Thursday, December 22, 2016

Riske Business: Great Performances of 2016

by Adam Riske
Happy Holidays!

This week Patrick and I discussed some of our favorite performances from the movies of 2016.

Adam: My first pick is Gillian Jacobs in Don't Think Twice. I saw this movie twice and while I appreciated the movie less, I fell even more in love with Jacobs. She's always been great, whether it be on Community or Love, but here she gives a different and very interesting performance as an improviser who is happy with her lot in life and isn't the competitor some of her improviser teammates are. She has a scene late in the movie where she's giving a performance with Keegan Michael Key that is sad and uplifting at the same time. She's a really good actress and this movie shows she's equally adept at portraying a rich character as she is at making an audience laugh (especially when she’s imitating Katherine Hepburn).

Patrick: Gillian Jacobs is always the best. She's one of those actors that can make something better just by showing up. I love her most when she's flawed but principled, and Don't Think Twice finds her right in that zone. I don't know if this was a conscious choice in the editing room or just how the actual scenes shook out, but she's also the only one who really gets laughs during the improv sequences, of which there are many. I don't mind that her character wants to stick with it because it seems like she's the best one.

For my first pick, I'll go with John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane. It's unfortunate that most big awards shows don't ever recognize genre films -- with the obvious exception of Deadpool, one of the best Musicals or Comedies released in 2016. And how about that Ryan Reynolds? Seriously, HFPA, you may as well have nominated him for Van Wilder. He's no better or worse in either movie. But John Goodman is, like Gillian Jacobs, an actor who improves every project by presence alone, and his performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane is one of the very best I've ever seen him give. He's not just scary -- he's believable scary, and the scene (no spoilers) in which he appears "cleaned up" is one of the most chilling and disturbing moments in a movie that's full of them. All three actors are good; they have to be for the movie to be as good as it is. But I think John Goodman achieves greatness.

Adam: Goodman'm so sorry) in 10 Cloverfield Lane. It's nice to see him get a co-lead, which he only seems to get one out of every 10 movies he does. The thing I like about him is that all of his characters feel like they've had a life before we catch up with them. He always feels like he's for real and not performing.
My next pick stays on the girls tip (again I'm so sorry..I'm having trouble with transition phrases right now). It's Dylan Gelula in First Girl I Loved. You're probably all "Gehula in the Whata?" right now, so let me explain. This was a movie I saw on closing night of the Chicago Critics Film Festival this year (it's on Amazon Instant Video right now) and I was really blown away by her performance and the movie (more her performance...the movie is one of those "I'm blown away by this" and then you never think about it again type of movies). It's a love story about a high school girl (Gelula) who is in a love triangle with that Deadpool teenager superhero girl and some ponytail John Turturro looking kid. Complications ensue and Gelula's character goes on this sweet trajectory of trying to figure out if she's gay or just curious. The movie follows her lead and is pretty sensitive and also smart, depicting teenagers in a realistic way where they're thorny but still endearing, likable people (unlike that jerk face Halee Steinfeld in The Edge of Seventeen, who is the worst kind of person). You should see First Girl I Loved. Gelula's really good in it, though.

Patrick: I'm going to watch it right away! I love a good coming of age movie and I was sorry to have missed it at CCFF.

Speaking of good coming of age movies, I want to single out Hailee Steinfeld in The Edge of Seventeen, a movie I know underwhelmed you but which I thought was a really, really good character study of a teenage girl who felt real in every single way. There's no gimmick, no major crisis being faced, just a young woman who has a hard time seeing outside of herself and her own problems. I thought a whole lot about Juno during Edge of Seventeen, probably because both movies are about teenage girls who are a little too smart for the room and can't help but remind people of that. I thought Hailee Steinfeld was every bit as good as Ellen Page was in Juno, but both Page and that movie got nominated for Oscars and almost no one is talking about Steinfeld or Edge of Seventeen. That's a bummer. This is the best role and the best performance she's given since showing such promise in True Grit. She's so good that I can almost forgive that terrible song she has out right now. Almost.

