We’ve discussed the best TV moments of 2016 (you can find those here and here), so now we turn to the individual performances that brought us the most joy this year. These are the performances that inspired us, that stayed with us, and drove us into many a social media fight defending their worthiness. (Note of warning: if you come at Ryan Gosling, we WILL fight you.) I love everything we do for this website, but I have to admit that our annual “Best Performances” holds a special place in my heart, especially when I go back and re-read them when they pop up in our Timehop. These posts are like little time capsules of OUR year in entertainment; they reflect our crushes of the moment, our long-standing love affairs with performers that can do no wrong (Hey Eddie Redmayne), and a scrapbook of all the TV and Movies that we saw throughout the year. Some of these are the performances EVERYONE is talking about, whilst others are the ones that we think you all should be paying attention to. (ARE YOU ALL WATCHING SPEECHLESS BECAUSE YOU SHOULD BE.) Thus we present to you our 18 Best Performances of the year plus four Honorable Mentions. Because it’s our blog and we can’t be limited to our normal 20 shout outs. We hope you love them as much as we do. — Kim
1) Millie Bobby Brown – Stranger Things
I obviously follow many celebrities on Instagram who are on the convention circuit. And I’ve noticed a pattern over the last few rounds of cons. All of these icons who themselves draw fans by the droves to their photo ops were all geeking out over one of their own. I can’t tell you how many backstage selfies I’ve liked of some famous fan cheesing like mad with Millie Bobby Brown.
And why shouldn’t they be starstruck over her? Millie burst onto the pop culture scene in the role of Eleven on Stranger Things in a striking performance reminiscent of Drew Barrymore in Firestarter. Eleven is a scientific marvel and a weapon, but she’s also a child – a child who was stolen from her family and exploited by the only “Papa” she’d ever known. Millie can do a thousand-yard stare like nobody else, but my favorite moments in the series are the ones where Eleven grasps for a sense of normalcy and belonging with the boys who find her. (“Still pretty?”) This young actor’s work warrants those deep reads of Stranger Things as an allegory about puberty, child abuse, or just being a kid in this big, bad world. 2016 will always be her breakthrough year, and we can’t wait to see how Millie’s career unfolds. –Sage
2) Kylie Bunbury and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Pitch
The success or failure of Pitch as a show depends entirely on the woman playing Ginny Baker. If the audiences don’t connect with Ginny and her journey as the first woman to play professional baseball, the show never gets out of the dugout. (BASEBALL METAPHORS.) Lucky for the creators of Pitch and the television audience at large, we’ve got Kylie Bunbury carrying the entire show on her (very toned) shoulders. And the thing is, Kylie makes it look easy. Ginny Baker is an incredibly complex character and Kylie is tasked with a LOT. She’s got a spine of steel yet she remains incredibly vulnerable. (If you weren’t moved by her breakdown in the bathtub during her Almost Famous-esque “fuck everything” night, you may want to make an appointment with a cardiologist.) She’s been hurt and taken advantage of by so many people, yet she constantly puts herself on the line in the name of pursuing her dream. She fights to be treated as an equal in her workplace. (The episode where she blatantly refuses to back down from the “Beanball” war because she is a woman is SO IMPORTANT.) Kylie makes Ginny wonderfully human; she is flawed and complicated and she struggles being considered a role model when all she really wants to do is just play baseball. She’s the most important female character on TV right now, for so many women, and I PRAY that Fox does the right thing and picks up the show for season two.
