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The 25 Best Film Performances of 2016

The 25 Best Film Performances of 2016

 

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This year, Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine gave us a rare and comprehensive look into how an actor prepares for a role. For Kate Lyn Sheil, the actress at the heart of the film, that involved copious research into the life and mindset of Christine Chubbuck, the WXLT-TV newscaster who took her own life on live television on July 15, 1974. Though Sheil’s process is fascinating to watch, it reaffirms what we’ve always known about the best of film actors: That they are, in a way, their own auteur. Take the genius who is Isabelle Huppert, whose decades-perfected gravitas in Elle tricked us, however briefly, into thinking we’re not just watching a film starring Isabelle Huppert, but a film by Isabelle Huppert. Her performance is just one of an uncommonly large number in 2016’s slate of films that exude a preternatural understanding of human complexities and emotions, each uniquely and brilliantly applied to even the most outlandish of characters. Wes Greene
 

The 25 Best Film Performances of 2016

Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

As Lee, the would-be guardian who can’t escape his self-abnegating sadness, and Patrick, the orphaned son who doesn’t know how to accept that his perfectly normal life has taken an abrupt turn, Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges offer equally compelling studies in the avoidance of grief. A testy comedic energy emerges from the actors’ contrasting styles, helping Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea screenplay realize its potential as a full-hearted ode to a family whose hearts are broken. Christopher Gray

The 25 Best Film Performances of 2016

Kate Beckinsale, Love & Friendship

Whit Stillman’s mellifluous, literate prose has never been a cake walk for the modern actor, and Jane Austen’s Victorian dialect is no simpler. Incredibly, that all seems a non-issue for Kate Beckinsale, whose second-nature elocution of Love & Friendship’s dense verbiage enables her to channel her energy into the masterfully passive-aggressive body language that really makes Lady Susan such an intimidating character. Carson Lund

The 25 Best Film Performances of 2016

Tom Bennett, Love & Friendship

In Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship, Tom Bennett steals every scene he’s in as a buffoonish country squire. It’s easy to underrate his performance due to the ease with which he garners laughs that expose the hard socioeconomic realities of his milieu. Bennett’s Sir James Martin is the foolish yet benevolent master who’s wise enough to placate his social inferiors by letting them get the better of him. Oleg Ivanov

The 25 Best Film Performances of 2016

Sonia Braga, Aquarius

As Brazil held on to the last remnants of its democracy, Sonia Braga held a sign at Cannes that read “A Coup Took Place in Brazil” with the same poise and fearlessness of Clara, her character in Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius. Braga is so mystifying not because she flawlessly transports herself into someone else’s persona. This bewilderment is, instead, in her muddling the borders between Clara, the sole survivor in a banana republic taken over by capitalist termites, and Sonia herself, the elusive myth that both conquered and failed Hollywood. She’s Brazilian and foreign, a prey and a beast, a nobody and a star, ensnared and free at the same time, in the same face, in the same gaze. Diego Semerene

The 25 Best Film Performances of 2016

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Jeff Bridges has been an icon for decades, but he reaches an autumnal peak in Hell or High Water as Marcus Hamilton, looming over the film as a more humble incarnation of one of John Wayne’s rugged law enforcers, investing wise-old-racist-codger shtick with haunting rage and despair. Bridges quietly telegraphs an amazement at his own legacy that proves contagious. Chuck Bowen

The 25 Best Film Performances of 2016

Margherita Buy and John Turturro, Mia Madre

Margherita Buy and John Turturro walk a lovely, delicate tightrope in Mia Madre—she playing the practical, damaged foil to his exacting and poignant parody of an American blowhard. Buy embodies the grace and strength that are inherent to Nanni Moretti’s heartbreakingly rich vision of art and family, while Turturro hits big and unsettling comic notes, elucidating on the ugly embarrassment of need. Bowen

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