hers, but that’s almost besides the point now. This is a performance that will stand the test of time. Nothing else this year has come close to touching it.

The Top Ten Performances by an Actress in 2021

NEON

10. Caitriona Balfe in Belfast

9. Taylour Paige in Zola

8. Emilia Jones in CODA

7. Nicole Kidman in Being the Ricardos

6. Ann Dowd in Mass

5. Isabelle Furhman in The Novice

4. Alana Haim in Licorice Pizza

3, Suzanna Son in Red Rocket

2. Renate Reinsve in The Worst Person in the World

1. Kristen Stewart in Spencer

Honorable Mentions

Bleecker Street

Nina Arianda in Being the Ricardos

Jodie Comer in The Last Duel

Penelope Cruz in Parallel Mothers

Bree Elrod in Red Rocket

Molly Gordon in Shiva Baby

McKenna Grace in Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Riley Keough in Zola

Jennifer Lawrence in Don’t Look Up

Marlee Matlin in CODA

Martha Plimpton in Mass

Agathe Rousselle in Titane

Rachel Sennott in Shiva Baby

Rachel Zegler in West Side Story

Awards Radar Awards

Stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow, where you’ll see my Top Ten films of 2021!

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Robert Hamer
Robert Hamer(@robert-hammer)
24 days ago

I think what I admired most about Simon Rex in Red Rocket were the times he was presented with opportunities to “humanize” Mikey and sand the edges off of him… and didn’t take it.

You’d think the slow closeup on his face during Strawberry’s song would be a sort of turning point for the character, where the actor would communicate with his eyes and face a newfound admiration or maybe even feelings of guilt for how he treated her in the past, but no. Rex just holds this unwavering blank expression on his face because Mikey can’t conceive of Strawberry as anything other than a means to get him back into the good graces of the adult entertainment industry.

Most actors love to dig into diabolically evil characters; not many are comfortable the way Simon Rex was in fully inhabiting a more mundane, run-of-the-mill gross sleazeball.

Michael R
Michael R
23 days ago

My favorite female performance of the year is Lady Gaga in House of Gucci. My favorite male performance is Bradley Cooper in Nightmare Alley. For Supporting performances I would choose Martha Plimpton and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

Christy
Christy
23 days ago

Great picks!

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Cristian Barros
Cristian Barros
22 days ago

A great list of performances, but I would also add Adriana Debose for her captivating performance in West Side Story. She steals every scene she’s in and is the MVP of the movie!

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[…] your time when you can be celebrating the best of a given year? Hell, I just did that last week here, here, and here. The rare exception can be something that legitimately is harmful, like a Roe v. […]

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