Best of 2016 – Lead Actress


Each year I set aside time to examine and spotlight what I think are the best performances of the past movie year. In keeping with the upcoming Oscars I have adopted their format and for the next several days I’ll be highlighting the very best performances for each of the four acting categories. Much like in the supporting category, women had a ton of fabulous performances to consider which made this tough to narrow down. Nonetheless these are my five favorites.

#5 – Sarah Paulson (“Blue Jay”)


In “Blue Jay” (the first of Netflix’s multi-picture deal with Mark Duplass) two high school sweethearts bump into each after years apart. Duplass and Sarah Paulson start by reminiscing over the past but soon open up painful old wounds. Paulson is a true highlight. Much of her performance features a considerable amount of improvisation but you never notice. She’s completely in tune with the material. A truly wonderful performance.

#4 – Amy Adams (“Arrival”)


It saddens me to see “Arrival” getting such little attention from the awards crowd, but one thing they have all recognized was the fine work from Amy Adams. In Denis Villeneuve’s cerebral science fiction thriller Adams takes the role of a linguist but (as the director himself said) first she is a mother. That adds an entirely different layer to the role which Adams handles with an understated beauty.

#3 – Rebecca Hall (“Christine”)


“Christine” tells the sad, tragic story of the final days in the life of news reporter Christine Chubbock. Rebecca Hall’s portrayal of Chubbock is unquestionably one of the year’s most unforgettable performances. Hall’s handling of depression, loneliness, and self-doubt is brilliantly agonizing. Hall gives every ounce of herself, physically and mentally transforming into a deeply troubled real-life character. It’s incredible work.

#2 – Emma Stone (“La La Land”)


I can finally say I am sold on Emma Stone. What a performance in this Damien Chazelle modern day musical. Channeling beats from the MGM musical heyday but with a real-world messiness, Stone acts, dances and sings her way through this uplifting yet bittersweet story. This had to be impossible to visualize, but Stone hits it with a full commitment to every task she is given. The results are magical.

#1 – Kate Beckinsale (“Love & Friendship”)


How, oh how, has Kate Beckinsale not been given the awards attention she so richly deserves for her superb performance in Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship”. It is such a tricky role. Beckinsale nails this wacky mixture of beautiful eloquence and casual toxicity. She’s both charming and appalling. I love the other performances I’ve mentioned, but there was nothing quite like Beckinsale.

Those are my picks for the five best lead actress performances. See something you agree or disagree with? Please let me know in the comments section below.

38 thoughts on “Best of 2016 – Lead Actress

  1. Although I haven’t seen Kate Beckinsale’s performance, and I do think Amy Adam’s was phenomenal in Arrival, for me, Emma Stone’s performance in La La Land is utter brilliance! Despite being a musical, her performance remains grounded and realistic, but that’s not to say that she doesn’t charm when it comes to the bigger musical numbers. Her performance is truly magical and by God I hope she’s nominated for an Oscar.

    • Agree 100% with everything you said. I think Stone is guaranteed an Oscar nomination. In fact I feel she is the frontrunner and I wouldn’t mind a bit if she won. We will know how that category shapes up in a few days.

  2. I don’t understand lead actress nomination. Isn’t that statue gold? I always thought lead was a dangerous thing to be making them things with.

  3. I’m finally going to see Arrival this weekend, it’s about time I caught that movie.

    I would agree with you about Emma Stone. While I’ve enjoyed her in other films, I’ve never been truly sold on her acting abilities until I watched La La Land. I’m sure she’ll win the Oscar for her terrific performance.

    • I have had exactly the same experience with Stone in the past. Not a bad actress at all, but La La Land completely changed my perspective. Definitely should see Arrival. Let me know what you think.

    • High five! I had her at #2 but the more I thought about her performance the more I believed it was the best. It’s such a shame she isn’t getting more awards attention.

      • I agree. As much as I like Emma Stone and Amy Adams, Kate really showed something in that film that I didn’t expect and those are often the performances that stick out.

      • Yep. I’ve always liked Beckinsale but never thought of her as a great actress. Stillman really tapped into something. She’s got some chops.

  4. I’ve always loved Emma Stone but she was simply amazing in La La Land 🙂 I haven’t seen Love & Friendship yet but I’ve seen it crop up on a few other bloggers lists too so I’m going to have to check it out!

  5. I’ve only seen Arrival, Christine, and La La Land from your picks but they’d definitely make my Best Actress line up too along with Natalie Portman in Jackie and Taraji P. Henson for Hidden Figures.

    • I still believe the women had the best year. It was so great to see! I loved Henson’s work. I hated to leave off Juliette Binoche for her performance in “The Wait”, Lou de Laâge in “The Innocents”, Ruth Negga in “Loving”, etc etc etc

  6. I disliked Adams to put it mildly but Beckinsale was great. Really looking forward to Hall but I’m not in the greatest mood lately and the film seems very dark so I don’t know when I will see it

    • “Christine” is quite somber. You definitely should see it. But ya know, it’ll still be there when you’re feeling a bit better. Give it a little time.

    • Thanks so much. Women really shined this year didn’t they? It was so good to see the many strong female performances that stretched across numerous genres.

    • I loved Adams too. I just recently caught Christine which completely changed this list. I absolutely had to include Rebecca Hall. Wait till you see her performance!

    • Because outside of the local awards group it hasn’t been. Outside of Adams the Globes completely shut it out. BAFTA definitely gave it love. Hopefully Oscar follows BAFTA instead of the Globes.

  7. I loved Emma’s performance and even Amy Adams but one performance that I think is being overlooked is viola Davis in fences its so powerful and one seen that I is a great one take unbroken shot is her showing her frustration and tears rolling off her face as she has this great back and forth with Denzel Washington’s character really showed her prowess as a actress

    • Viola is absolutely superb. She was #1 on my list of Supporting Actresses. Absolutely phenomenal. I think a good case could be made for her as lead actress. She is such an important ingredient to that story.

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