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The Best Performances of 2018—So Far

A salute to the men and women who entertained us most, from Paper Boi to Prince Harry to Beyoncé (duh) to NoHo Hank to Jennifer Garner on Instagram

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

In a cultural period defined by a glut of always-accessible content, it’s not rare for everything to bleed together and produce an overall reaction of, “OK, well I guess that’s a thing.” But some people still have the ability to rise above the never-ending stream to demand attention and inspire genuine emotion. So far this year, famous moms on Instagram have revealed new layers of their personalities, up-and-coming actors have finally hit their strides, legends have returned to remind us how they earned that title in the first place, and British men have won us over by … well, I guess by being super British.

A handful of performances from the first six months of 2018 have been powerful enough to make us briefly forget the bad parts of this year, to elevate us to states of euphoria that, no matter how brief, have made sifting through all of the content worthwhile. Here are the 10 best performances of the year so far. —Andrew Gruttadaro


Matthew Macfadyen

To begin: Hats off to whoever watched Pride & Prejudice and Howards End and thought, “There he is—that’s my sociopathic new parks director.” Matthew Macfadyen, king of the Joe Wright period piece and our Best Mr. Darcy to Date, has typically been stuck in very English roles, with the waistcoats and the restrained dialogue to match. No more. Succession, the HBO drama about a Murdoch-like media empire, puts Macfadyen in the role of Tom, future son-in-law, corporate cog, and one of several emotionally stunted 30-something men beating their chests at each other for the patriarch’s attention. As Tom, Macfadyen is breathtaking: ambitious, goofy, petty, unstable, with a bonus psychosexual war waged against fellow interloper Cousin Greg. The performance is a testament to Macfadyen’s range, and to the comedic powers of Truly Terrible People Who Have It Coming. If only the real world were so simple. —Amanda Dobbins

Brian Tyree Henry

So much of Atlanta is unspoken. It is a show about a rising rapper that features exactly zero scenes of said rapper rapping. The central relationship of the show, between cousins Earn and Alfred, is directly addressed only sparingly—in terse, grunted sentences exchanged on a fraternity couch or in a rare but symbolic flashback. The characters’ narrative arcs are altered not by obvious impetuses during grand turning points, but by surreal, possibly imagined influences that manifest in quiet, nearly indecipherable ways. And so it fits that the most important, best actor on Atlanta in Season 2 was Brian Tyree Henry.

As Alfred/Paper Boi, Henry captured the character’s ennui and exasperation with nothing more than a roll of his eyes. Without verbally communicating his emotions this season, he played scared, tired, depressed, angry, hungry, lost, bewildered, betrayed, and finally accepting of his fate and responsibilities. All it took was a growl inside the car of a rogue barber, a deadpan glare from the makeshift stage of a music streaming company, or a blood-stained smile in the middle of a convenience store. —Gruttadaro

Armie Hammer’s Tracksuits

Just blending in to the environment #trackieandapint

A post shared by Armie Hammer (@armiehammer) on

A man travels to Italy, and he is changed there. He rides bikes; he learns about apricots; he is transformed artistically and emotionally by the people he meets. And then … he gets snubbed by the Oscars and refuses to change clothes for two weeks. As public tantrums go, putting on an Adidas tracksuit and taking pictures throughout Europe is high-level stuff, and the Armie Hammer narrative is certainly more memorable than, say, 80 percent of the films that won Oscars this year? (When was the last time you thought about The Shape of Water?) It’s good to want things, and it’s good to be mad about not getting them by committing to athletic wear. —Dobbins

Josh Brolin

Before Infinity War came out, this was Thanos:

My guy was not intimidating. It was basically impossible to focus on his plan to eliminate half of the universe’s population instead of that weird, striated alien goatee. And that was kind of a problem for Marvel: Thanos was supposed to be their villain to end all villains, the bringer of the apocalypse that the MCU had been building toward for more than a decade—not a dead ringer for Guy Fieri. But with a mountain of memes to overcome, Josh Brolin was somehow successful in bringing Thanos to life. In Infinity War, Thanos is sufficiently daunting, weirdly empathetic, and nearly understandable. His population control plan doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, but in the moment you at least get a sense of where he’s coming from. In the grizzled, bass-laden voice that Brolin gave the swole purple dude, you feel his pain—the pain caused by loss, by sacrifice, and by taking on a thankless role that he believes is necessary.

