Photo Illustration by Kristen Hazzard/The Daily Beast/NBC/A24/HBO
It was a year of monotony, dread, and the false promise of a return to normalcy that, as 2021 winds down, has jerked us back inside to a depressing pandemic reality with such sudden violence we might all be suffering from spiritual whiplash.
That’s a lot of pessimism to combat, which is why we’re grateful for a standout year of film and TV to shock us into feeling things again just when everything threatened to get numb.
Some of the actors on this list of 2021’s best film and TV performances have already earned Emmys and critics’ awards for their works. Some will likely be mentioned when the Academy Award nominations are announced this winter. Others are smaller, weirder, and just plain delightful—the kind of excellent work we’re grateful to have a platform to celebrate and give thanks for, especially now.