Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Top 15 Female Performances of 2016

I love that 2016 was a year filled with so much fresh talent, with plenty of excellent veteran work filtered in. Seven of the performances listed here were by actors I either couldn’t recall seeing in a movie before, or simply hadn’t. I hope you enjoy my picks. Feel free to share yours as well!

Honorable Mention
Riley Keough – The Girlfriend Experience
as Christine
The best performance I saw by a woman in 2016 was Riley Keough’s cold, detached, wholly committed work on Starz’s The Girlfriend Experience. But because the performance was captured on a television show, I’m not including it in my overall list. Regardless, I cannot issue enough praise for Keough’s work on the show. She was excellent throughout, and her performance in the season’s ninth episode – which takes place in real time, twice, from two different perspectives – is some of the best acting I have ever seen. Period.

15. Imogen Poots – Knight of Cups
as Della
“I. Think. You. Are. Weak.” Of all the women who come into and out of Knight of Cups, Imogen Poot’s mysterious character was the most captivating. I wanted an entire movie dedicated to her character.

14. Bella Heathcote & Abbey Lee – The Neon Demon
as Gigi & Sarah
Gigi and Sarah’s intentions are obscured through kindness, violence, contempt – you name it. I loved guessing how far these two were going to go, then being completely dumbfounded by how far they actually went.

13. Lily Gladstone – Certain Women
as The Rancher
Certain Women is populated with more well-known names, but Lily Gladstone was the actor I couldn’t get out of my mind. Who is this rancher? How did she get here? Where is she going? I so want to know what she’s going to do now.

12. Janelle Monáe & Naomi Harris – Moonlight
as Teresa & Paula
Monáe and Harris don’t share any scenes in Moonlight, but as very different mother figures for the film’s main character, Chiron, both Monáe and Harris’ work carry emotional weight. Monáe, a fantastic signer making her acting debut (she was also great in Hidden Figures), brings peace and calm to Teresa, while Harris brings fire and regret. Again, the roles couldn’t be more different, but I appreciated them both equally.

11. Anya Taylor-Joy – The Witch
as Thomasin
Anya Taylor-Joy was the emotional anchor of the singular and terrifying indie film, The Witch. Taylor-Joy had little experience before being cast in the film, and was only a teenager when The Witch was shot, but damn if she doesn’t have the skills to carry the film all the way to its hypnotic conclusion.

10. Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
as Dorothea
20th Century Women is led by a great, holistic Annette Bening performance. Bening is always so good at character immersion; she throws herself into a world without showing off. Dorothea is such a wonderfully imperfect human. She has flaws and contradictions like the best of us, but ultimately aims to be good. Which is something Bening far surpassed here.

9. Viola Davis – Fences
as Rose
I love how movie characters react when backed into a corner. Some fold, others fight. Rose is a fighter. And when pushed past her brink, she lets her insufferable husband, Troy (Denzel Washington), have it. Davis is a performer who’s always there. Her characters watch, they react, they listen. Troy is the showier role in Fences, but Rose is the heart. Give the woman an Oscar.

8. Amy Adams – Nocturnal Animals
as Susan
I got Susan. I got her shame, her apathy, her regret. I understood why she was the way she was. When Nocturnal Animals went back in time, and we saw a younger, livelier Susan, I understood her too. Some of us turn into the thing we fear most, and it takes a new variable – a photo, a manuscript, a sled – to make us realize we need to change. I think Susan is headed there, but she certainly deserves a taste of her own medicine first.

7. Sasha Lane – American Honey
as Star
Star is such an enigma. She’s temperamental and removed, fun and curious – she’s a typical teenager, played atypically well by Sasha Lane, a person who had never been in a movie before. Lane’s casting is further credit of writer/director Andrea Arnold’s knack for casting unknowns.

6. Natalie Portman – Jackie
as Jackie Kennedy
I appreciated the fractured way director Pablo Larraín chose to tell Jackie (grief isn’t circular, it comes in broken waves), but Portman’s work far surpassed the film for me. There isn’t a false note to be found in her performance, and few scenes from 2016 impressed me more than Portman’s drunken and drugged-up “Camelot” sequence in Jackie. It rivals anything she has done before.

