Performances I Loved This Year

I still haven’t seen a couple of big ones. Hence … it’s a work in progress, and I’m sure I’m forgetting people. But these stand out.

Royalty Hightower, “The Fits” [My review]

Matthias Schoenaerts as "Paul" in A BIGGER SPLASH. Photo courtesy of Jack English. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved
Matthias Schoenaerts, “A Bigger Splash”

Cliff Curtis, “The Dark Horse” [My review]

Brian Marc, “White Girl” [My review]

Alden Ehrenreich, “Hail, Caesar!”

Krisha Fairchild, “Krisha” [My review]

Janelle Monae, “Moonlight”

Chris Cooper, “Coming Through the Rye”

Kate Beckinsale, “Love & Friendship”

Tyler Hoechlin & Ryan Guzman, “Everybody Wants Some!!” [My review]

Gillian Jacobs, “Don’t Think Twice” [My review]

Paulina García, “Little Men” [My review]

PATERSON, Barry Shabaka Henley, 2016. ph: Mary Cybulski/©Amazon Studios
Barry Shabaka Henley, “Paterson”

Greta Gerwig, “20th Century Women”

Ralph Fiennes, “A Bigger Splash”

Mahershala Ali, “Kicks” [My review]

Chris Pine, “Hell or High Water”

Kika Magalhaes, “The Eyes of My Mother”

Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Narges Rashidi, “Under the Shadow” [My review]

Rebecca Hall, “Christine” [My review]

Isabelle Huppert, “Elle” [My review]

Trevante Rhodes, “Moonlight”

Blake Lively, “The Shallows”

Olivia Colman, “The Lobster” [My review]

Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”

Daniel Radcliffe, “Swiss Army Man”

Lily Rabe, “Miss Stevens”

Mackenzie Davis, “Always Shine” [My review]

Matthias Schoenaerts, “Disorder” [My review]

Anya Taylor-Joy, “The Witch” [My review]

Lily Gladstone, “Certain Women”

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”

Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”

Tom Bennett, “Love & Friendship”

Avin Manshadi, “Under the Shadow”

Samantha Robinson, “The Love Witch”

Andre Holland, “Moonlight”

Dave Johns and Hayley Squires, “I, Daniel Blake”

Ben Schnetzer, “Goat”

Bradley Cooper, “War Dogs”

Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”

Annette Bening, “20th Century Women”

Ashton Sanders, “Moonlight”

Ryan Gosling, “The Nice Guys”

Tom Sweet, “Childhood of a Leader”

John Travolta, “In a Valley of Violence” [My review]

Kristen Stewart, “Certain Women”

George Clooney, “Hail, Caesar!”

Danny DeVito, “Weiner Dog” [My review]

Hedye Tehrani, “Fireworks Wednesday” [My review from 2007. It wasn’t released until this year.]

Sarah Megan Thomas, “Equity”

Gil Birmingham, “Hell or High Water”

Molly Shannon, “Other People”

Isabelle Huppert, “Things to Come”

Tilda Swinton, “A Bigger Splash”

Channing Tatum, “Hail, Caesar!”

Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani, “Paterson”

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18 Responses to Performances I Loved This Year

  1. JessicaR says:

    Ryan Gosling’s face literally quaking with terror in the elevator at the end of The Nice Guys was my favorite bit of comic acting this year. I hope The Nice Guys finds its legs as a cult film a la The Big Lebowski. It deserves it.

    • sheila says:

      The critical dismissal of that film was a disgrace. For ages it was on my Top 10 until I had to bounce it off for more recent movies, but its position in my mind remains.

  2. Dan Heaton says:

    Amazing group of performances here, Sheila. I love seeing recognition for the Moonlight actors that haven’t received as much attention so far, particularly Monae and Sanders. Birmingham also is so great in Hell or High Water (along with Bridges of course). That relationship was more interesting to me than the brothers’ connection. I also loved the work from both Gladstone and Stewart in Certain Women.