And in the other corner, we have Mark-Paul Gosselaar as the aging All Star catcher Mike Lawson. Listen, it’s not like this is an out of nowhere comeback for the erstwhile Zack Morris. Mark-Paul has worked steadily since his Saved By The Bell days, but something feels DIFFERENT in this performance. He brings a “seen it all” attitude to Mike. He has a weariness that could easily be seen as a disillusionment towards the game when really it’s a career ballplayer being painfully aware that he’s coming to the end of his time in the sun. It took me about 75% of the pilot episode before I realized that I was watching Mark-Paul Gosselaar on my TV screen and it’s NOT just because of his GLORIOUS mountain man beard. Mark-Paul completely disappears into the character and brings a very Coach Taylor-esque quality to the Padres captain. It’s the speeches and the eye crinkles and the bone deep love of the game. Come on, you KNOW Mike Lawson would bust out with “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”
So what happens when you put these two incredibly dynamic performers opposite each other? Fireworks, naturally. Kylie and Mark-Paul’s chemistry is SO PALPABLE and has so many levels. For Mike, Ginny serves as an inspiration and a reminder of why he loves baseball in the first place. In Mike, Ginny finds a true teammate who will stand up for her and not treat her with kid gloves. There’s a definite mentor relationship between them but there is also an undeniable sexual chemistry. Bawson is the slowest of slowburns, with their attraction building through lingering looks and late night phone calls. It’s the most DELICIOUS kind of tension and it’s one they are both incredibly aware of. Mike and Ginny are like magnets, pushing against each other, challenging each other, and eventually, falling into each other. To quote my boo Kate Moseley, “all they needed was a little flip.” — Kim
3) Joshua Sasse – No Tomorrow
As the meteor he believes is hurtling towards Earth inspires Xavier Holiday to live his life to the fullest, so does the uncertain future of the CW’s apocalyptic romantic comedy No Tomorrow inspire us to recognize it while we can.
Bearded, beanied, and tattooed Xavier is played by HOT AUSSIE Joshua Sasse, fresh off the unfairly canceled musical romp Galavant. (YEP, he sings too.) He makes an amazing case for not writing off the sexy guy who’s into you juuuuust because he believes the rapture is on its way. He breaks the Dealbreaker Scale, basically.
I’d like to keep on objectifying Xavier and Joshua (as the show clearly does – he’s 1/2 or more naked in most episodes), but I’ll get serious. It’s a challenging part, because Xavier has to believe completely in his end-of-the-world theory but not come off as dangerous or deranged. And as charming as he is to Evie and the audience (and OH, HE IS), Xavier is also kind of an arrogant jerk, accustomed to putting himself first. It’s a credit to Joshua’s embodiment of the character that Xavier is still our hero – a flawed person who heard terrible news and decided to use it to turn his life around. You see his petulance when Evie challenges him, but you also see the way he lights up when someone around him takes control of however many days they have left. And the man knows how to sell a love scene, just saying.
He’s so convincing that I wonder sometimes if Xavier is actually right about our impending doom. And if No Tomorrow gets the pick-up it should, I hope it ends with a completely fulfilled Apocalyst and a vindicated male lead. –Sage
4) Sterling K. Brown – This Is Us
2016 was a garbage year but it’s ALSO the year that gave us Sterling K. Brown’s major career breakthrough, so I am ALMOST willing to call it even. I foolishly missed out on The People Vs. OJ Simpson (and am counting down the days until it gets added to Netflix), so my first exposure to Sterling’s acting came when I saw the pilot episode of This Is Us. Sage said it perfectly when she wrote about Sterling for our Handsome Young Man post: just when we think Sterling has hit his peak as Randall Pearson, he just gets BETTER. Randall is easily the most compelling character on This Is Us, and sometimes I can’t decide if it’s because he has the best story or because Sterling is just THAT GOOD in a cast filled with stellar actors. I actually think it’s a combination of both; Randall DOES have the meatiest stories, but Sterling also elevates every single scene that he’s in. In my humble opinion, he is giving THE male television performance of the year.
It’s clear that Sterling understands Randall on a fundamental level. The performance is never one-note and Randall can switch from achingly vulnerable to slyly sarcastic in the blink of an eye. (His comic timing is MASTERFUL.) If I had to think of one word to describe Sterling’s performance it would be DEFT. You never see him working, you never see him changing gears, and you NEVER see Sterling. You only see Randall Pearson, king of bad Dad jokes and devoted son, brother, and husband. It’s such a fully formed and nuanced performance. But the most important thing about Randall is how wonderfully human he is. It would be quite easy, after all the truth about William and Rebecca and his adoption came out, for Randall to be played as bitter and jaded. But he’s never been that, even in his initial meeting with William in the pilot episode. Randall Pearson has the biggest HEART and his capacity for love and forgiveness is truly inspiring. Sterling imbues him with such grace and warmth that you can’t help but fall in love with him immediately. It’s the perfect combination of actor and the character he was meant to play and we’re so blessed to watch him work week after week. — Kim
5) Aya Cash – You’re the Worst
The first time I saw Aya Cash perform was in 2008 when she played a disillusioned teen in the off-Broadway comedy From Up Here. She was memorable in a way that surpassed quirkiness, and I’m so thrilled to see her thriving in a role like Gretchen Cutler.
