A list of the most underrated performances from 2023’s movie scene, which are struggling to break through to the awards shows despite their acclaim.
With several high-profile awards shows just around the corner, culminating with the Oscars themselves in March, it’s that time of year when critics and academy voters are coming to reflect upon the most influential and memorable performances from the previous year, but also the most underrated ones. Just like any year, many of the same names from 2023 movies are finding themselves at the centre of the conversation at every single awards show. Actors such as Robert Downey Jr. and Da’Vine Joy Randolph are already (deservedly) on track for a complete sweep in the supporting categories, while Cillian Murphy, Emma Stone, and Lily Gladstone have found themselves nominated at every possible corner.
While it’s great that such exceptional performances are receiving universal acclaim, this homogeneity of the awards shows means that it’s almost impossible for the lesser-recognized, more under-the-radar performances to ever break through with a shot, despite some of last year’s most talented and boundary-pushing performances landing in this category. In no particular order, here’s a breakdown of some of the most underrated movie performances of 2023, from actors who provided some truly impressive work last year, despite the lack of awards attention they’re receiving.
1. Milo Machado-Graner
Anatomy Of A Fall
For a while, critics were unsure whether the industry voters would share the same affection for Anatomy of a Fall as the rest of the movie-watching world does, but thankfully the project now seems like a certainty for that elusive Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. The film is also leading a pretty strong campaign for Sandra Hüller in Best Actress, but one aspect of the project that’s seemingly being overlooked is Milo Machado-Graner’s performance as Daniel.
Despite the actor’s young age, he transforms his character into the undeniable emotional core of this story and immediately captures the audiences’ hearts with his vulnerability and innocence. The character easily could’ve been misconstrued as one-dimensional or unimportant, but Machado-Graner ensures that Daniel serves a real purpose that truly elevates Anatomy of a Fall’s story.
2. Claire Foy & Jamie Bell
All Of Us Strangers
It’s almost impossible to choose which performance from Andrew Haigh’s devastating drama All Of Us Strangers deserves the awards recognition, but critics seem to have agreed that it’s Andrew Scott who most fiercely captivates the audiences through this project. And while that’s a fair assessment, it’s unfortunate that supporting actors Claire Foy and Jamie Bell seem to have fallen to the side in order to make room for Scott’s campaign. Despite their minimal screen time, Foy and Bell provide excellent work as younger versions of the protagonist’s late parents, really capitalising on the film’s themes of lost youth and the persistence of grief. Their dynamic with Scott’s character Adam is what really makes this story work, and it’s hard to imagine anybody else in their roles.
3. Glenn Howerton
Since the film’s release, Howerton has been the critics’ underdog pick for Best Supporting Actor this year, but that’s quickly proven to be a pipe dream that the industry sadly hasn’t taken under their wing. His work in BlackBerry is exceptional, and reminds audiences that he’s much more than the comedic actor he’s made his name as through It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. His character is totally different from anything Howerton has ever done before, but he makes it seem effortless by completely disappearing into this story and providing a level of intensity and high stakes that BlackBerry really needed to make the narrative work. Though it looks extremely unlikely, Howerton would be a perfect surprise when Oscar nominations eventually roll around.
4. Alden Ehrenreich & Phoebe Dyevenor
While the film itself hasn’t found itself among awards contention this year, Fair Play‘s two lead performances from Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor certainly deserve to be in the conversation. The film, which follows a married couple whose relationship falls into turmoil when workplace ambitions get in between them, features a razor-sharp screenplay that allows Ehrenreich and Dynevor to dive deep into these characters and create some incredibly complex and nuanced moments. It’s a film that completely relies on the chemistry between the two actors, and they make light work of that responsibility.
5. Cailee Spaeny
Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla rightly prides itself on being a subversive, multi-dimensional biopic that explores the relationship between rock and roll star Elvis Presley and his wife Priscilla. The couple are portrayed on-screen by Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny, who paint these characters in fascinating ways that they’ve never been shown before. In particular, Spaeny’s vulnerable and often child-like performance gives Coppola ample opportunity to explore the dangers of power imbalance and the tragedy of stolen youth. It’s a subtle performance that’s unlikely to secure many awards this year but Priscilla wouldn’t have been anywhere near as effective without it.
6. Julia Garner & Jessica Henwick
The Royal Hotel
Kitty Green’s The Royal Hotel is another movie that unfortunately flew under the radar last year, but it features two of 2023’s most underrated performances by far. The story follows two young girls, played by Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick, who start working at a run-down pub in Australia when they run out of money on their travels. Much like Green’s previous film The Assistant, The Royal Hotel explores the dangers of toxic masculinity and male entitlement in the workplace from a female perspective – but where The Royal Hotel goes even further is through its multiple female characters and their conflicting experiences. Garner and Henwick explore the opposite ends of this universal spectrum in such effective and memorable ways that really helps Green’s message leave a lasting impression.
7. Sydney Sweeney
Although it’s her heated rom-com Anyone But You that’s flung her into the spotlight recently, Sydney Sweeney’s biggest achievement last year was actually something completely different. Reality tells the true story of Reality Winner, the woman involved in an explosive whistle-blowing controversy surrounding Russian interference in the presidential elections. The entire film is a vessel for Sweeney’s towering performance, which consistently keeps the audience at arm’s length and forces them to reckon with the morality of her character’s choices. It raises some fascinating questions about how much we really know about the society we live in, and Sweeney is constantly at the top of her game.
8. Teo Yoo & John Magaro
While it’s Greta Lee that’s deservedly receiving most of the acting acclaim for Past Lives, the poignant drama wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective without the talents of Teo Yoo and John Magaro as the character’s two lovers. The characters add so much emotional depth and maturity to the story that prevents it from feeling like just another contemplative romance, but rather an exploration of humanity itself. Yoo’s character is desperate and blinded by a lost love, while Magaro’s character has everything he’s ever needed and is forced to come face to face with whom he’s supposedly taken it from. It’s such a powerful story, and the dynamic between Yoo and Magaro’s characters is undeniably one of its most underrated aspects.
The 96th Academy Awards will take place on March 10, 2024 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Read our stock up / stock down articles on the Oscar race and come back soon for our predictions!