Best Of 2016: Breakthrough, Young, and Ensemble Performances

Below are my top five picks for Breakthrough Performance, aka Star Of Tomorrow. These are the five actors most likely to stick around and become the next big thing. Then we have my top five picks for Best Performance By A Young Actor, aka The Child Actor category. To top it off, we’ll end with my top five picks for Best Ensemble, or the five films where I basically felt every single person in the cast was acting their faces off, and they all deserve recognition.

Breakthrough Performance:

Honorable Mention: Riz Ahmed (Star Wars: Rogue One, Jason Bourne)
So Riz Ahmed had a very big year, but I couldn’t include him on this list. Not because I don’t think he’s breaking out, but because the reason I think he’s breaking out isn’t because of his film roles (though those are helping). His real reason for breaking out is the HBO miniseries The Night Of, in addition to his role in Netflix’s twisty The OA.

5) Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight)
He’s been in small roles in films since 2012, but it is time for Trevante to break out. I think what might hinder him is that Mahershala Ali is taking all the credit for Moonlight, so people are wondering who Trevante Rhodes is. You actually have to SEE Moonlight to appreciate Trevante, but once you do, you’ll understand the importance of casting him. One reason I think Hollywood might agree with me is that he’s signed on to The Predator remake being directed by Shane Black.

4) Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea)
His breakout status, of course, could be helped by whether or not he gets an Oscar nomination or not. Still, he got a ton of hype for his role, and I’m sure it has led to casting directors taking notice. Right now his most interesting upcoming project is an indie film directed by Greta Gerwig.

3) Sofia Boutella (Star Trek: Beyond)
The girl who was one of the better things about the third Star Trek movie has some impressive things coming up. She’s got The Coldest City, but she’s also the title character in The Mummy reboot opposite Tom Cruise. We might be seeing more and more of her in the next few years.

2) Alden Ehrenreich (Hail Caesar, Rules Don’t Apply)
This is probably the one that baffles me the most, but I can’t NOT include him because he got cast as fucking Han Solo. Almost every film he’s been in has been a flop, yet Hollywood is turning him into a star. Don’t believe me? In his short career, he’s managed to kill Beautiful Creatures, Stoker, Hail Caesar, and Rules Don’t Apply. I don’t really remember him from Blue Jasmine, but that’s really the only hit he’s had. Had he not gotten Han Solo, I would have assumed he’d be fading off into obscurity. However, you can’t land a role like that without Hollywood continuing to take chances with you, so Alden Ehrenreich will be around for a while until it becomes clear he’s just another Hayden Christensen.

1) Tom Holland (Captain America: Civil War)
Of course, he was actually cast as Spider-Man last year, so this is kinda cheating, but seeing him on screen, I believe, is what is making him my pick as star of tomorrow. I personally had already loved Holland in The Impossible, where he was fantastic. I think what changed was people seeing him as Peter Parker, and really loving him. His introduction in Civil War was one of the best things about the movie, which has gotten everyone hyped for the sequel this year. It has led him to being cast in other projects, like The Lost City Of Z (also this year), The Current war (opposite Benedict Cumberbatch), and Chaos Walking (with last year’s breakout Daisy Ridley). In addition to his future performances in the Marvel Universe, which will keep him front and center for years to come. In addition to the Spider-Man film this year, he’s already attached to Avengers: Infinity War, and a Spider-Man sequel.


5) Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys)
Playing the daughter of Ryan Gosling’s hapless private eye, Rice could have just been another annoying child character that exists solely to get herself into trouble. But she wasn’t that at all. She was smart, self-reliant, and actually ended up helping the investigation, as well as making the film better. She has a lot of poise and wisdom beyond her years, much like similar actresses Chloe Grace Moretz and Dakota Fanning have exhibited in the past. We should be seeing a lot more of her in the future.

4) Michael Barberi (Little Men)
When I reviewed the film, I mentioned I felt like had Al Pacino been a child actor, he would have been Michael Barberi. This kid has charisma to spare, and the kind of raw intensity rarely expressed by child actors. My only concern for his future is that Little Men was such an underseen film. I’m not sure if it was enough to break him out. Hopefully casting agents will continue to see the potential in this young actor and give him a much bigger opportunity to shine.

3) Neel Sethi (The Jungle Book)
As basically the only human character in one of the biggest hits of the year, Sethi has the daunting task of carrying the entire film. He had to play Mowgli, who everyone already had an expectation of, and he had to do it opposite a ton of CGI animals. It’s an impressive performance from someone so young, and I hope it isn’t just a one-off performance.

2) Judah Lewis (Demolition)
Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who saw Demolition, and the only one who was blown away by Judah Lewis as a young boy examining his own sexuality. Usually we don’t get honest portrayals of this by kids at his age. We often see teenagers exploring their sexuality, but never really a child. Never a pre-teen. And never with such depth and honesty as Lewis does in Demoltion. I was floored by his performance, and honestly baffled that he’s not in the Oscar conversation. I think he’s that good.

1) Sunny Pawar (Lion)
The first half of the film is basically just Sunny Pawar. It’s him running around, trying to stay alive, desperately trying to get back home. I believe he was only six years old when filming Lion, which makes his understanding of his role even more impressive. I never felt like he was acting, but always like he was a real kid they found and decided to follow on the streets. At this age, there can be a lot of bad acting from kids, but Pawar keeps it real the whole time. He could have ruined the film, which would have killed the films Oscar chances. He’s in far too much of the film, that had he been bad, the movie would not have survived. However, he was really really good, and he’s my pick for best performance by a child actor this year.


5) Hell or High Water
It feels almost like a cheat to include Hell Or High Water, because the films core ensemble is really just three men, but I felt everyone outside of Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Jeff Bridges did excellent in their roles. From the waitress who got an excellent tip, to the rancher helping with the manhunt, everyone felt real and contributed to just how fantastic this film is.

4) Fences
This film is not just one great performance by Denzel Washington. As I pointed out already in my review, I think Viola Davis steals this film from Denzel in many respects, but the supporting cast is terrific as well, with both Mykelti Wiliamson and Stephen Henderson being standouts for me. This is one of those rare films where I loved everyone in it.

3) Manchester By The Sea
Another film where you’d think the only reason to watch it was the lead performance by Casey Affleck, but you’d be wrong. Michelle Williams was great. Lucas Hedges was great. Gretchen Mol was great. Kyle Chandler was great. CJ Wilson was great. Everyone contributed to this film being as good as it is.

2) Captain Fantastic
A film full of really great child actors. I thought they all did a good job and none of them felt out of place. They felt like a cohesive family unit, and its what makes Captain Fantastic work so well. Of course, Viggo Mortensen is fantastic, but other actors pop up too in strong roles, like Frank Langella. But really, this film made this list because of the core family unit, and those kids that made the whole film work.

1) Moonlight
A film where just everyone on screen is doing great work. I’m frustrated with Mahershala Ali being the breakout performance from this film because I felt like there were so many great supporting actor turns. Basically, because of how the film is set in three different acts, everyone is supporting because no one actor dominates the screen. Really, only Naomie Harris is in all three acts, and she’s still definitely a supporting character. I thought all three actors who played the protagonist were great, especially Trevante Rhodes, who pairs really well with Andre Holland in the end. Heartbreaking work.

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