I binged the first two seasons of You’re the Worst in time for the season 3 premiere and responded instantly to the show’s filthiness and honesty. As it progresses, the show digs deeper and deeper into what familial and chemical circumstances make Gretchen and Jimmy, in fact, the worst. And what Aya has done with already keen and incisive material is to give an alarmingly accurate crash course on clinical depression. Jimmy can talk himself out of feeling most things, so it’s scary for him and for us when the normally verbose Gretchen goes nearly comatose. She wants nothing, asks for nothing, finds comfort in nothing. For the novelist, cause and effect are always talking to each other. Aya shows Gretchen paralyzed by the fear of telling Jimmy that there’s not switch to flick when it comes to her illness. She worries that he loves her because she’s irreverent and fun, but she can only be those things when she’s capable of feeling anything. In a brave and desperate moment of confession, she finally tells him: “So the only thing I need from you is to not make a big deal of it and be OK with how I am and the fact that you can’t fix me.”
This is You’re the Worst, and it’s not the kind of show that will present a newly determined Gretchen facing her illness with gumption and putting one foot in front of the other until she’s better. Mental illness and its treatment are not linear. In season 3, she backslides and claws and insults her therapist for wearing the same pair of jeans every day. But that’s Gretch and that’s depression. Even badass bitches can have it. –Sage
6) Minnie Driver – Speechless
Speechless is my favorite new comedy of the season and that’s largely in part to Minnie Driver’s FIERCE performance as ultimate tiger mama Maya DiMeo. The overbearing mom is a sitcom trope that could easily go the clichéd route but Minnie plays Maya like she’s in on the joke. She KNOWS she’s ridiculous but she also makes no apologies for it. (Also, she’s advocating for her disabled kid, so how ridiculous is she, REALLY?) It’s such a WRY performance, especially in the way Minnie delivers so many of her lines completely deadpan, her posh British accent just ACCENTUATING the dry delivery. While I never watched About a Boy, I heard nothing but good things about Minnie’s performance on it, so I am so happy to see that she’s found herself another television vehicle to showcase how talented she is. (Look, I can make a very strong case for the fact that she should have won the Oscar for Good Will Hunting. Ask me about it over cocktails.)
So often on television, unabashedly alpha females are portrayed as ball busters or stone cold bitches. Speechless takes a different approach. Maya IS a ball buster and she is often a bitch but it’s clear that those closest to her adore and cherish that part of her personality. Her husband Jimmy (a DELIGHTFUL John Ross Bowie) is more than happy to let Maya wear the pants in the marriage, but not from a slacker “oh look at the old ball and chain” point of view. It’s clear that Jimmy loves and respects his wife immensely and takes pleasure in watching her run the show. (And he’s always there to pick up the pieces when she comes in like a wrecking ball, shrugging his shoulders in a “Yeah, isn’t she great?” kind of way.) While her kids often roll their eyes at Maya, it’s obvious that there is no one they would rather have in their corner than their mother. Same. TV needs more characters like Maya DiMeo and it needs more actresses like Minnie Driver to bring them to life in an honest and relatable way. — Kim
7) Kate McKinnon – Ghostbusters
Dudes, I love you. But it is IMPOSSIBLE to explain to you how much Ghostbusters means to us. When you tell me it’s “OKAY” or “good but not great,” you’re just proving how little you understand our intense craving for movies like these. We were DEHYDRATED over here, okay? But we didn’t know how thirsty we truly were until we saw Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann.
We got Holtzmanned, baby. And we loved it. Forever an SNL MVP, Kate imbued the gadget-loving scientist with a resplendent weirdness that made the whole movie sing. She instantly became an icon for girls who geek and – explicit though it wasn’t allowed to be – girls who would absolutely hit on Kristen Wiig if she ever wandered into their basement lab. The women in this movie were never sexualized, yet somehow, everyone I know walked out of that theater with a massive crush on Jillian and her collection of safety goggles. I’m so distracted by the gif below, it’s taken me 40 minutes to write this paragraph.
Which brings me back to why this is so important. Not since Ellen Ripley can I remember a female character kicking paranormal ass like Kate does in that sublime slow motion fight scene without being stuffed into cut-offs or a catsuit. Holtzmann is not a token hero, like so many in the “There’s One Girl!” teams that have been shoved down our throats. She’s a brilliant, bizarre, queer, ghostbusting scientist who’s biggest takeaway from this whole world-saving thing is that she’s finally found her tribe.
