The 20 Best Movie Performances of 2016

Each year, FilmJabber selects the top 20 performances of the year. Unlike the Academy Awards or just about any other award process, we don’t categorize by gender or supporting/leading roles. And as a result, we pride ourselves on highlighting at least a few performances that don’t tend to be talked about at the end of the year.

20. Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch

Deciding which actor from The Witch would make this twentieth spot was a challenge, but ultimately the honors deserve to go to star Taylor-Joy, who delivers a wise-beyond-her-years performance in this creepy thriller.

19. Viola Davis, Fences

Much praise has been thrown Denzel Washington’s way, but the better performance of the two belongs to Viola Davis, whose emotional turn feels less scripted than her director’s diatribes.

18. Naomi Harris, Moonlight

Nearly unrecognizable under some less-than-flattering makeup, Harris delivers the best performance of her career as a drug-addicted mother.

17. Paul Dano, Swiss Army Man

Most people (of the few who saw it) will remember Swiss Army Man for Harry Potter’s farting corpse character, and not the expressive, insanely good performance by Mr. Dano.

16. Sunny Pawar, Lion

The 8-year-old star of 2016’s best movie, with his adorably squeaky voice and dirt-smeared face, is sadly not even in the discussion for serious awards, despite his emotionally raw and unforgettable performance.

15. Woody Harrelson, The Edge of Seventeen

Harrelson plays a sarcastic, take-no-shit teacher in this criminally overlooked comedy. Some may say his performance isn’t a stretch for the actor, but it’s a memorable one nonetheless.

14. Ben Foster, Hell or High Water

You sort of want him to die, but you also sort of love him for it as Foster once again proves he can play any type of character–and that he is especially good as a psychotic dirtbag.

13. Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

The three-time Oscar nominee doesn’t get a lot of screentime in this Top 10 drama, but when she does, she makes it count, delivering some of the best moments of acting you’ll see all year.

12. Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Mortensen doesn’t get the juicy roles as much as he should, but his turn as a father who makes you truly question “what is the real world?” (and not in the context of The Matrix) is powerful stuff.

11. Lupita Nyong’o, Queen of Katwe

This Disney drama about chess in Uganda doesn’t seem like a place you’d see one of the best performances of the years, but the Oscar winner delivers another memorable one here.

10. Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane

While the movie overall has received mixed reception (not from me, as I put it in my Top Ten Movies of 2016 list), Chastain rightfully earned near-unanimous praise for her fierce performance.

9. Michael Keaton, Founder

Keaton’s comedic, off-kilter turn as the founder/stealer of McDonald’s is reminiscent of some of his most popular roles from back in the day.

8. Natalie Portman, Jackie

Portman is outstanding in her best performance since Black Swan as she takes on the challenging role of Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

7. Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight

Another actor who doesn’t appear until late in the movie (despite playing the main character), Rhodes visually demonstrates the torment, regret, fear and sorrow the role demands.

6. Ryan Gosling, The Nice Guys

While everyone is talking about La La Land, it’s his portrayal of a morally gray and slightly idiotic private investigator in this sure-to-be cult classic that reminds us of Gosling’s talent.

5. John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane

Goodman was never going to receive award consideration for his portrayal of the creepy, paranoid antagonist in an early year horror/sci-fi thriller–but he should.

4. Amy Adams, Arrival

Though Arrival has many things going for it, the movie would not have succeeded to the same degree without the spot-on performance by this perennial Oscar nominee.

3. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

The non-Batman Affleck is absolutely terrific as he masters the complexities of a complex character, a man forced to face his demons head-on while neither willing nor able to.

2. Rebecca Hall, Christine

Hall nearly claimed the #1 spot for her portrayal of a depressed and socially anxious newscaster who ultimately commits suicide on television. The movie is just okay, but Hall is dynamite.

1. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

You know you have a special performance on your hands when an actor (spoiler) disappears from the movie early on and you spend the film wishing for just one more scene with the guy.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Top 10 Movie Lists