5. Emma Stone – La La Land
as Mia
I adored Mia. I wanted her to be happy. I wanted her to be loved. I wanted her to win. I’ve always enjoyed Emma Stone’s work, but she won out here. She sang and danced and charmed her way into my favorite film of the year, captivating me with the magic of it all. I’ll be admiring Stone’s work in La La Land for years to come. I mean, for that final audition alone.

4. Rebecca Hall – Christine
as Christine Chubbuck
In July 1974, 29-year-old reporter, Christine Chubbuck, shot herself to death on live television. Not much is known about Chubbuck, yet the mystery surrounding her was thrillingly realized in Christine. Rebecca Hall does her finest work to date as the manic-depressive Chubbuck. It’s a performance so convincingly laced with dread and mania that it’s difficult to watch. It’s a shame Christine didn’t get a wider release, Hall’s work deserved far more praise than it received.

3. Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
as Randi
I can’t rewatch Michelle Williams’ final scene in Manchester by the Sea without shuffling anxiously. It is absolutely brutal. It’s so uncomfortable to watch because it’s so real. All the pain the characters are feeling, all the pent up tragedy, the shame, the dread – it’s all right there, on this crappy little street, in this freezing weather. Great performances are about more than one scene, but damn if this thing doesn’t punch.

2. Isabelle Huppert – Elle
as Michèle
Elle opens with a woman named Michèle being raped, and in the immediate aftermath, the film shows her refusal to report the rape to authorities, or let it impact her life in a negative way. Director Paul Verhoeven originally wanted Elle to take place in America. But when he was unable to find an American actress (or actress capable of playing an American) willing to take on the role of Michèle, he moved production to Paris and cast Isabelle Huppert. I understand Verhoeven’s troubles in casting Michèle, but I’m so happy his search led to Huppert. I can’t think of another performer who could pull Michèle off, certainly not this well. Elle never goes where you think it’s going to, and that frightens people. It sickens and disgusts them. But there’s Isabelle Huppert, sitting in calm, sipping wine, paying attention, watching. Watching in that very way only Isabelle Huppert can.

1. Morgan Saylor – White Girl
as Leah
I like to be rattled. I like movies that show the dark. I like actors who put themselves out there by risking career and bucking convention. Everything Morgan Saylor does in White Girl is a deviation from what we expect from actors of her demographic. I can imagine the publicists, agents, and managers begging Saylor to turn Leah down. It’s too wild, too raw, too sexual. It’ll ruin your career before it starts. An actor can only effectively play a character like Leah one way – by going all in. Which is exactly what Saylor does in this film. She doesn’t toe the edge. She excitedly yells Fuck It while jumping over.

Leah is a reckless young white girl with no filter for limits. She doesn’t party, she rages. She doesn’t shout, she screams. She doesn’t court, she loves. Hard. As Leah becomes engulfed in an increasingly dangerous New York City drug culture, she makes countless mistakes, and rarely learns from them. The convention of film dictates that characters are introduced with conflict, and upon tackling that conflict, they change into a better person. But how many young wild and free teenagers actually change while they still have access to recklessness?

I had never seen Morgan Saylor act before (she played Damian Lewis’ daughter in Homeland), but I will never forget her work as Leah. This is a career-defining role from a young performer who is just getting going. I can’t wait to see how Saylor out does herself.

2016 in Review


  1. I still have so much to see, but I love the inclusion of the Neon Demon supporting players, even if Jena Malone is my favorite thing about that film...and I love seeing Stone so high. She was absolute perfection.

    1. I loved Malone in that film, but there was something about the newness of Heathcote and Lee that I was so taken with. And Stone.. may she melt my heart.

  2. Lots of great performances here. I have not really heard anything about White Girl before you had it on your top 10 list of 2016 and now here so i guess i will have to check that one out soon. Sounds like an interesting movie. Anyway, here are my top 10 performances so far at least.