Adam: Well I walked into that landmine, didn't I? I'll say this. She is very good at playing a disagreeable character. That song's not bad! I think I like that song (“Starving”) more than I like the movie actually.

Patrick: If you're serious about liking that song more than the movie, you, sir, are some kind of monster.

Adam: I do like the song more than the movie. Keep in mind, though, this is from a guy who is currently drinking Root Beer Schnapps straight from the bottle. My taste aren't very refined.

My next choice is a boy performance. It's Alden Ehrenreich in Hail, Caesar! I saw this actor for the first time in Tetro years back (he's really good in it) and then he kind of disappeared for a number of years popping up in a cameo in Somewhere and a supporting role in Stoker, but Hail, Ceasar! was cool to see because he delivers on the promise of that earlier performance. It's the type of role/performance that makes you really understand a different side of an actor (because he's so funny and likable as opposed to the usual 20-something brooding) and makes you excited to see him in future roles. I also liked him in Rules Don't Apply (shout out to Lily Collins, too, who is really good in the movie as well, better than she's ever been in anything else). Too bad in that movie the director steps in mid-way through and decides we need him more than anything and jettisons everything that was previously working about his film.

Patrick: Loved Alden Ehrenreich in that movie! Don't love typing his name. But he achieved the very difficult task in that movie of a) standing out most among one of the best ensemble casts of the year and b) making a very "simple" character sweet and three dimensional and gave him agency without ever condescending to the role. I can't wait for that movie to be reassessed and appreciated in about five years.
I'll once again piggyback off your choice and name Chase Williamson in Beyond the Gates as one of my favorite performances of the year. I've gone on and on about the movie since seeing it over the summer and I know it's not everyone's bag, but Chase Williamson is so good at finding a new way to play the fuckup brother. I rewatched the movie recently and was so taken with his ever delivery and reaction -- he's sweet and big-hearted when another actor would have played him as self-conscious and resentful. He has a goofy optimism that's super rare in horror movies.

Adam: I so want to like Beyond the Gates as much as you do. I'll give it another shot. I have watched the commercial Jackson Stewart shot for the board game about five times and love that. I may have just been in a mood that day. Or I'm a monster. We'll only know for sure from a blood test.

My next pick is twofer - Trevante Rhodes and Andre Holland from the last third of Moonlight. This is a movie with great performances across the board, but I'm sort of surprised that the largest share of praise is going to Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali. Though both of those actors are very good in the movie, it's Rhodes and Holland who are the most enduring memories I have from it. Their interplay is so reserved and emotional on a subtextual level that it maybe is easier to overlook. I love how romantic Holland plays that scene in the diner. It's the most romantic depiction I've ever seen on film of a relationship between two men and Rhodes is just out of this world as the adult Chiron. He's built like a brick wall but you can tell by his body language that he'll shatter from just the slightest gesture.

Patrick: I was so distracted by how much Trevante Rhodes looks like 50 Cent. Like, Andre Holland is hard at work making the Chef's Special and Trevante Rhodes is just thinking about taking him to the Candy Shop, where I assume he'll let him lick his lollipop.

Also, I am not trivializing their love. I'm just quoting 50 Cent lyrics because if I don't we are doomed to repeat history.

Adam: I take it Moonlight didn't do much for you, then? At least you've upgraded to 50 Cent blowjob jokes. They're 10 times better than your Nickelback blowjob material.

Patrick: I like Moonlight a lot! It's really good. Never let a stupid blowjob joke be the barometer of my feelings about anything.

Adam: That should be a Hallmark card.