There should be a sequel. Kate McKinnon should be a movie star. Safety lights are for dudes who say this movie could have been better. –Sage
8) The Women of Penny Dreadful
RIP Penny Dreadful and some of the best female characters to grace our television screens in years. I’ll never understand why awards didn’t rain down upon Eva Green, Billie Piper, and Patti LuPone (whose role is the definition of a Guest Acting Emmy). But WE know the truth and we will never stop preaching the gospel of Vanessa Ives. Years from now, television historians will look back on Eva Green in Penny Dreadful and laud her bravery and her boldness. Her performance exhausts me, honestly. I don’t know how she did it. It was completely free of vanity. She wouldn’t just go to the ugly places, she would marinate in them and let them soak into her soul. Watching her every week was a masterclass in character development and determination and any episode that was Vanessa-less was weaker for it.
It was such a brilliant move to bring back Patti LuPone back for season three as Vanessa’s shrink, Dr. Seward. She had an incredibly memorable role in Season 2 as Joan Clayton, a witch who helped shape Vanessa’s life and cemented her identity as the Scorpion. I love how the two roles were completely different but yet the underlying thread of overwhelming compassion for Vanessa Ives tied the characters together. Patti brings SUCH gravity to all of her roles and really she’s the only woman who could go toe to toe with Eva Green and WIN. My biggest regret about the fact that we won’t be getting a season 4 is that we won’t get more of Seward the Vampire Slayer. NEVER FORGET how Seward casually admitted that she killed her abusive husband with a meat cleaver. Where’s my spinoff John Logan?
And then there’s Billie Piper, Queen of Our Hearts and the 2016 Feelie Winner for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama. There’s not much to say about Billie’s furious portrayal of Lily Frankenstein that we haven’t said before, so I’m just going to quote creator John Logan here. “It’s a very feminist show, and the idea that the audience gets to see, in our three years, Lily as a degraded figure who’s abused by men, as Brona, literally being reborn into a blank slate and then achieving incredible power but always having a great human connection. That was a case where I was also inspired by the actor, because Billie Piper so delights me, and I found that in the second season I was able to write her an eight-minute monologue that she absolutely delivered, completely, in a way that I found thrilling. I just wanted to do it again, because she’s an actor who understands theatricality and understands larger than life language in a very unique way, and that’s part of what this show is about.”
Quite right too. — Kim
9) Donald Glover – Atlanta
It’s impossible to divorce Donald Glover’s performance in Atlanta from the fact that he created and shapes this show. It’s his vision – one we’ve been waiting for since Troy Barnes set sail with Levar Burton and out of our lives. To no one’s surprise, his vision ended up topping year-end lists all over the place.
If you listen to Childish Gambino lyrics, you can see the Earn in Donald. He talks about race a lot in his music, specifically as it relates to his identity as a black man who straddles cultural lines. In Atlanta, Earn is a college dropout who returns to his hometown and talks his way into managing the burgeoning career of his cousin Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, a somewhat locally famous rapper. He’s beleaguered and regularly overwhelmed by obsessive fans, shady business owners, and so many people who think they know everything there is to know about him just by looking at him. There’s none of Troy’s joyful obliviousness in Earn. Donald’s Atlanta character is the one who punctuates a joke about prejudice or hypocrisy with a tossed off line (“I’m fuckin’ broke, dude!”) or simple look. His timing is as perfect as it was on Community and hello, he looks ESPECIALLY good at the moment. (Had to. Had to say it.)
There’s something Seinfeldian about Atlanta’s ability to turn simple misunderstandings into comedic art, but it’s the surrealist aspect that lifts this work to another level. Whether its characters are at the club or on a fictional talk show, Atlanta is all about voice. And the show’s all-black writers room have voices that aren’t normally prioritized in television. I feel like Donald Glover is letting us in on something that’s deeply personal here, yet providing much-appreciated points of connection for an audience who usually don’t see themselves reflected onscreen except through the White Gaze. I love spending time in a show that’s obviously so lovingly produced, from top to bottom. Atlanta is a terrific argument in favor of Peak TV – may it live to blow our minds for seasons to come. –Sage
10) John Goodman – 10 Cloverfield Lane
Case and point for why acting in genre films needs to be taken seriously: John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane. The movie is quite possibly the furthest you could get from being Oscar baity, from its January release to the fact that it’s a psychological horror picture, but Goodman brings it in a way that Kathy Bates brought it in Misery. (Remember how she won Best Actress for that? The Academy Awards in the 90s were so pure.) What makes 10 Cloverfield Lane so wonderful is that it’s so CLAUSTROPHOBIC. You never know if John Goodman’s Howard is a benevolent hermit who saved Michelle and Emmett from the disaster that left the surface of the earth uninhabitable or if he is an actual crazy person who made the whole thing up and is holding them against their will. Goodman is terrifying in this role because his madness and menace is so quiet most of the time. He’s like a coiled snake, ready to strike the moment he’s threatened…and you never quite know WHAT will threaten him, so you’re constantly walking on eggshells around him. It’s a brilliant performance and it’s absolutely one that should have been recognized by Awards Bodies.