    Jane Levy - Don't Breathe
    Lucy Boynton - Sing Street
    Elle Fanning - The Neon Demon
    Emily Blunt - The Girl on the Train (Great performance in an average at best movie.)
    Rachel Weisz - The Lobster
    Mary Elizabeth Winstead - 10 Cloverfield Lane (She could have easily been completely overshadowed by John Goodman's performance, but managed to hold her own and still be memorable as well.)
    Anya Taylor-Joy - The VVitch
    Emma Stone - La La Land (I have always liked Emma Stone in whatever she has appeared in, but she has never been better than here. That final audition scene is what's gonna get her the Oscar this year.)
    Naomie Harris - Moonlight
    Amy Adams - Nocturnal Animals and Arrival (It was impossible to choose just one of these from her. What a fantastic year she has had. These performances were so good i had completely forgotten she was even in Batman v Superman.)

    I still need to see Machester by the Sea and Fences as well.

    1. Great picks. Levy is a very fine choice. That whole movie was a lot better than I expected. Levy was so convincing in it. And Amy Adams yet again kills it, twice. I adore her.

    2. Yeah, Don't Breathe really surprised me. One of the few horror movies in recent years i have really enjoyed. But i have watched a few more movies recently so i have to update the list. I also just realized i just added 10 last time instead of 15. Need to fix that.

      15. Kate Siegel - Hush
      14. Scarlett Johansson - Hail, Caesar!
      13. Kristen Stewart - Café Society
      12. Jane Levy - Don't Breathe
      11. Lucy Boynton - Sing Street
      10. Elle Fanning - The Neon Demon
      9. Emily Blunt - The Girl on the Train
      8. Rachel Weisz - The Lobster
      7. Mary Elizabeth Winstead - 10 Cloverfield Lane
      6. Anya Taylor-Joy - The VVitch
      5. Michelle Williams - Machester by the Sea
      4. Emma Stone - La La Land
      3. Viola Davis - Fences
      2. Naomie Harris - Moonlight
      1. Amy Adams - Nocturnal Animals and Arrival

      Such a shame Amy was snubbed this year at the Oscars for both her performances, but i'm guessing maybe that was the problem. She was too good in both and it divided her votes.

    3. Man, Amy crushed 2016 with those performances. What is it going to take for that woman to win?

      And Mary Elizabeth Winstead... she's always on point, I love her work. Was so good in that film.

  3. Great list. Having just watched Christine last night I'm happy to see Rebecca Hall so high up. I've got White Girl in my Netflix queue, it'll probably be the next indie I watch.

    1. Thanks! Whyyyy couldn't Christine get a bigger release? Hall's work was so damn good in it. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on White Girl.

  4. I still have alot to see but there really were some amazing performances this year. The Best Actress race at the Oscars's will be wild this year. The 10 best performances of the year from a woman that I saw would be as follows:

    1. Isabella Huppert - Elle
    2. Viola Davis - Fences
    3. Amy Adams - Arrival
    4. Jessica Chastain - Miss Sloane
    5. Ruth Negga - Loving
    6. Natalie Portman - Jackie
    7. Emily Blunt - The Girl on the Train
    8. Marion Cotillard - Allied
    9. Taraji P. Henson -Hidden Figures
    10. Naomie Harris - Moonlight

    So many good ones and also there are films that I haven't seen like Manchester by the Sea and La La Land and if I had I would surely have included them on to the list.

    1. Great picks! Seriously, who other than Huppert could pull that off? I was so, so happy with her Oscar nom.

  5. As of right now, Viola Davis is in my top spot, but I just watched White Girl a few days ago and Saylor was excellent. Not yet sure how I feel about the movie as a whole, but no doubt she knocked it out the park. Besides those two, I've only seen Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch, so far. Hers is also a very worthy performance.

    1. I'm glad you gave White Girl a chance. Certainly not a film for everyone, but one damn near tailor-made to fit my tastes.

      Davis has to win that Oscar. What fine work.

