Saturday, January 28, 2017

Top 15 Male Performances of 2016

Much like my favorite female performances of 2016, I love that this list is comprised of heavy-hitting veterans and newcomers I had never seen in a film before. I hope you enjoy my picks. Do feel free to share yours as well!

Honorable Mention
Christopher Abbott – James White
as James White
A few years ago, Christopher Abbott departed from HBO’s Girls with the intention of focusing on his film career. If the result of that shift is more roles like his crushing work in James White, then he clearly made the right decision. James White is young man hell bent on crumbling his own world. I had no idea Abbott was capable of such depth. There are echoes of James Dean in this performance. Brando, too. I can’t wait to see where Abbott goes from here. (Note: James White received a very small theatrical release at the end of 2015, but the movie was made available via Netflix in 2016.)

15. The Adult Boys of Everybody Wants Some!!
Most TV shows that run for five seasons aren’t able to define their characters as well as Richard Linklater did for more than a dozen players in Everybody Wants Some!! You knew exactly who each of these guys were, almost immediately after meeting them. The best ensemble of the year, no question.

14. Liam Nesson – Silence
as Ferreira
Watching Martin Scorsese’s fascinating passion project, Silence, I had a reoccurring thought of how noticeably Liam Nesson was acting circles around his co-stars. This is not meant to disparage Andrew Garfield or Adam Driver, both are fine actors (see below), but Nesson has a gravitas that was unmatched in Silence. The film was never more alive than when he was onscreen. I can’t wait to see the film again and study his controlled work.

13. Adam Driver – Paterson
as Paterson
Adam Driver is killing it. Has been since HBO’s Girls debuted in 2012. For my money, Driver reached a career high in 2016. He gave three stirring performances (in Paterson, Midnight Special, and Silence), while on the heals of the December 2015 release the biggest movie of all time (The Force Awakens). The highlight of Driver’s year was his quiet yet affecting performance in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. It’s a film about real life, about real behavior, real thoughts, real desires. Driver brings a sort of quirky enthusiasm to much of his work, and it was a joy to see him strip that away in bringing Paterson to life.

12. Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
as Juan
We’ve all seen the black, hardened drug dealer on film. We’re introduced to him, and expect something specific. But Mahershala Ali’s incarnation of Juan is completely different. Juan is kind and caring, a sensitive man with noble intentions. He slings because he has to, but loves because he wants to. Wouldn’t it be great for Ali to win the Oscar?

11. Shia LaBouf – American Honey
as Jake
For all his off-screen antics, Shia LaBouf can act his ass off. Andrea Arnold doesn’t typically cast such well-known stars in her films, but as Jake, Shia LaBouf wasn’t Shia LaBouf. He was simply one of the misfit kids the film focuses on. LaBouf never attempted to steal the spotlight, rather, he immersed himself into Arnold’s world and played along to thrilling results.

10. Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
as Marcus Hamilton
Many actors phone in performances after they win an Oscar. Jeff Bridges has only gotten better since taking home the Best Actor trophy for Crazy Heart. His work in Hell or High Water – the aging sentiment, the gruffness, the sarcasm – was so realistic and entertaining. And the actor’s laugh/cry expression after a pivotal scene is something I haven’t been able to forget.

9. Christian Bale – Knight of Cups
as Rick
Knight of Cups is a journey film. Whether or not you like it depends entirely on whether or not you are willing to accept the journey. And to accept it, you have to confide in the person guiding you through it. I love the film, and I can think of no better guide than a despondent Christian Bale to lead the way.

8. Ashton Sanders – Moonlight
as Chiron
The three actors who play Chiron in Moonlight are all great, but I connected most with Ashton Sanders, who played Chiron as a teenager. Sanders embodied the fear, rage, and sexual curiosity of a teenager so convincingly. I like Moonlight fine as is, but I would love to see a film dedicated entirely to Sanders’ Chiron.

7. Ryan Gosling – La La Land
as Sebastian
I’m a great admirer of Ryan Gosling’s wit and charm, but I tend to dig his serious performances more. But that’s something that made La La Land so unique. It featured an effortlessly charming Gosling who didn’t have to scream and brood to make his point. Instead, he danced and sang and smiled as one half of the best duets of the year.