Looking back at that Photoshop of Thanos with a strawberry doughnut and Homer Simpson’s face, I still don’t know how he did it. I still don’t know how Josh Brolin turned a ridiculous-looking alien into a viable character with humanity, and thus saved the biggest movie in Marvel’s history. —Gruttadaro

Beyoncé

It’s the Captain Obvious choice, but also an undeniable one. Beyoncé’s Coachella performance—a two-hour, 26-song set featuring an HBCU-style marching band, 100-plus dancers, and samples from Malcolm X and Nina Simone—was historic for the festival, and for the audience, and for the concept of live performance. For Beyoncé, it was just another day of making perfection seem interesting. As our greatest living pop star, she will always earn a spot on lists like these, but the thrill is in watching her figure out new ways to do it. Bonus points for getting anyone to care about Coachella in 2018. —Dobbins

Anthony Carrigan (in Barry)

On a show—that is supposed to be a comedy, mind you—in which a hitman is forced to brutally kill a bunch of people (killing his own soul and sense of self-worth in the process), you need someone to break the tension. That’s why NoHo Hank—a Chechen mobster with a cueball head who kicks off phone calls about hits with, “Are you seeing this beautiful morning?”—is such an essential part of Barry. Hank is the concierge of the Chechen mob world, a guy who’s devoted to injecting the seedy underworld of organized crime with a little bit of class and comfort—a guy who, surrounded by actual death and violence, is just really proud of his lipstick camera, and that idea he had about shipping a bullet (via DHL) to a target’s house just before he’s taken out. It’s adorable.

Played by Anthony Carrigan, Hank has been one of the funniest new characters of 2018. Carrigan is a remarkably efficient actor, making the most of his few lines per episode in Barry, stealing entire scenes with a glint of his eye or an incorrect pronunciation of Bugs Bunny. (“I suggest you take your money and, you know, fly like Bug Bunny in Space Jam.”) A lot of people died at the end of the first season of Barry; I am ecstatic to report that NoHo Hank was not one of them. —Gruttadaro

Prince Harry

If I could quote the essential 2008 romantic comedy 27 Dresses: “When the bride comes in and she makes her giant, grand entrance, I like to glance back at the poor bastard getting married. ’Cause even though I think he’s an idiot … I don’t know, he always looks really, really happy.” Prince Harry knew why 3 billion people were watching, and he cried the whole damn time. Romance! It’s alive in England. —Dobbins

Jennifer Garner

Let me ask you a series of questions:

The answer to all of these questions should be no. Because you are not Jennifer Garner, who has submitted a perfect game of a performance on Instagram this year. —Gruttadaro

Hayley Atwell

There is a distinct pleasure in watching someone get the chance they’ve been waiting for. Hayley Atwell has spent the better part of a decade toiling away as Marvel’s Agent Carter, and while she certainly deserves the money, “bureaucrat love interest” does not demonstrate the full range of her talents. Cue the BBC One update of Howards End, directed by Hettie MacDonald and adapted by Kenneth Lonergan, with an exhilarating score by Nico Muhly. (This miniseries is fantastic; watch it.) It takes a certain mettle to step into a role so closely associated with Emma Thompson—but a sense of purpose is what defines both Margaret Schlegel and, in many ways, Atwell’s own screen presence. She is, in the words of my colleague Alison Herman, “electric.” No wonder she gets the house. —Dobbins

Quincy Jones

Here is a Google Trends chart that shows the interest in Quincy Jones over the past 12 months:

My, oh my, what a noticeable spike! And what, you ask, happened in early February of this year to make “Quincy Jones” such a highly searched term? Did he produce a surprise Beyoncé album? Did he officiate his daughter Rashida Jones’s wedding? Did he and Will Smith record a dubstep version of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song? No. All Quincy Jones did to captivate an entire nation was give two interviews—two immediately legendary interviews. The first interview was with GQ’s Chris Heath, published on January 29. In it, Quincy Jones:

  • Bragged that both Frank Sinatra and Miles Davis had made him eggs before
  • Called Oprah a drama queen
  • Said he had “22 girlfriends” located in cities all across the world, from Cape Town to Cairo to Stockholm
  • Alluded to turning down sex with Marilyn Monroe
  • Delivered one of the most succinct, scathing reviews of Taylor Swift ever recorded: “We need more songs, man. Fucking songs, not hooks.”
  • Told a story about Prince trying to run over Michael Jackson
  • Talked about meeting Leni Riefenstahl, who Quincy had been a fan of “since Triumph of the Will.” In that same story, Quincy intimated that Hitler loved cocaine.

The second interview, with Vulture’s David Marchese, came out nine days later and was somehow more incendiary than the GQ interview. In it, Quincy Jones:

  • Affirmed that he knew the truth about who actually killed John F. Kennedy
  • Talked shit about the Beatles, specifically Ringo Starr
  • Said Paul Allen, the cofounder of Microsoft, was as good at guitar as Jimi Hendrix
  • Confessed that he used to date Ivanka Trump, who is “a fine motherfucker”
  • Answered the question “Is U2 still making good music?” with “[Shakes head.]”
  • Unprompted, said that Marlon Brando would fuck anything—”a mailbox,” for example—and then continued on, saying that Brando had sex with James Baldwin, Richard Pryor, and Marvin Gaye.

It’s truly amazing what can happen when you let an old man with a trove of experiences run on uninterrupted. In an era of ultimate image control, interviews like this just don’t happen. There is more shade and dirt (and also insight) in both of these interviews than in all of the other celebrity profiles published in 2018 combined. Sure, Quincy Jones had to apologize after that last tidbit about Marlon Brando, but even the apology was good:

Thank you, Quincy Jones, for your word vomit, but also for your ability to briefly bring people together this year with a mix of hilarity and outright shock. ((:0)) —Gruttadaro