The Calvin Award for Breakthrough Performance is somewhat unique in that there are no real qualifications other than that we award an actor who was so unique, notable or unforgettable in a role that we feel as though they’re poised to move on to much bigger things soon. Our staff has a pretty good track record here, too, as past winners have included Eddie Redmayne, Rooney Mara, Christoph Waltz, Dev Patel, Ellen Page and Terrence Howard.
2017 Calvin Awards: Breakthrough Performance
By Kim Hollis
February 22, 2017
Last year, our winner was Daisy Ridley for her portrayal of Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This year, we award an actor who will be portraying a member of the Star Wars universe. Alden Ehrenreich, recently chosen as young Han Solo for a standalone film, has been poised to be something for a few years. He was one of the few tolerable parts of Beautiful Creatures, and was likewise terrific in the little-seen Chan-wook Park film Stoker. But we believe that his real breakthrough moment came in the Coen brothers film Hail, Caesar!, where he basically stole the show as naïve singing cowboy actor Hobie Doyle. Ehrenreich plays the character with an effervescent glee, reveling in Hobie’s simple innocence. You’ll smile every time he’s onscreen, but most especially in the scenes he shares with Ralph Fiennes, whose Laurence Laurentz is trying to direct Hobie in a more sophisticated role than he’s ever played before. Ehrenreich certainly has the charisma to play Han Solo, and in the able hands of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, we have high hopes.
Only 20 votes separate second place from tenth, which means that the remainder of the nominees were very tightly bunched indeed. (Incidentally, Ehrenreich won by 20, so he’s a runaway champion). Second place goes to Anya Taylor-Joy, who made the world take notice when she portrayed a young girl named Thomasin in The Witch’s 17th century New England setting. Throughout the film, a mystery builds about whether Thomasin is a witch or if other evil forces are simply conspiring against her family, and Taylor-Joy is both a convincing teenage girl and an enigma. The Witch is an instant horror classic, and Taylor-Joy will always be indelibly associated with it. She has already continued her run of success with 2017’s Split.
Our third place selection is Lucas Hedges, who absolutely broke our hearts as Patrick Chandler in Manchester by the Sea. A teenager dealing with the aftermath of his father’s death, he’s been placed in the custody of his uncle (Casey Affleck), whom his father named as guardian. There’s a particular scene involving a freezer filled with frozen chicken that is absolutely devastating, and it’s Hedges that conveys that depth of emotion. Only 19-years-old, he’s already got an in with Wes Anderson (Hedges appeared in both Moonrise Kingdom and Grand Budapest Hotel) and Kenneth Lonergan, so he’s got experience with some of the best directors in the business. He’ll next be working with Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) in a film titled Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
One of Hedges’ competitors for the Supporting Actor Award, Mahershala Ali, takes fourth place for his performance in Moonlight. Ali appears in the film only briefly (he’s a crucial influence on the main character during the first act), but he certainly leaves an impression as Juan, a crack dealer from youthful main character Chiron’s neighborhood. Juan encourages Chiron to find his own way in life and not worry about what bullies think. Ali is sympathetic in the role – it’s easy to see how Chiron would see him as a counselor even as the man is dealing drugs to his mother. (I’d also note that Ali appeared in Hidden Figures as well, and made a strong impression in that film as well).
Ruth Negga has been appearing in a lot of smaller scale films for years, and a number of us on the BOP staff grew to appreciate her talent when she appeared on the television series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But it was 2016 that enabled her to make a big leap, even if it was still in an indie release that made less than $8 million at the box office. In Loving, she portrays Mildred Loving, a black woman who falls in love with and marries a white man in violation of the 1950s anti-miscegenation laws in Virginia. The couple takes their case to the Supreme Court, where it is ruled that such discriminatory marriage laws are unconstitutional. Negga’s simple, powerful performance is a large part of what allows the film to resonate as it does.
Next up in sixth and seventh place are a newcomer to an established superhero franchise and our second entrant from Moonlight. We’ve seen a couple of iterations of Spider-Man over the past decade and a half, but we may have finally found the one who really embodies the role. Sony and Disney finally came to an agreement on allowing the character to appear in the Avengers films, and what a debut he had. Tom Holland was funny, quippy, awkward, and what we’ve always imagined Spider-Man to be. This bodes well for Homecoming.
Trevante Rhodes played the adult Chiron in Moonlight, and he was a striking, impressive figure on the screen. He’s able to portray all of the complex sides of this character, from toughness to forgiveness and finally tenderness and vulnerability. You believe the man was once the boy we saw growing up in the first two acts.
A trio of women round out our top ten selections. We already knew that Janelle Monae was a talented singer/songwriter, but now she’s proven to be a stellar actress as well. We recognize her here for her work in Hidden Figures, but she could just as easily have been selected for her supporting role in Moonlight. She’s a delight in both films, and we look forward to seeing what she does next. Our next performer is only 23, but has been working in British television for several years. With her performance in Sing Street, Lucy Boynton elevated the role of “the girl” that could have been all too cliche and made it delightful. Finally, Angourie Rice might have just been written off as another kid actor who ruins a movie, but instead she was a revelation in The Nice Guy, a perfect foil for both Ryan Gosling, who plays her father, and Russell Crowe.
Just missing the top ten (by a matter of a point or two) were Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Sing Street), Don’t Breathe’s Jane Levy and Alison Sudol (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them).
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music