The Acting Draft, Part 1
Welcome to the first semi-regular Acting Draft, where Rough Cut staff picks the best performances of each half-decade, split into 10 categories, with a host of rules to make our lives as difficult as possible. It’s a blast.
Up first: the best acting of 2015-2019.
Snake Draft: 10 picks, 10 performances
Year Parity: You must have at least one performance from each year 2015-2019, and you can have a maximum of three performances from any one year.
One per Actor, One per Movie: Once a performance is taken, nobody else may select a performance from that actor or from that movie. For example: if I took Saoirse Ronan’s performance in Little Women, nobody else could take Ronan in Lady Bird or Brooklyn, and nobody else could take Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet, or Florence Pugh in Little Women.
Categories: This is the big one. Each of our 10 picks must slot into one of 10 categories, and each category must be filled. If a pick qualifies for multiple categories, the draftee must designate which one they’re filling at the time of the pick. Here are the categories:
General Dramatic: A performance from a dramatic movie.
General Comedic: A performance from a comedic movie.
Genre: A performance from a genre movie, including action, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, western. Basically anything but straight-forward dramas and comedies.
True Story: A performance that portrays a real-life person and their real-life story.
Voice/MoCap: A voice or motion capture performance. We do not want to see your face.
No Major Nominations: A performance that received zero nominations from the following awards: SAG, Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTAs
Oscar Winner: A performance that won an Academy Award.
Bad Movie Performance: A performance from a movie that has less than 50% on either Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic.
Debut: A performance that is the feature-length debut of the actor.
Non-English Performance: A performance that is predominantly not in the English language.
Rather than analyzing this round-by-round, I'm going to breakdown what happened category-by-category.
Jonny: Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born (Round 9)
Carson: Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Round 6)
Ben: Cate Blanchett, Carol (Round 5)
Sara: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Round 6)
Zach: Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name (Round 5)
This was the catch-all category, a place to pick up those favorite performances that didn’t fall elsewhere. Not a single team took their pick in the first four rounds, a reflection of how broad the pool is for general dramatic performances compared to some of the other categories - though the five performances selected are among the best in the draft, strategy dictated that they could be picked up later.
That’s why with one exception, not a single pick in this category could fit into any one of the other nine. And why, with one exception, these are all phenomenal picks.
Winner: It’s a close race for the win in this category, but it has to go to Jonny, who simply had more patience than the rest of us, and picked up one of the best performances.
Loser: Sorry Carson, but while Denzel certainly elevates a poor movie, he doesn’t transcend it, and it’s a damn shame to pick one of his weakest performances to represent the legend in this draft. You would have been better off with The Equalizer 2.
Jonny: Olivia Colman, The Favourite (Round 7)
Carson: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird (Round 5)
Ben: Rachel McAdams, Game Night (Round 1)
Sara: Song Kang-ho, Parasite (Round 1)
Zach: Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip (Round 10)
An interesting split occurred in this category: Zach and Ben used it as an opportunity to grab performances from straight-up, popcorn-munching, classic studio comedies, while the rest of the crew skewed toward performances from Oscar-nominated, “prestigious” films that also happen to be comedies. We’ll leave it to you to decide which approach builds the better team.
This category gave us our widest spectrum of pick timing - two in the first round, one in the last, and the others in between. It also highlights the importance of strategy. The resident international cinephile, Sara filled nearly half of her categories from international films, pulling people off the board that her competitors’ might have wanted for non-English performances. Carson, on the other hand, stuck the dagger in everyone’s hopes and dreams by taking one of the most consistently prolific performers off the board - Ronan could easily have gone for Brooklyn or Little Women.
In a fun twist for this category, every single draftee selected a performer of the opposite gender.
Winner: Zach and Carson tie for the win - Zach for picking up one of the best traditional comedy performances in the final round, Carson for taking our greatest modern thespian off the board in perhaps one of the most underrated performances of this century.
Loser: There are no bad picks in this category.
Jonny: Amy Adams, Arrival (Round 5)
Carson: Florence Pugh, Midsommar (Round 4)
Ben: Jessica Rothe, Happy Death Day (Round 8)
Sara: Ana de Armas, Knives Out (Round 3)
Zach: Lupita Nyong’o, Us (Round 3)
A sci-fi, two horrors, a horror-comedy, and a murder mystery. This is one of our broadest categories, and the crew lived up to expectations, going all over the map.
Winner: Women in horror. Show some damn respect.
Loser: There are no losers here.
Jonny: Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers (Round 10)
Carson: Ruth Negga, Loving (Round 9)
Ben: Awkwafina, The Farewell (Round 2)
Sara: Margot Robbie, I, Tonya (Round 2)
Zach: Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs (Round 6)
These are true stories.
Winner: It’s Sara and Ben here. Sara picks up one of the biggest superstars of the next decade, bringing some much needed star wattage to this draft. And Ben had the brilliant innovation of choosing a “based on my own experiences” film for this category, rather than a traditional biopic.
Loser: Look, the loser is me. I wanted Natalie Portman in Jackie, and that would have completed another all-women category, but I panicked because I didn’t have a 2015 pick yet, and then ended up picking up a better 2015 pick later, so I could have picked Portman after all. Oof.
Jonny: Josh Brolin, Avengers: Infinity War (Round 2)
Carson: Amy Poehler (Inside Out, Round 8)
Ben: Gael Garcia Bernal, Coco (Round 9)
Sara: Auli’i Cravalho, Moana (Round 5)
Zach: Ben Whishaw, Paddington 2 (Round 9)
I have no witty or informative comments about this category.
Winner: Animation, for dominating over MoCap in this category. Fuck the future.
