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2016’s Defining Moments in Film

Actors from the season’s most anticipated productions share the moments that matter the most to them

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It’s commonly said that movies are an escape from reality. In fact, the opposite is often true. Sometimes, the greatest films force us to face the subjects that make us most uncomfortable. This year has been one of the more divisive in recent history, and its defining performances—many of them, in turn, career-defining for the actors who delivered them—reflect that disconnect, presenting bold revisions on relevant dialogues.   

When looking at the performances in this portfolio as a collective, there is a through-line that seems important. It gestures to a storytelling sensibility that permeates both style and narrative. Perhaps it could best be described as “close range.”

None of the films in the following pages are what we might call sweeping epics. This isn’t to say that the characters or their stories haven’t had or won’t have an epic impact; it’s to say that their stories are shown in such a way as to keep us close.

This is close range: In Jackie, the First Lady applying her lipstick in the mirror on Air Force One—cut to scene, at the same mirror, where she gasps for air as she wipes blood from her face. In Loving, a couple asleep in their home at night, stunned awake by the glare of a police flashlight. In Moonlight, a teenage boy trembling after the shock of a first kiss.

These are performances that compel us to focus on the individuals at the center of the issues. Because sometimes, in focusing on the bigger picture, we miss the small, and lose sight of an important truth: Beyond the political abstractions, there are people. And their lives matter.

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