With the fall season upon us, awards-contending movies are popping up all over the place, meaning we’re in for some strong performances from actors and actresses with potential for Oscar buzz. We’re definitely into that, but our most anticipated performances are not necessarily tied to what’s likely to win awards. Some are out of fandom, the desire to see the latest work from an appreciated star. Some are with hope for a mainstream breakout.
These eight performers — four actors and four actresses — come from all over the world and vary in age, experience, fame, and the size of the role highlighted. The characters they play include historical figures, real people loosely fictionalized, and originally conceived parents trying to survive along with their families. And we look forward to them regardless of the quality of the movie around them (though it’s better if those are great, too).
Check out our list, as selected by our current interns, below.
Natalie Portman in Lucy in the Sky
[Release Date: October 4th] From pop divas to ballet dancers, Natalie Portman seems to have tackled the nuances of all the glamorous professions we said we wanted to be when we grew up. Her latest, Lucy in the Sky, is no different. In Noah Hawley’s feature directorial debut, the actress steps into an astronaut suit. But the film is actually about what happens when she has to step out. Says Portman’s titular character in the trailer, “You go up there, you see the whole universe, and everything here looks so small.”
Along with the aspect ratios, Portman’s performance seems to promise monumental shifts as she transports from space to earth. Based on the trailer, her portrayal of emptiness and post-space depression looks to be paired with fantasticism. The trailer ends on her racing through dark rainy streets in a blonde wig, clutching a revolver — what exactly has she gotten herself into? From Lucy in the Sky, we hope for another killer, existential performance from Portman, as well as new insight into the life of an astronaut. – Fletcher Peters
Song Kang-ho in Parasite
[Releaes Date: October 11th] Bong Joon-ho’s latest film, Parasite, has caused quite a buzz since its premiere at Cannes, where it won the Palm D’or, earlier this year. The Bong Hive, as they’ve called themselves, preach the good word of the director’s work and are keeping the hype alive. Parasite marks his latest collaboration with Song Kang-ho, who has worked with Bong in Memories of Murder, Snowpiercer, and The Host. Song is a prolific Korean actor and also worked with Park Chan-wook for his vampire romance, Thirst. In Bong’s work, though, Song often plays a bumbling father in a broken yet loving family, doing whatever he can to protect them but often failing in increasingly comic and tragic ways.
Song is able to transform into his characters, from the idiotic Park Gang-doo of The Host to the ruthless and drug-addicted Namgoong Minsoo of Snowpiercer. Here, he plays Kim Ki-Taek, patriarch of the destitute Kim family, who scam and steal their way through life. While Parasite is more realistic than his past projects with Bong, this will let Song play more with subtlety; his is not a larger-than-life character or a character facing impossible circumstances. He can showcase his ability to work with less explosive emotions as he tries to look past crippling poverty to support his family. While Parasite may not be a blockbuster success in the US, it will bring more attention to not only Bong as a director but Song as an actor. He deserves wider recognition for his range and his dedication for the craft. – Mary Beth McAndrews
Tom Holland in The Current War
[Release Date: October 25th] Talk about anticipated performances, we’ve been waiting on this one for around three years now. Tom Holland was cast in The Current War in November of 2016, just months after his major Marvel debut in Captain America: Civil War. A historical drama covering personal and business rivalries between a few well-known inventors, the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival back in 2017 but was severely delayed and will finally be released this October. Holland’s character is Samuel Insull, an associate of Thomas Edison (played by Benedict Cumberbatch). He appears in the most recent trailer with a rather high billing and impressively poofy hair.
It’s going to be fascinating to watch a throwback Holland performance in the light of his newer work. His recent Marvel appearances, including those in Spider-Man: Far From Home and Avengers: Endgame, have been well-received. In particular, his chemistry with Jake Gyllenhaal in Far From Home made that sequel surprisingly compelling and convinced me of an impressive amount of nuance and subtlety in Holland’s acting ability. Even more profound, Endgame relies on Holland’s deep emotional reserve to punctuate Tony Stark’s death in a way that is particularly tragic. I’m intrigued to see how, in a period piece such as The Current War, Holland can hold his own against a deep bench of stately actors while still bringing that youthful energy that’s so endearing to filmgoers. – Margaret Pereira
Cynthia Erivo in Harriet
[Release Date: November 1st] After earning an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony for Broadway’s The Color Purple, Cynthia Erivo has become a rising movie star thanks to her roles in last year’s Bad Times at the El Royale and Widows. Now, she’s playing the titular American icon in Kasi Lemmons’ biopic Harriet, about Underground Railroad organizer Harriet Tubman.