Of course the genius of 10 Cloverfield Lane is the fact that Howard is BOTH a benevolent hermit who saved Michelle AND a crazy person. Just when you are convinced that Howard was gaslighting Michelle the entire time and the audience cheers as she kills him, the aliens show up. The joke’s all on us. — Kim
11) Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool
Last year’s Deadpool standalone film was the realization of one of Ryan Reynolds’ dreams. (The one after he gets to hold ALL THE BABIES.) Finally, Marvel gave the man his wish: to produce and star in the first R-rated superhero flick from that studio. Because Deadpool doesn’t work when you do it halfway. He does not function on a PG-13 level. He ain’t Spider-Man. He needs full creative control and the ability to throw in a pegging scene. God bless.
Deadpool also would have fallen flat on its face without the right smartass in the role. From his constant narration to being in almost every scene, this is Wade Wilson’s movie. And Ryan has the reverence for the character necessary to make this bloodthirsty annoyance relatable and even lovable. He’s Van Wilder in Spandex.
You know, hot guys don’t really have to be this gifted at physical comedy or one-liners. What a gift for all of us that Ryan Reynolds is. –Sage
12) Rachel Bloom – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Will we ever shut up about the brilliance of Rachel Bloom and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? Absolutely not. Rachel is giving the bravest, boldest, and most shameless comic performance on television and we will not stop shouting it from the rooftops until everyone knows about it. What I love the most about Rachel’s performance is that she leaves EVERYTHING there on the screen. You know watching every episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that there is not a single bit that Rachel held back and that’s so amazing to me. It inspires ME as an actress and a writer and just as an overall person. She refuses to shy away from the ugliest bits of Rebecca’s personality and the show also refuses to sugarcoat or apologize for them.
One of my favorite things about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is that while Rebecca does often catch shit from the people in her life, the person who is hardest on Rebecca is Rebecca herself. It’s so unflinchingly real because as ANYONE with a brain and a heart knows, you are ALWAYS your own worst enemy and critic. I’m so grateful to spend time with Rebecca Bunch every week because I want to throttle her and shield her from all the evil in the world all at the same time. I’m so grateful for Rachel’s vision and hope that the CW continues to believe in it for many seasons to come.
Plus, she’s got the best set of boobs currently on television. Fight me on that. — Kim
13) Eddie Redmayne – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Fantastic Beasts and the series it sets up have their issues – among them that a well-drawn and well-acted villain gets replaced by a fuuuuucking cartoon in the last act of the film. But I can find no fault in the stuttering, sensitive performance at the center of this Harry Potter spin-off. Let’s begin with the fact that Newt Scamander is the Hufflepuffiest Hufflepuff to ever Hufflepuff – a sweet, socially-stunted boy who finds that companionship only comes without strings in the animal kingdom. Eddie Redmayne commits completely to Newt’s shy demeanor. Even in his most heroic moments, he falters when he tries to look his friends in the eye. Newt is confident only when he’s dealing with his creatures. They’re predictable even when they’re not. Tense with humans, Eddie softens and straightens up when he addresses his majestic pets, and I think that any animal person can understand what he’s feeling in those moments. Still, it’s an unusual route to take for the lead of a big family movie. But Eddie’s performance is true and quietly lovely. Subsequently, I hate hate hate that Newt is not intended to be an important character in the rest of the series.
