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2016 Year In Review: 8 Great Performances In Bad Movies

Like any year, some movies are good and some are not so much. Among these bad movies are often some great moments and of course, good performances. While there are a lot of great unsung roles over the year, here are 8 that deserve some recognition.

Alicia Vikander, Jason Bourne, 2016 © Universal Pictures

Alicia Vikander in Jason Bourne

The Bourne franchise made its return to the big screen in 2016 with Matt Damon back in the title role after a nine year absence. Based around the character finally recovering from his amnesia and going on a hunt to clear his and his father’s name, the film was a disappointment, with a paper thin plot and a number of generic actions sequences. It had a bold premise but instead of being smart, was anything but.

READ MORE: Our review of Jason Bourne, the latest in the Bourne film franchise

In the cast is Alicia Vikander playing Heather Lee, the head of the CIA cyber ops division who thinks she knows a way to persuade Bourne to come back without violence, though her boss, played by Tommy Lee Jones has other ideas and she becomes entangled in a flurry of cover-ups and deception. But how much should we trust her?

The film squanders its potential for some clever spy-thriller context, but if there is a constant in the movie, it is Vikander’s performance, where we are never quite sure where she stands. She plays it cool and has the greatest arc in the story, with a devastating ending that packs the biggest punch in the film. Vikander is an engaging actor who has this uncanny ability to say so much with few movements and expressions. While the film is an illogical mess, Vikander is mesmerizing and is it’s singular saving grace.

Ben Foster, Warcraft, 2016 © Universal Pictures

Ben Foster in Warcraft

Adapting video games to film have historically been a bad move, even with great talent on both sides of the camera, and so it is again with this mix of CGI and live-action that can’t find the right balance. Admittedly, the game, which is rich in lengthly lore is perhaps impossible to condense into a movie’s runtime, and acclaimed director Duncan Jones does well in putting a tight focus on a minimal part of it, but this still ends up feeling superficial and all too close to so many others in the genre.

READ MORE: An in-depth review of Warcraft

The story follows the initial encounters between the humans and the orcs and there are some great visuals and many familiar locations from the game series. Foster plays Medivh, a Guardian of Tirisfal, a being of great but mysterious power who is drawn into the conflict when traces of magic are found on the battlefield.

Foster is a commanding presence, his character easily the most compelling and he truly brings just the right sense of tongue-in-cheek fun with the part, recalling some of the great wizards of films long past. Foster is an underused actor but is poised to become a bigger name, and it’s performances like this that will get him there.

Lily Gladestone, Certain Women, 2016 © Film Science

Lily Gladstone in Certain Women

A quiet film that very loosely connects the stories of a few mostly ordinary women is a remarkably stirring and emotionally impactful film. Unconventional filmmaking has always been the trademark of director Kelly Reichardt, who has crafted a catalog of films that challenge audiences in powerful ways.

READ MORE: One of the year’s most powerful works of women in film: Certain Women

With Certain Women, the story follows women in close proximity that are not directly connected but cross paths. From a local lawyer (Laura Dern) who deals with a troubled client, and a mother (Michelle Williams) and wife who wants only to build her dream house, to a young, recent law-grad (Kristen Stewart) who teaches a night class. And then there is Jamie (Lily Gladstone), a seasonal farm work who ends up in that night class.

Gladstone plays only a minor part in the film, but her mostly dialogue-free role is easily the most memorable in the movie, a deeply personal performance that is extraordinarily affecting. Her genuine and honest portrayal of loneliness and hope is one of the most heartbreaking experiences in film this year.

Kevin Costner, Criminal, 2016 © BenderSpink

Kevin Coster in Criminal

There’s no shortage of lower-budget action thrillers that disappear with a limited audience. With Criminal, a film that sports a great cast and a good script, this should have been one to remember but instead suffers under the weight of its absurd plot, despite several good moments.

READ MORE: A look at the lost potential of Criminal, starring Kevin Coster

The story centers on an experimental procedure where the memories of a one mammal can be transferred to another, but has yet to be tested on people. That opportunity comes quickly though when the FBI need to retrieve crucial information from a near-dead agent, and so pop them into the head of a sociopathic inmate who was born with the inability to express emotions. Any chance they’ll be able to control him?

Kevin Coster is one of cinema’s most beloved leading men, but every so often he takes the role of a bad guy, and here, he’s really good, despite an odd, throaty vocal choice. Truly convincing as a troubled man with haunts of his own, his portrayal of Jerico Stewart is really the best reason to even consider watching this, as he loads the character with heaps of torment and regret as he struggles to understand what is happening to him. The film is misfire but his performance is not.

