2016’s Best Actors: Top 10 Outstanding Performances of 2016

Manchester by the Sea stars Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges
Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges in ‘Manchester by the Sea’ (Photo credit: Claire Folger, Courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)

It was surprisingly easy to pull together a Top 10 list of the best actors of 2016. There were 10 actors whose performances stood apart, and these performances weren’t all delivered in awards season dramas. Casey Affleck, the odds-on favor to win the Best Actor Academy Award, obviously made the cut for his moving portrayal of a man forced to re-engage with the world in Manchester by the Sea. Ryan Gosling also earned multiple awards nominations from critics groups as well as a Screen Actors Guild nomination for his outstanding performance in La La Land, and he makes our list for that romantic musical as well as the comedy, The Nice Guys. However, Colin Farrell also earned a spot on this Top 10 list and thus far his performance in The Lobster has gone largely unrecognized by awards bodies. Jesse Plemons, terrific in season two of Fargo, has also gone largely unrecognized other than a Spirit Awards Best Actor nomination for his stand-out work in Other People.

It seems even Ryan Reynolds is surprised by how many nominations Deadpool has received, and he made our list of best actors for bringing a trash-talking comic book character with a wicked sense of humor to life on the screen. The much-deserved buzz surrounding Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of a dad living off the grid in Captain Fantastic (released in July) has been growing stronger following the release of all potential Oscar contenders. And while some awards prognosticators had Andrew Garfield listed as a potential Best Actor Oscar nominee for Martin Scorsese’s Silence, following that film’s unveiling the buzz has all but died out. Garfield still made our list for his portrayal of a conscientious objector in Hacksaw Ridge. And Joel Edgerton can always be counted on to deliver an outstanding performance and he did so once again in Loving, based on a true story.

Filling out the two remaining spots on our 2016 Best Actors list are Adam Driver for his breakthrough performance in the indie drama, Paterson, and Chris Pine for being the lead in one of the year’s most memorable films, Hell or High Water.

2016’s Top 10 Best Actors:

  1. Casey AffleckManchester by the Sea
    The Plot: After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee Chandler (Affleck) is shocked to learn that Joe has made him sole guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Taking leave of his job, Lee reluctantly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for Patrick, a spirited 15-year-old, and is forced to deal with a past that separated him from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the community where he was born and raised. Bonded by the man who held their family together, Lee and Patrick struggle to adjust to a world without him.
  2. Ryan GoslingLa La Land (and The Nice Guys)
    The La La Land Plot: La La Land tells the story of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Gosling), a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts. Set in modern day Los Angeles, this original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of pursuing your dreams.
  3. Joel EdgertonLoving
    The Plot: From acclaimed writer/director Jeff Nichols, Loving celebrates the real-life courage and commitment of an interracial couple, Richard (Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga), who married and then spent the next nine years fighting for the right to live as a family in their hometown. Their civil rights case, Loving v. Virginia, went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1967 reaffirmed the very foundation of the right to marry – and their love story has become an inspiration to couples ever since.
  4. Ryan ReynoldsDeadpool
    The Plot: Based upon Marvel Comics’ most unconventional anti-hero, Deadpool tells the origin story of former Special Forces operative turned mercenary Wade Wilson (Reynolds), who after being subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopts the alter ego Deadpool. Armed with his new abilities and a dark, twisted sense of humor, Deadpool hunts down the man who nearly destroyed his life.
  5. Colin FarrellThe Lobster
    The Plot: A love story set in the near future where single people, according to the rules of The City, are arrested and transferred to The Hotel. There they are obliged to find a matching mate in 45 days. If they fail, they are transformed into an animal of their choosing and released into The Woods. A desperate Man escapes from The Hotel to The Woods where The Loners live and falls in love, although it is against their rules.
  6. Andrew GarfieldHacksaw Ridge
    The Plot: Hacksaw Ridge is the extraordinary true story of conscientious collaborator Desmond Doss (Garfield) who, in Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWII, saved 75 men without firing or carrying a gun. He believed the war was just, but killing was nevertheless wrong; he was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon. As an army medic, Doss single-handedly evacuated the wounded from behind enemy lines, braved fire while tending to soldiers and was wounded by a grenade and hit by snipers. He was the first conscientious objector to ever earn the Congressional Medal of Honor.
  7. Jesse PlemonsOther People
    The Plot: A struggling comedy writer (Plemons), fresh off a breakup and in the midst of the worst year of his life, returns to Sacramento to care for his dying mother.
  8. Viggo MortensenCaptain Fantastic
    The Plot: Deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, isolated from society, a devoted father (Mortensen) dedicates his life to transforming his six young children into extraordinary adults. But when a tragedy strikes the family, they are forced to leave this self-created paradise and begin a journey into the outside world that challenges his idea of what it means to be a parent and brings into question everything he’s taught them.
  9. Adam DriverPaterson
    The Plot: Paterson (Driver) is a bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey – they share the name. Every day, Paterson adheres to a simple routine: he drives his daily route, observing the city as it drifts across his windshield and overhearing fragments of conversation swirling around him; he writes poetry into a notebook; he walks his dog; he stops in a bar and drinks exactly one beer. He goes home to his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). By contrast, Laura’s world is ever changing. New dreams come to her almost daily, each a different and inspired project. Paterson loves Laura and she loves him. He supports her newfound ambitions; she champions his secret gift for poetry. The history and energy of the City of Paterson is a felt presence in the film and its simple structure unfolds over the course of a single week. The quiet triumphs and defeats of daily life are observed, along with the poetry evident in its smallest details.
  10. Chris PineHell or High Water
    The Plot: A story about the collision of the Old and New West, two brothers — Toby (Pine), a straight-living, divorced father trying to make a better life for his son; and Tanner (Ben Foster), a short-tempered ex-con with a loose trigger finger — come together to rob branch after branch of the bank that is foreclosing on their family land. The hold-ups are part of a last-ditch scheme to take back a future that powerful forces beyond their control have stolen from under their feet. Vengeance seems to be theirs until they find themselves in the crosshairs of a relentless, foul-mouthed Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) looking for one last triumph on the eve of his retirement. As the brothers plot a final bank heist to complete their plan, a showdown looms at the crossroads where the last honest law man and a pair of brothers with nothing to live for except family collide.

Best Actors – Honorable Mentions:

Sunny Pawar in Lion
Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe in Swiss Army Man
Matthew McConaughey in Gold

More Best of 2016 Lists:

The Top 20 Movies of 2016 / Top 10 Action Films / Best Actresses

2017’s Top 15 Actors