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Ranking the 20 Oscar-Nominated Acting Performances


Four weeks from today the Academy Awards will be honoring this year's most prolific performances. And while I've openly stated my personal opinion that 2016's cinematic year left me feeling rather underwhelmed, it's still impossible to ignore the quality performances that were given by a talented crop of actors and actresses. The Oscars aren't perfect, but in an opinion-based system in which operates, who really is? Yet, it's impossible to refute that Hollywood's biggest awards ceremony does a very admirable job of highlighting top-flight talent in all regards. So here are my individual rankings for the 20 Oscar-Nominated performances (December's list):

*** Note: It's VERY rare that I miss a nominated performance, however I haven't been able to catch the foreign film Elle this year (I will update this list as soon as I do).\


Unranked: Isabelle Huppert (Elle) ***


#19. Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)


I mean, honestly, the Academy passed on Amy Adams for this? Streep is an amazing actress, it can't be denied, but she doesn't deserve a nomination for every role based purely on reputation! Florence Foster Jenkins was a punishing watch and it's difficult to fathom all of the film's fanfare.


#18. Nicole Kidman (Lion)


I'm still baffled by Lion's ability to capture 6 Oscar Nominations. Harvey Weinstein's influence appears a bit unsettling as this middling account of a remarkable story continues to churn through the awards season. Kidman offers a decent performance in a very small and forgettable role.


#17. Dev Patel (Lion)


We go back-to-back with the performances from Lion that were nominated. And while Dev Patel's much larger and more impactful role clearly outshines Kidman's work, the performance still lacks the type of depth delivered by many other actors and actresses this year.


#16. Naomie Harris (Moonlight)


This is by no means a slight towards Barry Jenkins' outstanding indie drama, Moonlight, I just viewed Naomie Harris' role as a drug-addicted inner-city mother as stereotypical. It failed to push any boundaries and, in fact, I'd argue that Janelle Monae's supporting turn in the film was just as impressive, if not more.


#15. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)


Octavia Spencer's work represents another performance that I felt was overshadowed by the brilliance of co-star Janelle Monae. However, Spencer landed the nomination as she delivers another fine piece of acting in this year's crowd-pleaser, Hidden Figures.


#14. Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)


Mel Gibson's war-drama, Hacksaw Ridge, is another one of those films that critics and moviegoers adored much more than myself. Although I was put off by the film's odd inability to capture an appropriate tone, I will admit that leading star Andrew Garfield stands as Hacksaw Ridge's most glowing attribute. 


#13. Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)


Let me be clear, I believe the Academy went in the wrong direction here. Ben Foster offers a much more compelling and memorable character than Bridges, who admittedly gives an all-too familiar performance, but the veteran actor still shines in David Mackenzie's Hell or high Water.


#12. Ruth Negga (Loving)


As the fall of 2016 approached, early buzz placed Jeff Nichols' Loving as a legitimate Best Picture contender. However, as time marched closer to the awards season frenzy, the film's flame ultimately burned out. Yet, thankfully, leading lady Ruth Negga wasn't a casualty of time as she eked out a nomination for her soulful and deserving performance.


#11. Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)


Viggo Mortensen delivers a remarkable performance in one of the year's most prominent films, Captain Fantastic. The audience is transported into an unfathomable lifestyle that Mortensen and his co-stars give immense credence to. I completely believe that the film wouldn't have resonated like it did without Mortensen's towering achievements.


#10. Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)


Despite being my highest rated performance on this list from Moonlight, Mahershala Ali's strong work serves as a necessary component to 2016's best ensemble of any film. This tantalizing indie drama is far greater than the sum of its parts and Ali represents just one of the many exceptional turns scattered throughout the film.


#9. Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)


Lucas Hedges bursts onto the scene in Kenneth Lonergan's heavy-hitting drama, Manchester by the Sea. My initial reaction to the film was that the young performer's character was written a little poorly. Yet, upon further examination, the teenager's irrational reactions to his father's passing are actually captured in a more realistic manner than I initially thought. That revelation reaffirms just how impressive Hedges truly is in the film.


#8. Denzel Washington (Fences)


In the usual Denzel Washington fashion he gives a flashy, all-eyes-on-me type of performance in his own directed film, Fences. The actor's work is boisterous, loud and completely lacking in subtlety. Yet, the role gives him the ability to command the screen and Washington proves he can still do that with the best in the business.


#7. Ryan Gosling (La La Land)


Just in front of Denzel Washington is his Best Actor competitor, Ryan Gosling. Their rankings are very close, in my eyes, but for completely different reasons. Gosling's performance isn't quite as showy, but it blends together heart-filled emotion, charm and complexity that helps stamp La La Land as the year's finest film.


#6. Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)


There's a renegade-vibe to Michael Shannon's detective character in Nocturnal Animals. He's all about unbridled justice, a perplexing trait for a man of the law, as he helps a man seek retribution for his loss. Shannon continues to stand as one of the finest character-actors in the business.


#5. Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)


While supporting star, Michelle Williams, isn't given anywhere near the amount of screen time as many other actors and actresses on this list, she makes the most of every second in Manchester by the Sea. Her emotionally-battered character oozes with torment and sadness in one of the film's most pivotal scenes. This blistering interaction between Williams and Affleck is both powerful and unforgettable.


#4. Natalie Portman (Jackie)


Natalie Portman captures the perfect blend of melancholy and sadness in her eerie, life-like portrayal of former First Lady, Jackie Kennedy. Portman delves into the despair of her title character, reliving the bitter moments following her husband's unforeseen assassination. This somber examination isn't the most thrilling watch, but Portman gives the film a shocking sense of authenticity.


#3. Viola Davis (Fences)


Given her massive amount of screen time, it's almost unfair that Viola Davis is competing within the Best Supporting Actress race. The Fences co-star outshines her counterpart and director, Denzel Washington, to deliver one of the most fiery performances of the year. There's nothing "supporting" about this role as Davis stands as the most influential aspect of the film.


#2. Emma Stone (La La Land)


Perhaps I'm a little biased, as La La Land is clearly my favorite film of the year. Either way, Emma Stone represents the heart and soul of Damien Chazelle's whimsical tale of love and chasing your dreams. Stone's character hits home as she straddles the line of confidence and quitting, a contemplation we've all experienced in some form. She's magnificent in the role and deserving of her first Oscar statue.


#1. Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)


In a year filled with amazing work from talented actresses, somehow a man still finds a way to steal the spotlight. Casey Affleck offers a career-best performance that should (and better) earn him a first Oscar victory. I've heard many complaints from moviegoers regarding Kenneth Lonergan's long, drawn-out screenplay. Yet, Affleck's quiet and nuanced performance screams pain and agony with one of the year's most gut-wrenching turns. He bear-hugs the tattered soul of his character and puts on an acting display for the ages. Affleck is reason enough to witness the heartbreaking tale of Manchester by the Sea.


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