Year in Review: The Best Actors of 2016

Wyatt Muma ’18/ Emertainment Monthly Executive Movies Editor
2016 has been an interesting year all around. While women certainly dominated the conversation over the past 365 days, actors in an array of exciting projects turned out stirring performances. Without a clear frontrunner for the Oscar, these ten performers are those who should be recognized for the talent and passion they brought to the cinema this past year.
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea. Photo Credit: Amazon Studios.
What is there to say about Casey Affleck that hasn’t already been said? No longer will anyone ever refer to him as Ben Affleck’s little brother, as Manchester by the Sea brings him into the spotlight in a way we haven’t seen before. His quiet rumination as Lee Chandler is concurrently heartbreaking and hilarious. In just a few lines and motions, you feel the pain and heartbreak he carries with him everyday. It’s absolutely revelatory.
Colin Farrell, The Lobster
Colin Farrell in The Lobster. Photo Credit: A24.
Colin Farrell has floundered in recent years. Too often, he plays straight-laced characters in bland action ‘paint by numbers’ studio fare. It’s nice to see him return to his In Bruges roots, playing another darkly comedic character. His frumpy, quiet performance as David is one of the year’s most memorable. When he’s funny, he’s really funny. Luckily for audiences, The Lobster delivers funny Farrell in spades.
Idris Elba, The Jungle Book, Zootopia, & Finding Dory
The Jungle Book. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures.
Idris Elba didn’t have much in the way of live action roles this year, but deserves credit for giving diverse voice over performances in three of this year’s top films. Whether playing a sadistic tiger, strict police chief, or joking seal, Elba’s talent and range were highlighted in all three Disney flicks. Too often voice performances are overlooked. If anything, these three characters prove that Elba has a range that we haven’t been able to fully experience in his live action roles. Someone please make this man the next Bond!
Denzel Washington, Fences
Denzel Washington in Fences. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.
Watching Fences is like taking a master class in filmed performance. Denzel Washington, acting as both director and star, gives this film his all, laying it all out on the table. His dedication and passion shine through in every line and tense glance. Years of pent up frustration come spilling out of the screen. It’s hard to remember when film has seen another male actor give so much to a role. It’s not only revolutionary, but also absolutely gripping.
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Mahershala Ali in Moonlight. Photo Credit: A24.
In a movie as stunningly original as Moonlight, it’s a credit to Ali that his role as Juan is the most exciting and memorable piece. Seeing his character grapple with horrible circumstances is incredibly moving and enlightening. If early award shows are any indication, he better start preparing an Oscars acceptance speech.
Daniel Radcliffe, Swiss Army Man
Daniel Radcliffe in Swiss Army Man. Photo Credit: A24.
Sure, Daniel Radcliffe’s role in Swiss Army Man isn’t much more than a glorified mannequin. That being said, the level of physical comedy achieved in this role is something we haven’t seen from any other character Radcliffe has ever portrayed. It’s easy to write him off as just an angst-y boy wizard, but Swiss Army Man proves that Daniel Radcliffe has much more in him. His revelatory comedy chops made this one of the most delightful films of the year.
Shia LaBeouf, American Honey
Shia LaBeouf in American Honey. Photo Credit: A24.
It seems odd that Shia LaBeouf would ever be considered in a countdown of best performances, but 2016 has been a year of firsts all around. LaBeouf’s role of Jake in Andrea Arnold’s magnum opus is a calculated and appropriate characterization of modern American youth. In a film populated with a bunch of wack-jobs, Jake is both wonderfully deceptive and intoxicating. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a new ‘LaBeouf-sance.’
Tom Holland, Captain America: Civil War
Tom Holland in Captain America: Civil War. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures.
For too long, screen depictions of Spider-Man have just seemed passable. While in the comics, he’s always been one of the most vivid and exciting characters, something always got lost in translation. As far as screen debuts go, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker was one of the most exciting of the year. His scenes in Civil War grounded the film and gave audiences a new hero to get excited about.
Patrick Stewart, Green Room
Patrick Stewart in Green Room. Photo Credit: A24.
In one of the most delightful surprises of 2016, Green Room was a genre film that transcended stereotypes and definition. In a menagerie of great performances, Patrick Stewart stood out from the crowd. For too long, we’ve seen him regulated to popcorn fare that doesn’t do justice to his dramatic talents. As a ruthless neo-nazi, Stewart is able to let lose and fully utilize that frightening baritone. His role is a fantastic return to form, and one of the most insidious performances in recent memory.
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge & Silence
Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge. Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment.
Andrew Garfield seems to be ingrained in many people’s minds as second fiddle. From his unappreciated role as Eduardo in The Social Network, to the Spider-Man most audiences consider subpar, Garfield has spent a lot of time just skating by in Hollywood. With leading roles in both Hacksaw Ridge and Silence, Garfield has come into center stage. Both performances are evocative and powerful considerations of religion and its deep effects on worldview. The characters find their beliefs tested and stick to their guns against incredible odds. If these are any sign of what’s to come from Garfield in the future, he shouldn’t be discounted just yet.

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