With a sprawling list of achievements (and some stunning defeats), 2016 has been quite the year for striking and surreal film performances that will undoubtedly live on well into 2017 and beyond. From antiheroes who turn their prey into shish kebabs to conniving femme fatales with a penchant for sexual assault to fulfill their feverish fetishes, 2016 has provided us with the most unforgettable character embodiments. I could go on with a thousand euphemisms and adjectives and still would not be doing them justice. Instead, let us take a look at the top 20 performances that define 2016 in film. Hopefully, we will be seeing a few of them come January 24 when #Oscar nominations are announced.
20. Natalie Portman As Jackie Kennedy — Jackie
I know, I know — why is she so low on the list, I hear you ask? #NataliePortman may be winning every award in sight, but her artificial accent of the former first lady was somewhat distracting at times. However, once you get past that, her performance is endearing and the film's digestible 90-minute runtime cuts right to the point.
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19. Mykelti Williamson As Gabriel — Fences
In a movie filled to the brim with towering performances, Mykelti “Bubba” Williamson steals his few scenes with subtly and grit (which says a lot, since he shares most of his scenes with Denzel Washington). Gabriel’s disability is present, but it is never the driving force for his scenes, something that guides Williamson’s performance to greatness.
18. Sônia Braga As Clara — Aquarius
This is a little-known Brazilian feature that follows a music expert who absolutely and acutely refuses to sell her apartment. What ensues are profoundly farcical questions regarding conservative and progressive Brazilian politics, class, history and orgies — all on top of a pretty inspired selection of songs. It is Braga, at 66 and still just as seductive as the next twentysomething Hollywood blonde, who carries these tropes.
17. Kate McKinnon As Jillian Holtzmann — Ghostbusters
This year’s reboot of #Ghostbusters was one of those movies that meant well upon release, but ended up being pretty disappointing. No, I do not hate it for the same reason that so many dislike it; it just was not funny or interesting (and this is coming from a Kristen Wiig fan). However, it’s the performance of Kate McKinnon, who I would argue is the greatest talent currently on Saturday Night Live, that makes the film far more memorable than it really should be.
16. Ryan Gosling As Holland March — The Nice Guys
Who knew! #RyanGosling can play not only a yearning romantic and a cool and collected getaway driver, but also a loopy PI with supreme comedic timing. Holland March is both passionate about his job and second fiddle to his genius daughter, and while Russell Crowe and Angourie Rice were both equally fantastic, Gosling’s performance is easily the film’s most memorable quality.
15. Tom Holland As Peter Parker/Spider-Man — Captain America: Civil War
Sure, he is only in what amounts to 10 minutes of screen time in Captain America: Civil War, but from what we've seen and what we've glimpsed in the trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tom Holland may just be the greatest #SpiderMan of all time. It seems like we will not be regretting this one like we did with 2007's Spider-Man 3 and 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
14. Trevante Rhodes As Chiron — Moonlight
While Mahershala Ali’s Juan has been getting all of the best supporting actor accolades for this one, it’s Trevante Rhodes' quiet rendition of Chiron that lingers in our minds. He captures the spirit of perturbed youth and hardened masculinity to brilliant effect.
13. Margot Robbie As Harley Quinn — Suicide Squad
Similarly to Kate McKinnon in Ghostbusters, Margot Robbie is the best part of Suicide Squad and I dare you to say otherwise. Everything that we looked for from the original comic book character is featured, and then some. While her costume may not have been too comfortable for crime fighting (not that we’re complaining) Robbie definitely holds her own against the rest of the cast and boasts enough batshit craziness to have even the #Joker doubt the validity of their relationship.
12. John Goodman As Howard — 10 Cloverfield Lane
This is a good supporting turn that deserves far more critical acknowledgement than it's been getting. It always seems the other actors in John Goodman’s movies get nominated, but never he himself. It’s about time he gets recognition, and this is a performance he justly deserves to be recognized for. Is his character manipulating? Is he in control? We don’t know much about Howard, which is all the more of a testament to his performance.