  6. I've heard a lot about White Girl as I am intrigued as I've seen the nude clips of the film as I'm shocked Saylor would do some of things in that film. For me right now (as there's plenty of films I haven't seen so far...),

    Best Actress

    1. Kate Beckinsale-Love & Friendship
    2. Amy Adams-Nocturnal Animals/Arrival
    3. Emma Stone-La La Land
    4. Felicity Jones-Rogue One
    5. Elle Fanning-The Neon Demon

    Best Supporting Actress

    1. Jena Malone-The Neon Demon
    2. Michelle Williams-Manchester by the Sea
    3. Chloe Sevigny-Love & Friendship
    4. Kirsten Dunst-Midnight Special
    5. Abbey Lee Kershaw & Bella Heathcote-The Neon Demon

    1. Knew Malone would be your #1...and she's SO DESERVING!!! I haven't seen Manchester By the Sea yet, but right now Malone is my #2, right behind Weisz for her performance in The Lobster...but they alternate constantly because Malone is absolute PERFECTION! I wish that Neon Demon had garnered more attention (the film is also fantastic) because THESE are the kinds of roles Malone should be getting offered.

    2. Great picks. Totally on board with all of your choices. I would love to hear your thoughts on White Girl. And I agree, Malone should definitely be getting big and challenging roles.

  7. Great list! I think this year's Best Actress category at the Oscars is going to be the most competitive of all categories! So many amazing performances! Here are my thoughts:

    1. Amy Adams - Nocturnal Animals.
    Its all about the eyes. You see/feel the pain, the regret, and the anguish that Susan is battling. I left the theatre so painfully moved by Adams' portrayal of Susan. It reminded me a lot of Gena Rowland's character in one of my favorite Woody Allen films, Another Woman. Where is this woman's Oscar?!

    2. Emma Stone - La La Land.
    It wasn't until Birdman that I began to like Emma Stone, but La La Land made me fall in love with her. Mia is the role Emma was born to play!

    3. Natalie Portman - Jackie.
    I was drawn in the second Jackie opens her front door letting the columnist into her home.
    A PERFECT performance.

    4. Michelle Williams - Manchester by the Sea.
    Michelle was collectively in the film for maybe 15 minutes but blew me away. We saw so many sides to her character and her final scene with Casey heartbreaking to watch. I am always so impressed by her work.

    5. Amy Adams - Arrival.
    2016: THE YEAR OF AMY ADAMS ��

    Some notes:
    I unfortunately have not yet seen Elle. But considering Isabelle Huppert won the Golden Globe for her work, I'm anticipating an outstanding performance. The same goes for Viola Davis in Fences.
    I LOVE that you included the supporting cast from The Neon Demon! That final scene....
    I am surprised you didn't mention Jena Malone's work in The Neon Demon. I just love it when she shows up in movies. I thought she was fantastic in Nocturnal Animals!

    This was a great list! Who are your favorites for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars this year?

    1. Awesome picks! I still can't believe Adams didn't get a nomination. So crazy. That woman deserves at least two Oscars by now. Hopefully they'll come soon!

      If I voted for the Oscars, Huppert would get my Best Actress vote and Davis would get my Supporting Actress vote. I do prefer Williams' performance more, but I just really really want Davis to get that Oscar.

  8. Lee is my win in supporting and Joy in lead at the moment! Still haven't seen Jackie or Christine, though. I really need to see that Girlfriend Experience show, liked Riley since The Runaways

    1. Great picks! I would love to hear your thoughts on The GF Experience. It's such a damn fine show. They just announced the plot for season 2. So excited.

  9. Very neat list that demonstrates what a great year it's been for women. I also loved seeing the Neon Demon ladies in the same spot. For me, Jena Malone was the scene stealer but Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote were absolute aces!

    1. Malone was incredible on The Neon Demon, no doubt. But Lee and Heathcote really floored me. I hadn't seen them in a movie before (or remembered seeing them before), but goddamn if they didn't kill it.

  10. Great performances! Absolutely loved Hall and Portman, and honestly can't get those movies out of my mind.

    1. I'm so happy you saw Christine! I wish more people saw that movie. Hall was perfect in it.

  11. Jesus, it's that time of the year already... Due to university I had to cut down on cinema viewing unfortunately. However, I plan on watching as many as I can this year, starting with Manchester, by the Sea and La La Land this week and Jackie and Christine in February. I cannot wait! Although, from your list the movie I want to see the most is Moonlight.