Selena Gomez, The Fundamentals of Caring, 2016 © Levantine Films

Selena Gomez in The Fundamentals of Caring

This year saw no shortage of roles featuring handicapped people, and many were not solely aimed at being inspirational. The Fundamentals of Caring however, squarely was. That’s not to say its intentions were bad, because in truth, the premise is good, it just becomes far too formulaic and contrived the further it rolls on.

READ MORE: Our in-depth review of The Fundamentals of Caring

It stars Paul Rudd as Ben, a man with some issues who wants to focus his energies on helping people, and lands a job as a day-caretaker for a young man with muscular dystrophy, wheelchair bound and limited to his mother’s home. When Ben requests a road trip so the boy might see the world instead of reading about online, they end up traveling together and learning more about who and what they are to each other. Along the way, they meet a runaway hitchhiker named Dot, played by Gomez.

Gomez has been under intense scrutiny most of her life, and while she’s made a well-earned name for herself as a singer, she has yet to really make waves on the big screen, though it seems she has the potential. With The Fundamentals of Caring, she steals the show, portraying the most dynamic character in the story, and so well, the film might have actually been better if was about her instead. It’s a great performance.

Sam Rockwell, Mr. Right, 2016 © Amasia Entertainment

Sam Rockwell in Mr. Right

The violent romantic comedy is by nature a small genre, but is a growing one and with Mr. Right, it doesn’t take it in any new direction despite a clever plot and a sort of gleeful abandon to its approach. Directed by Paco Cabezas and written by Max Landis, this certainly has some bite, but ultimately lacks the edge it should have had.

READ MORE: Great potential sees this Mr. Right fall short of expectation

It follows the adventures per se of a master assassin named Francis (Rockwell), who has, over his many years of killing, developed a sort of conscience as it were and turns the tables of the ones who hire him, killing them instead. He does this with a sense of humor, wearing a clown nose in the process. Quite by accident, he literally bumps into Martha McKay (Anna Kendrick), a young woman with some boyfriend issues and the two immediately hit it off. Sparks fly and soon, so do bullets.

Rockwell straight up commits to his roles, there’s no denying this. He’s an actor of tremendous depth and has continually proven himself practically a chameleon when it comes to his performances. As Francis, he’s often hysterical, giving the daffy killer a wickedly dark comedic feel that is supremely written and acted. It’s so good, the movie is just too small for the part and is crushed under this powerfully good turn.

Ben Affleck, Batman v Superman, 2016 © Warner Bros. Pictures

Ben Affleck in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

In this large-scale superhero movie, which began life as a follow-up to the equally disappointing Man Of Steel (2013), attention shifted from the Superman character and onto Batman, who was setup as an opponent of the demigod alien after the events of the previous film left Metropolis in ruins, including the destruction of a Wayne Enterprise’s tower that left many dead. Intent on discovering a weakness in Superman, another villain shows up and sees and opportunity to pit the two against each other in far more deadly ways.

READ MORE: Our review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

The film is appropriately dark and serves its purpose in setting up up-coming films, but the plot and script border on ridiculous and devalues these beloved characters as dialogue is clearly built around ideas for action rather than development. That said, the introduction of Ben Affleck as the new Bruce Wayne, a casting choice that had many angrily calling foul, turned out to the be the movie’s biggest surprise.

Affleck, who has never been an actor of great range, uses that stoicism to great effect as the new Dark Knight, taking over the already impressive work by Christian Bale, who for many, has come to define the modern Batman persona. Affleck takes these traits and compounds them into a more deeply-scarred figure, introspective and haunted, bearing a greater weight than any iteration to date. While he’s stuck in a frustratingly disappointing film, Affleck comes off best, crafting a compellingly troubled character that made for the movie’s best moments.

Djimon Hounsou, The Legend of Tarzan, 2016 © Warner Bros. Pictures

Djimon Hounsou in The Legend of Tarzan

Once again, Hollywood has returned to the jungles to try and sow more from a character that started on film in 1918 and since been featured in over fifty films and television versions since. With this latest attempt at kicking off a franchise, the movie fails to feel progressive and sticks to a number of action movie tropes that leaves the film an unfulfilling experience, with even the animal CG effects lacking.

READ MORE: Our review of The Legend of Tarzan

The story begins after Tarzan, now called John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgård), is already back in England, married to his American-born wife, Jane Porter (Margot Robbie). Asked to report on the development of the Congo, he returns with Jane to his former African home, only to come up against Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz), looking to find some fabled diamonds. He also meets Chief Mbonga (Hounsou), a tribal leader who wants revenge against Tarzan for the death of his son.

READ MORE: A closer look at that sexy Tarzan movie

Hounsou has a small part but shows up everyone else in the film, breathing life in a dull script and out-acting the rest of the cast, a feat that would seem difficult considering who has top billing. Hounsou keeps ending up in these parts but he sure brings it every time, here, especially in an emotional moment mourning his loss, simply lights it all up. He’s the best reason to watch the movie.

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