There was a lot of cooing over Eddie and Newt when we saw this movie. It’s something about Eddie’s angelic face – that floof of hair, those freckles, oh my god. He just engenders this need to wrap him up in a blanket and protect him from the world forever. And like most adult actors who’ve appeared in the Harry Potter movies, Eddie is trained to the gills and it shows. We know so little about Newt in this movie, but Eddie’s work tells us that he hasn’t had it easy. He’s an outcast, even in this fantastic world. And he carries that with him. Eddie Redmayne doesn’t dial back Newt’s isolation to make it easier for us to take, and that’s what makes him a consummate pro. –Sage
14) The Kids of Sing Street
Behold Sing Street, my favorite movie of 2016. After being dazzled by La La Land, I almost gave that the top spot, but then I went back and watched Sing Street on Netflix (DO IT RIGHT NOW) and went “Nope. This one’s my favorite.” Is there a director out there (other than Baz Luhrmann, who needs to come back to us in cinemas) (Sage: Bitch, he came back to us with The Get Down which YOU STILL HAVEN’T WATCHED. Kim: Shut up and let me make my point.) that fundamentally understands the innate human need to make and connect through music more than John Carney? I don’t think so. I would even go as far to say that no director understands the concept of “melancholy” more than him. All of Carney’s musical films (Once, Begin Again, and now Sing Street) embody the concept of melancholy, or “Happy Sad” as Sing Street calls it. You know what you’re gonna get when you sit down for one of his films: you’re gonna suffer, but you will be happy about it.
Carney’s films are wholly dependent on the actors that populate them and he has a knack for discovering unknown talent (or in the case of Begin Again, putting known actors in roles that we never expected from them). Sing Street is led by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (who IRL is basically an Irish Harry Styles) as Conor, a young Irish lad looking for an escape from his humdrum life, where his parents are broke and on the brink of divorce and he’s forced to attend a Catholic run school where he can’t even where brown shoes because they break the dress code. He finds his inspiration in the form Raphina (Lucy Boynton), the beautiful and mysteriously cool girl who lives across the street from his school. In order to spend time with Raphina, Conor (later rechristened as “Cosmo”) tells her that he wants her to star in the music videos for his band. The only problem? He doesn’t have one yet.
Sing Street is a love letter to 80’s Brit Punk and its songs are loving homages to Duran Duran and The Cure, yet they stand completely on their own. What I love about it so much is that initially Cosmo started his band to get the girl but ended up finding his own self-worth and confidence through his music. The transformation Walsh-Peelo undergoes throughout the film is astounding, as he models his looks after his musical heroes and defies gender norms by embracing make-up as a form of self-expression. Boynton’s performance as Raphina shows a wisdom beyond her years. Raphina’s cool confidence is just a facade to cover up a scared and lonely girl who’s been taken advantage of her whole life, and Boynton lets that vulnerability show through those giant blue eyes. (How BEAUTIFUL is the scene where she listens to “She Lights Me Up” whilst taking off her make-up and crying? I die.) There is such a RAWNESS in all the performances in Sing Street; it all feels completely organic and natural and ALMOST voyeuristic as we watch these kids try to figure their shit out through music. It’s slice of life, with elevated circumstances, which is the hallmark of Carney’s films. It’s brilliant and it’s the kind of movie I will watch over and over again. Now let’s get the band back together to perform “Drive It Like You Stole It” on the Academy Awards in February. — Kim
15) Mahershala Ali – Moonlight (and Luke Cage and Smart People)
My 2017 wish is for Mahershala Ali to take a nap. Not because I want him to go away, but because the man must be EXHAUSTED. What a year he’s had.
As Juan in Moonlight, Mahershala is part of a lauded ensemble cast who deserve all the festival and critics awards they’ve received. Juan is Little’s lifeline in the first act of the movie. He’s the only consistency in that child’s life besides the bullying he’s on the receiving end of daily and his mother’s erratic behavior. He’s also a contradiction, making his comfortable living out of funneling drugs into the streets he walks with pride. (He’s DONE THIS to Little’s mother, indirectly.) But Juan doesn’t let Little see that inner turmoil. What Little sees is a man who accepts him as he is and has the confidence and self-possession that Little aches for. Mahershala’s performance is so special because you can SEE Juan holding back from expressing his affection to Little; he’s the role model, not the coddler.
Meanwhile on Luke Cage, Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes is having zero ethical arguments with himself. He RELISHES being a kingpin. He thrives on being feared. Cottonmouth sits up in his ivory tower of a VIP box and gazes down at his subjects enjoying the entertainment he’s procured for them. (At least the monster has a good talent booker.) Again, Marhershala imbues this character with a specific kind of dignity. Cottonmouth may rule Harlem with an iron fist (Netflix Marvel joke!), but at least he has the stones to do it openly – unlike his cousin Mariah, whose political campaigns he bankrolls with his murders and shakedowns. Also, the man can wear a suit.
