The Top Film Performances of 2016

1 Feb


Honorable Mentions: Jessica Chastain (Miss Sloane), Amy Adams (Arrival/Nocturnal Animals), Emma Stone (La La Land), Jena Malone (The Neon Demon), Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash), Annette Bening (20th Century Women), Stephen Lang (Don’t Breathe), Adam Driver (Paterson), Viola Davis (Fences), Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz (The Lobster), Gillian Jacobs (Don’t Think Twice), Kate Beckinsale and Tom Bennett (Love and Friendship), Peter Simonischek and Sandra Huller (Toni Erdmann), Sonia Braga (Aquarius), Kim Min-Hee and Kim Tae-Ri (The Handmaiden), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys)

Words cannot describe how difficult it was to honorable mention Jessica Chastain and Amy Adams, two of my favorite actresses. And then the long overdue Annette Bening, Ralph Fiennes, and Viola Davis? And then an Emma Stone career best? A tough task, these year end lists.

Others Considered: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals), Bryan Cranston (All the Way), Kerry Washington (Confirmation), Helen Mirren (Eye in the Sky), Logan Lerman and Tracy Letts (Indignation), Tom Hiddleston (High Rise), Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander (The Light Between Oceans), Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano (Swiss Army Man), Glen Powell (Everybody Wants Some!!), Narges Rashidi (Under the Shadow), Auli’i Cravalho (Moana), Dave Johns (I, Daniel Blake), Oulaya Amamra (Divines), Cliff Curtis (The Dark Horse), Blake Lively (The Shallows), Royalty Hightower (The Fits), Jack Reynor (Sing Street), Hidden Figures ensemble, Jane Levy (Don’t Breathe), Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson (Blue Jay), Anton Yelchin (Green Room), Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton (Loving), Denzel Washington (Fences)

Best Ensembles:


Silence – What a cast. As to be expected, the promotion for this film centered around Garfield, Neeson, and Driver, and they all certainly deserve recognition (in particular, Garfield gives a monumental performance as a priest struggling with his faith). However, the Japanese cast is impeccable across the board, with Issei Ogata delighting as the Inquisitor and both Tadanobu Asano and Yosuke Kubozuka turning in stellar supporting roles.

Manchester By The Sea – Only Casey Affleck’s performance tops Garfield’s this year for me. For the most part, this film is an exercise in subtlety for all involved, and the performers sell the wonderful script with ease. Shoutouts to Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, and the ever-comforting Kyle Chandler.

Moonlight – Ali and Harris are getting all the recognition this awards cycle–and for good reason–but kudos to Hibbert, Sanders, and Rhodes for creating a wholly formed character across three different time periods. Also, Andre Holland is brilliant in that final segment.

A Couple Great Pairings:


Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman, “10 Cloverfield Lane” – A high-wire act between two great actors. What a compelling and intense dynamic.

Lily Gladstone and Kristen Stewart, “Certain Women” – A beautifully understated relationship and the best segment of the three in the film. Anyone who thinks Kristen Stewart can’t act is wrong.

12 Solo Performances (not including films already mentioned):


Ryan Gosling, “The Nice Guys”/”La La Land” – Yeah, he’s solid in the latter, but his physical comedy in the former is the high point of his 2016. So overlooked.

Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”/”Things To Come”/”Louder Than Bombs” – My favorite female performance of the year in Elle. Her character completely goes against all your preconceived notions, and Huppert finds depth and biting humor in her complex character.

Hailee Steinfeld, “The Edge of Seventeen” – My second favorite female performance of the year. She’s able to make her character both believable and interesting, and it’s really impressive considering how generic the movie looked going in.


Rebecca Hall, “Christine” – Opinions about the existence of the film aside, Rebecca Hall undoubtedly delivers a raw and heartbreaking portrait of depression.

Krisha Fairchild, “Krisha” – Always knew this was going to be overlooked–wasn’t playing for long, even in Los Angeles–but Fairchild is stunning here. She plays a woman whose struggles with addiction negatively impact a family reunion, and

Sunny Pawar, “Lion” – I suppose this is the Jacob Tremblay of 2016. Pawar anchors a film that would be insufferable without him, and he carries the first half (as he must).

Sasha Lane, “American Honey” – Such a raw and free performance. A perfect character for a film essentially about living life.


Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals” – This guy’s talent is indisputable, and has been for a while. He manages to steal the show in a cast that features Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, and a surprisingly good Aaron-Taylor Johnson, and his character is largely responsible for the parts of the film that work.

Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water” – As a grizzled veteran Ranger, Bridges brings the laid-back humor that he’s nailed throughout his career. It’s in the final act of the film, however, where he truly shines, and the poignancy the ending takes on is largely due to his performance.

Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic” – Another exercise in subtlety for one of the more overlooked actors in recent memory. He brings both a strictness and a sense of compassion to his role, and it’s fascinating to watch.


Elle Fanning, “The Neon Demon”/”20th Century Women” – She is going to be huge some day. Her Neon Demon performance is as cold as they come, and that’s why it’s so perfect for the character.

Anya Taylor-Joy, “The Witch” – I wasn’t too impressed by the film, but I do recognize that Taylor-Joy is the glue holding it all together.

Feel free to vote for your favorites below.

2 Responses to “The Top Film Performances of 2016”

  1. Keith February 3, 2017 at 3:15 pm #

    You post is packed with great performances. LOVE seeing the praise for “Silence” I recently reviewed it and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I also love seeing Rebecca Hall and Krisha Fairchild mentioned. More people need to see those films.

    • polarbears16 February 3, 2017 at 4:56 pm #

      Thank you, glad you agree! And yes, they definitely deserve more praise.

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