    Some others that I really enjoyed that weren’t on your list were Angourie Rice in The Nice Guys, Laura Dern in Certain Women, Glen Powell in Everybody Wants Some!!, a lot of people in Hail, Caesar! (Ralph Fiennes in a small part), and Sam Neill in Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

    I still have a ton to see, so this is probably just the tip of the iceberg. The Fits and Love & Friendship are next on the list.

    • sheila says:

      Dan –

      // That relationship was more interesting to me than the brothers’ connection. //

      Oh definitely! The closeup of Bridges’ face as he looks down at his partner lying in the dust was devastating. I was devastated.

      // I also loved the work from both Gladstone and Stewart in Certain Women. //

      So excellent. I loved the whole movie but that sequence was the standout.

      Glen Powell was awesome!! But there was something about those two Lead Goofballs that just hit the sweet spot for me. I know those guys. I love those guys!!

      Ooh, Sam Neill should have been on this list for sure.

      Excited to hear your thoughts on The Fits (that’s the #1 of the year for me) and Love & Friendship! Whit Stillman is the best. And Beckinsale!!! Wow.

      • Dan Heaton says:

        Sheila, I caught up with The Fits a few days ago and was not disappointed. I loved the sound design especially; it’s a gorgeous film yet also a little eerie at times. I also loved how it didn’t overstay its welcome. I’ve watched a lot of 140-minute movies lately, and getting so much out of a movie that’s barely over an hour was so refreshing.

  3. mutecypher says:

    I saw “The Lobster” last night. Olivia Colman was great in that – as was everyone else. God, what a freakish horror of a world they made. Just painfully funny.

    Three performances from “Hail, Ceasar”- yup. I gotta see “A Bigger Splash.” Two from “Love & Friendship.” I was glad to see John Travolta on this list, and Blake Lively.

    This seems like a wonderful year in movies – is that your take too?

    • sheila says:

      That dance in “The Lobster”!! With Olivia Colman performing a song up on that stage? That was some bleak shit. She appeared in the British “The Office” in one episode – a brutally awkward scene – and she’s in some British series right now that my mother adores, but the name escapes me. She’s a brilliant actress.

      If I were doing TV performances as well – Travolta would definitely be on it for his brilliant performance in the OJ mini-series.

      And yes, 2016 has been great – I’ve been saying that in my reviews all along because some bozo wrote this article over the summer asking “Is cinema dead?” He asked this because the summer blockbusters tanked. This is such an internalization of a capitalist mindset (monetary success = artistic success) that I found it fucking depressing. Especially coming from a critic who should know better. In a year that saw The Fits, The Love Witch, The Witch, a new film from Kelly Reichardt, a brilliant new film from the Coen brothers, what may very well be Jamusch’s best film, Moonlight … there is not excuse for saying “cinema is dead” in a year like this one!

      Plus Isabelle Huppert in TWO starring roles, directed by two MAJOR directors.

      2016 has sucked across the board, on most levels, but movies have been great!

      • mutecypher says:

        I watched “A Bigger Splash” last night. Ralph Fiennes, wow. What a great character – just bringing the excess out of everyone. But also a real person, not a cartoon of a happy maniac. I liked how vexing Penelope was, and how there wasn’t any “she lied because…’ I liked the icky “I gave her to you” in the Paul and Harry exchanges. And I liked the shots in the studio, they made it believable that Tilda was a rock star. A lot to like in the movie. I am conflicted about the crime and the lack of consequences – that it felt muted to me. I wanted to have it matter more to everyone, and it didn’t feel like it did. That did make me long for a sequel, where Pen and Paul and Marianne meet 5 years later. I think I will need to spend some time processing my feelings and thoughts about the crime and non-punishment.

