5. Alden Ehrenreich in Hail, Caesar
Coen brothers’ comedy Hail, Caesar is full of broadly designed, funny stereotypes, with actors making a lot more of them than the script first demonstrates. As a fresh-faced “singing cowboy” Hollywood type, Alden Ehrenreich soars above all of them in a hilarious performance that’s not only entertaining, but also soulful and humane.
At 27, Ehrenreich has been the next big thing ever since he starred in Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro, back in 2009. It’s weird that it took him so long, but boy are we happy he had the most amazing 2016, catching critics’ eyes both in Hail, Caesar and Rules Don’t Apply. When he becomes young Han Solo in the next Star Wars standalone, the sky is the limit.
4. Anya-Taylor Joy in The Witch
At 20 years old and a face as unforgettable as they come, Anya Taylor-Joy had an amazing first year in acting, especially considering The Witch: A New-England Folktale, one of the best films (and definitely the best horror movie) this year. As Thomasin, the oldest daughter of a cast-out Christian couple in the 17th century, she knows how and when to be alluring, scary and dramatically expressive.
She’s at the center of so many great performances, it’s easy to underestimate how above everyone else she is, operating under the careful control of writer/director Robert Eggers to design a beautiful character arc for Thomasin, deeply ingrained in the thematic of Christian guilt, family life and female oppression of the film.
3. Ruth Negga in Loving
Ruth Negga has been a great up-and-coming actress for some time now, and thanks God 2016 gave her the breakout she deserved. She was great as Tulip in AMC’s adaptation of Preacher, but few saw a performance like Loving coming. As Mildred, half of one of the first legally married interracial couples in America, she manages to overshadow her co-star, the always great, always underestimated Joel Edgerton.
It’s a performance of the kind we come to expect from Negga: expressive and on point, with pervasive understanding of the character, but above all brilliantly sensitive to the mood of the film being made around her. She seems to fit in in everything she does perfectly, and still have such a distinctive presence – it’s a perfect combination that we ought to see more in the future.
2. Lucas Hedges in Manchester By the Sea
This young actor managed to do something tremendously difficult: steal a movie from under Casey Affleck at his best. While the younger Affleck does deliver a powerful turn as a grieving brother trying to take care of his orphaned nephew, Hedges is the real MVP here, turning in an intensely relatable performance. This is a star-making turn if ever there was one, and makes it hard to not be excited for what Hedges will do next.
At its heart, Manchester By the Sea is a film about growing up, growing old and growing bitter, and Hedges embodies all three of those journeys into one nicely packed performance, even though he’s supposed to represent just the first one. When a performance as encompassing, brave and involving as this one happens, we just sit back and watch.
1. Mahershala Ali in Moonlight
A few of our performances can be seen as Oscar contenders, but only Mahershala Ali seems like the frontrunner in his category. After some victories in smaller awards, Ali gets to the Oscar season as a perceived lock in the Supporting Actor category, not only because the field seems weaker this year, but also because his performance in Moonlight as the lead character’s sorta-spiritual guide is extraordinary.
Tremendously subdued and focuses as he tends to be, Ali is also capable of great emotion with his expressive eyes and brilliant domain of body language as an acting asset. He’s been amazing in House of Cards for four seasons now, and also turned it a great performance as villain Cottonmouth in Marvel/Netflix’s Luke Cage. As acting years go, it hardly gets any better, and we all know how much the Academy love “sudden” success stories.
Author Bio: Caio Coletti is a Brazilian-born journalist, a proud poptimist, and has too many opinions to keep them all to himself.