My Favorite Female Supporting Performances of 2016

Every January, I make myself pick out specific performances I loved from the previous year. I spend so much time talking about movies, but I don’t actually give credit to specific performances. The only time I’ll talk about them is when I’m going over the Oscars. Which isn’t the same thing.

The great thing about lists like this is that it forces you to consider everything. You immediately start thinking of the performances that are nominated for the awards. But if you consider each and every movie you saw from the year (and I did. All 350 of them), and think about how you really felt about all the specific performances, you’re gonna be surprised which ones you actually liked best. (Especially if you can be honest about it and don’t think about what’s already out there, which few people are willing to be.)

Today I’ll be covering all the female supporting performances I loved. They’re in order, but they’re not really in any order. The numbers don’t matter. These are just the ones I enjoyed the most. We’re not talking about awards-worthy or whatever.

So here are my favorite female supporting performances of 2016:

1. Viola Davis, Fences

I didn’t love this performance, but I didn’t really love any of these performances. There was a real dearth of female supporting performances this year. But Viola Davis is a powerhouse performer given a powerhouse role. And she knocks it out of the park, so I’ll give her #1. She’s very good here.

2. Naomie Harris, Moonlight

It’s the kind of role designed to get this high. And she’s effective in it. Again, not something that would normally end up this high, but without anything I truly loved this year, I’m willing to but her second. She’s very strong, and makes quite the impression when she’s on screen.

3. Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

She delivers one of the most powerful monologues of the year in one of the most emotional scenes of the year. It’s a really terrifically acted scene, and the rest of the performance is really solid at that. In a stronger year, I’d play down the performance and say, “It’s just one scene.” But there are multiple solid scenes here, and in a year like this, that one scene beats most other full performances.

4. Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures & Moonlight

She just bursts off the screen. I first saw her in Moonlight and was instantly captivated by her. I sat there during her scenes wondering, “Who is this?” I actually had to know who it was before the movie ended. Then I saw it was her and was floored. She makes such a strong impression and really delivers a beautiful performance. And then Hidden Figures, in a more traditional role, she’s also really charming. That’s the one that will make most people take notice of her, and rightfully so. It’s a role designed to do that. But for my money, the Moonlight performance is the one that really impressed me.

5. Margaret Bowman, Hell or High Water

This performance should be in everyone’s top five. There is no more memorable scene and more memorable character of 2016 than this woman. I don’t even need to tell you who she played. You already know. She stole this entire movie with four simple words: “What don’t you want?” It’s one scene, but she’s so good, she got a laugh even when she’s not on screen! There’s the scene where Bridges and the other cop are waiting outside, and you see her casually leaving after her shift and going to her car, and I and everyone in the theater all went, Oh shit, it’s her!” And you know you’ve got a memorable performance when that happens. That’s like if you have a run-in with someone at the mall and then casually see them later on at the food court and are like, “Look, there they are.” Easily the most memorable supporting performance of 2016. It’s not even close.

6. Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women

I generally don’t like her in stuff, but she’s strong here. And it’s not that I think she’s a bad actress. I actually like seeing her on screen. But it always feels as though she’s doing the same thing over and over. And here, I felt there was more depth to the character. I think it’s because she’s so often playing the same hipster, twenty-something. And here, there’s the whole thing about her ovaries, and all the shit she’s going through — I was really impressed with what she did.

7. Mackenzie Davis, A Country Called Home

A performance that almost no one saw. She’s been quietly impressing me for a few years now, and this one made me go, “Oh, nobody’s gonna talk about this one, are they?” She plays a transgender country singer. Imogen Poots goes back to her small town to care for her dying father. She meets Mackenzie Davis’ character and becomes friends with him. And it’s just a wonderful performance. One of those so solid and so supporting for the film that it’s destined to go unnoticed and underrated. But I knew within five minutes this was one of those performances that was gonna stick with me throughout the year because it’s just so well done.

8. Veronica Osorio, Hail Caesar!

This is a perfect Carmen Miranda impersonation. Maybe not impersonation. Pastiche. Homage. What have you. She’s wonderful here. Perfectly charming, and there’s not enough of her in this movie.

9. Sarah Gadon, Indignation

She’s really strong here. The supporting performances in this movie are really quite good. I’ve liked her since I saw her in… I think Cosmopolis. She’s been turning in good work for a few years now. I like how the film keeps revealing layer after layer of her character. More of her in movies, please.

10. Angourie Rice, The Nice Guys

That’s right, I said it. I like precocious children roles, especially when they’re written by Shane Black. (I didn’t even mind the kid in Iron Man 3. Yeah, you heard me.) She’s really good here, and I think this is worthy of being mentioned.

11. Felicity Jones, A Monster Calls

This should have been top five, but what are you gonna do. She accomplishes everything she can, but I wish she got more screen time to flesh out the relationship between her and the kid a bit more. But she’s effective in the limited time she does get. It’s a difficult role to play, and she handles it really well.


12. Nicole Kidman, Lion

I’ve given her a fair share of flack over the years, since she never quite does it for me on screen. I don’t know why. But I can’t argue with this performance. She’s really good here.

13. Lucy Boynton, Sing Street

She’s really great here. It’s the perfect example of the “dream girl” stereotype who turns out to be a complex and interesting character. Well handled, and well acted. Not a starmaking performance, per say, but definitely one that will get her on her way to that in the future.

14. Lupita Nyong’o, Queen of Katwe

Gotta love the strong mother figure. It’s watered down Disney filmmaking, but Lupita delivers. She’s such a powerful film presence and really shines whenever she’s on screen.

15. Molly Shannon, Other People

I typically don’t go for these obvious types of performances, but without having much else to go for, she made the list. It’s solid work. She’s definitely very good here, and creates wonderful pathos for her character. She does this quite a bit, it seems, and never really gets any due for being a good actress.

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