Although early reactions indicate that the film largely sticks to reverential biopic tropes, Erivo is already receiving acclaim for her balance of “femininity with a warrior spirit.” The British actress’s breakout screen roles have capitalized on her magnetic portrayals of ordinary women’s gumption, whether it’s playing a guarded singer in Bad Times or a single mother-turned-heist operative in Widows. If her work on Harriet continues to be celebrated, Erivo could become the youngest EGOT winner after John Legend. – Abby Montiel
Noah Jupe in Honey Boy
[Release Date: November 1st] At the age of 14, Noah Jupe is already doing pretty well for himself. His recent roles in A Quiet Place and Wonder showed he can hold his own alongside established actors, but Honey Boy, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year, will likely propel Jupe to astronomical heights. The film’s unorthodox premise — a semi-autobiographical story of Shia LaBeouf’s rocky childhood as a child actor (played by both Jupe and Lucas Hedges), with LaBeouf playing his own abusive father — puts pressure on Jupe’s shoulders to bear the brunt of psychological turmoil which underpins LaBeouf’s trauma.
Directed by Alma Har’el in her narrative debut, Honey Boy‘s meta-narrative about child stars undoubtedly hits close to home for Jupe himself and provides ample space for a deeply emotional performance. While Jupe doesn’t need to prove himself, the buzz surrounding Honey Boy has the potential to transform into a career-defining moment. Be prepared to smuggle tissues into the theater. – Heather Hardee
Riley Keough in The Lodge
[Release Date: November 15th] Over the past few years, Riley Keough has proven to be the perfect secret ingredient to a good horror movie. In Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes at Night (2017), she combatted a bone-chilling presence that threatened to consume her family from the inside out, and in Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built (2018) she fell victim to the gory whims of a sadistic serial killer in one of the film’s strongest scenes. In The Lodge, the new psychological horror film from powerhouse director pair Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz (Goodnight Mommy), she is front and center in the leading role.
Keough plays Grace, the young, soon-to-be-step-mother of Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh). As a reaction to the children’s hostility toward her, Grace does what anyone would do and suggests the three of them spend a weekend together. Alone. In a lodge in the wilderness. What could possibly go wrong? From there, The Lodge promises a bloody massacre of cult-dealings and demons and jump scares. Keough is caught right in the middle of it, and her exciting background in horror assures us that there is no better actress fit for the job. – Aurora Amidon
Charlize Theron in Bombshell
[Release Date: December 20th] Very few actors could inspire Oscar buzz with silence. Charlize Theron is one of them. In Jay Roach’s Fox News drama Bombshell, Theron plays television personality Megyn Kelly. The film’s teaser trailer barely contains any dialogue (Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson has the only line). The events of the film have been discussed in the news for years and are clearly communicated without any heavy-handed presentation here: in 2016, Roger Ailes resigned as chairman and CEO of Fox News after Kelly, Carlson, and at least four other women claimed he sexually harassed them.
Even without many words, the trailer does an extraordinary job capturing the film’s tension through an eerie score as well as tactful glances and body-language by its three leads (the other is Margot Robbie in a fictionalized role). However, the person who has garnered the most attention thus far is Theron, whose transformation into Kelly is perhaps as surprising and accurate as her Oscar-winning turn in Monster. Theron is an undeniable chameleon, blending seamlessly into whatever role is asked of her. She’s wowed audiences in Mad Max: Fury Road, Young Adult, North Country, and many more, but Bombshell could be her biggest surprise so far.
In the last moments of the trailer, Kidman and Robbie’s characters exit the elevator while Theron stares coldly and purses her lips in a manner that would make Miranda Priestly proud as the doors close. It’s a hair-raising note to end the teaser on, hinting at a tense dynamic to come among the threesome and, of course, against the looming presence of Ailes, played by Emmy-winner John Lithgow. – Cyrus Cohen
Dean-Charles Chapman in 1917
[Release Date: December 25th] Dean-Charles Chapman’s performance in the Sam Mendes feature 1917 is shaping up to be one of the most harrowing and emotional ways to close out 2019. Inspired by true events during World War I’s Third Battle of Ypres, the film focuses on two young British soldiers (played by Chapman and George MacKay) tasked with the near-impossible mission of sneaking a message across enemy lines. Aside from the dangerous mission itself, the stakes for Chapman’s character are even higher: of the 1,600 lives on the line, one is his brother.
Chapman’s youthful appearance, as well as the immediate stakes for his character, add a darker and more truthful element to the film’s depiction of the Great War. The trailer alone balances the horrors of trench warfare and violence with a focus on the individual, human scale of war. With Chapman’s serious acting credentials (he’s best known for playing Tommen Baratheon on Game of Thrones) his performance will easily keep pace with the star-studded ensemble cast that includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden, and Colin Firth. – Hannah Payne