Best Breakthrough Performances Of 2016

Abbey Lee as Sarah in “The Neon Demon”
Lee appeared in our honorable mentions in last year’s edition of this list for her small turn in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Trevante Rhodes as Black in “Moonlight”
If there was ever going to be any heartache on this list, it was going to concern Barry Jenkins‘ sublime “Moonlight,” which not only features an incredible ensemble, but has three relative rookie performers playing the same character at different phases of his life.

Lily Gladstone as Jamie The Rancher in “Certain Women”
This typically austere but deeply resonant triptych film recently became the first Kelly Reichardtmovie to make $1 million at the box office.

Lucas Hedges as Patrick in “Manchester By The Sea”
Kenneth Lonergan is a truly sensitive writer and director of actors, and thus has a history of getting revelatory performances from young stars in roles about complex parental relationships that’s as long as his (admittedly not very long) directorial career: from Rory Culkin‘s supporting turn in “You Can Count On Me” to Anna Paquin‘s astonishing performance in “Margaret.” In “Manchester By The Sea,” the honor goes to Lucas Hedges in the role of the recently bereaved Patrick, who is unexpectedly placed under the guardianship of his emotionally paralyzed uncle after the death of his father.

Royalty Hightower as Toni in “The Fits”
Anna Rose Holmer’s Sundance sensation “The Fits” is one of the most original and striking feature debuts in years —it’s the story of a young dance troupe in Cincinnati overtaken by a wave of possibly hysterical fits.

Sasha Lane as Star in “American Honey”
Andrea Arnold‘s dappled, kinetic, impressionistic portrait of a disenfranchised, tomorrowless tribe of young people grifting their way across America selling magazine subscriptions, is a film that delights in its fleeting imagery.

Michael Barbieri as Tony in “Little Men”
The small pleasures of Ira Sachs‘ compassionate but clear-eyed take on growing up in gentrifying Brooklyn are innumerable, but the most unmistakable new discovery comes in the small package that is Michael Barbieri.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin in “The Witch”
We’ve been living with Robert Eggers’ outstanding horror debut for nearly two years now, since it premiered at Sundance 2015, but despite its release (to bona-fide sleeper hit numbers) more than a year later, we’re nowhere near over talking up its finer points.

Hayden Szeto as Erwin in “The Edge of Seventeen”
Kelly Fremon Craig‘s surprise critical favorite, the adorable “The Edge of Seventeen” boasts terrific performances across the board, from Woody Harrelson‘s reluctant mentor teacher, to newcomer Haley Lu Richardson as the best friend turned (putative) frenemy, to relative veteran Hailee Steinfeld‘s lead role as the truculent central teen, Nadine. But the scene stealer is probably Hayden Szeto, who plays Erwin, a well-meaning and clearly smitten Asian classmate of Nadine’s, whose social ineptitude and sweet clumsiness provide a lot of laughs, but whose and ultimate shy wisdom also gives it so much of its heart.

Ruth Negga as Mildred Loving in “Loving”
It’s always a bit of a knife edge as to whether more established actors who simply had a great year should appear on this list or contend for the main best performances list later, and we can’t say there’s a hard-and-fast rule. But it can’t be denied that Negga, though we’ve had our eye on as a series regular on “Agents of SHIELD” and various U.K.

Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in “Captain America: Civil War”
In a way it feels like a cheat to have Holland on this list, as the second he got cast as the new Spider-Man, on the back of his impressive turn in 2012’s “The Impossible” his breakout-star status was assured — you don’t get to anchor a new Marvel franchise without ending up a massive star, even were you to trip over your shoelaces in every scene and constantly flub your lines.

Sandra Hüller as Ines in “Toni Erdmann”
As orchestrated by writer/director Maren Ade, “Toni Erdmann” is essentially a two-hander, and it feels slightly absurd to be leaving Peter Simonischek‘s fantastically bearish, bumbling but sharp-edged performance, as Ines’ well-meaning but inarticulate and often embarrassing jokester father, off this list.

Kwak Do-won as Jong-goo in “The Wailing”
Typically, actors in Korean cinema tend only to become recognised internationally when they’re established stars at home, when they’re in constant collaboration with an established auteur

Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in “Stranger Things”
While television has gifted us some amazing performances this year, few shows had the instantaneous cultural impact of “Stranger Things”

Markees Christmas as Morris in “Morris From America”
It’s been a good year for peculiarly touching coming-of-age films that put a fresh twist on a jaded genre, and while we very nearly went for Julian Dennison‘s adorable turn as Ricky Baker in Taika Waititi‘s lovely “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” he was just pipped at the post by newcomer Christmas in Chad Hartigan‘s “Morris From America.

Krisha Fairchild as Krisha in “Krisha”
Amid a list characterised elsewhere by the delicacy and subtlety of many of the performances, there is one utterly ferocious turn, and it is by a 65 year-old actress whose CV prior is mostly composed of nameless bit-parts — “The Mother,” “Truck-stop Cook,” “Sturdy Woman” etc.

Tom Bennett as Sir James in “Love and Friendship”
Something of a British TV stalwart at this stage, Tom Bennett really sprang onto everyone’s radars this year, with his delectable turn in Whit Stillman‘s crisp, witty and deeply enjoyable Jane Austenadaptation

Janelle Monáe as Teresa in “Moonlight”/Mary in “Hidden Figures”
Triple threat Monáe only graduated from being a double threat (musician and model) in 2016, but her two supporting roles in two presumptive Oscar heavy-hitters are a great introduction. Because it’s more our speed, it’s fair to say Monáe would have landed on this list for “Moonlight” alone, even though the role of Teresa, the girlfriend of Mahershala Ali‘s Juan, who becomes a surrogate mother to Chiron as his own descends further into addiction, has scant screen time.

Wyatt Russell as Charlie in “Everybody Wants Some”/Cooper in “Black Mirror”
As close as we get to Hollywood royalty these days — he’s the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, and the younger half-brother of Kate Hudson — Wyatt Russell has been popping up here and there in films like “22 Jump Street” and “Cold In July,” but really showed that he got the family genes with an impressive 2016. First, he was something of a scene-stealer among the ensemble of “Everybody Wants Some!!”

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