My choices for the year’s finest movies appear next week in this space — do you mind if I wait until the end of 2017 to pick the best of 2017? — but one thing that title-oriented round-up never lets me delve into as much as I’d like is performance. There can be great acting in so-so movies (and vice versa), while less-appreciated turns can get overshadowed by acclaim for a film’s stars.
The alphabetical list that follows lacks many of the names already jostling for nominations — Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”), Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”), Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name”) — and it regrettably fails to include some remarkable acting on television this year (*cough* Kyle McLachlan *cough*). Think of these, instead, as 20 under-the-radar performances that deserve to be more than blips on your screen.
Michael Fassbender, “Alien Covenant”: Ridley Scott’s latest return to the storied sci-fi/horror franchise was a mixed bag, but Fassbender’s double-turn as two very different androids was a master class in the subtleties of technique.
Betty Gabriel, “Get Out”: Those close-ups of maid Georgina, a black woman inside a white woman inside a black woman, were among the creepiest and most resonant images in Jordan Peele’s endlessly rich horror satire.
Rebecca Hall, “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women”: The story of the man who created Wonder Woman, kinks and all, got lost at the box office, but Hall is delightful as an academic first-wave feminist who gradually connects body, heart, and mind.
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”: The strong, beating heart of an arrhythmic movie. Harrelson was everywhere this year, and he just seems to be getting better with age.
Anne Hathaway, “Colossal”: A young woman finds her insecurities and actions mirrored by a giant monster on the other side of the planet. It’s a ridiculous idea that works, in large part due to Hathaway’s game, empathetic playing.
Sally Hawkins, “Maudie”: Hawkins may well win a best actress Oscar for her astounding (and mostly silent) performance in “The Shape of Water,” but those who’ve seen her as the outsider artist of “Maudie” know that’s just as deserving of praise.
Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, “The Big Sick”: Come on, admit it. You wish they were your parents, too.
Barry Keoghan, “Dunkirk” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”: A dog-faced young actor from Ireland, Keoghan was tragic collateral damage in “Dunkirk” and a calmly terrifying force of evil in “Deer.”
Vicky Krieps, “Phantom Thread”: It takes talent and guts to steal a movie from Daniel Day-Lewis. As the seemingly mild-mannered muse to a high-fashion dressmaker, the Luxembourgian actress grows in stature before our eyes.
Elizabeth Marvel, “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)”: In a movie about fathers and sons, Marvel is the rueful voice of sanity as an overlooked yet resilient daughter and sister.
Tatiana Maslany, “Stronger”: Jake Gyllenhaal performs his usual wonders as Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman, but whenever Maslany is onscreen as Bauman’s girlfriend, Erin Hurley, your heart just about breaks from the quiet stoicism.
Cynthia Nixon. “A Quiet Passion”: Playing poet Emily Dickinson across most of the decades of her life, the ever-undervalued Nixon delivers an epic emotional portrayal of a once-undervalued artist.
Robert Pattinson, “Good Time” and “The Lost City of Z”: Revenge of the “Twilight” stars, Pt. 1. There’s the former teen idol’s scalding portrayal of a live-wire screwup in the Safdie brothers’ “Good Time” and his stalwart support as a jungle guide in “Lost City,” a very fine film that nobody saw.
Michelle Pfeiffer, “Murder on the Orient Express”: Her role as a menacing interloper in “mother!” got more press, but Pfeiffer is the secret weapon of this enjoyable but so-so remake, and when she finally lets her hair down it’s a scene to remember.
Florence Pugh, “Lady Macbeth”: As a murderous wife in 19th-century England, the 21-year-old Pugh holds the screen with remarkable control and slowly growing malice.
Haley Lu Richardson, “Columbus”: The film is a small indie treasure about hesitance and architecture, and Richardson captures all the poignancy of a young woman at the crossroads of life and art.
Kristen Stewart, “Personal Shopper”: Revenge of the “Twilight” stars, Pt. 2. Stewart has evolved into one of the most ambiguous and artful presences in modern movies, able to take a scene of a young woman reading texts on her phone and tell you everything you need to know about her.
Michael Stuhlbarg, “Call Me by Your Name” and “The Shape of Water”: A versatile and soulful character actor, Stuhlbarg made us love one of the most complicated figures in “The Shape of Water” and beautifully finessed the father’s healing monologue near the end of “Call Me by Your Name.”
Bria Vinaite, “The Florida Project”: Willem Dafoe has a real shot at a supporting Oscar and everybody loves pint-size star Brooklynn Prince, but how about a word for Vinaite as the girl’s mother? You understand but hate the character for a reason: It’s called good acting.
Michelle Williams, “All the Money in the World”: Christopher Plummer will get deserved plaudits for stepping into Kevin Spacey’s shoes at the last minute, but as the stressed-out mother of kidnapped heir J. Paul Getty III, Williams gives a star performance of heroic maternal sanity.Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.