2016 in Review: The Best Performances – Film

As I mentioned in a similar post for the year’s best TV performances, I have forgotten about honoring the best acting in film. This post should remedy that. I decided to take the Golden Globes approach and honor musical or comedy performances as well. After all, they deserve mention too. I also took a page from the Screen Actors Guild and made mention of the year’s best ensemble cast too.

Best Ensemble Cast

The cast of Moonlight
The cast of Moonlight
With three separate actors playing Chiron at different ages and levels of uncertainty, this would already be a strong contender. Add in the three separate actors playing Kevin, Janelle Monae as Chiron’s surrogate mother, Mahershala Ali as his mentor and Naomie Harris as his drug-addicted mom, and you’ve got a cast for the ages. And considering that, aside from Ali and Harris (and André Holland), much of the cast is new to acting in film, well that just makes it all that much more beautiful.

Best Actor in a Drama

Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
If we judge solely on the basis of answering the question “Who gave the best performance in this category?” there is no question Casey Affleck deserves it. Of course things get more complicated if we must consider a person’s past indiscretions. But if we aren’t allowed to reward art by artists who aren’t good people, there would be very little art to even reward. Affleck does so much with a character who says so little, whose shuffle through this life is pained in every gesture. I didn’t love Manchester by the Sea as much as a lot of critics, but there’s no denying how powerful it is, and much of that rests on the shoulders of Affleck’s performance, his best yet.

Best Actress in a Drama

Rebecca Hall in Christine
Rebecca Hall – Christine
Rebecca Hall has toiled away in supporting roles for more than a decade now, but she truly shines in the first lead role worthy of her talent. As Christine Chubbuck, the reporter who shot herself live on TV in 1974, she draws us in close, only letting her mental illness slip out in little tidbits, until it overtakes her. If there was justice in the awards world, she would be the frontrunner for the Oscar.

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama

John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane
John Goodman – 10 Cloverfield Lane
John Goodman has been so good for so long, he’s easy to take for granted. And he’s often such a gentle presence, it’s easy to forget how terrifying he can be. 10 Cloverfield Lane lets him play both sides of that coin in one of the most memorable performances of the year. It’s his best role since Barton Fink.

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama

Lily Gladstone in Certain Women
Lily Gladstone – Certain Women
Certain Women
is two-thirds of a great movie. (That middle section with Michelle Williams is the most boredom I’ve felt in a theater all year.) Its best moments come in its final story, about a young attorney (Kristen Stewart) traveling out of her way to teach an adult education class to locals who would much rather pepper her with questions than learn about the law. Gladstone plays the ranch hand who stumbles into her class and falls head over heels – or at least as deep as her stoicism will let her. It also heralds the arrival of a major new talent, one who will hopefully pop up in even better films in the next few years.

Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy

Colin Farrell in The Lobster
Colin Farrell – The Lobster
If Colin Farrell solely wants to play weirdos in comedies from now on, that’s fine by me. Here, as the protagonist of Yorgos Lanthimos’ disturbing and hilarious dystopia, he’s twitchy, uncomfortable and desperate: a far cry from the bad boy image he started more than 15 years ago. In fact, he does most of the heavy lifting for this utterly bizarre story, turning in his best performance to date.

Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy

Emma Stone in La La Land
Emma Stone – La La Land
Even if you’re not fully sold on La La Land, you have to admit Emma Stone sells it with everything she has. Long one of the brightest presences in Hollywood, she’s at the peak of her charming powers, trying to convince us she’s an actress who might not be good enough to make it. It’s damn near impossible, but she pulled it off.

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical or Comedy

Tom Bennett in Love & Friendship
Tom Bennett – Love & Friendship
I wasn’t as keen on Love & Friendship as other critics. The Jane Austen adaptation didn’t hit me like Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice (even as I understand it wasn’t going for something like that). While ostensibly a comedy, it’s more of the “Oh, isn’t that humorous” variety. But that all changes when Tom Bennett appears on-screen as a suitor. The dim bulb never knows when to shut up or even when to make a cogent point in any topic of discussion. Just like in the film, he turns staid proceedings into a laugh riot.

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical or Comedy

Kate McKinnon in Ghostbusters
Kate McKinnon – Ghostbusters
The Ghostbusters reboot had a lot of problems, none of which had to do with making the quartet all female. It does contain some of the funniest scenes of the year, including Chris Hemsworth’s hilarious interview to become their receptionist and Zach Woods’ reading of the line “anti-Irish fence.” But those gems were buried under middling special effects and endless technobabble. Only Kate McKinnon could make that expository dialogue not sound like she was reading a letter written by her kidnappers. In fact, she took her Igor-like role and cranked the weirdness up to 11, so we’re left holding our sides after she spends a good two minutes dancing when she’s supposed to be explaining the next plot point, and rolls with every development, no matter how absurd.

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