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25 Best Movie Performances of 2016

From killer comedic turns to Oscar-worthy emoting – these were the actors who gave us the greatest movie moments of the year

Let us now praise famous men and women – namely, the ones who gave us the year's best big-screen performances that stuck with us for days, weeks and in many cases, months after we left the theater. The two dozen actors listed below cracked us up, choked us up, thrilled us, scared us and moved us. But more than anything else, they reminded us of what the medium is capable of when you turn a camera on someone and let them aid in telling a story.

And what's particularly impressive is that, unlike some years past, 2016 offered up jaw-dropping, Rudy-clap–inspiring work from all over the movie-based map. Yes, the usual suspects, likely Oscar nominees and people whose names are preceded by "Sir" are present and accounted for (one of whom scored a double-whammy with not one but two list-worthy turns). But so are numerous comedians, newcomers, several folks who you never dream of seeing on this type of round-up in the past and even – gasp – a kid from a big sound-and-fury superhero blockbuster. Movie stars nestle next to first-timers and theater bigwigs; reliable heavy hitters found fertile ground in the most unusual of places. Some folks had to carry a whole movie on their shoulders, while others left their mark in supporting roles and one, maybe two key scenes. All of the actors included here, however, made it a good 12 months to sit in the dark with strangers. These were the 25 performances from 2016 that we keep giggling over, get weepy remembering and can't stop talking about.

Anya Taylor-Joy, 'The Witch'

Anya Taylor-Joy, ‘The Witch’

Robert Eggers' Puritan-horror classic didn't just give viewers the cinema's scariest goat ever (damn you, Black Phillip!) – it also introduced a star in the making. Anya Taylor-Joy convinces you that she's stuck in a 17th-century waking nightmare as her family deals with something wicked in the woods, and that a croaky-voiced invite to "live life deliciously" would be appealing to a young woman living in a repressive religious society. Her heroine is not just the Ye Olde New England equivalent of a horror-movie "final girl"; the actor plays her forked-tongue-in-cheek as she goes from viewing her burgeoning womanhood as a burden to her key to liberation. Sure, a literal devil may be the one offering such freedom, but pay no mind: Taylor-Joy makes you walk every step of the way with her, until there's no ground left beneath her feet.

Michelle Williams, 'Manchester by the Sea'/'Certain Women'

Michelle Williams, ‘Certain Women’/’Manchester by the Sea’

From a whisper to a scream: This was the year that Michelle Williams gave us not one but two incredible, unforgettable takes on nervous, nail-biting women; taken together, these two poles cover the strata of contemporary performance styles. In the former – a triptych of stories directed by Kelly Reichardt, arguably the finest director of actors working today – Williams plays a Type A personality trying to convince a cranky misogynist to sell them sandstone for their house; it's a passive-aggressive pas de deux of impatience and frustration, along with some quiet disgust over her ineffectual husband thrown in for good measure. And then there's Manchester's showstopping duet, an already famous scene in which Williams and Casey Affleck open up old wounds and pour fresh salt into them. The latter may win her an Oscar. Both prove that she's an American treasure.

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