Patrick: My next pick is Susan Sarandon in The Meddler, a movie I don't think a lot of people saw and even fewer people remember. I get it. The movie feels slight and Susan Sarandon has been doing good work for so many years that it's easy to overlook her when she's good in yet another thing. But she's seriously SO GOOD in The Meddler, a movie that's insanely sweet and touching and warm and funny. She takes a character who could have so easily been played as a sitcom nag and makes her into someone real and human. Plus, she loves going to see action movies so she might as well just let me marry her and now it's your turn.

Adam: I haven't seen The Meddler because there are too many movies. Also, I have a weird thing with that movie now because a couple (in their 50s maybe) told me that I might not like it because it's meant for "older people." So I'm going to wait for my hospice marathon to watch it.
My next pick is Sofia Boutella in Star Trek Beyond. The character and her performance add a great amount of humor and energy to the middle of the movie and I think starting with her appearance the film itself goes from "this is fun" to "wow, this is kinda special." "I like the loud beats and shouting" will always be funny.

Patrick: Love Sofia Boutella in STB. She's so fun and creates a character whose arc kind of becomes the centerpiece of the film. I really hope that, based on where it's left with her, she's back in a Starfleet uniform for the next installment (assuming there is a next installment). She kicks ass in that movie.

My next pick is probably a no-brainer, but I don't know if anyone had a better year than Ryan Gosling. I know he's always good in everything, but he's usually an actor I can appreciate or admire (though not as much as my wife) but never really love (never as much as my wife). Between his work in The Nice Guys and La La Land, Baby Goose is the king of 2016. He sings, he dances, he has expert comic timing. Maybe more directors will see how light and funny and charming he is when he's allowed to be light and funny and charming and not always rely on him to be dark and brooding and intense.

Adam: I'm glad you picked Ryan Gosling, because he was on my list as well for The Nice Guys. His performance in The Nice Guys is amazing in two ways to me: 1) He perfectly captures "my ass may be dumb, but I ain't no dumbass" and 2) He reaches a level (probably right around "No kid, we don’t want to see your dick.") where everything he does is funny...his mannerisms, his dialogue, his cadences, everything. I just saw La La Land this week and agree with everything you said there as well.

My next pick is Ethan Hawke in Born to Be Blue. It's a very good movie, but sort of the usual biopic; however, Ethan Hawke is more into the character than he usually is. I love this guy's work, but my last sentence means that he feels like Chet Baker in Born to Be Blue, whereas when I enjoy his work in other movies it's because I like Ethan Hawke as a movie star persona. He and Carmen Ejogo (who I thought would have been bigger after Metro) have really good chemistry together and he really is able to get across how this addict (in Baker) was so appealing to his peers. He's a decent guy but just one with a lot of problems.

Patrick: I haven't seen Born to Be Blue because I assumed it was the next Smurfs movie. I know you're a fan, though, so I will definitely check it out. Maybe during my 24 Hours of Jazz musician biopic marathon.
I'm picking an actor from a movie I don't think you've seen yet, but not just to get even for that whole Born to Be Blue thing. We're past that. I'm going with Samantha Robinson in The Love Witch. She's not an actor who was on my radar prior to this, but she's so, so good giving a very specifically pitched performance that's reminiscent of an early '70s exploitation or Hammer movie but at the same time being completely sincere. I don't want to say that the movie lives or dies based on her performance because it has a lot of other things going for it, but I think that if Robinson wasn't as good as she is the movie wouldn't work nearly as well as it does. What she does is really, really hard.

Adam: I'm really looking forward to The Love Witch. I wish it was available where I could watch it this month but I'm going to have to wait until its home release next year. I love the trailer. Whatever Robinson is doing, it works for me.

My next pick is kind of a lifetime achievement award/time served acknowledgment and that's for Kristin Stewart in Café Society. Her performance in the movie doesn't transcend other KStew performances, but her work in Café Society singlehandedly saves that movie because she has a certain heft to her that I think her co-creators are lacking. I really admire her because she takes interesting roles and is, more often than not, the best thing in the movies she's in. I also want to call it time served, because she is like the Jesse Eisenberg whisperer. He raises his game in movies she's in with him and case in point is Café Society. He's doing his Woody Allen schtick for the first 20 or 30 minutes and its insufferable and then Stewart walks in as if to say "cut that shit out and just play the scene" and it gets better. She did this in American Ultra, too.