  4. mutecypher says:

    I watched “The Love Witch” last night. How crazy! And provocative. Elaine was a great character; I didn’t think that Samantha Robinson ever winked, she was just Elaine. The clothes and the artwork, the harp player (I was hoping for more Greek Chorus from her). I was glad I had read Jessa Crispin’s tarot book over the summer, it helped with some of the imagery. I loved how awful the actor who played Griff was at throwing a punch. I loved the idea of a small NorCal town (Eureka)? that had a formal tea room AND a burlesque house.

    And just “poor, poor baby” Elaine. Wanting something so much and then getting bored with it even before the perspiration dried. I did enjoy the dueling male/female voiceovers between Griff and Elaine at the Solstice/Tarot ren-faire: him talking about getting smothered by a woman’s love, her talking about finding that you always have more love to give even if you are getting bored with a cereal-slurping man.

    There was a quote from Anna Biller on IMDB that I liked:

    I’m less interested now in making the audience aware that they’re watching a movie, but that’s because I’ve been misunderstood a lot. I don’t want it to be a joke. I’m very frustrated when people find my movies to be a joke, because of the artifice. They’re real stories about real things. I’d like to take away that block. But I don’t know if I can, due to my natural campiness and my personal tastes.

    Made me think of Elaine and love.

    • mutecypher says:

      I’ve found that Anna Biller has a blog, with lots of interesting things on it. There’s a long description of all of the trouble she had shooting and editing (mostly the editing) on 35mm film (with some great examples of what sort of blacks and shadows can be achieved with film), and a review of The Witch, as well as an essay on Gloria. Good stuff, I thought.

      I’ve watched The Love Witch 3 or 4 times since the post above. It is completely captivating.

      • sheila says:

        I’m so glad you loved The Love Witch so much! Yes, her blog is amazing and she’s wonderful on Twitter too. We ended up bonding over the genius of Noel Coward recently – and I was like, “Well. I had a feeling I would like this woman.”

        • mutecypher says:

          One of the things that made me like and respect her even more was her description of working with Samantha Robinson to make/refine the character of Elaine. AB did damn-near everything on the film: the costumes, the decorating, the editing, writing, directing – she probably brewed the tea and made the cakes for the tea room scenes. But she collaborated with her actress to create her main character. She remarked in one of her posts that she had not done that before. I liked that she was open to not being a dictator – even though she literally did so much of the work to make the movie herself. Can’t argue with the results!

          Have you seen her film “Viva?”

          • sheila says:

            Yes, I loved Viva!

            Well, she’s not a dictator but she is in control of everything on that screen. She has SUCH a clear vision and she is able to translate that to her actors – which is no small feat. She’s fantastic!

  5. mutecypher says:

    I saw “Moonlight” last night. I thought the performances you highlighted were excellent, especially Mahershala Ali. Particularly the “you might be gay, but you’re not a faggot” scene. Wow.

    I wanted to love the movie, but didn’t. It’s growing on me from last night, but… I think part of my non-love is wanting Chiron to acknowledge the kindness he received from Juan and Teresa, to say thank you. That’s my stumbling block, I think. My thing, not the movie’s. I can understand why he didn’t, that he probably told himself that it could be withdrawn at any moment. And living trapped, for years, with the same d-heads bullying him all through his youth, and his addict-mom. Why would he expect kindness to last?

    That last scene was beautiful and shocking. How isolated Chiron must have lived. A drug dealer that hasn’t allowed anyone to touch him in 10 years? Believable, due to all that had gone on before. Tender, without fireworks. I also think I wanted fireworks – so my expectations are bumping up against the movie’s reality.

    Sheila, I think you’ve mentioned that you’ve seen it more than once. If so, did it grow on you?

    • sheila says:

      // If so, did it grow on you? //

      I was flattened TO A PANCAKE on my first watching, and I was flattened AGAIN when I saw it again. I did not experience what you experienced in terms of wanting something else to be happening. I’ve read other people who wished that there had been some kind of sex between him and Kevin. I could barely breathe during that whole final section – especially once he met up with Kevin again. I was “all in” from the first viewing.

