The 20 Best Movie Performances of 2016

14. Anya Taylor-Joy – The Witch

The Witch

In a movie filled with unsettling performances, Anya Taylor-Joy may be the most unsettling of the bunch. The Witch is a slow-burn horror movie about a Puritan family that faces off against an unknown evil that lurks in the forest. That evil turns out to be far less important than how the family interacts as a result of the newly discovered threat. The 93 minute runtime features a family breaking apart as a result. The acting ensemble does a great job as a whole, but there are individual cast members that stand out.

The two performances that have gotten the most praise come from Ralph Ineson and Anya Taylor-Joy. Ralph Ineson’s voice is definitely creepy, but he’s got nothing on Taylor-Joy.

The last half hour of The Witch gives the actress plenty of horrifying material. She gives a harrowing and melancholy performance throughout most of the movie, but the climactic ending gives her an opportunity to go more than a little mad. Both sides of Taylor-Joy’s performance work together to create a performance that’s hard to forget.


13. Viola Davis – Fences


Viola Davis has been picking up award after award for her role in Fences, and it’s easy to see why. Playing the damaged wife of Denzel Washington’s character, Davis consistently wears her heart on her sleeve.

Davis has missed out on an Oscar win twice before, but it’s looking like that’s going to change this year. This is an Oscar worthy role after all. Although Washington has more screentime, Davis still manages to keep up with him. This is especially true when she shares the screen with him.

As a pair, they’re unstoppable. Fences is at its best when it focuses on Troy and Rose Maxson. Their relationship is a complex trainwreck made even more fascinating as a result of the two central performances. They’re both great on their own, but the movie is a different beast when they’re together.

Davis refuses to be overshadowed by Washington. She’s always doing her best to prove that there’s more to the movie than a single performance. Fences features one of the best ensembles of 2016, and Davis is a clear standout.


12. Amy Adams – Arrival

Amy Adams could stare blankly into a camera for two and a half hours and she’d still deserve an Oscar nomination. She’s one of the most consistent actresses working today. Last year, like most years, Adams delivered. With both Nocturnal Animals and Arrival earning critical acclaim, Adams once again proved that she’s one of the most talented women in Hollywood.

The appeal of Arrival isn’t necessarily the acting. The thought-provoking sci-fi movie is more reliant on its strong script and direction. Luckily, it also happens to feature a dazzling performance from its star.

Adams is more restrained than usual this time around, but it’s still easy to spot every little thing she does well. Adams often gets more attention for her supporting performances, but Arrival proves that she’s just as talented as a leading lady. She uses subtle facial expressions to help strengthen the themes of the intelligent sci-fi movie. In Arrival, communication is key. Adams knows how to communicate with her audience.

Remember when everyone was begging for a DiCaprio Oscar win? Now that it has finally happened, it’s time to move on to someone else. Hopefully, people will be rooting for Adams until she finally gets her long overdue Academy Award.


11. Denzel Washington – Fences

Denzel Washington - Fences

In a movie so dependent on character interaction and dialog, it’s a relief that the cast is so talented. Washington’s talent as a director is on full display in Fences, but his acting abilities are even more evident. Since movie is based on a play, dialog is key. There’s not a ton of action on screen, so it’s important that the cast can tell a meaningful story with only the lines written in the script.

It’s not like people have ever doubted Washington’s acting abilities, but it’s always nice to see him nail a new performance. This isn’t just another good performance to add to the list though. It’s one of his greatest accomplishments in years. It’s also one of his most challenging, which is what makes it even more commendable. Troy Maxson is an intricate character, but Washington makes his job as an actor look easy.

Denzel Washington is hypnotizing in Fences. There are definitely narrative flaws in the movie, but they’re so easy to ignore when you’re being enchanted by the talented actors and actresses on screen. Fences tells a great story, but Washington’s bravura performance is the primary reason to see the film.


10. Rolf Lassgård – A Man Called Ove

Rolf Lassgård - A Man Called Ove

All Ove wants to do is kill himself, but the pesky neighbors keep insisting on brightening his day. If the premise sounds silly, that’s because it is. That silly premise allows for Rolf Lassgård to play one of 2016’s most memorable characters. Swedish smash-hit A Man Called Ove is a movie that strives off of the strength of its protagonist. That’s why it’s comforting to learn that Ove is the most delightful grumpy old man since Carl from Up.

Rolf Lassgård couldn’t be more perfect as the titular protagonist. Watching the dynamic character change over the movie is a treat, and it’s all thanks to Lassgård. Though he keeps things pretty serious throughout most of the film, he slowly evolves into a more emotionally complex character. Lassgård proudly displays all of Ove’s flaws. He also subtly displays the more likable characteristics of the character. That’s the appeal of the character. Ove is a grouch, but he’s a grouch that clearly has some good in him.

Rolf Lassgård’s performance has been compared to Eastwood’s performance in Gran Torino, and that’s fair. Both actors play crabby senior citizens who grow over time. However, Lassgård has plenty of tricks up his sleeve that make this film well worth your investment.


9. Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

In Manchester by the Sea, Michelle Williams appears less than the trailers will lead people to believe. She’s very much a supporting character in a movie that’s largely focused on two actors. It’s astounding that despite her limited appearance, she’s still one of the movie’s highlights. She’s not necessarily running laps around Affleck or Hedges, but she puts in enough effort to remain in your thoughts after the conclusion of the movie.

She may have the benefit of appearing in some of the most powerful scenes, but that doesn’t mean her performance is phoned in. Williams puts in some serious work in order to get an emotional reaction from the audience. Her character is emotionally scarred, and Williams makes it her goal to prove that. One particular scene, which involves an apology that doesn’t go as planned, is the best scene in the entire movie. Most of what makes that scene so special is Williams’ heartbreaking performance.

Michelle Williams continues to impress in every film she’s in. This is just one accomplishment on a long list. From Blue Valentine to her work in this film, she is always reaching new heights.


8. Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic


This quirky indie dramedy about a man who raises his family under unusual circumstances is one of the surprise hits of the year. It makes sense. The terrific ensemble come together to tell a story that’s as heartfelt as it is hilarious. Few movies from 2016 were able to make you laugh and cry within a five minute period. The script and the cast come together to create a movie that will make you feel more emotions than you thought you were capable of feeling.

The most memorable cast member in this movie is Viggo Mortensen, whose role as the head of the family is simultaneously humorous and touching. The character he portrays is a man who desperately struggles to figure out what is best for him and his children. He refuses to let society dictate how his children should be raised, but this also causes trouble for him along the way.

Mortensen gives us a character who is stubborn and often unlikable. At the same time, he gives us a character that’s easy to sympathize with. Ben is a mess of a father, but he’s one that obviously cares for his children. Mortensen’s ability to question our opinion on this character is what makes his performance so noteworthy. Ben is often an enigma, and we have Viggo Mortensen to thank for that.

Mortensen has earned a surprising amount of attention for this role. There was a time when people believed that his performance would be quietly forgotten. Recent attention from the Golden Globes and SAG awards proves that voters are just as nuts for him as the rest of us.