For a thorough movie purist like myself putting together a year-end list of stellar standout performances is a truly taxing task. Not one to simply cherry pick from work within my Top Ten Films of the year, I scour movies in every genre and performances both big and small to bring the best of the best to the film forefront. As a result this year’s list of favorites I feel is my most eclectic yet – in some cases even elevating the subpar cinema that surrounds it. And while I did watch the year end group of Academy hopefuls (both Natalie Portman in Jackie and Jessica Chastain in Miss Sloane were good, but a tad one-note!) and critical darlings (Viggo Mortensen’s work in Captain Fantastic missed the list by a hair!), my findings are from a year-long dissection featuring five-star work that stands and delivers. From layered ladies to mysterious men, from bitter broads to silent but deadly equalizers these are tasty turns that deserve to be recognized for possessing a memorable character quality that’s undeniable. (At least in my humble movie geek opinion!) Proud to present my list of the…Top Five Male & Female Performances of 2016!
1. Amy Hargreaves – “How He Fell In Love”
An arresting performance that grabbed me and firmly stayed on the top of my best actress list all year, Amy Hargreaves rivetingly work in the indie How He Fell In Love is the kind of bold and lay barren beauty that Oscar should be recognizing. Playing an older married woman who falls for the charms of a younger man, Hargreaves forgoes the typical sordid tryst tropes and instead crates a wonderfully layered lady fraught with passion, doubt and heartache. It’s a real and rare performance that at times feels like we’re intruding on a private moment – and don’t dare to look away.
2. Janet McTeer – “Paint It Black”
As the cold and calculating mean mother of Amber Tamblyn’s impressive dramatic directing debut Paint It Black, Janet McTeer turns in an unsettling and long lingering performance that possesses equal parts Hannibal Lecter and Cruella de Vil. Comforting and sweet one minute, spiteful and scary the next, McTeer’s distraught parent focusing all the anguish of son’s suicide solely on the shoulders of the grief stricken girlfriend he left behind is truly the epitome of evil – even Pinhead would take pause.
3. Sarah Paulson – “Blue Jay”
After her fantastic work as real-life lawyer Marcia Clark in The People v. O.J. Simpson, I was even more eager to see what underrated actress Sarah Paulson was going to do next. It turned out to be a thoughtful role in the little indie film Blue Jay and as always Paulson didn’t disappoint. Playing the emotional female ying to Mark Duplass’s detached male yang, Paulson proves ever so poignant and able to convey the former couple’s turbulent past history with a single look. (Not to mention she ups the game of the sometimes stagnate Duplass in every scene they’re in!) It’s a quality that may seem simple, but only the greats make effortless look that easy.
4. Ellen Burstyn – “Wiener-Dog”
Channeling her inner bitter elder, Ellen Burstyn’s crotchety woman of few words is pure Todd Solondz. Sullen, sarcastic and with an obvious dislike for everyone and everything, Burstyn’s Nana provides a firm dose of cruel comical character deadpan that’s been all but missing from the recent work of the controversial Happiness helmer and shows that the Oscar winning old gal still got game. Much like the teaming of iconic actors and directors who came before, let’s hope this first perfectly perverse pairing is only the beginning.
5. Lily Gladstone – “Certain Women”
In an understated role that’s got a blink and you’ll miss it killer quality, Lily Gladstone’s meek mannered rancher is actually the surprise standout of Certain Women. Playing an average gal who falls hard for Kristen Stewart’s wet behind the ears lawyer turned teacher, Gladstone’s quiet character may not talk much, but her expressive face and unwavering focus speaks volumes. In a movie world where words are king, sometimes even the speechless have something to say.
And now the gents!
1. Michael Shannon – “Elvis & Nixon”
With so many film impersonations at this point, leave it to the genius of Michael Shannon to bring Elvis back to life once more. Funneling the legend through an askew signature style, Shannon creates his own kooky version of beloved icon and much like the rest of his stellar career it’s captivating creative character work at it’s absurd best – hail to the King baby.
2. Stephen Lang – “Band of Robbers”
While only on screen for a few memorable minutes, Stephen Lang’s intense and fierce bad guy come to life in Band Of Robbers all but steals the already five-star film. As fictitious Mark Twain baddie Injun Joe, Lang brings a creepy quiet bravado to his scenes that all but ensure all eyes are on him. In a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn tale turned on it’s head, Injun Joe is one of those rare characters whose appearance lives up to the hype – just don’t piss the guy off.
3. Christopher Plummer – “Remember”
If there were any justice Christopher Plummer would get an Oscar for Remember. Playing an elderly Jewish gent with memory issues on a personal mission to find the Nazi guard responsible for the deaths of his family, Plummer takes every complex character quirk, every quiet moment and every slick story turn and gives it a natural nuance. No need to remember – you’ll never forget.
4. Timothy Spall – “Denial”
Adding yet another wonderfully detestable lowlife to his already colorful character cache, Timothy Spall never met a slime ball he couldn’t make more sublime. As arrogant Holocaust denier David Irving, Spall chews the scenery with barbaric delight and creates a real bad guy to relish. Need a little vain in your villain – Spall’s your man.
5. Michael Nyqvist – “I.T.”
As the singular standout in I.T., a movie that’s a surefire Razzie nominee, Michael Nyqvist’s tech man of action Henrick is a bad movie breath of fresh air. Playing a gadget cleaner who’s both mysterious and methodical, Nyqvist’s character commands the room with quiet authority and skilled precision right from frame one and it’s fascinating to watch. Severing surveillance and at the same time killing crappy movie boredom, this gizmo guy deserves his own flick.