Loser: The loser is Jonny. Brolin is a respectable pick, but he absolutely would have been available at the end of the draft, and he’s probably not even the best MoCap performance of the half-decade. Andy Serkis also lost this category by not getting drafted for really the one thing he does.
No Major Nominations
Jonny: Michael B. Jordan, Creed (Round 8)
Carson: Daniel Kaluuya, Widows (Round 3)
Ben: Lakeith Stanfield, Sorry to Bother You (Round 6)
Sara: Levan Gelbakhiani, And Then We Danced (Round 8)
Zach: Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road (Round 8)
Sara continues her strategy of picking actors from international movies in other categories, and doubles down here by taking a performance that nobody else has even seen. Ben cheated in this category after picking Zoe Kazan in The Big Sick in a complete panic, then asking if he could trade her several rounds later. We allowed it, because we’re benevolent drafters. But he should still be shamed.
Winner: I am the winner, because I picked Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road after all of these jamokes had picked their picks, which are all worse than my pick, but came before my pick, while my pick was still available to be their pick. Sheesh.
Loser: Zoe Kazan, suffering a shame previously unimagined in her entire family. And Carson, because, again, Kaluuya had a great performance, but I promise you man, nobody was taking Kaluuya in Widows. This was a deep category, you should have exercised patience.
Jonny: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight (Round 1)
Carson: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk (Round 2)
Ben: Viola Davis, Fences (Round 3)
Sara: Brie Larson, Room (Round 9)
Zach: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea (Round 2)
There are only 20 Oscar-winner performances in the last 5 years, and so many of them are just horrific, just really terrible stuff, so it makes sense that four of these picks went in the first three rounds.
Winner: Sara is the winner, because after we all jumped out the gate, she wisely exercised patience in making her pick. Jonny is also the winner, because he had the luck to get the first pick and the wisdom to use it on the best Oscar winner of the last five years. Remember, luck without wisdom is just luck, and wisdom without luck is just wisdom. But having both is Mahershala Ali.
Loser: The Oscars. Sara also loses here, because Larson is the weakest performance. That’s weird, since she also won by exercising patience. I don’t make the rules.
Bad Movie Performance
Jonny: Hong Chau, Downsizing (Round 6)
Carson: Tom Hardy, Venom (Round 1)
Ben: Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman (Round 7)
Sara: The Rock, Baywatch (Round 10)
Zach: Meryl Streep, The Laundromat (Round 4)
This is the weakest round of performances. Sara drafted The Rock, not Dwayne Johnson, so that’s how he’s listed, because it’s pretty strong Rock energy in that movie. I drafted Meryl Streep exclusively as Ellen Martin, and not as Elena, because that shit was just putrid.
Winner: We have two winners. Ben wins because he took Jackman and all of us freaked out that he was even eligible, what were we thinking, how did we miss that, Jackman in The Greatest Showman is straight perfection, no chaser. And Carson wins because he took Tom Hardy in Venom with the second overall pick in the entire draft.
Loser: We have two losers. The critics who don’t fully appreciate the vicarious magic of The Greatest Showman, which is somehow rated below 50%, are losers. And Carson loses because he took Tom Hardy in Venom with the second overall pick in the entire draft.
Jonny: Anya Taylor-Joy, The VVitch (Round 2)
Carson: Sasha Lane, American Honey (Round 7)
Ben: Eliza Scanlen, Little Women (Round 10)
Sara: Yalitza Aparicio, Roma (Round 4)
Zach: Julia Fox, Uncut Gems (Round 1)
Another all-women category. This draft really put the nail in the coffin of the argument of whether women or men are better actors, which is not an argument that literally anyone was having, I don’t think, so I’m glad we could bury it before it even starts. Anyway, this is where I’m just going to shamelessly stump for Julia Fox in Uncut Gems, which is an energy that few actors could match, and I’m hopeful portends the emergence of a female equivalent to Italian-American Gods De Niro and Pacino, two people I grew up idolizing. And no, none of the people you’re thinking of count. She would be the first.
Winner: I wish it was me, but it’s not me, it’s Sara, for picking Oscar nominee Yalitza Aparicio, who is quiet empathy personified in Roma.
Loser: Ben loses, because he initially tried to pick Scanlen in Babyteeth, which didn’t actually come out until 2020 despite a 2019 festival premiere.
Jonny: Noémie Merlant, Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Round 4)
Carson: Isabelle Huppert, Elle (Round 10)
Ben: Steven Yeun, Burning (Round 4)
Sara: Joanna Kulig, Cold War (Round 7)
Zach: Sakura Ando, Shoplifters (Round 7)
I think this category has the strongest list of five performances, no contest. Oscar winners, comedy, drama, and true story make up a second tier.
Winner: This is really close. I think it ultimately goes to Carson, who picked 3-6 rounds after everyone, and still got the only Oscar nominee. Not that that’s an indicator of quality, but still, it’s an impressive pick and very smart drafting.
Loser: Jonny loses because he picked the worse performance in Portrait. Noémie is great, but Adèle Haenel is the heart and soul of this movie. This is entirely subjective, but I refrained from doing this exact thing for his choice of Colman in The Favourite, and one man only has so much will power.
Jonny: Two wins, two losses
Carson: Two wins, three losses
Ben: Two wins, one loss
Sara: Three wins, one loss
Zach: Two wins, one loss
So Sara wins, mostly because in most of the rounds where her picks weren’t great, someone else’s pick was worse, so she didn’t rack up losses. And she stood out from the crowd, which clearly mattered more than picking the best performances.
We’ll be back to do the same thing for 2010-2014 performances! Full teams listed below.