I can’t speak on House of Cards, though a new season of it also premiered this year. But I did have the privilege of seeing Mahershala Ali on stage in Smart People, a play about academia and race by Lydia Diamond. He played a Harvard Med intern both weary and still steaming about the small digs of prejudice he experiences every day. He was so commanding and so cool, but above all, Mahershala Ali is SOLID: reliably effective across genre, from poetic biography to gritty superhero to overly articulate stage drama. On second thought: maybe he should skip that nap. I want to see more of him next year. –Sage
16) Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Hepburn and Tracy. Bogie and Bacall. Hanks and Ryan. With their third film together proving that their chemistry is absolutely no fluke, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have earned their spot among the great movie star on-screen couples of all time. I had incredibly high expectations for La La Land going into my screening and I am so happy to say that the picture lived up to them. It’s a bright candy-colored homage to the musicals of the golden age yet it is refreshingly modern as it ponders exactly what you have to give up to pursue your dreams. It’s unabashedly sentimental and wears its heart on its sleeve, free of cynicism, yet it refuses to shy away from cold hard truths and bittersweet endings. Quite frankly, it’s the type of movie we all need right now.
But make no bones about it: La La Land would have absolutely not worked without Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. They are a true TEAM and one cannot stand without the other. Gosling makes good on those Mickey Mouse Club roots as jazz musician (and Gene Kelly reincarnate) Sebastian. It’s amazing to me that it took THIS LONG for Ryan Gosling to grace us with a musical and I’m furious that he denied us this for so long. (That’s the first line item in the civil suit I plan on filing against him.) With all the serious films he does, it’s easy to forget how FUNNY Ryan Gosling is and the easy charm that he carries himself with. He is a LOT in this movie, from the sarcastic asides in the beginning, to the whole-hearted belief he has in Mia’s dreams, to the way he ultimately lets her go. And the way he dances and plays the piano? GET OUT OF MY FACE HOW DARE YOU. I felt bad for the people sitting next to me and Sage as we watched the movie because we had NO chill. Gosling’s performance demands that you have no chill and I will HAVE no chill until he gets a much deserved Oscar nomination for this. Do NOT Ewan McGregor this one, guys. I will hunt you ALL down.
And then there is Emma Stone, who is nothing short of LUMINOUS in the role of Mia, but she also brings such a sense of weariness as an Actress who ponders just how many more times she can be told “No” before she packs it all in. Like Ryan, Emma has incredible range as an actress and she displays it ALL here, from her impeccable comic timing to her heart wrenching sadness to the gut punch of her audition song, “The Fools Who Dream.” I LITERALLY slammed my bucket of popcorn down and said “YES GIRL” when Emma finally let loose with her full voice, belting the shit out of the climax of that song. She reaches right into your chest and grips your heart in her delicate hands with that one. She makes you believe that magic can happen if you never give up on yourself. “Here’s to the mess we make” indeed. — Kim
17) Cory Michael Smith – Gotham
Gotham has been way more fun since Edward Nygma transitioned from sad sack nice guy dork to authentic murderous psychopath. And much of the credit for it is due to Cory Michael Smith’s deliciously deranged performance. Nygma is truly that in season 3 of the show. Is he a loyal friend to Oswald, who sprung him from Arkham just to be a pal? Or is he biding his time until he can strike Oswald down and take his place? Is he beginning to return Oswald’s feelings for him, or is he faking it to keep his sponsor docile while he steals his kingdom out from under him? I honestly don’t know, and that’s a testament to Cory’s work.
When Ed burns – as he did with his librarian love Isabella – he burns hot. But his temperament changes on a dime, and then he’s as cold as ice. His mood swings are chilling and he has DEFFO killed and tortured several people. (If you see him tighten his jaw and harden his gaze, you about to die. Or at the very least, lose a hand.) Yet, I yearn for his happiness – specifically, for he and Oswald to find it together. This show doesn’t WORK if you don’t feel for its villains. And Cory Michael Smith has kept his Edward Nygma consistent in spite of the full personality transplant he endures over the course of the show. –Sage
P.S. There’s certainly a case to be made for Cory and Robin Lord Taylor to be honored together in this category, but we had Robin on our performances list after season 1 and I consider that a standing honor. They’re both terrific and fun and the vulnerable, maniacal heart of Gotham. AND THE MENSWEAR. I know I keep calling out suit-game in these entries, but please know that we actually considered putting the Gotham wardrobe department on this list because of all the sumptuous comic book noir fashion. Okay, I’m done.
