Do not worry about that title. The Lost Highway Hotel isn’t about to descend into vacuous red carpet glamour. But as the end of the decade starts appearing on the horizon (and with 100 film recommendations already live for your exploration) it felt like a neat time to celebrate the incredible acting talents that have made our times likely to endure. There’s no order or hierarchy to the following. But these are some of the people whose very appearance will put a film on the must-see list around here:
As the lines delineating film and TV corrode, Elisabeth Moss has remained a force to be reckoned with in both fields. Coming up on the small screen in the likes of The West Wing and Mad Men, Moss has maintained her grip thanks to the likes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Top Of The Lake. But her talents have caught the attention of many great filmmakers. Supporting roles for the likes of Jordan Peele and Ruben Östlund have helped bolster those films, while her lead in Alex Ross Perry’s under-seen Queen Of Earth deserved more celebration than it garnered. There are echoes of Jodie Foster’s look and integrity about Moss, but she brings her own distinct vibe to the roles she chooses.
Riz Ahmed came to many people’s attention via Chris Morris’ riotously funny 2010 film Four Lions, which charted the misadventures of a band of would-be terrorists targeting the London Marathon. Since then he’s been a welcome supporting presence, gaining wider notoriety thanks to exposure in mega-franchise instalment Rogue One. We’ve also been treated to two pairings with Jake Gyllenhaal; bringing goofy naivety in Nightcrawler and evoking our sympathies in The Sisters Brothers. Ahmed’s performances are frequently defined by their fragility. He allows us to see the inner workings of his characters; their hesitations; their uncertainties. As far-flung or absurd as they may be, we see ourselves.
Tessa Thompson has a habit of stealing any movie she’s in. From Dear White People through Marvel mega-hit Thor: Ragnarok to Boots Riley’s scatterlogical Sorry To Bother You, Thompson brings spark, fizz and a sensibility that feels thoroughly modern. Her social media is bizarrely and brilliantly obsessed with comparing her to goats. That is, when it’s not shipping a lesbian romance between her Valkyrie and Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel; something the star gleefully endorses. And Thompson still had time to play the object of Janelle Monáe’s affections in the companion film for her sex-positive album Dirty Computer. Thompson is heading into the next decade strong.
The 2010s may not have been Cate Blanchett’s breakout decade, but she’s become a figure to be reckoned with. Of course there is the mighty Carol in which she plays the titular role, and her Oscar-nabbing central turn in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. But there have been career pivots that have justifiably turned heads too, from playing Hela in Thor: Ragnarok (and looking AMAZING while doing so) to being the sole voice inhabiting over 20 characters for Julian Rosefeldt’s art piece Manifesto. Oh, and not for nothing, her wardrobe in Ocean’s 8 suggests she’d make a rollicking good Bowie…
Michael B Jordan
“Where’s Wallace? Where’s Wallace, yo!?” Michael B Jordan played the kid too innocent to sling dope in the first season of The Wire. Now, some fifteen+ years on, Jordan has become one of the most charismatic and fiery screen presences around. His Killmonger frequently comes up in discussion of the best Marvel bad guys thus far, while his work in the Creed films is nothing short of remarkable. There’s no reason not to believe the next decade will see him become a fully-fledged megastar.
Michael Shannon really broke through this decade, making a name for himself with the darkly comic intensity he brought to HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and the sensitivity expressed in the films of Jeff Nichols. Frequently hilarious in interview and always willing to go to extreme places with his considerable acting talents, Shannon is one of the most impressive performers around. If you need a gonzo villain or an unpredictable ‘x’ factor for your movie, look no further.
Fucking yes, Kristen Stewart. The former Twilight star has spent the better part of the decade quietly awing the indie scene, working with the likes of Kelly Reichardt and Walter Salles. Her two significant roles for Olivier Assayas (Clouds Of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper respectively) are as disarmingly impressive as each other. It’s time to stop laughing about moody vampire romances. Stewart’s over it and she means business. One of the most interesting presences out there.
Caleb Landry Jones
The most perfect piece of casting this decade was Caleb Landry Jones as Willem Dafoe’s son in The Florida Project. Landry Jones’ scrawny physique has caught the eye of many auteurs and his range has powered a lot of films to greatness. The raw energy he brings to Heaven Knows What; his sinister skulk in Get Out; the shrill wretchedness he brings to Twin Peaks: The Return. Landry Jones frequently seems like a bomb waiting to go off. That unhinged quality makes him fascinating to watch.
Speaking of Get Out, here’s Lakeith Stanfield; a man on a lot of casting wish lists. Stanfield drew attention for his powerful performance as a fostered youth in Dustin Cretton’s Short Term 12. Since then he’s been a thankfully persistent presence, both on our small and big screens. This all culminated at the tail end of last year with his starring role in Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You alongside the aforementioned Tessa Thompson. There’s a trajectory at work here. Stanfield is going places and the next few years could see him really break big.
Kicking off the decade as David Fincher’s Lizbeth, Mara has proven herself chameleonic and intensely watchable, regardless of the guise. The hackneyed old term “wise beyond her years” seems to apply in this instance; Mara’s performance as Therese in Carol is absolutely The Lost Highway Hotel’s performance of the decade; heart-breaking and brittle, yet determined and – in its own way – fierce. That’s a good summation of Mara’s qualities.
Jaws quite understandably met floors when Lupita Nyong’o made her Oscar-winning feature debut in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave. A huge new talent had arrived… Then Hollywood struggled to know what to do with her. The next few years found Nyong’o under-used, mo-capped or side-lined to voice work. Fortunately, the system got a clue. Ryan Coogler made great use of her for Marvel’s Black Panther, while, this year, Jordan Peele put her centre-stage – twice – for horror ride Us (and her work there has yet to be matched by anyone anywhere else).
