As it is International Women’s Day*, I thought it would be a great opportunity to celebrate some of the finest performance from females, and with so many wonderful ones to choose from, decided to narrow it down to just the last year**.
Rather than an objective “best” list, I am instead favouring my subjective “favourite” performances, so your list will of course differ from mine; really I hope this is the case because there are so many incredible performances that are worth celebrating, today and any day of the year!
*To counteract the inevitable questions, the answers are: yes there is one and it is November 19th, and no I don’t hate men, and yes it would be great if there was an “International Person’s/Human’s Day” but I’m still waiting for the day when there is true gender equality. [insert hair-flip emoji here]
** Some of these are going to be 2016, and some will be 2017 releases, I’m basically going off the time of writing this article (March 2017), and March of last year, and based on UK releases.
10. Janelle Monáe, Moonlight
Whilst there was quite rightly much discussion about Monáe’s supporting role in Hidden Figures, and indeed whether she deserved the nomination ahead of Octavia Spencer in the Best Supporting Actress category, for me it was Monáe’s performance in Moonlight which really stood out. This was the film which really made me hopeful for the fact that she could easily transition over from the music industry into being considered a really quite excellent actress, and her honest and warming portrayal of the motherly Teresa was surprisingly touching and one of the real highlights in an incredible ensemble cast. Naomie Harris may have been receiving the plaudits (and not undeservedly so) for her transformative role, but being a somewhat unlikeable character, I gravitated far more towards Monáe’s Teresa.
9. Angourie Rice, The Nice Guys
It is no easy feat to completely steal a movie from such acting heavyweights as Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, but sassy newcomer Angourie Rice, was easily the highlight of cop comedy The Nice Guys. Big things are certainly coming her way, having now been cast in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but it is this performance which truly showed what she could do. It’s a difficult role to pull off for an actress of this age as it could border on the precocious, but thankfully that is never an issue, and the smart, quick-wittiness of the character played by Rice made this easily one of my favourite performances of the year.
8. Sasha Lane, American Honey
With a weighty almost 3-hour run-time, and a role which demands one character to be seen on screen pretty much at all times, this is something which even an accomplished actress might struggle with. However, Sasha Lane, in her first ever role, pulls it off like a seasoned pro. Naturalistic and instantly likeable from the start, Lane has a magnetic screen presence, and an electric chemistry with her co-star Shia LaBeouf. I was secretly hoping Lane would attract some more awards attention, but she’s young and this role demonstrates she should have a glittering career ahead of her.
7. Amy Adams, Nocturnal Animals
For many, including myself, it was an utter travesty that Amy Adams failed to pick up a nomination at this year’s Oscars, and in the run-up it was more of a case of “which role”, rather than whether she would get nominated at all. Alas, what happened happened, and whilst I somewhat prefer her performance in Arrival, I find the character she plays in Nocturnal Animals to be far more interesting, and making the best use of her obvious talents as an actress. With a cold and icy demeanour, it is difficult to like this character, but Adams pulls it off so well, and few actresses would be able to pull off so many nuances of a character who essentially spends most of the film reading a book! An unusual film, and an unusual performance, but one which is so utterly compelling, and one which I feel over time will be considered as even more shamefully overlooked than it is right now.
6. Dafne Keen, Logan
It’s not even been a week since I saw this film, but I just cannot shake this performance from my mind! Near mute for most of the film, and appearing alongside Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, the young Keen manages to be one of the most wonderful and compelling performances of the year, and certainly one of the best child performances since Jacob Tremblay in Room. She may be young, but she has great physicality, good comic-timing when needed, and so much emotion and depth in mere facial expressions alone. To have made this character completely her own so instantly is something which has to be applauded, and I sincerely hope that if a solo X23 movie is indeed coming, that her name (and her name only!) is the one on the list.
5. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, 10 Cloverfield Lane
So many could’ve played this as a “damsel in distress” type of role, but Winstead is totally badass, and completely convincing as the street-smart Michelle, who finds herself at the mercy of John Goodman’s nightmarish Howard. With barely more than three actors in the entire cast, and as pretty much the only female (if you’ve seen it you’ll now why it is only “pretty much”) in the film, she has a lot on her shoulders, and with Goodman delivering one of the best performances of his career, she’s against some heavy opposition. However her performance still manages to stand out, and whilst not considered at all in the awards categories, it was easily one of the most enjoyable performances of the year.
4. Natalie Portman, Jackie
I was a big fan of Emma Stone’s performance in La La Land, but there were many who considered that objectively, Portman’s performance as the First Lady was much better. Well, we might cover more of this in a bit, but I would be tempted to agree. Portman is always wonderfully consistent and in this transformative role, she completely embodies the character of Jackie Kennedy, to the point where it is difficult to tell them apart. She nails the accent, the mannerisms, and the way she carries herself, to absolute perfection. It is worth noting as well that this is not just a straight biopic or historical film, it is a focused and pin-pointed character study of a specific moment in this person’s life, and Portman does and incredible job of encapsulating the confusion and distress that Jackie would’ve been going through.
3. Emma Stone, La La Land
It was hard not to be charmed by Emma Stone’s performance in La La Land, and indeed my love (borderline obsession!) for this film is very well known. Whilst all the demands of this role are impressive, and Stone demonstrates she is very much a “triple threat” on the acting/singing/dancing side of things, it is easy to overlook the layered nature of this role. An actress playing a struggling actress has been seen before, but in scenes such as when the character of Mia is acting out a scene crying down the phone, we see Mia the character in the film, plus Mia the actress playing a role within the film, and of course Emma Stone encompassing all of these things. The devastating “Audition” scene gives her the chance to show some acting chops as well as her impressive pipes, and is one of the most devastating, yet powerfully uplifting moments of the entire year. Sure I have La La Land bias, but this film, and this performance in particular, is amazing.
2. Hayley Squires, I, Daniel Blake
Having only caught up on this film a few weeks ago, I feel annoyed with myself that I have been missing out both on this exceptional film, and this incredible performance from Hayley Squires. Whilst I sympathised with Dan Blake’s plight, it was Squires’ Katie who delivered the most pathos to me, and her wonderfully natural performance was believable, heart-breaking, and powerful in equal measure. With easily the most devastating scene of the entire year, the “food bank scene”, and a character arc that is totally destroying, Squires meets all the demands of this emotional role without ever veering into showboating.
1. Viola Davis, Fences
Probably no surprises here, particularly to my boyfriend who happened to be in earshot of me letting out an obnoxiously loud “YAASSS QUEEN” when she picked up her awards at both the BAFTAs and the Oscars! Some criticised this performance for being too “showy” but the theatrical nature of the story demands that kind of performance, and there might be a few moments which could be considered as such, but this is largely a repressed emotional powerhouse of a performance. Viola’s character of Rose spends so much of the film in the shadows and behind Denzel Washington’s Troy, who up to a point has all the big moments and big speeches. When Rose finally gets her moment and all that pent up rage and emotion is released, it is absolutely staggering to watch. Davis is an extraordinary actress and this is easily one of her strongest performances to date. Her performance is honest, raw, devastating, captivating and in many ways unflattering, but always, always, amazing.