This is the first of five Top Five lists for this week. Each day, Monday through Friday, will see a new 50/50 column covering the first half (50 down, 50 to go) of my March to 100. Well . . . the first 49, I suppose. But 49/51 doesn’t have the same ring. If Thursday night’s number 50 deserves a spot on any of these lists, I’ll give it its due.
The first list is the Top Five Standout Performances of the first half of 2016. Performances are oft overlooked in favor of just seeing what happens in a movie. Discovering how the story plays out is only part of a film-watching experience and a strong performance can be incentive for re-watching a film over and over throughout the years following its release. Here are my Top Five Standout Performances from January through June of 2016.
Yes, I might be a little bit in celebrity-love with Emilia Clarke. But that doesn’t get her a spot on this list. The fact is, after owning it on Game of Thrones, she needed a role to like this to show her versatility and avoid typecasting as her career progresses. But, once she landed the role, she still had to put that potential versatility on display. And she did that. She was charming and funny and is largely to credit for the movie being as successful with audiences as it has been. Me Without You without Emilia Clarke would have been flat and heartless.
4. Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool
Nothing was more integral to the success of Deadpool than the casting of Wade Wilson, himself. Of course, it was well-known long before the cameras rolled that Ryan Reynolds was going to be the man. And without his dedication to the role and the project, Deadpool would have probably never even seen the light of day. And, if it had, it likely would have failed. He provided the humor and heart necessary for the character to translate to a mass audience and lots of people at 20th Century Fox owe him a great deal of gratitude.
3. Mary Elizabeth Winstead/John Goodman – 10 Cloverfield Lane
This is probably cheating. But it’s my list and they’re my rules. And I can’t in good conscience mention either one of these two without the other. Both Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman turned in powerful and memorable performances that took a well-written project and elevated it into a nerve-shaking experience. With both actors injecting layered nuances and subtleties into their characters, the audience was allowed to let themselves be sucked into the narrative and live vicariously through the talents as they left it all up on the screen. As exciting as the events in the film are, Winstead and Goodman are the main attraction.
2. Tom Holland – Captain America: Civil War
After two previous film versions of Spider-Man and the mixed response to the more recent of the two, no actor had a tougher job at the movies thus far in 2016 than the new Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Tom Holland. That job was to introduce the new version of the iconic character to audiences within the safe and protected cushion of a larger project whose success didn’t hinge on audience’s acceptance of his incarnation. But even though the success of Civil War was not reliant upon the execution of Spider-Man, that didn’t preclude future projects from being dependent upon Holland’s performance and Marvel’s new vision. Well, Holland stepped up and killed it. His version is the definitive take on the character, far superior to anything we’ve seen on-screen before. The previous actors who inhabited the role, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, both had their strengths and weaknesses, but Holland was all strength. He had the weight of an entire universe, not just a world, on his shoulders and he came through with flying – sorry, swinging – colors.
1. Blake Lively – The Shallows
Blake Lively was the clear winner from the start of this column. Though many will unfairly refer to The Shallows as “the shark movie”, it really should be called “the Blake Lively movie”. As cool as the shark was, the entire project was riding on Lively’s shoulders and on her ability to communicate the experience to the audience. If we couldn’t believe Lively, we wouldn’t believe the shark. She projected heart, intelligence, power, and strength in the face of abject terror and did it all so convincingly that we actually cheered for her and not for the shark. Sony was counting on her and it paid off, literally, as the opening weekend haul was more than twice the studio’s high-end expectations. The shark probably got a lot of people to the theater for the first couple of days. But it’s Blake Lively that will keep bringing them back.