My Favorite Performances of 2016
Mahershala Ali - Moonlight
Mahershala Ali's final scene in an all-too-brief turn as the local drug dealer turned mentor will stick with me as long as any I've seen. He doesn't do much talking and there is no explosion of emotion. Instead, he sits there, quietly, listening as a young Chiron comes to grips with who he is. As Chiron's words wash over him, the defeat and anguish Ali conveys without really doing much is a sight to behold. As the film unfolds, and elements of Ali's character start to show up in a maturing Chiron, the magic of this performance starts to come full circle.
Sally Field - Hello, My Name Is Doris
Sally Field is a treasure. This quirky, off-beat performance is one that sounds like a disaster on paper. Senior-aged hoarder working in an office full of young people when she suddenly becomes infatuated with one of them. As she grows more and more determined, the character becomes more and more of a caricature, but Field delivers a certain humanity that keeps the character grounded. And in the scene where Doris just about comes undone, Field delivers some of the best work of the year. I have been sad to watch this performance fall through the cracks this year as it is really one of the year's very best.
Janelle Monáe - Hidden Figures
Singer turned actor is a commonly played card these days as more and more entertainers try to make the jump. But rarely is that card played as well as Janelle Monáe did in 2016. With supporting roles in two of the year's most acclaimed hits (Moonlight and Hidden Figures), it seems safe to say this is just the beginning for the multi-faceted performer. Her turn in Hidden Figures yielded equal parts drama, sass and grace, as she played Mary Jackson, the aspiring NASA engineer dogged by racism and sexism. And while the script gave her character a full arc, her performance certainly elevated the material. In a film filled with Oscar-nominees and winners, hers is the performance that resonated most for me.
Joel Edgerton - Loving
Oh, so quiet; oh, so understated. Joel Edgerton plays one half of the reserved couple at the center of the case that changed the laws on interracial marriage in the Unites States. His is a steely portrayal with quiet strength and a certain unimpeachable resolve. While showier roles, usually get most of the attention, it is hard not to appreciate the way he emotes without emoting; the way he shows without showing. It is never a secret how he feels at a given moment and it is a testament to Edgerton's talent that he pulls that off in such muted work.
Sunny Pawar - Lion
Ever year, there is at least one performance from a precocious kid that belies their age and what we would think their limitations would be. Beyond being adorable, beyond bringing energy, Sunny Pawar's performance produces an urgency and a gravity in the younger years of Saroo. Watching him try to adapt to life as a homeless child on the streets of India offers many of the film's best moments. He undoubtedly could have carried the entire movie if the story called for it.
John Goodman - 10 Cloverfield Lane
John Goodman is one of the most underrated actors working today and this performance goes a long way toward showing his range. He plays the menacing doomsdayer holding people captive in his basement. Part manic, part panic, he teeters just on the edge of sanity for most of the movie and serves as the thing to watch throughout. It's not hard to imagine someone else playing the part, but it is hard to imagine what Goodman could have done to play it better.
Royalty Hightower - The Fits
Another child performance and another underrated gem, Royalty Hightower plays a tom-boy finding her place in the world. There is athletic pursuits, peer pressure, competition, body consciousness, and so much more of what makes it hard to be a young girl today. Her performance feels so natural that it makes the films real vs. surreal dichotomy work beautifully. It remains to be seen if she will get more opportunities, but they are well-deserved based on this turn.
Viola Davis - Fences
"I gave eighteen years of my life to stand in the same spot as you." -Rose Maxson
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