Saturday, February 18, 2017

Taking On 2016 - Performances

So, obviously I haven't been writing as much as I should have, but here we are with another year in cinema in the books. And I think, finally, I am close to as caught up as I am going to get with the year, even if I have a few things here and there I still need to add to the list before I fully put a bow on it, as the case was. No music this year, because I listened to a lot of things over and over again, but not enough of a selection to feel comfortable making a list. But I did watch a lot of films, and those films had actors. Normally I'd break things up, but how about one big list before The Big List(tm)?

Supporting Actor - Men

5. Alden Ehrenreich - Hail, Caesar!

I'm not super familiar with Ehrenreich's other work, but damn if the Coen Brothers don't get an amazing turn from him. In a film packed with notable performances, there's this sincerity to the obliviousness, and the determination, that Ehrenreich brings to his character, which result in some of the year's funniest scenes.

4. Lucas Hedges - Manchester-By-The-Sea

This won't be the only time that the latest from Lonergan turns up, both on this list and others, but let's take a little time to look at how strong Hedges is in a role that could be very limiting. He finds emotion in it though, and the bigger scenes feel authentic rather than manufactured, which in a film all about emotional realism, that's about the best you can be.

3. Ha Jung-woo - The Handmaiden

Another film with a strong ensemble cast, what I admire most about this performance is the ability to blend comedy in a film that could be very serious, but that's not how Park Chan-wook works. And that's not how Ha Jung-woo works either, apparently, never really losing the sleazy and conniving aspects that make him such a notable presence, but also leveraging that when he's asked to be kept in the dark at other times.

2. Dwayne Johnson - Moana

So charisma has always been one of Dwayne Johnson's strongest qualities as an actor, diving in to many roles with vigor, but there's something different about his voice work here. Maybe it's the bravado of the character, but from his introduction to his musical numbers to the more restrained moments of weakness, Johnson lights up the screen.

1. Tom Bennett - Love & Friendship

Could there be any other answer? From the moment Bennett's character stepped on screen, I knew I was watching something special. He wrings laughs out of nearly every line he speaks, and they generally aren't just minor laughs but some of the funniest scenes of the year. The unawareness, but willingness to barrel on with it, is a sight to behold.

Supporting Actor - Women

5. Lily Gladstone - Certain Women

Could be easy to give this to pretty much anyone in the main cast of Kelly Reichardt's latest, but Gladstone's turn was the one that ended up sticking with me the most. She's restrained, though many are in the film, but what really ended up impressing me was how she brought a familiarity to the role, a sense of heartache that was subdued without sacrificing genuine emotion.

4. Greta Gerwig - 20th Century Women

At this point, I've heard a number of conversations about how it's fairly easy to know what Greta Gerwig 'does' as an actress, but even if you know the type of character she tends to play in broad strokes, that doesn't make any of her work less compelling. And this performance sees her in top form, charismatic and entrancing as she reveals more about the woman she portrays.

3. Viola Davis - Fences

Davis's performance is theatrical, something that apparently has been a complaint about the August Wilson adaptation as a whole, but one that I certainly cannot get behind. It has been years since Davis broke out in another stage to screen adaptation, Doubt, and while it took me a bit of time to see whatever everyone else saw, her turn here is amazing.

2. Elle Fanning - 20th Century Women

Much like Gerwig's role, Fanning plays a type here, but goes well beyond the typical girl next door archetype. If that's even what she's going for, which I don't think the film casts her as, especially since it is as interested in tie and reflection as it is the moment and discovery. There's a confidence to her role, an understanding but also unawareness that requires a careful balance that Fanning nails.

1. Michelle Williams - Manchester-By-The-Sea

This pick almost feels safe or boring, but also what Williams does in her role is just that impressive. It's heartbreaking at times, and believable, which is a strength of the script, but also enhanced by how much emotion Williams brings to the part. She is capable of going big, but even though there's plenty of talk about her 'Oscar scene,' there's the quieter moments that really allow for that part to payoff.

Lead Actor - Men

5. Ryan Gosling - The Nice Guys

Here's the thing, I'm a little mixed on Gosling as an actor, because there are a lot of occasions of him overacting in roles that don't really call for it, but in a part that can be as comedic as the one in Black's latest it's a quality that benefits the film. If there's one thing you can't deny, it's that Gosling has a charm and charisma, and he brings it to every single scene.

4. Colin Farrell - The Lobster

Going from one very loud performance to a much more restrained one. It would be easy for Farrell to be passive, as his character is more quiet, but he plays against this with his comedy to make a nice juxtaposition that ends up with a much more defined and realized character. It's a quiet comedy, which allows for the more heartfelt scenes to transition seamlessly.

3. Casey Affleck - Manchester-By-The-Sea

Another one that would be easy to write off, especially because of how detached Affleck is asked to be at times, but as more is revealed about his character, it makes his work earlier in the film all the stronger. Affleck also has the benefit of delivering what is likely the year's most powerful line, and in just a few words he drops a hammer.

2. Denzel Washington - Fences

Much like Davis, this is a very theatrical performance, but probably even more so than hers because of how notably boisterous his character can be, dominating the screen in a way that is almost imposing. My exposure to the source material is limited, but Washington clearly does inhabit the character he plays, and makes him in even his most difficult moments captivating to watch.

1. Adam Driver - Paterson

But few characters were more captivating to watch than Driver's portrayal of the titular character. He, of course, does play to my soft spot for poetry, but there's a lot more to him than just being a writer. It's a quiet performance, but one where he makes every smile carry weight. It's an amazing turn, and I only expect more and more from Driver with each new project he takes on a prominent role.

Lead Actor - Women

5. Tae-ri Kim - The Handmaiden

As mentioned earlier, there's a lot to be impressed about when it comes to the performances in The Handmaiden, and in actuality either of the two women who anchor the film could make this list given how much deception goes on, but I found Tae-ri Kim's turn such a joy to watch both when she is in and out of the loop.

4. Ruth Negga - Loving

Despite there occasionally being a clinical feel to the presentation of Loving, the acting really is top notch, and what Negga does with her character, bringing a life and compassion to her interactions during the movie that feels so authentic. She left me really impressed, and I need to see what she will be working on next.

3. Krisha Fairchild - Krisha

Authenticity, right? I'm not familiar with the backstory of this film, but Fairchild's performance feels so personal and knowing that the line between character and actress almost felt like it could have blurred. Which is a sad thought in this case. Regardless, when it comes to compelling presences on the screen this year, Fairchild commands attention.

2. Elle Fanning - The Neon Demon

This performance is another one that could be misconstrued as nothing special because of how detached the character is asked to be in certain scenes, and unaware or surprised in others, but just as Nichols Winding Refn establishes a tone that only he can, Fanning supports this with a much more aware performance that continually twists just how much of an active role she plays in the action of the film.

1. Hailee Steinfeld - The Edge Of Seventeen

Welcome back. It has been a number of years (seven to be exact! wow!) since Steinfeld last made this list for her turn in True Grit, and once again she proves that she is still very capable of being a force and deserving her spot, once again, at the top of the year's performances. She puts the film on her shoulders, masking a vulnerability between a rough exterior, to make for such a compelling performance that hit me on such an emotional and personal level. It is a work that should be seen, because she's really remarkable.

And there we have it, even if there were a number of other actors that I would have loved to include. But I'm sure as I finalize my list of top films leading up to the Oscars, that I will have a chance to mention other things that stood out to me from the year. Until then, let me know below what you think!

Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

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And if you want to know what I'm watching, listening to, playing , and reading you can follow my tumblr account!

© 2017 Richard James Thorne

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