We are in the home stretch of the year, dear readers. And this means that it’s time for the Wednesday Listicles to take a swift detour. While the next couple of weeks will be dedicated to Christmas (what else), after that we will begin a month-long look at the Best of Pop Culture in the Year of 2016. And I can’t think of a better way to start this list off than to announce Sacred Wall’s list for the Top Ten Entertainers of the Year!
Sometimes an artist just dominates the world of pop culture any given year. Think of 2012, when Jennifer Lawrence was in The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook, won an Oscar, and dominated talk shows and the red carpet with her natural charisma. Or in 2014, when Benedict Cumberbatch put out his best work ever on Sherlock before starring in The Imitation Game and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. It requires a unique talent, charm and presence to be the Entertainer of the Year.
So to kick off the Inaugural Award, I will be listing the Top Ten Entertainers. Nine will be listed in alphabetical order, and then an overall Entertainer of the Year. Other stars I considered were Emma Stone, whose biggest performance I have yet to see, Nick Kroll, who stood out in two great voiceover performances on top of a Broadway show and an appearance in an Oscar contender, Michael Shannon, who was in four different films this year, ranging from cameo to major role, and Jeff Nichols, who directed the very different and very beautiful Midnight Special and Loving. So, with this all established, let’s look at a list of the Entertainers of the Year.
Amy Adams is one of those actresses you’re shocked to learn has never won an Oscar. Despite five nominations (Junebug, Doubt, The Fighter, The Master and American Hustle) and a great performance in Enchanted, the top award has eluded her. She’s taken a couple years off to do lighter films like Big Eyes, as well as blockbusters like Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman. However, Adams decided that 2016 would be the year where she would not only gave us one of her best performances, she gave us two. Beyond the aforementioned Batman V. Superman, she also appeared in Arrival and Nocturnal Animals. And while I won’t be seeing Animals for another week, I have seen Arrival, and it is easily one of the best films of the year. What’s more, the movie only works because of her incredible performance. If her performance in Animals is just half as good as the emotional, intelligent performance in Arrival, then she has had one of the best years any actress has ever had on film.
Bow down to Queen Bey. Honestly, I don’t know how you can make this list without Beyoncé. What a year she’s had. She started this year by straight up stealing the Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show from Coldplay (easy) and Bruno Mars (a little more difficult). Then she released Lemonade, a visual concept album that has, in many ways, changed the game. Combining different genres and styles, the album works both as a long-form movie and as an individual album. She then went on the road, performing sold out concerts to great acclaim (I didn’t get a chance to see her, but my brother was a huge fan). And as if conquering both fields wasn’t enough, she also performed at the CMAs to great acclaim. Let me reiterate: Beyoncé, an African American hip-hop/pop/R&B artist, performed at the Country Music Awards, singing a country song, and brought the house down. If that’s not a testament to a fantastic year, I don’t know what is.
Jemaine Clement is one of my favorite performers alive. Known for his work in Flight of the Conchords, Jemaine has spent the past year flat-out stealing any movie or television show he’s appeared in. Starting with small appearances in Regular Show, Divorce, Another Period, Milo Murphy’s Law and especially Inside Amy Schumer, Jemaine made himself stand out in even the smallest of roles. Then he moved into films, working with the great Steven Spielberg on the wildly underrated The BFG. Playing the lead villain “The Fleshlumpeater,” he chews the scenery whenever he appears, and very nearly steals the film from the ever-charming Mark Rylance. It’s quite the accomplishment. However, as great as this performance is, it’s nothing when compared to what he does with much less in Moana. At one point in Disney’s newest princess romp, Moana and Maui are confronted by a giant crab, Tamatoa-something of the film’s “King Louie” role. The crab gets one fairly simple song-“Shiny,” that would be much smaller in the hands of a lesser artist. But Clement works wonders with it, relishing in each word, turning it into some sort of literal depiction of his character in the Conchords song “Bowie’s in Space.” It single handedly steals the movie. Add this onto a reunion tour for the Conchords (which I saw and it was breathtaking), and Clement has established himself as one of the unsung stars of 2016.
