If we could create a special category for this group of performers, we’d call it the “always leave them wanting more” awards. These 10 actors this year revealed their incredible scene-stealing abilities—even if they only had about 10 minutes to do it. A good cameo can take an audience by surprise, elevate a film’s storytelling, and prove how the right actor is capable of making even the briefest moment feel memorable. Here are some of our favorites, from Judd Hirsch’s turn as the eccentric Uncle Boris in The Fabelmans to — spoiler alert! — Michael B. Jordan’s surprise return in Wakanda Forever.
Jessica Chastain, Armageddon Time
Fresh off her Eyes of Tammy Faye Oscar win, Chastain stepped into the role of Maryanne Trump for James Gray’s semi-autobiographical film, Armageddon Time. In the film, Donald Trump’s politician sister gives a speech to students at an elite private school about how they can dream big, saying that if they do find success, “it won’t be because of handouts, it’ll be because you earned your way there.” Gray, who really witnessed this speech as a child, says he knew even back then how ridiculous it was for that to be said to a group of privileged young white men. Chastain, who did the surprise role for free, elevates what could have easily become caricature into a memorable moment that proves why it stuck with the director even decades later.
Ethan Hawke, Glass Onion
For the Knives Out sequel, Daniel Craig is joined by a bunch of stars, including Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kate Hudson, and Kathryn Hahn. But writer-director Rian Johnson also serves up plenty of brief A-list cameos, some of which still deserve to go unspoiled (the movie debuts on Netflix December 23). For now, let’s celebrate the random appearance of a ponytail-clad Ethan Hawke, who is credited only as “Efficient Man.” In a scene early on in the murder mystery—set toward the beginning of the COVID pandemic—Hawke’s character, who works for Norton’s tech billionaire, gives all of the guests a shot in the mouth, which is implied to cure or prevent COVID. It’s an all-too-brief appearance, and we can only hope the next installment brings back this very efficient helper to the ultrarich.