11. Dave Johns As Daniel Blake — I, Daniel Blake
Another strong yet underrated performance, Dave Johns does what so many comedians have done and heads into dramatic territory with his tearful performance of a lonely, unemployed middle-aged man. Johns challenges everything we know about a full character study; who would have thought it would have been him to do it?
10. Ryan Gosling As Sebastian — La La Land
The only actor to appear twice on this list! Acting, dancing, instrumental and, of course, singing — Gosling can do it all. As struggling jazz pianist Sebastian, we get the whole parcel, and Gosling's performance is all the more touching because the actor does it all himself.
9. Issei Ogata As Inoue Masashige — Silence
Working alongside the likes of Martin Scorsese, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson, Issei Ogata conveys alluring sincerity and provides much-needed comedic relief in a very mournful movie about persecuted Jesuit priests. #Scorsese’s masterful film sets the backdrop for menacing dialogue between Ogata and Garfield — an element that easily becomes the best part of the movie.
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8. Emma Stone As Mia — La La Land
It is no easy feat to pour out your heart and lungs on the big screen, but Emma Stone's Mia provides the emotional thread between the movie and the audience as we watch her delve headfirst into her failings and accomplishments.
7. Denzel Washington As Troy Maxson — Fences
In a film he directed and starred in, #DenzelWashington pulls out his standard Denzel Washington-esque charismatic villain trope, epitomizing a domineering patriarch who prefers not to mix facts with feelings. However, what makes his performance a real standout is how his character's decision not to mix the two is based more on the necessity of fortitude in a racially biased world, rather than because he never liked his son.
6. Casey Affleck As Lee Chandler — Manchester By The Sea
Yes, everything you have heard about the other Affleck’s performance is more than warranted. The film rests on his shoulders and it's certainly grateful to have him. While his character is a total mess, #Affleck is never outright about it, and the abstruseness in his performance pays tribute to this street smart, questionable character.
5. Viola Davis As Rose Maxson — Fences
Nobody cries like Viola Davis. At all. That’s why she gets an Oscar nomination every time she does it. The matriarch of the Maxson family is compact with regret, faith and rage; it is no effortless task and now that Davis has set her sights on the academy's Best Supporting Actress category (having won the 2010 Tony for Best Actress in a Play for her performance in the theatrical version of #Fences) it is pretty safe to assume that she has this one in the bag come Oscars night.
4. Viggo Mortensen As Ben Cash — Captain Fantastic
Taking unconventional parenting to a whole new level, you’ll never see this character write a book about fatherhood, but lucky for us, you can see it all unfold on the big screen. Viggo Mortensen’s performance in this comedy drama has been gaining momentum as we veer toward awards season. It is a bizarre performance that could have gone in all sorts of directions, but with Mortensen behind the wheel, we're gifted with a righteous, quirky approach to fatherhood.
3. Naomie Harris As Paula — Moonlight
The only character to appear in all three chapters of the groundbreaking Moonlight, further elevating her performance to soaring heights. If the rumors are true that Naomie Harris filmed her part in only a few days, then well done to her for creating such a complex character in so little time.
2. Ryan Reynolds As Wade Wilson/Deadpool — Deadpool
Could this role have been played by any other actor? It will go down as one of those memorable cinematic performances, like Jamie Foxx in Ray or Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, a role tailor-made for the actor. It is only fitting after taking on the role of #Deadpool in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, then waiting all these years to get a dutifully R-rated rendition. Comedic, tongue-in-cheek, stylish, violent, seductive, vulgar — I could go on and on with this one.
1. Isabelle Huppert As Michèle Leblanc — Elle
Isabelle Huppert has remained among the most sultry, talented French actresses since her 1978 breakout performance in Violette. In this movie, her character Michèle is the head of a video game company who shares a secret and morbid sexual inclination with a neighborhood rapist. Unlike so many films of the type, Michèle does not see herself as a victim of a crime looking for police procedural retribution, but rather, moments after the assault itself, we see she holds an unconventional attitude to her situation.
What was your favorite performance of 2016? Sound off below.