Every year, 20 actors get the distinct honor to be Oscar nominees – and even though they are (mostly) given to good performances, there’s no way you can think they truly are the greatest of any given year. 2016 will not be different: the Academy’s prejudices will be front and center, and by that I don’t even mean racial prejudices, but their unfair predilection for polished drama films over genre fare or indie mood-pieces.
These 10 spectacular performances I selected from this year’s films probably won’t be Oscar-nominated (there’s one or two of them who have minor chances according to the specialized media), but they deserve to be seen, heard and celebrated just the same. Be sure to check them out.
1. Krisha Fairchild in Krisha
Even though Krisha won the Independent Spirit Awards’ John Cassavetes Prize last year, it had a qualifying Oscar run just this year in March, making its lead, Krisha Fairchild, eligible for awards – and let me tell you, she definitely should be nominated to more of those. As a film, Krisha is a bare-bones passion project made for a few bucks and with little to no plot, revolving around a woman’s confrontations with her family on Thanksgiving.
The lead’s performance, though, is truly riveting. It’s not her cinematic debut, since she had a couple of roles before, but it feels like a late introduction to a great performer – she’s magnetic, fiery and fierce, a bit reminiscent of Gena Rowlands’ legendary work in A Woman Under the Influence. It’s no wonder the film is named after her – it only works as the stylistic and emotional downward spiral it wants to be because of her.
2. Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water
This is one of the performances that still can make the cut for the Academy, but I’m earnestly betting it doesn’t. Even though it received a lot of critical praise, David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water has been quite forgotten among the heavyweights of the awards season (read: La La Land, Moonlight, Jackie, etc). It also harbors a kind of strangeness in its approach to a seasoned genre that might not sit as well with the Academy as it did with the critics.
This is a shame especially for Jeff Bridges, who delivers one of his finest performances in recent memory as Marcus Hamilton, the Texas Ranger facing mandatory retirement after a stellar career. Because this is a movie, he gets one hell of a last case, and we get to know and care for Hamilton, at the same time as the actor exposes all of his typically placed flaws. It’s brilliant work that turns expectations on their heads in the best way possible.
3. Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train
This is one of those cases in which the movie not being that good altogether ruins the chances of their star to break through in the Best Actress race. As an adaptation, The Girl on the Train is clunky at best, and as a film in and on itself it’s not particularly brilliant or original. Emily Blunt, however, is even more exceptional than usual as the title character, a recent divorcée who sees something terrible happening from the window of the train she catches every day.
The film rests on her shoulders, and she manages to overcome all of its flaws to create a beautifully composed portrait of a hopelessly ruined woman. Her despair is palpable and her helplessness hurts the spectator too, because Blunt has that kind of quality only great actresses have of communicating their emotions directly to the viewer’s most sensitive spot. It might not really warrant an Oscar nomination, but it’s certainly commendable work.
4. Patrick Stewart in Green Room
Green Room is exactly the kind of fun and fascinating genre movie the Oscars will never recognize, but should. Not only Jeremy Saulnier’s narrative is ingenious, his direction is masterful in its balance of tones and elements. The film’s most “awardable” quality, however, has to be Patrick Stewart’s absolutely terrifying performance as the leader of a neo-Nazi group chasing after a punk band that witnessed a murder.
If you never thought that’s a role you’d get to see Patrick Stewart play, well, join the club – and yet, he’s spectacularly good at it, transcending his pompous Shakespearian background to deliver a menacing, ominous performance, with a raging quality that could only work on this film. What he does is not so much scenery-chewing as it is scenery-thrashing, and yet not one time he sounds or looks out of conceivable reality, and everyone knows that’s what’s truly terrifying in horror villains.
5. Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch
Another amazing genre film that will not get Oscar attention, The Witch is perhaps the most exquisitely crafted film of the year. It will be a true shame that its cinematography, soundtrack and editing don’t get recognized as the artful, beautiful works they are. Another aspect that should be more commended, however, is the young lead’s brilliant performance as the character goes through a harrowing journey straight to the heart of darkness.
Her name is Anya Taylor-Joy, and you’re going to see her in quite a lot of films in the next months, from Barack Obama’s biopic Barry to M. Night Shyamalan’s Split. This 20-year old star has a way to mesmerize the camera with her eyes, and a talent for alluring the spectator to a sense of familiarity that should work wonders for her in any well-crafter horror movie. As The Witch is built around her, Taylor-Joy’s performance gets more and more subtle, and it’s weird to think she’s this good so young.