I recently shared my Top 20 films of the year, and while people are still talking about that Oscar gaffe (and unfortunately less about the merits of Moonlight) there’s still time to look back at 2016. In this post I’ll name my favorite lead and supporting performances, along with my favorite scenes of the year and “The Year in Miscellaneous Superlatives.”

For some reason I felt a much stronger pull towards many of the supporting performances this year. There was some great, unselfish ensemble acting, so why not begin with the supporting actors?


Best Supporting Actor:

  • Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
  • Tom Bennett – Love & Friendship
  • Alden Ehrenreich – Hail, Caesar!
  • Ralph Fiennes – A Bigger Splash
  • Shia Labeouf – American Honey

Mahershala Ali was the stand-out performance in a film full of great acting. He has a quiet strength and a deep and alive emotional interior life beneath his exterior. Ali’s performance also benefits from a great screenplay: Juan does not conform to our expectations of a character like him based on other, weaker film.


Best Supporting Actress:

  • Kirsten Dunst – Midnight Special
  • Lily Gladstone – Certain Women
  • Kristen Stewart – Certain Women
  • Tilda Swinton – A Bigger Splash
  • Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Lily Gladstone’s breakthrough performance in Certain Women anchors that great film’s third “short story” segment. She plays beautifully off of the equally-good Kristen Stewart, but it’s her scenes tending to the farm alone that endear the audience to her character. She’s a lonely person, but she’s able to enjoy her solitude, and her comfort eases the audience into a peaceful quietude.


Best Actor:

  • Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
  • Colin Farrell – The Lobster
  • Andrew Garfield – Silence
  • Mark Rylance – The BFG
  • Michael Shannon – Midnight Special

Consider this a tie with Colin Farrell. Farrell nails the really tricky deadpan of The Lobster, but Casey Affleck’s scarred Lee is a searing portrayal. I described Manchester by the Sea as a sort of topographical map of pain, and Affleck shows all of that hurt on his face without grandstanding. You can see it all from the film’s opening moments.


Best Actress:

  • Amy Adams – Arrival
  • Isabelle Huppert – Elle
  • Kim Min-Hee – The Handmaiden
  • Emma Stone – La La Land
  • Zhao Tao – Mountains May Depart

I initially had Zhao Tao’s multilayered performance in Mountains May Depart as my favorite of the year, but, like her film, Amy Adams’s performance in Arrival stuck with me throughout the year. Her ability to foreground both the intellectual and emotional life of her character is what helps the film bridge its two concerns of communication and familial connection.


MVPs of the Year: Ralph Fiennes & Tilda Swinton – A Bigger Splash; Hail, Caesar!
(Past winners: Kurt Russell, John C. Reilly, Matthew McConaughey, James Franco, Tilda Swinton)

Best Scenes of the Year:

Hail, Caesar! – “Would that it were so simple”
The Lobster – Final shot
Moonlight – Teenaged Chiron breaks down
The Fits – Practicing on the bridge
Silence – Hands clutching crosses
Cemetery of Splendour – Overlapping past and present
Certain Women – Horseback ride
Sunset Song – Dissolving away the wedding
The Witch – Black Philip speaks
The Wailing – Exorcism

Worst Performances:

Stephen Lang – Don’t Breathe
Nick Kroll – Loving

Best Small Performances:

Olivia Colman – The Lobster
Jharrel Jerome – Moonlight
Jing Dong Liang – Mountains May Depart
Channing Tatum – Hail, Caesar!
Taika Waititi – The Hunt for the Wilderpeople

The Year in Miscellaneous Superlatives:

Best Animal: Black Phillip, The Witch
Best Superhero Movie: Midnight Special
Best Ensemble: 
Moonlight / Hail, Caesar / Certain Women
Best Non-Professional Actors: The Fits
Best Sound: Silence
Best Musical Moment: Toni Erdmann
Best Opening: Love & Friendship
Best Ending: The Lobster
What the Hell is that Accent?: Forrest Whitaker – Arrival, Rouge One