Kim Min-Hee, The Handmaiden
Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch
Emma Stone, La La Land
Amy Adams, Arrival
Hailee Steinfeld, The Edge of Seventeen
It’s rare to see a star-making performance after a young actress has already been nominated for an Oscar, but Hailee Steinfeld absolutely pulls it off. Steinfeld owns this movie at every step, metering out both raw vulnerability and defensive sarcasm at every turn. Steinfeld doesn’t so much play a character as slip into a skin, becoming this difficult person who wants nothing more than someone to actually try and get through to them, even if she won’t let them. She wears so much emotional weight that it becomes an active relief when she gets to finally break down and release it. There’s few actors who can play both sympathetic and completely at fault for all their own problems, and recognizing how well Steinfeld does it is a necessity.
Dev Patel, Lion
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Colin Farrell, The Lobster
Adam Driver, Paterson
Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight
You want to talk incredible? Trevante Rhodes never met the other two people who played Chiron until after he made Moonlight, same with Mahershala Ali. Yet he builds his Chrion, nicknamed “Black,” out of their performances and weaves them into his own. You see his imitations of Ali’s Juan early on, shaded just the right way. It’s Juan’s confidence, but through a man who’s having to affect it. He’s creating a false confidence, trying to hide the hints of the broken young boy we saw, who keeps peeking through and who he keeps shoving down. Until he reunites with Kevin. He stops holding back that absolute vulnerability and pain he’s tried so long to forget, he goes back to that boy. Yet it never feels like he’s something else, Rhodes is creating his own performance, being his own man. His own man wearing the weight of difficult decades. It’s stunning and heartbreaking to watch, Rhodes is a truly amazing performer and his turn as Chiron is a stroke of true genius.
Kelly Fremon Craig, The Edge of Seventeen
Robert Eggers, The Witch
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Swiss Army Man
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Barry Jenkins is our next great filmmaker.If that isn’t one of the swirl of emotions you had in the aftermath of Moonlight, I suggest revisiting it. Jenkins gave himself a difficult task, creating three stories that link into a whole, telling a story with different actors across the years that manages different moods, tones, locations, and narrative focuses. Jenkins doesn’t succeed, but exceed. He makes each of the six actors playing his two leads feel absolutely connected as performers even though they never met. Every bit of the story links and connects into the other, even with calling card pieces of brilliance like the diner scene in Part 3. Jenkins is managing a small epic, and he does it with heart and empathy and a deep sense of personality. You leave Moonlight excited for the future of film, and you know that future will include Jenkins.