The Top Performances of 2016

2016 will certainly be remembered as a great year for acting. Just consider the performances that just missed my top 10. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who carry us all way in "La La Land." Naomie Harris in "Moonlight." The ever fantastic and hilarious Constance Wu from "Fresh Off the Boat." Oscar bridesmaids Amy Adams in "Arrival" and Annette Bening in "20th Century Women." Heck, the entire cast of "20th Century Women!" I even considered Margot Robbie in the wretched "Suicide Squad." She really is great as Harley Quinn. I could go on and on, but instead, here are my picks for the best performances of the year.

1. Ashton Sanders in "Moonlight"

Before I saw "Moonlight" I had heard the buzzings about Mahershala Ali being the sure thing nomination for supporting actor, and very likely the winner. Although I know Ali's face, I didn't know his name, and after I saw "Moonlight" I assumed that he played teenage Chiron. Why? Because I found that performance to be the most revelatory in the film.  There are so many scenes in which Sanders is phenomenal. One being when his mom (played by Naomie Harris) begs him for money. Also, the scene at the beach with teenage Kevin (see below), but it's the scene after he has been attacked, when being questioned ("...if you were a man...?) by his Principle that Sanders delivers in the most vulnerable way.

2. Natalie Portman in "Jackie"

“Jackie” is a cinematic work of art, and at its center is Portman, giving the female performance of the year. It’s as if the Jackie we have known all these years has been completely deconstructed. Portman’s Jackie is created on the foundation of her grief. Everything else is delicately balanced on top of that. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. It is performance art in the most complimentary sense.

3.  Casey Affleck in "Manchester By the Sea"

Casey Affleck is so present in this part in the way that Brando and James Dean were, giving the type of performance that is truly rare. Ryan Gosling can do it ("Half Nelson" coming to mind) and so could Heath Ledger, RIP.  If there is any doubt that Affleck deserves the Oscar, rewatch the scene below. If you haven't seen the film, skip it. Major spoilers.

4. Isabelle Huppert in "Elle"

Having only seen her in "Amour," (and not really remembering much about it, sad to say) I was quite excited to see this French legend in action. As high as my expectations were, I still wasn't prepared for what I saw. "Elle" would not have worked with any other actress, I don't think I've never seen someone so in charge of their sexuality on film. She is unbelievably alive in every moment on screen. Check out the clips below for proof. Two very different scenes, one perfect actress.


5. Alden Ehrenreich in Hail, Caeser!

I was not a fan of "Hail Caesar!," but Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle is fantastic in it. The character he created is so sweetly vulnerable that you can't help but completely fall in love with him. But once he is pitted against director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), Ehrenreich's comic skills are on full display. Comedy rarely gets the recognition it deserves, otherwise this might have been a performance that received a nomination. Would that it were so simple....

6.  Pamela Aldon in "Better Things"

I have never watched "Louie," and although I have watched "King of the Hill" for which she won an Emmy for her vocal work, I still consider "Better Things" my introduction to the incredible Pamela Aldon.  "Better Things" has been described as an ode to single motherhood, and I guess that it is. From my non-Mom perspective it sure seems as if Aldon epitomizes what it's like to be a single mother to three very different daughters, interacting with them all differently, seemingly to discover/perfect the art of parenting in each very real moment. All the while living her own life and maintaining an acting career.

7. Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano in "Swiss Army Man"

 It's been fascinating to watch Daniel Radcliffe grow up as an actor. I had the incredible pleasure of interviewing him for "Kill Your Darlings" and found him quite endearing, a trait that he channels into his role of Manny in "Swiss Army Man." There is a delicate balance in the film that is in the script and the direction, but carried mostly by Radcliffe and his tender portrayal of Manny. But this is a two hander. Paul Dano has never been better either.

8.  Issey Ogata and YĆ“suke Kubozuka in "Silence"

There are many great performances in "Silence" but the best being Yosuke Kubozuka as Kichijiro and Issey Ogata as the Inquisitor. Kubozuka's Kichijiro follows Rodriguez (Andrew Garfield), Gollum-like throughout his search for Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson, the weakest acting link in the film). Unable to stop turning on Rodriguez, Kichijiro begs for absolution as the pain from his sin becomes greater and greater. Pain we, the audience, feel.  In a smaller role, Ogata, as the Inquisitor is equally strong. When he confronts Rodriguez for the first time he is like a viper, terrifying but also humorous at the same time

9. Jeff Bridges in "Hell or High Water"

Jeff Bridges gives an Oscar worthy performance, one that really sneaks up on you. Near the end of the film, when Marcus truly must take matters into his own hands he has a moment that awards are made for, literally running through about 6 emotions in seconds but in a completely non-grandstanding manner. (see below. SPOILER, though!!!) This is not a canned performance. It is remarkable…the likes of which we rarely see. A true character performance, but bathed in realism.

10.  Viola Davis in "Fences"

As Rose, Viola Davis, yet again proves she is one of our greatest living actresses. Not afraid to make bold choices, Davis really earns what will surely be her first Oscar. As we connect to Rose, we begin to experience through her what it must be like to be married to Troy. The routine, the frustration, the flirtations, the pain, the grief, but always the love.


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