6. Colin Farrell – The Lobster
as David
The tone of Yorgos Lanthimos’ films is established by the script and the actors. Lanthimos’ does not direct actors how to deliver their lines. So the detached, confused manner in which the actors speak during The Lobster was formed by Colin Farrell and his fellow actors. That is one hell of an acting feat, to choose such a specific tone and roll with it. I’ve always been a fan of Farrell’s acting, but he did something far beyond what I expected here.

5. Denzel Washington – Fences
as Troy
Troy doesn’t stop speaking for the first 45 minutes of Fences. That’s not hyperbole, the man literally does not stop talking. A few characters work in a word or two, sometimes almost a full sentence. But for Act I of Fences, Troy is on a tear, and cannot be stopped. You never know how far he’s going to go, verbally and physically. It’s a powerful performance, one of the best of Washington’s later career. After all, who doesn’t love watching a walking contradiction?

4. Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
as Patrick
When a man is stuck in his way, it’s damn near impossible to get him out of it. Other adults take notice of this. They look, but they stay away. A teenager cares none about your quiet disposition, and will disrupt it to suit his own needs. That’s Lucas Hedges’ Patrick to Casey Affleck’s Lee. And what a tragically hilarious thing it was to watch.

3. Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
as Bobby Andes
There are certain performances that are so perfectly cast, it is difficult to imagine any other contemporary actor playing that part. Michael Shannon’s take on Bobby Andes is such an instance. Who else could nail the tone and humor of Andes so exquisitely? Shannon never goes for the joke, but he also never goes for the fear. The man is as funny as he is menacing, and I absolutely love him for it.

2. Chris Pine & Ben Foster – Hell or High Water
as Toby & Tanner Howard
No two performers this year played more convincing relatives than Pine and Foster in Hell or High Water. I believed their every exchange; their body language, their interactions, their glances – everything. On-screen chemistry doesn’t always mean male-to-female dynamic. It’s how convincing two actors are together. Toby and Tanner may not have much in common (or perhaps more than they think), and damn if their fiery dynamic didn’t play to great results.

1. Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
as Lee
Not since Michael Fassbender’s turn in Shame (one of my Top 10 favorite acting performances of all time) have I seen an actor embrace dread as well as Casey Affleck does in Manchester by the Sea. Lee is a shell of a man. He’s angry, hollow, gone. He interacts only when he’s forced to; content with contributing nothing to the world. When Manchester by the Sea begins, we’re unaware why Lee is the way he is. But as context of his tragic life is presented, we grow to understand him. You don’t have to like Lee, you don’t even have to wish him well, but damn if Affleck doesn’t make you empathize with him. Affleck’s final, hushed and hunched-over battle cry to his nephew is one of the most moving proclamations of lasting regret that I’ve ever seen on film. I’ll never forget Affleck’s work in this film. And when I have the courage to revisit it, I’m sure it will rip me apart like never before.

2016 in Review


  1. Great picks as always. Ben might be a great director these days (although i haven't heard great things about Live by Night), but Casey Affleck shows once again who got the acting talent of the family. I still need to watch Silence, but it's not even listed as an upcoming movie anywhere near me. Why is this movie so damn hard to find? It's a Scorsese for crying out loud. Anyway, here are my pics.

    15. Jonah Hill - War Dogs (Stand out performance in a forgettable film.)
    14. Anton Yelchin - Green Room (Damn, i'm gonna miss this guy. I feel like we hadn't even begun to see the full potential of his acting talent.)
    13. Harvey Scrimshaw - The VVitch (One of the best performances from a child actor i have seen in a long time.)
    12. Jeff Bridges - Hell or High Water
    11. Andrew Garfield - Hacksaw Ridge
    10. Ryan Gosling - La La Land
    9. Viggo Mortensen - Captain Fantastic (Really surprised and happy he got an Oscar nomination for this. I was absolutely sure it was gonna fly under their radar.)
    8. Casey Affleck - Manchester by the Sea
    7. Michael Shannon - Nocturnal Animals
    6. Mahershala Ali - Moonlight
    5. Alex R. Hibbert/Ashton Sanders/Trevante Rhodes - Moonlight (It was impossible for me to choose just one of the actors here. They all make the character great.)
    4. Denzel Washington - Fences
    3. John Goodman - 10 Cloverfield Lane
    2. Jake Gyllenhaal - Nocturnal Animals (As great as Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Amy Adams were in the movie, it was Jake Gyllenhaal that stood out the most to me.)
    1. Hugo Weaving - Hacksaw Ridge (It's not a big role, but damn, he absolutely stole the movie. As brutal as the war scenes in the movie were, it's still his performance that still haunts me. It's probably my favorite performance from his entire career.)