Patrick: It bums me out when I see K-Stew be really good in something (like Adventureland or The Runaways) and then see her shit the bed in some high profile movie or seem miserable in an interview and get the reputation for being dead inside and talentless. She is not.

My next pick is a performance in a movie that no one saw and even I wasn't that crazy about: Mark Proksch in Another Evil. It's a microbudget/mumblecore horror comedy in which he plays an exorcist hired to get rid of the ghost living in Steve Zissis' house. The movie is never scary and only rarely funny, but Proksch gives one of those performances that is so original, so unlike the countless other versions we've seen of this same character (a variation on Chip in The Cable Guy -- the sad-sack loser who clings too tightly to a new friend), that I strongly recommend seeing Another Evil just to enjoy the work he does. Anything about the movie that works only works because of him.

Adam: Glad to hear your recommendation of Another Evil. I've had a couple of opportunities to see it but I've talked myself out of it thus far because people were saying I wasn't missing anything. Unlike Captain Fantastic, I'll give it a shot one of these days.
My last pick is one I just saw this week and I'm on cloud nine about it. It's Emma Stone in La La Land. Stone is always an actress I've enjoyed watching in movies. She's funny, likable, pretty, etc., but in La La Land it was seeing an actress kill it in a role that's perfectly suited for her. I made a comment on Twitter that one of the best things about La La Land is that it is a movie that lets us enjoy movie stars being movie stars. One thing that annoys me about movies today is that many of them are concept driven and not star driven. When you look back on decades past and see the caliber of movie star it puts the modern era (ERA!) to shame. And I think Emma Stone is La La Land takes a little bit of that back.

Patrick: Emma Stone is good in everything, but it's nice to see all of her talent truly put to use in La La Land. Her performance of "Audition" is really the emotional centerpiece of the whole movie and she kills it. Isn't that the same thing the Academy gave Anne Hathaway an Oscar for a few years ago? I don't imagine they'll be doing the same for E-Stone.

Adam: That would be a shame. We should give Emma Stone an Oscar just to say thank you for being Emma Stone.

Patrick: For me, Rebecca Hall gave the performance of the year in Christine, but I'm trying to highlight performances that probably won't get real awards consideration and I have to believe she will. So my last pick will be Lauren Ashley Carter in Darling. I understand why some people don't dig the movie because it is so much like Polanski's Repulsion, but I still really like it and Carter's performance is a big part of it. It's one of these movies that really hangs on the star's work, and her enormous eyes and increasingly undone state paint a picture of a girl who's already broken but waiting to shatter. Darling shows her shatter. This is the best performance I've seen LAC give yet, which is no small feat because I'm pretty sure she's in about half of the indie horror movies that come out.

Adam: I’m intimidated of Christine based on its subject matter. Glad to hear Rebecca Hall is good in it though. She’s a very good actress. Pretty underrated, too.

Some other performances I enjoyed a lot in 2016: Sam Neill in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Shia LeBeouf in American Honey, Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals, Dan Fogler in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, John Travolta (and Jumpy the Dog) in In a Valley of Violence, Natalie Portman in Jackie, Emilia Clarke in Me Before You, AnnaLynne McCord in Trash Fire and Kathryn Hahn in Bad Moms.

Patrick: I second a number of your "other" picks, and I'll add Abigail Hardingham in Nina Forever, Ralph Ineson in The Witch, Lauren Cohan in The Boy, Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water, Devin Kelley in Swept Under, Isabelle Huppert in Elle, Do Won Kwak in The Wailing, Jenny Slate in My Blind Brother and Joshy, Sally Field in Hello My Name is Doris...I'm sure there are way more but I can't think of them.