Andrew Garfield’s career has had its ups and downs. After breaking out in 2010 for a remarkable performance in The Social Network, Garfield opted for the paycheck and signed on to play your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler in The Amazing Spider-Man. While he received fine notices, and he met his girlfriend of three years in Emma Stone, the movies were described by critics and fans alike as “not good.” However, now that Disney has kicked him out for someone younger, he’s starting to return to his roots by working with two of the greatest living directors, Mel Gibson and Martin Scorsese. His performance in Hacksaw Ridge as a Christian man who wants to serve his country but refuses to actually fight and kill has a few false notes that I wasn’t particularly fond of, but most people seem to love his work, and I’ll be damned if I said that I wasn’t moved by his performance. Meanwhile, his work in Scorsese’s passion project Silence premiered while I was writing this article, and the early reports are that he (and the film) are terrific. Between two performances of this caliber, with directors of this caliber, I think it’s safe to say that Garfield is one of the Entertainers of the Year.
Ahh, the Childish Gambino. Yes, I think it’s safe to say that Glover is having the year of his life in 2016. The former 30 Rock writer and Community star-turned rapper first made waves when he announced that he’d be releasing a new TV series in 2016 entitled Atlanta, which would be something of a cross between coming-of-age/race relation dramedy and Twin Peaks. If that sounds weird, that’s because it is. It also ended up being one of the best shows of 2016 (more on that in January). The show is brilliant and subversive, and it doesn’t work without Glover’s fantastic writing and especially his acting/facial cues. It’s an earth-shattering breakthrough, and he still isn’t done. He has also announced that his newest Gambino album, Awaken, My Love! is also coming out this year. Later this week, in fact. The first song off the album is great, and if that’s any indication, he may end up making three different Top Ten lists this year. And I haven’t even mentioned the fact he has also been cast in the upcoming Han Solo movie as Young Lando Calrissian. That’s one of the single greatest casting decisions I’ve heard. Glover’s career is reaching its zenith, and I’m excited to see where he goes after conquering the world this year.
It would make more sense to pick Kate McKinnon for Entertainer of the Year. Yes, yes, she’s been having quite the year, between starting her film career and playing Hillary on Saturday Night Live. However, there’s another person who has had similar accomplishments and had an incredible arc over the course of the year. And that is McKinnon’s frequent costar Leslie Jones. After breaking on the show in 2014, Jones has really come into her own this year. She’s had standout cameos in Sing and Masterminds, but what really got people talking was her work in Ghostbusters. While the film arguably doesn’t hold up on second viewing, and McKinnon got most of the praise, it was Jones who was the really standout. Playing the intelligent-yet-grounded subway employee Patty, Jones surpasses the “Winston” archetype of the original and manages to create one of the greatest Ghostbusters, on par with Murray’s Venkman or Ramis’ Egon. However, some people didn’t agree with this [correct] analysis. Specifically Milo Yiannopolous and his followers, who tweeted hateful things at Jones and eventually hacked her website and leaking her personal photos. However, while many people would be broken by this, Jones has never lost her optimistic attitude, continuing her joyful tweets and even being invited to color commentate the Olympics. The world needs more people like Jones, and 2016 has served as a testament to that.
It takes a special kind of actress to be in not one, not two, not three, but six films in one year. But that’s exactly what the 31-year old Kendrick has done. While some of the films were shot years ago and are only getting released now (and aren’t very good, despite her immense talents) like Get a Job and Mr. Right, others help to make up an eclectic and enjoyable platform. There’s her performance in the small little family film The Hollars. There’s her go-for-broke performance in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, which I was lukewarm on, but she singlehandedly stole from three trained comedians. There’s her straight man performance in The Accountant, which I was indifferent to upon release but have found myself enjoying more and more in recent years. And there’s her vocal turn in Trolls, which is one of the most enjoyable performances of the year, and couldn’t have been performed by anyone else (particularly when you hear her sing “True Colors,” “The Sound of Silence,” “Get Back Up Again,” and “Can’t Stop The Feeling!”). It’s an impressive slate, yet it’s almost shocking when you realize that while she was doing this, she also wrote a book. That’s right, Kendrick wrote a book, Scrappy Little Nobody. And while I have yet to read it in its entirety, I have read small excerpts, and can confirm the book is open, funny, and utilizes her beloved cynical sarcasm seen on her Twitter page. In other words, it’s good. Kendrick has been everywhere this year, and it’s been one of the few joys that 2016 has to offer.