    So yeah, that's my list so far. Still need to watch Silence before i can be completely happy with it. I also want to check out both Paterson and American Honey. Heard great things about both of them. And yeah, i'm still planning on giving Knight of Cups a second chance. I'll probably pick up the blu-ray as soon as i can.

    1. Terrific picks here. What a spirited choice for number 1. For me, Weaving was the only thing that saved that film from its first hour. He was so damn committed. So cool that we have so many picks in common!

  2. Shannon fit that role like a glove. I thought a duo I usually love in La La Land might as well have been playing themselves and the film itself was pretty mediocre but otherwise everything else here I've seen is damn fine work. As the comment above said Weaving kills it in Hacksaw Ridge- and Gibson delivers by far his best work too.

    I'd love to add both Nilbio Torres and Antonio Bolivar's takes on Karamakate in Embrace of the Serpent. I know you said you haven't seen it yet but damn is he one of the most endearing and intriguing characters I've seen this side of 2010 :D

    1. One day I will hammer out all those films you recommend! Wasn't Shannon just damn perfect in that role? Love that he got nominated for it.

  3. For me so far...

    Best Actor

    1. Ryan Gosling-La La Land
    2. Casey Affleck-Manchester by the Sea
    3. Jake Gyllenhaal-Nocturnal Animals
    4. Michael Shannon-Midnight Special
    5. Ryan Reynolds-Deadpool

    Best Supporting Actor

    1. Michael Shannon-Nocturnal Animals
    2. Tom Bennett-Love & Friendship
    3. Glen Powell-Everybody Want Some!!
    4. Lucas Hedges-Manchester by the Sea
    5. Jeremy Renner-Arrival

    I would put Christian Bale in the honorable mentions but I think Knight of Cups is a 2015 technically. There's just so many good films and such that I'm missing out on. Especially in films like Paterson, Silence, and Moonlight as films I really want to see.

    1. Love that Gosling takes your top spot. And the double love for Shannon is awesome. If I had to pick just one of the guys, Powell would be my top choice from that film as well.


  4. Too many films I haven't seen yet and I'm dying to watch! Especially Nocturnal Animals and Hell or High Water. Talking about Nocturnal Animals, I love Michael Shannon and from your choices I'm guessing he stole the show a little in here from Jake Gyllenhaal, which surprises me a little ‘cause Jake has been terrific lately too, but I guess his role is not as good as Shannon’s. I'd love Christian Bale in anything, and I can't wait to watch Knight of Cups, and James White (which I didn't know even existed) sounds promising.
    From the ones I've seen my pick would be Colin Farrell. Love the man, and he was so great in that role... I loved that film, one of my favorites from the recent years. And Gosling, is another of my fave actors, and I agree with what you've said about how he's different in here, but I’ve enjoyed other of his performances more than this one, maybe because La la land lacked something for me, unfortunately.
    As you’ve mentioned Riley Keough on the female list I'd add Jeffrey Wright performance on Westworld as one of my favorite performances from the year.

    1. I still haven't seen Westworld! I need to reserve a whole day for it I think, just crush the entire thing out. I think you would really appreciate Nocturnal Animals, and the work that the entire cast does, especially Shannon. He's perfect in it.

    2. Watched Nocturnal Animals a couple of days ago. I was expecting something different so I'm still "processing" the film. As much as I love Gyllehaal I didn't like his role and some of the dialogues... but I liked the atmosphere of the film. Anyways, the best part was Shannon as you said. Loved the way Ford shot his entrance.