As the release date for Bridget Jones’ Baby neared, the more our Bridge-loving hearts were filled with trepidation. After all, we had been burned by a Bridget threequel before. Would the movie follow suit and shit all over our beloved singleton’s legacy as Mad About the Boy had done? It was hard to tell from early previews. However, we should know better than to doubt our Lord and Savior Emma Thompson and we should know better than to doubt the love that Renee Zellweger has for her signature role. Bridget Jones’ Baby was perfectly executed fan service. It was everything we wanted it to be, from the nods to the original movie to the way it moved Bridget’s story forward. And that is entirely due to Zellweger’s performance.
How is it possible than an actress understands a role better than the author that created her? Zellweger’s Bridget may be flighty, clumsy, and a bit of a ditz, but she is NEVER dumb or mean-spirited. (Do you HEAR THAT, Helen Fielding?) Bridget is the embodiment of all of us trying to stumble our way through this thing called adulthood and Zellweger’s respect for what Bridget stands for is evident in every scene. We love her, just as she is.
And for the record, Renee is LUMINOUS in the movie, so everyone talking about her face should kindly shut the fuck up. Minutes spent watching the movie: 125. Regrets: 0. — Kim
Honorable Mention: Matt Smith – Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies
I’ve read Pride and Prejudice about a dozen times, and at no point have I ever imagined a young, hot guy in the role of the insufferably dull and embarrassing preacher Mr. Collins. But Matt Smith stole every single scene he was in in this uneven movie based on the zombified Austen novel. It’s like an inverse of his work in his seasons of Doctor Who. In P&P&Z, Matt deploys his inherent goofiness and superb comic timing to irritate rather than endear. And the result is one of my favorite interpretations in any Austen adaptation, with or without the undead. –Sage
Honorable Mention: The Final Five – The Rio Olympics
The hype was MASSIVE for the US Ladies Gymnastics team as we headed into the Rio Olympics, with Simone Biles at the center of many of NBC’s promos and being hailed as “the greatest gymnast of all time” at the tender age of 19. Would she and her teammates rise to the occasion or crumble under the pressure? The answer is the former, of course, because these ladies are bad ass athletes. Simone, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, and Madison Kocian dominated the competition, winning the Gold Medal by a massive margin as they tumbled their way into America’s hearts. They did it all while showing the world what the definition of being a true team is, from the way they cheered for each other on the sidelines to showing thirst for Zefron like every teenage girl SHOULD. Get it, ladies. — Kim
Honorable Mention: Kate Beckinsale, Love & Friendship
It feels like 1995 up in here with all these Jane films coming out. Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship ventured into some uncharted territory. It’s the first full-length film adaptation of Austen’s epistolary novel Lady Susan, and it’s dazzlingly witty and perfect. So is its lead. Jane wrote some incredible bitches, but they’re usually supporting characters. In Lady Susan, the manipulative social climber claims the spotlight, and Beckinsale is appropriately seductive and shameless in the part. There’s no excuse for her. There’s no redemption. But her complete lack of remorse and refusal to learn ANYTHING from her scheming make Lady Susan almost aspirational and definitely fun to watch. –Sage
Honorable Mention: Denzel Washington, Fences
Listen, anyone who is talking about Casey Affleck winning the Best Actor Oscar for Manchester By The Sea CLEARLY hasn’t seen Denzel Washington in Fences. Denzel does some of the best work of his entire career as Troy Maxson, a hurricane of a man who is too big for the small world that he lives in. I went into the movie expecting it to be the Viola Davis show, and don’t get me wrong, Queen Viola BROUGHT IT and basically has her name engraved on that long overdue Oscar already. But I walked out of my screening unable to shut up about Denzel’s performance. It’s loud and bombastic as he spews those gorgeous August Wilson monologues and it’s quietly powerful when it needs to be. It’s mesmerizing and if this is a just world, he’ll be taking home another Best Actor Oscar come February. — Kim
Who were YOUR favorite performers of 2016? Let us know in the comments.