      And I think I wrote in my piece about Trevante Rhodes – (and holy shit, he reached out to me to thank me for the piece I wrote! I couldn’t believe it!!) – that I see the movie more as about masculinity than sexuality. And what is done to men, early on, to tell them never to feel anything, never to show softness or – hell – any emotions at all. Women at least get to HAVE emotions. A man holding another men, gently and affectionately and tenderly? A comforting almost maternal “It’s going to be all right” caress? It’s unheard of between men, in the movies and in the culture as a whole, and it’s an INDICTMENT against the culture in which we live. So from my perspective – a quiet moment of being held tenderly by a good friend – is way way more radical than sexual fireworks. That’s what our culture needs more of. And until men get to experience that too – with no fear – until men stop being so afraid of softness – in themselves and others – we’re still going to be stuck. It’s the final frontier, as far as I’m concerned.

      So that was how I saw it, and that impression held up when I saw it again.

      • mutecypher says:

        I wasn’t wishing for sex, in terms of the fireworks. I think I was just wishing for “bigger” in the emotions, the soundtrack, something. Not sure. Whatever it was I brought to the movie in terms of expectations about being blown away. Possibly the reviews had led me to think of something else. I recognize the power of what was on the screen, I’m not sure why it didn’t get to me more. It’s seeping in.

        I understand what you are saying about men and emotion. I can certainly say that some emotions get more approval than others. Worse even than leaving me was the way my ex treated me when my father died. And we were still married then, with that whole “for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health” vow in effect.

        A buddy and I watched LaLa Land together recently. I loved it. He loved it up to the last twenty minutes. His son is in the Marines and was engaged to a woman he’d been with for 6 years. And she broke off the engagement a little over a month ago. So he was just outraged when Mia and Sebastian didn’t end up married. He recognized the source of his outrage, but I still got to listen for an hour afterwards to a rant about Mia’s lack of character. I disagreed, but how could I tell him his reaction was wrong? (I know you aren’t telling me that mine was wrong.)

        He just texted me that he loved Moonlight. I’m looking forward to talking to him about it. About the only time you get to see one guy holding another is if one of them has been shot and is dying.

        • sheila says:

          // Worse even than leaving me was the way my ex treated me when my father died. //

          This makes me so sad to hear. I’m sorry. It is an unfair burden placed on men – or young boys – from the very start and it is soul-killing.

          In re: expectations:

          Well, for me – as a critic – I do have to examine what I bring into it in terms of expectations – from the trailer, from what I WANT – and then discount those things and deal with what’s actually there. What I expected is somewhat irrelevant. This is definitely a challenge and I don’t always succeed. I have to separate out “what I want to be happening” and whether or not what is ACTUALLY happening works for me or not.

          I get it that regular audiences don’t do this or feel a need to do this! There’s no one way to watch a movie! My students in Hawaii and I had some great conversations about this when we were working on their responses to things.

          I’m glad I wasn’t assigned to review La La Land. In the 24, 36 hours after I saw it, I LOVED it. Magical! I love those two! And now – with time – I don’t understand what the fuss was (and is) about at all. hahahaha I still love those two together. But if I had had to review it, it would have been a rave – and a week later, I’d be looking at the review thinking, “Wow. Wish I had some time to sleep on that one.” Same with Manchester by the Sea. I sobbed when I saw it. Now I can barely remember it.

          Whereas The Salesman … or Moonlight … or The Fits … these I have seen multiple times. They blew me away on first viewing, and on second viewing, I loved them even more because I could see how deep they really went. I just saw The Salesman again night before last – and I picked up on so much more second time around!

        • sheila says:

          // About the only time you get to see one guy holding another is if one of them has been shot and is dying. //

          That’s right. It’s pathological and pandemic, that fear. Moonlight chips away at it.

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