      I've just watched Everybody wants some and couldn't agree more with your comment about it. I didn't have seen Blake Jenner in anything before and I really liked him but the whole bunch were so fun to watch. Best 2 hours of my life spent lately watching a film, seriously, I enjoyed it a lot.

      Westworld disappointed me a little on the final episodes but it has some great moments and performances. And I think you'll enjoy the soundtrack because it has some breathtaking instrumental Radiohead covers.

    3. Damn, I really need to watch Westworld. So happy you liked Everybody Wants Some. It's so much damn fun! Nocturnal Animals is strange as hell, but I really do love it.

  5. Thank you for placing Ben Foster so high! For me, I think Denzel gives the best lead performance of the year. I wasn't a fan of Manchester by the Sea (I know lol) I like all the love for Moonlight here too. I hope I can see Paterson soon as well.

    1. Ben Foster CRUSHED that role. And both of them together... it was such seamless work. And Pine's final scene with Bridges is incredible. I had no idea Pine had that level of nuance in him.

  6. I'm so glad you included Adam Driver! He's been the best part of a lot of mediocre movies over the last few years, but 2016 was absolutely his time to shine.

    1. No doubt! He's really going for it as of late. Excited to see what he does next.

  7. Definitely love the inclusion of Ashton Sanders as Chiron from Moonlight. I honestly thought all 3 actors embodied the character perfectly, and teenage Chiron was probably the MVP.

    Not sure about Ryan Gosling on this list though for La La Land ;) I thought this was one of his weakest performances to date!

    1. I'll be so happy if Ali wins the Oscar. He really deserves it for that gentle and controlled performance.

      I loved that Gosling did something different than we're used to in La La Land. I thought it was a fine performance. Damn fine.

  8. I read somewhere Joaquin Phoenix was cast as Bobby Andes but dropped out or turned them down, whatever happened there I'm glad because while Joaquin can be amusing Shannon's deadpan delivery almost killed me several times. My favorite performance in 2016 even though I didn't like the movie

    And Foster and Pine were incredible in HoHW, what an entertaining movie too!

    1. I hadn't heard that about Phoenix, but I'm glad it went Shannon's way. What a great performance. Looooved HoHW!

  9. So glad to see you give credit to both Affleck AND Hedges. I am sick of Hedges getting the short end of the supporting stick only because he is a no-name kid #OscarSoOld

    1. No doubt! Was thrilled he picked up the Oscar nomination.

  10. I couldn't agree with your assessment of Casey Affleck more. It's such a lived-in performance and so specific in both his physical appearance and vocal inflection. I don't think I saw a more powerful scene this year than his character's breakdown/lashing out in the police station. Affleck's personal troubles give me pause, of course, but art and life are two different things.

    Here's how my male actor categories shook out for 2016:

    **Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
    Colin Farrell (The Lobster)
    Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
    Géza Röhrig (Son of Saul)
    Denzel Washington (Fences)
    HM: Julian Dennison (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Joel Edgerton (Loving), Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight)

    **Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
    Tom Bennett (Love & Friendship)
    Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!)
    Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash)
    Ogata Issei (Silence)
    HM: Gil Birmingham (Hell or High Water), Stephen McKinley Henderson (Fences), Tracey Letts (Indignation)

    1. That scene is so so emotionally brutal. God. Really hard to stomach. Love your picks overall. I've been hearing crazy things about Tracey Letts in Indignation. Definitely want to see that one soon.

  11. Man, I love that you included Lucas Hedges in this list. When I think back to Manchester By The Sea I keep thinking about the very harsh difference of Patrick's emotions - he is funny and happy in front of others and he cries by himself at night to himself, for himself. I really liked his performance and I think Affleck's own character wouldn't have been so multi layered without Patrick.

    I keep wondering if I would be able to list my favourite performances and I think I really can't..I would add Taron Egerton to the list for his Eddie the Eagle role, I thought that was brilliant in a different kind of way. He didn't create a character, he re-created a person who did some weird yet awesome things, and I liked every minute of it!

    1. I rewatched Manchester a few days ago, and Hedges really is great in it. That little "fuck you" look he gives Affleck when he gets out of the Jeep at his girlfriend's place... so good. It's a very strong and layered performance. Especially for someone that young.

      I didn't see Eddie the Eagle but I should check it out soon!