The 10 most underrated performances of awards season — Andscape
It’s officially awards season in Hollywood, but for Black and other marginalized talent, this is rarely the time when our performances receive the praise they deserve. Just glancing at the past century of Hollywood history tells us that fact will not change anytime soon.
A part of divesting from the systems that were created to keep us out is the loud celebration of our work in our spaces and any financial support we can lend. Here are the most brilliant, underrated performances of 2023 and where you can watch them.
Teyana Taylor — A Thousand and One
Whatever you knew of Teyana Taylor before A Thousand and One was released, her lead actress performance demands a reintroduction. The multi-hyphenate talent plays Inez, a young single mother with a heartbreaking secret. Taylor disappears into the role that feels so specific to a young woman in 1980s Harlem while epitomizing an ageless and timeless Black female experience of thankless and systemic self-sacrifice for the men and boys in our lives.
Now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Trace Lysette — Monica
One of the most quietly brilliant performances of the year belongs to Trace Lysette in the titular role of Monica, a woman grappling with grief as she cares for a dying mother with dementia who pushed Monica away after she came out as trans. It is so rare for trans characters to be played by trans actors and even rarer for those roles not to be exploitative, inauthentic, or downright harmful to trans people. Monica is not only a compelling, layered family drama, but Lysette lends Monica her fullness, allowing her to be a vessel for trans women’s experiences and a vector in this industry, propelling it forward with a new possibility for how trans characters can exist on screen.
Now streaming on AMC+.
Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor — Origin
One of the year’s most ambitious films is filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s Origin, an adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson’s nonfiction book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents about the interconnectedness of oppression worldwide. The phenomenal Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor tackles the role of Wilkerson as she battles grief to write the book and help provide solutions by getting to the root of our ongoing global struggles. Ellis-Taylor gives her all to the role and never disappoints.
Nicole Beharie — The Morning Show
One thing about Nicole Beharie? She’s going to steal the show. Whether it’s Black Mirror, Little Fires Everywhere, Solos or Scenes from a Marriage and most definitely the recent season of The Morning Show — Beharie will eat it up and leave us wanting more. It’s high time these studios give the people what they want, and Beharie leads the charge with the flexibility, humanity and range that her talent demands.
Now streaming on Apple TV+.
Dewayne Perkins — The Blackening
Speaking of comedy, the funniest movie of 2023 was The Blackening, and it’s all thanks to Dewayne Perkins, the co-writer and star of the film. Taking a page out of actor-writer Issa Rae’s book, Perkins named his character in the horror-comedy after himself so we would all be sure to remember his name.
Now streaming on Starz.
J. Alphonse Nicholson — They Cloned Tyrone
Do you know how hard it is to stand out in a comedy with a stacked cast? Even with a supporting role as a “villain” with a deadpan delivery, J. Alphonse Nicholson has some of the funniest, most surprising moments in a government conspiracy film that tells too much truth not to become a modern classic. Often seen in more dramatic roles, Nicholson is a generational talent, and if the world doesn’t know that yet, now it knows.
Now streaming on Netflix.
Danielle Pinnock — Ghosts
I’ve been hyping Danielle Pinnock in Ghosts since Season One, and her Season Two performance as Alberta, the ghost of a Prohibition-era lounge singer, continues to deserve praise. Pinnock brings such depth and heart to Alberta in a season where we finally learn more about the character’s backstory and the mystery of her murder. The comedy queen can crack us up and have us in our feelings at the snap of a finger, and that’s what we call range!
Now streaming on Paramount+.
Mia Isaac — Black Cake
Black Cake was one of the past year’s most bingeable shows, thanks to its lead actor, Mia Isaac. Isaac plays Covey, a young Jamaican-Chinese teen who escapes an arranged marriage to a dangerous man and lives a life so wild and traumatic she must keep it secret from everyone she loves. This is not your typical teen drama.What Covey faces is enough to give any actor worth their salt a run for their money. But Isaac’s impressive turn is made even more so because she’s young herself. The 19-year-old has a bright present and a long future in this industry. It’s time for people to take notice.
Now streaming on Hulu.
Ryunosuke Kamiki — Godzilla Minus One
I’d never seen any Godzilla movie until a friend bought me a ticket to Godzilla Minus One and insisted I see it. It was the best gift of 2023. Godzilla Minus One quickly rose to the top of my best films of the year list, thanks to the incredible performance of its lead, Ryunosuke Kamiki. Kamiki plays a kamikaze pilot at the end of World War II in Japan who wrestles with the guilt of not doing his suicidal duty and the lives he cost with his cowardice. Watching Kamiki act out the hero’s journey from shame to courage is so fantastic, so heartfelt, so utterly gut-wrenching and healing all at the same time that it reminds you why we go to the movies in the first place, and what a great movie can do for the soul.
Now in theaters.
Lily Gladstone — Fancy Dance
Fancy Dance is one of the last films I saw of the 2023 season, and it was one of the best, in no small part, thanks to Lily Gladstone. Her powerful performance as a grieving sister and aunt trying her best to take care of her niece while she searches for her missing sister with Child Protective Services, white family members and the FBI breathing down her back was stellar. It is Killers of the Flower Moon in the present day if its director Martin Scorsese had stepped aside and let an Indigenous woman writer-director tell an Indigenous story. Unfortunately, Hollywood seems only to have space for one film with Indigenous characters per season and has chosen the one that focuses on white men, leaving the award-winning Fancy Dance criminally unable to find a distributor. It’s the best work of Gladstone’s career, telling an Indigenous story by Indigenous people. Still, we’ll have to wait a bit longer to stream this fantastic film.