As part of my celebration of 2016 in film, here are what I thought to be the best female performances of the year and what my Oscar ballot would look like if I were a voter in the acting branch. Before I go further, I want to say that this has been an amazing year for women in film. So let's take a look at the performances that helped reflect that:
Best Supporting Actress:
Olivia Colman as Hotel Manager in The Lobster: Olivia Colman creates one of the funniest characters of the year even if her character has no name. Her Hotel Manager has a sinister nature that is channeled through Colman's sardonic delivery that is in sync with the film's deadpan atmosphere and results in some of the film's most darkly hilarious and quotable moments.
Paulina Garcia as Leonor Calvelli in Little Men: The magic of Paulina Garcia's performance as shop owner Leonor Calvelli is all in her eyes. Even when she's not speaking, Garcia is able to convey the lived-in feelings of a woman trying to forge a better life for herself even as those around her try to seize it, channeling a rather fiery yet often comical neuroticism. Not only is Garcia a standout amidst the film's terrific ensemble, but she serves as its heart and soul.
Lily Gladstone as The Rancher in Certain Women: Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Kristen Stewart. A very starry cast that's enough to get one excited about a project. Yet while those actresses deliver in Certain Women, it is newcomer Lily Gladstone whose star shined the brightest. As a rancher who falls for a night school teacher played by Kristen Stewart, Gladstone makes you wish that the film, which is divided into three segments, was entirely about her. The lovelorn gazes she gives, along with her calm persistence and need to escape the mundanity of her daily and lonely routine, all feel so lived-in and real. Hollywood could really use a natural talent like herself.
Naomie Harris as Paula in Moonlight: The role of a poor addict mother can very easily be slipped into cliche. Thankfully, that isn't the case with Naomie Harris' performance as the main character's addict mother. Through subtle glimpses of both self-loathing and warm maternal loving, Harris brings plenty of flawed humanity to her character. Paula may be both physically and emotionally self-destructive but deep down, you can tell she loves her son.
Riley Keough as Crystal in American Honey: From her intro scene to her last, Riley Keough packs in various facets of the tough-as-nails ringleader Krystal: her smug nature, her demeaning waves of ice, and her swagger with the way she poses and holds up her cigarette. Krystal may be unassumingly tough as nails yet thanks to Keough's magnetism, she always had me waiting for her to come back on screen.
WINNER: Lily Gladstone
Runner-Up: Riley Keough
Third Place: Naomie Harris
Just Missed: Michelle Williams demonstrates a hopefulness to start again while being pounded with grief within a span of minutes in Manchester By The Sea; Kate McKinnon emerges the shining star in Ghostbusters; Angourie Rice holds her own against her veteran co-stars in The Nice Guys with a beyond her years wisdom mixed with childlike tenacity; While Olivia Colman emerges a standout in The Lobster, Rachel Weisz and Lea Seydoux bring in their own rich performances that sync in with the film's intentionally mundane and sardonic atmosphere; Laura Linney is the best one scene wonder of the year in Nocturnal Animals as Amy Adams' pearl clutching, wine sipping Mama
Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks in Arrival: Amy Adams had two distinctive performances this year. One is her portrayal of Susan Morrow, an art collector forcing herself into a life of chilly solitude in Nocturnal Animals. Her other performance is as Louise Banks, a linguist trying to decode the species of an alien language in Arrival. Despite her being the hero of the story, Adams strips Banks away of any noble heroism, playing Louise Banks as just a person. As a result of her simple yet naturalistic portrayal, her Louise Banks manages to be an audience surrogate, embodying our curiosity about the alien species at hand and the subtle desperation for both humans and the aliens to have proper communication.
Jessica Chastain as Madeleine Elizabeth Sloane in Miss Sloane: Miss Sloane is a very messy figure. She knows what it takes to win but if you're on her side, she's still willing to wait on making you bait right until you're fed to the wolves. She'll fight for particular humane causes but mainly so she can see win them. Yet Jessica Chastain creates a winning portrait of such a flawed individual, chewing up every juicy monologue and dominating every frame she appears in. Whether she's rubbing her makeup like war paint or immediately giving a victory fist glench after engaging in calm persuasion, Chastain helps create a refreshing face in female-driven cinema: A woman who's cunning, in control, frank, and unapologetic for who she is.
Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in Jackie: Natalie Portman already tops her virtuoso career-best performance in Black Swan with yet another virtuoso performance as former First Lady Jackie Kennedy in Jackie. With a performance that transcends beyond plain mimicry, which she nails, Portman makes you feel every emotional state Jackie goes through with every frame. She can be tough and brittle yet still exude shuttering frailty, still and in control yet somber, or be neurotic and insecure yet put on a smile as if she's a different person. While there is a lot to appreciate about Jackie, the movie doesn't work without Jackie herself.
Emma Stone as Mia Dolan in La La Land: Much like her breakthrough in Easy A, Emma Stone proves that she has a winning smile and a personality that is made for the big screen with her work as the optimistic yet realistic minded aspiring actress Mia in La La Land. She even manages to perform within her musical performing. During her showstopping "Audition" number, as her voice undergoes various changes, so do her facial expressions, allowing her to bare out her soul to not just the camera but to the audience that falls in love with her as well.
Winner: Natalie Portman
Runner-Up: Jessica Chastain
Third Place: Viola Davis
Just Missed: Sally Field delivers her best and most layered work in years as a woman trying to come to grips with growing older with humor and heartbreak in Hello, My Name Is Doris; Kim Tae-Ri and Kim Min-Hee act as the fire to each other's ice as the main Handmaiden duo; Mary Elizabeth Winstead uses naturalistic instinct to help create a refreshing face in science fiction in 10 Cloverfield Lane; Tilda Swinton proves she can hold our attention even in astute silence in A Bigger Splash; Anya Taylor-Joy is a breakout as a Puritan girl trying to satisfy those around her while slowly "living deliciously" in The Witch