    1. I hope you have a chance to see a the movies soon! Feel free to stop by and let me know what you think of them!

    2. Hello, well I managed to see the first two films I mentioned above and I am sorry for the long reply but I just love discussing with you. Please don't be mad at me but with Manchester by the Sea, I just didn't see that special spark that people have been raving about. Now, I adore independent films or films that tend to be minimalist or try to capture reality but I just thought the film was OK. However; Michelle Williams. I mean, to be able to create such a rounded character and get you to empathise with her confined pain in such a small amount of screen time. I don't think I have ever felt so uncomfortable whilst watching that final conversation scene. I did enjoy La La Land as a film though I must admit I did see some flaws within it and although I thought Emma Stone did a terrific job (that audition scene, I mean come one), I thought that some of Mia's character arc just kept me from fully embracing her. So in a way I found Manchester to be an average movie with a terrific performance and La La Land a good movie with an inconsistent performance though not in any fault of Miss Stone of course. I really am sorry this is long, I'll make sure to condense my opinion when I watch Jackie and Christine.

  12. Really great picks all the way around, although I haven't seen White Girl and Christine left my local art house so quickly I missed it. (Both are in my Netflix queue, for sure.) The last few years were overflowing with great female performances. I had a really tough time narrowing down my lead and supporting fields to five apiece. There's a lot of overlap with you, in addition to several unheralded performances I wish had garnered a wider audience this year: Krisha Fairchild in Krisha (blistering), Riley Keough in American Honey, Sarah Paulson in Blue Jay, Zhao Tao and Sylvia Chang in Mountains May Depart and Antonia Zegers in The Club.

    1. Great picks. Again, I need to see some of the foreign films you're mentioning. Can't wait. Keough is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. I'm so excited to see what she does next.

  13. Woo great list! I'm so happy to see Heathcote and Kershaw here! I loved both of them in Neon Demon.
    Portman is currently my favourite performer of the year. I really didn't think she was capable of a performance like that. I LOVED Jackie and the biggest reason is her.

    1. Thanks! Portman was so damn good in Jackie. I'll be interested to see what happens this next month leading up to the Oscars. She seemed to be the frontrunner early on, but now I'm not hearing anything about her chances. Very strange.

  14. This list is fantastic. I've only experienced Davis in Fences, Taylor-Joy in The Witch, and Stone in La La Land, and each knocked me on my ass in their own way. I can't even fathom that there are a dozen more performances that fit along side what these three ladies did. Incredible.

    1. Thanks man! I'm so glad you liked those performances. I would LOVE to read your review of White Girl. That thing is insane.

  15. Didn't have any idea about "White Girl", sounds like something I'd like as I love movies that show the dark too. Haven't seen many of those films yet, but I'd love Isabelle Huppert in anything, and Emma Stone is a gem, but I didn't like that much La la land, so my favorite character/performance from her keeps being Sam in Birdman. I loved that film with a passion and her relation with her dad/Keaton and her chemistry with Edward Norton.

    My favorite from the ones I've seen would be Riley Keough, couldn't agree more with everything you've said, she was terrific. And then Abbey Lee. I already loved her as a model, but she nailed that role. Sarah was my favorite thing from The Neon Demon.

    1. Ohhh please try to find White Girl if you can. It is a very dark but very good film, and Saylor is a revelation in it. Sarah was my favorite thing in The Neon Demon as well. Happy you're a fan of that performance!

    2. I followed your advice and I watched White Girl. Couldn't agree more with all you wrote about Morgan Saylor's performance and the film. From your words about it I felt I'd love it and I did! It reminded me a little of Somersault. I don't know if you've watched that one, but I think you'll love it. Abbie Cornish performance is very impressive (she's very underrated) and the cinematography and the score are really beautiful, a very special film.

    3. Ohhh I'm soooo happy you watched it. And I'm thrilled you liked it. Saylor was so strong in that film. I haven't seen Somersault but clearly need to ASAP. Thanks!