Pop star Janelle Monáe has come a long way since being the soloist on “We Are Young.” She’s found herself to be one of the greatest actresses of the year. Wait…huh? Yes, while I’m sure many of you are shocked, I’m here to tell you that Ms. Monáe is one of the biggest breakout actresses of the year. She made her first onscreen appearance in Moonlight, one of the best films of the year, and adds a naturalistic excellence to every scene. On top of that, she’s earning early Oscar buzz for her scene-stealing performance in Hidden Figures. These are two fantastic roles for someone just breaking into the industry, and they may be the performances of the year. And when you combine these with her incredible tribute to Prince at the BET Awards, it all adds up to one of the best years for any artist on this list.
This is the part where you all ask “Who?” Yes, I know Waititi is an odd choice for Entertainer of the Year. Hell, he only appears onscreen for a total of five minutes at most. But I’m thinking more macro with this list, and so the man who helped craft the funnier films of the year deserves a spot. Sure, his draft on Moana wasn’t officially used, but his fingerprints are all over it, from casting to the jokes to the overall heart. And besides, even if he didn’t technically give us Moana, he did something even better in giving us The Hunt for the Wilderpeople. That film has more heart and more “gasping for air” laugh moments than any other film released this year. It’s a master class in writing and directing, and between his continuous outings in the field, he established himself as one of the great entertainers of the year. And considering it earned him a job directing the newest Thor film, it’s clear I’m not alone in understanding his talent.
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: Alden Ehrenreich
Alden Ehrenreich has had quite the 2016. He’s had the true Hollywood story: an unknown, mostly playing small roles in shows like Supernatural, erupts onto the scene in a fantastic move. Ehrenreich started off his year with a major supporting role in a Coen Brothers movie, Hail, Caesar! He was required to act alongside Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, and Channing Tatum. And not only does he accomplish this task, he exceeds it. He steals the movie with his Kirby Grant/John Wayne style cowboy who speaks in a plainspoken way with a thick accent suddenly thrust by the studio into a British comedy of manners. The “Would that it were so simple” scene he performs alongside Fiennes is one of the greatest of the year, and a piece worth studying for all aspiring actors. And if working with the Coens weren’t enough for a first major outing, it earned him a chance to work with the Warren Beatty in the legend’s first film in fifteen years. And not only that, he got to be the lead. The film was a bit lacking in my tastes, but the parts that work end up working only because of Beatty, Lily Collins, and especially Ehrenreich, who is charming, funny and intelligent all at the same time. And had the studio not pushed The Yellow Birds into 2017 to try to conquer another Oscar season, he could very well have wowed us in that too. Ehrenreich has used the year to prove himself our greatest force of nature, and he’s one that won’t go away for a long time. This is because Disney caught on to how essential he was to this year’s success and has cast him in the titular role in their Han Solo movie. If that’s not a sign that someone was the Entertainer of the Year, I don’t know what is. So bravo to you, Alden Ehrenreich! I hope you enjoyed your 2016, and I wish you all the luck in the future.
I hope you enjoyed this year’s rankings of 2016’s biggest stars. As I mentioned, we’ll be taking a couple weeks to talk about Christmas, but we’ll be coming back in full the 28th of December to start listing the Best of 2016, including trailers, Television, Music, and, of course, the Top Ten Films of 2016. Stay tuned, you guys.