Phoenix emerged from a stunt identity crisis bolder than ever, judiciously picking projects that have seen him honing his range into a particularly scratchy, mumblesome and emotionally volatile niche. The prickling energy he brings to films like The Master or You Were Never Really Here makes him one of the most fascinating actors working today. The key, perhaps, is an underlying degree of vulnerability. Spike Jonze mined this for his sensitive sci-fi flick Her. Comic book movie fatigue has hit hard here at The Lost Highway Hotel of late, but Phoenix makes Joker one to watch this autumn.
Chastain simmered in 2011, providing graceful support in the likes of Take Shelter and The Tree Of Life… then exploded thanks to Kathryn Bigelow’s rigorous dramatic belter Zero Dark Thirty. Since then she’s been a significant force in American cinema, showing range and sensitivity and a boldness we associate with the enduring greats of Hollywood’s leading ladies. She’s here for the duration, and that means whatever she touches is going to be worth the ride. Chastain has also proven to be an outspoken voice on social and in print media, using her celebrity to champion equality and other causes important to her.
Another decade, another ten years of Juliette Binoche absolutely killing it. When she’s not doing during jury duty in unexpected shit like Ghost In The Shell, Binoche spends her time providing some of the finest lead performances around for significant filmmakers. For Claire Denis she provided a startling about-turn from Let The Sunshine In to High Life, beguiled for Abbas Kiarostami in Certified Copy, and was a significant player in making Olivier Assayas’ Clouds Of Sils Maria one of The Lost Highway Hotel’s top 10 films of the 2010s. Binoche might be the best there is right now. Unless…
Unless… you’re Carrie Coon. Her name may not register as loudly as some of the others on this list, but Coon is among the finest actors working in North America. Chances are you’ve seen her in supporting roles (Ben Affleck’s sister in Gone Girl, something sinister in Avengers: Infinity War) but if we turn our attention to the small screen, and prestige drama, Coon is queen. She was one of the main reasons that (controversial take alert) season three was the best Fargo so far, while she made Nora Durst one of the all-time great TV characters in The Leftovers (itself one of the all-time shows). Carrie Coon. Keep watching.
Fucking yes, Robert Pattinson. Much like his former co-star Kristen Stewart, Pattinson has spent the last few years proving his detractors wrong. Forget about Twilight. Pattinson has shown a thirst for dynamic and challenging work. Think the icy detachment of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis or Maps To The Stars, his awards-worthy supporting role in The Rover, getting raggedy for the Safdie brothers’ Good Time or his recent collaboration with Claire Denis on High Life. Internet babies may cry over his casting as Batman for (another) forthcoming reboot, but he might just be the best choice this side of Michael Keaton. If you haven’t already done so, it might be time to catch up.
Portman spent the 00s wrestling out of the straightjacket moniker ‘child star’, arriving in the 2010s as a fully-fledged megastar, nabbing a (deserved) Best Actress Academy Award for her committed turn in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Since then, everything’s been electric. She deserved another Oscar for her work in Jackie, while her choice of projects grows savvier with every passing year. Witness 2018’s one-two punch of Annihilation and Vox Lux. Portman’s got a no-fucks-given vibe going on right now that suits this smart woman incredibly well.
When he’s not been catching fire on TV shows like American Horror Story and The Knick, André Holland has been boosting the quality and appeal of big hitters in the indie world, like Barry Jenkin’s soulful Moonlight or Ava DuVernay’s righteous Selma. Earlier this year, Steven Soderberg placed him front-and-centre for his smart Netflix sports drama High Flying Bird. It stands as one of the performances of 2019 so far, lending further support to The Lost Highway Hotel’s theory that this bird’s about to really take flight.
Bryan Tyree Henry
Bryan Tyree Henry makes things better. I’ve still to catch up on TV series Atlanta, but I look forward to seeing what’s he’s been bringing there. Elsewhere, he brought the simmering threat of violence to Steve McQueen’s Widows and lit a fire in the already burning If Beale Street Could Talk. It is that film that set the bar. He arrives mid-film, for two scenes, and leaves it flawless. Keep an eye on this one. It shouldn’t be hard; he’ll be appearing in A Quiet Place 2 and Joker before very long.
Speaking of Widows, how incredible was Elizabeth Debicki? First capturing attention in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, Debicki cooled for a while, taking attention-grabbing small parts (the likes of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2) before roaring back into the collective conscious recently with the likes of the aforementioned Widows and Jennifer Fox’s chilling The Tale. That she plays a predatory sex offender in that film goes some way to highlighting that Debicki is intent on engaging with challenging work. Her towering 6ft 2 height also makes her a fine role model for aspiring talents that don’t fit the preconceived expectations for young beautiful women making it in Hollywood. The next decade had better provide her with the material to match her ambition.
As mentioned at the start, there’s no hierarchy to this list, but a strong case could be made for Oscar Isaac as the decade’s dominant male. Indecently handsome, Isaac emerged from the side-lines in films like Drive, rising to worldwide acclaim in the title role of the Coens’ Inside Llewyn Davis. Since then he’s rarely been far from the spotlight, nabbing – and sustaining – a prize role in the new Star Wars saga, showing off his dance moves for Alex Garland in Ex Machina and generally prowling around like he owns the place. His confidence and charisma bring to mind some of Hollywood’s classic leading men, and there’s no reason to believe Isaac isn’t up to the task of joining their ranks. Long live the king.