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2016's Most Underrated Performances


2016 is almost completely behind us now that we're almost two full weeks into January, so I'm releasing another annual list exploring the most underrated acting performances of this past year. There was a long list of options I needed to carefully sift through to compile this list. Also, quite a few "fringe" options tip-toed the line between underrated and modestly recognized. In fact, if a performance drew awards season honors from any notable Critics Groups, then I deemed it ineligible. That's why quality work from talents like Rebecca Hall (Christine), Hayley Squires & Dave Johns (I, Daniel Blake), John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), Felicity Jones & Lewis MacDougall (A Monster Calls) and Janelle Monae (Moonlight & Hidden Figures) won't be found in my Top 10. Therefore, knowing my criteria for inclusion, here are 2016's most underrated performances:

Honorable Mention: Billy Crudup (20th Century Women), Sarah Paulson (Blue Jay), Kristen Stewart (Cafe Society), Chris Messina (Live by Night) and Ryan Gosling (The Nice Guys)


#10. George MacKay (Captain Fantastic)


Much has been made about leading star, Viggo Mortensen's, Best Actor run during the awards season. Yet, arguably Captain Fantastic's most compelling character, the eldest son Bo (played by MacKay), steals the film. MacKay's conflicted character possesses immaculate book-smarts, but has the social skills of a gnat. His awkward relationship with a teenage girl he meets during his travels is absolutely priceless and MacKay even shines in the supporting role with a dramatic Oscar-worthy scene.


#9. Taron Egerton (Eddie the Eagle)


You wouldn't believe me if I told you, but Kingsman's sleek and suave leading man, Taron Egerton, is actually the same person pictured above. But physical transformations aside, Egerton's turn as a physically unfit athlete with Olympic dreams elevates Eddie the Eagle from hokey biopic to meaningful true-story drama. Egerton truly is the soul of the film and, believe me, one exists throughout this often comical examination of the strangest Olympian ever.


#8. Mark Duplass (Blue Jay)


There's an aura of desperation surrounding Alex Lehmann's directorial debut, Blue Jay. Shown strictly in black & white, this emotional and mostly-improvised drama keeps the camera on its sensational leading co-stars, Mark Duplass & Sarah Paulson. Both performances are tender and frail as these former high school sweethearts cross paths years after a devastating break-up. Duplass has long been a phenomenal indie filmmaking voice and his powerful work continues with this shamefully overlooked portrayal.


#7. Jesse Eisenberg (Cafe Society)


There's always a common feeling behind Woody Allen's career work. And his latest film, Cafe Society, stands on the higher end of that narrow spectrum. Jesse Eisenberg shines in what many would label a typical role for the actor. And while it's difficult to argue against that notion, it's also impossible to deny his charming performance. Eisenberg's character is doe-eyed and naive as he ventures from New York to Los Angeles in order to break into the film industry. As a former Academy Award Nominee, Eisenberg's role in Cafe Society serves as a reminder of his elite abilities.


#6. Susan Sarandon (The Meddler)


True to its name, Susan Sarandon can feel so frustrating, annoying and even endearing in Lorene Scafaria's small-time festival darling, The Meddler. Sarandon stars as a lonely widow who follows her daughter to Los Angeles and weasels her way into the lives of everyone she meets. She achieves the essence of her character so perfectly and it makes for a quality film. But despite all of the character's irritating qualities, Sarandon still comes off as sweet and lovable as she slowly begins to build a life of her own.


#5. Woody Harrelson (The Edge of Seventeen)


Woody Harrleson has always been one of those actors who can do no wrong, and he confirms it once again in Kelly Fremon Craig's coming-of-age comedy, The Edge of Seventeen. It came as a pleasant surprise, but Harrelson's role as a teacher-mentor ends up much larger than I ever expected. His natural comedic delivery serves as a wonderful complement to the character's pseudo-careless attitude. Yet, deep down Harrelson is a compassionate and caring figure to this clumsy teenage girl whose life seems to be falling apart.


#4. Gillian Jacobs (Don't Think Twice)


Evident by its strong showing on my Top 10 Films of the Year list, Mike Birbiglia's Don't Think Twice is as genuine and authentic a film as you can make. Outside of its slightly tempered, although immensely plentiful, humor, the movie does an amazing job of examining human behavior, and none was more fascinating than Gillian Jacobs' role as, Samantha. Her subtle performance crafts a layered character that's equal parts perplexing, simplistic and hopeful. Not only does Jacobs possess an innate ability to make the audience laugh, but she also demonstrates the talents to elicit and emotional response as well.


#3. Aaron Eckhart (Sully)


Aaron Eckhart has enjoyed a lengthy career of quality work, but the actor's role in Clint Eastwood's Sully is clearly one of his most memorable. Tom Hanks stars as the film's title character, but Eckhart injects a witty tone that ads levity to this true story of an emergency forced landing on the Hudson River. I was shocked to discover that Eckhart hadn't earned any awards recognition whatsoever for his portrayal of Captain Sully's loyal co-pilot. Yet, no matter what accolades Eckhart misses out on, I'll always admire this performance as one of his finest.


#2. Ashton Sanders (Moonlight)


Going from a familiar face like Aaron Eckhart to the newcomer, Ashton Sanders, it makes you appreciate how much talent is really out there. However, opportunity is everything and Ashton Sanders seizes his in Barry Jenkins' Best Picture contender, Moonlight. This gripping drama follows an impoverished Miami youth struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. Told through three distinct chapters, Sanders is masterful during the film's second segment where we witness the character's emotionally-ranging teenage years.Sanders effortlessly navigates through moments of anger, rage, betrayal and lust. Moonlight is a remarkably powerful film and Sanders plays a pivotal part in its overwhelming success.


#1. Christopher Plummer (Remember)


There's a bit of trickiness surrounding my top pick as the year's most underrated performance. Atom Egoyan's Canadian revenge thriller, Remember, hit theaters north of the border in 2015 (where Christopher Plummer, Egoyan and the film itself were recognized by Canadian film critics groups). However, Remember didn't reach U.S. theaters until early in 2016, where it received a limited release. Nonetheless, lead star Christopher Plummer gives a hypnotic performance as Zev, an elderly man who escapes from his retirement home to seek vengeance on the former Nazi prison guard who murdered his family at Auschwitz. The former Academy Award Winner shows he's still got it with a brilliant leading role that ended up completely ignored this year. This 95-minute treat serves up a phenomenal finale that begs to seen, so do yourself a favor and enjoy Christopher Plummer's top-flight acting in Remember.

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