Is there a performance we missed that you want to get some attention? Let us know in the comments.


  1. And the Oscar for the Emma Stone-iest performance goes to...Emma Stone!!!!

    (Seriously though, fuck Jackie for probably taking an acting Academy Award from Emma Stone)

    I know you said everybody's good in 10 Cloverfield Lane, but I also want to specifically single out Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She and John Goodman tag team for my two favorite performances of the year, but she is just so awesome and resourceful as a Michelle, and MEW can do so much with just a look. I love her and I love that character.

    (Slightly off topic side question: I hear a lot of good things about MEW's performance in Smashed, but I have never seen that movie. Is it one you would recommend at all, if for no other reason than the strength of her performance?)

    1. I think you should watch Smashed since you are a big MEW fan. I'm more of a medium fan of hers. Smashed the movie is 2.5/4ish (it's James Ponsoldt still figuring it out which later led to Spectacular Now and End of the Tour which are big steps up) her performance is a little better.

    2. Thanks! Yeah, between the characters of Ramona Flowers and Michelle, I'm sold on MEW. Your assessment of the Smashed is on par with what I would expect. I should say I'm also a big James Ponsoldt fan, so I think it will also be interesting to explore his beginnings, even if not as strong as his later work.

  2. I haven't seen the Edge of Seventeen and I'm not sure if you guys planned it, but that Hailee Steinfeld part made me laugh out loud.

    1. I don't think she understood the words she was saying in True Grit but when she sings "Starving" I know that it's pure Hailee.

  3. I agree with Patrick about Rebecca Hall.

  4. John Hawkes in Too Late, Alexander Skarsgård in War on Everyone and Dolph Lundgren in Don't Kill It should all get a mention. Also, Amy Adams in Arrival (even though I like the movie more than her performance, she's still really good in it).

    1. Yes! RE: Alexander Skarsgård. I left that off because it hasn't gotten its Theatrical/VOD rollout yet. He's pretty much a revelation in that movie. So funny.

    2. Oh right, didn't realize that. The movie's not getting a Finnish release at all, but I saw it at a festival.

  5. Echo Mikko - John Hawkes - Too Late. Every performance in The Witch. Kiernan Shipka and Emma Roberts in Blackcoat's Daughter. Agreed, Lauren Ashley Carter in Darling. Rory Culkin in Jack Goes Home.

    1. Riske, forgot to mention I back your pick on Born to be Blue, but I had mentioned in your other awards post. Loved Hawke in that film though.

  6. Patrick Stewart in Green Room. Maybe were used to Stewart being great in everything (Let's just forget about Masterminds)that we take him for granted. He's just perfect as the cold calculating leader of the skinheads who's examining every option. The way he changes the tone of his voice when he first talks to the punk band is pure Stewart.

    1. Good call. It's a brilliant choice by him to play that part as a quieter character.

  7. Came here to second that Michael Shannon is fantastic in Nocturnal Animals. One of my favorite performances of his since 99 Homes.

    I also saw Sing Street and thought everyone in that did a god job. It really looks like they're having fun and that comes through in the movie.

    1. I think Jack Reynor is the MVP of Sing Street as older brother Brendan.

    2. Sing Street is so good. Great performances all around.

  8. Abbey Lee Kershaw was pretty great in Neon Demon I thought. I actually thought she was stronger in her role then Jena Malone or Elle Fanning.

    And of course Keanu Reeves wins the MVK award. Most valuable Keanu.

  9. While Nick Jonas got all the press, I thought Ben Schnetzer's performance in Goat was spectacular. It's not often that we see a story about young men reacting to physical trauma in a natural way, and Schnetzer really sells that vulnerability and need to suppress feelings.

  10. Andy Garcia in Passengers. 'Nuff said.

  11. putting my vote in for every single performance in Moonlight because holy shit