I’m betting that the following two-part, non-definitive run-down of some of the finest screen performances of 2016 will have some faces you didn’t expect, some faces you don’t even recognize, and for various film-making technique reasons some were you can’t often even see their faces at all. Nonetheless, regardless of the type of role these professional pretenders took on this year, this select few have impressed us, and I have no doubt, impressed many of you out there reading. As always, comment away in the section below if we missed your favorites.
Sarah Silverman (I Smile Back)
Known over the years for her well-acclaimed comedy work on TV and stand-up, Sarah Silverman has a fair share of movie roles behind her now. More recently her choices on the big screen have gone for the throat of dramatic and provocativeness. Following her full frontal nude appearance in Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz, Silverman has received an out-pour of critical praise for Laney (including a SAG nod for Best Actress) in I Smile Back. Surrounded by the seemingly ideal life – house, husband, kids – Laney is constantly dragged to the ground by her own heavy depression, substance abuse, and clearly unresolved childhood issues. Silverman walks from one aspect of her struggling character to the next with expert ease, a wife and mother trying her best, forgetting her place, losing her way. The brilliance of Silverman’s performance is that her inconsiderate, erratic behavior actually gets under your skin as an audience member, somehow she contributes to your own discomfort – not that you ever want to stop watching anyway.
Adam Driver (Midnight Special)
The prolific Adam Driver pops up here, there and everywhere, nabbing key acting roles all over the place – film-makers want to work with him a la Mia Wasikowska a couple of years ago. With the TV show Girls, and some very notable work in films like Paterson, Lincoln, Frances Ha, Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Driver has some hefty bullets on his belt. Playing a far more subtle role alongside usual scene-stealers Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, it is Driver who appears to be the bright spark in Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special (a film sorely missed in our Movies and Scenes of 2016 pieces). His Paul Sevier, working in Communications for the NSA, receives curious looks from those that see him walk into a room. He is a professionally-dressed nerd-type, someone you would perhaps not take seriously, but Driver addresses the characters with an abstract authority and displays such a fatless source of information that he is actually impossible to ignore. Driver has that comforting boom in his voice, a distinct face, on the brink of laughter or anger or despair, but we never fully know. A little bit intimidating he is not here, rather pushing his character further to a truth he believes underneath – he sees the events in the film as we do, with intriguing, wondrous eyes.
Vince Vaughn (Term Life)
Vince Vaughn can act when he wants to – we know this from films such as Domestic Disturbance, Return to Paradise and even, why not, The Breakup. However, apparently and for whatever reason, Vaughn tends to not want to (*cough*Psycho*cough*). And then I sit down to watch a random crime drama of sorts, fully prepared to spend the next hour and a half cursing my film choice of the day, only to be astonished by the result. This is a movie you won’t remember twenty minutes after the end titles start rolling, so boring and predictable, so badly directed and with dialogue so weak, not even the all-star cast can even begin to salvage. But I guarantee you will remember Vaughn’s Nick Barrow, the father striving to save an estranged daughter from the sharp end of his own life choices’ knife. Vaughn somehow manages to make you care and even recognize parts of yourself in the likeable crook with the honest intentions (albeit a terrible haircut), and that’s where his acting sets him apart from the rest. Within a movie all around feeble and chock-full of tiresome platitudes, he survives the mammoth task of making you care for a character who, otherwise, would have faded into the background of its own triviality.
Michael Fassbender (X-men Apocalypse)
Michael Fassbender is one of Hollywood’s greatest source of talent as proven by his work as of recent which is not limited to Macbeth, Steve Jobs, and 2016’s upcoming Assassin’s Creed. Whether he is reciting Shakespeare or saving the world from Apocalypse Fassbender commits himself fully to every role granted upon him. In the X-men films, Fassbender has proven himself alongside James McAvoy that comic movies can provide some stunning and heartbreaking sequences. This is none the more truer than in X-men Apocalypse in the single best scene of 2016, after being ousted as a mutant Fassbender watches in horror as his wife and daughter are slain in front of him. His blood-curdling scream at the loss of those most dear to him brings lumps to your throat and makes you question what film you signed up for. Fassbender is the reason I love the X-men films and I hope he plays the role until he can no longer do so.
Kalieaswari Srinivasan (Dheepan)
Kalieaswari Srinivasan is the secret weapon in Jacques Audiard’s unforgettable Dheepan, a heavy social drama, rife with familiar struggles and conflict. Dheepan is not so much a revenge tale, but the depiction of bottling up repression and trying not to externalize it through brutality. At least that is what Yalini (Srinivasan) tries to compose into their new lifestyle, with the pretend family and new potentially violent arena in a rough Paris suburb. Playing the wife to Dheepan, the actress gives Yalini plenty of graceful and penetrating touches, wanting to avoid the horrors they once faced and almost put up with the suffering – finding the tolerable balance between living the best way they can, and not doing anything to fuel the fire. Srinivasan is borderline heartbreaking, just about holding it together while we see the cracks emerge on her face and hesitant actions. A great turn by an unknown performer.
Julia Roberts (Money Monster)
In Money Monster, Julia Roberts plays the producer of the show that stars George Clooney as a stocks and bonds guru. She spends most of the film sitting and with close-ups on her face. But Julia had no problem with that, and gives another wonderful performance with grace and natural talent. Her character has to figure out how to control the situation at hand, which is Jack O’Connell taking Clooney and the show hostage. I think what makes her performance standout this year and memorable is how well she and Clooney work off of each-other. Their chemistry as co-workers is top-notch, and fun to watch. In a career already full of great performances, we can add this one as well, which I suppose for her is just par for the course.
Chadwick Boseman (Captain America: Civil War)
Between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) arguing for the Avengers to be reigned in to prevent another Sokovia from happening, and Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) making the case that safest hands are still their own without government interference, lies a third party who has an agenda completely different from fully taking either side. He is the future king of Wakanda, who is on a mission of vengeance to take down the Winter Soldier for the apparent murder of his father, King T’Chaka during an international summit in Vienna. Fans have been anticipating when the warrior/king would make an appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Mr. Boesman does not disappoint. Beyond the fact we get an incredible kick-ass black superhero headlining his own feature film in 2018, Boesman simply owns the role of Black Panther. He’s charming when needed, lethal every time he puts on the vibranium-made suit, and has a well-rounded arc where he sees where his rage and thirst for vengeance almost leads him for making a terrible mistake.
Matthias Schoenaerts (Disorder)
It’s becoming a cliché: Matthias Schoenaerts manages to be both the best thing about almost every film he’s in, and yet the most underappreciated thing about almost every film he’s in also. This prime slice of Literal Human Perfection In Every Conceivable Way® needs me not as his one-man fan club, but I’ll oblige all the same, leading boldly forth, proud, erect, and throbbing. All joking aside, Schoenaerts is an exceptional performer, far more versatile than he gets credit for, and as accomplished in his emotional range as in his physical range. And that’s not just me repeating myself: beyond his aesthetic beauty, here is an actor who fully embodies his characters, who imbues his entire frame with his interpretation of their individual psyches, who is as expressive in his gait, in the manner in which he holds a phone, a steering wheel, a gun, as he is in his facial expressions. And such expressions: Disorder requires Schoenaerts to explore quite the gamut of emotions, and all within a consonant range of understatement for Alice Winocour’s slow-burning thriller – fear and vulnerability, love and lust, shame and regret, an ambiguous blend of intelligence and the suggestion of ignorance. Disorder is a good film as it is, yet it’s ironically made better by that emerging cliché: Matthias Schoenaerts is the best thing about it.
Kate Beckinsale (Love & Friendship)
Of all the things to have happened in film so far this year, seeing the actress best known for a vampire who hunts werewolves in the Underworld series deliver the strongest anti-heroine lead this side of Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dune in Gone Girl was something I didn’t expect, and I suspect not many people did either, but here we are. She plays a stuck-up socialite from London who, after the death of her beloved, moves to the countryside with aspirations of bagging her a rich one and getting back to where she once was. Her methods are her sharp mind, her knowledge of men’s weakness for sex appeal, and her own daughter, if need be. Lady Susan Vernon understands she isn’t well-liked and that her actions will be seen as one of a conniving gold-digger, or worse. The refreshing take on this performance is that she doesn’t give a damn. Like Pike’s Amy Dunne, they’re characters who aren’t interested in what society or what the male patriarchy will make of them; both characters are out to get what they want, come hell or high water. Vernon creates this tangled web of deceit, lies and betrayal throughout the course of the film, and always has a ready-made excuse to get out of deep shit, and we end up laughing besides ourselves when she gets out of one sticky situation after another. This is the sort of performance I never would have expected from Beckinsale, and it’s one that makes me wonder what sort of juicy role she will tackle next.
The last few Performances (and last pat of our 2016 half-time series) coming shortly, and in case you missed them: