2015 was a great year for film. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise because if you didn’t see it you just weren’t paying attention. Even in films that I didn’t particularly like or outright hated, there were incredible performances on our screens all through this year. So as the first part in my 2015 retrospective I want to give you my favourite 37 performances of this year.
Why 37 you ask? Because this list could have been 60 or even 100 performances long if I had wanted it to be. Initially it was a list of 50, but when I got to around number 30 I realized there weren’t too many more that I really wanted to point out. So here are my top 10 performances with explanations and then numbers 27 more listed alphabetically.
#10 – Michael Shannon as Mr. Green in The Night Before
Michael Shannon is getting recognized (rightfully) for his role in 99 Homes, but of the two films I’ve seen him in this year this is the one that really stands out. When Anthony Mackie gets in his car for the first time and you realize it’s him, you can really only react with surprise. He’s such a prestige actor that seeing him play a drug dealer should feel weird. But he’s so brilliant here because he knows that his normal delivery already sounds a little drugged. He just capitalizes on that to act as the dealer of Christmas past, present, and future for these three man-children. His jokes just build on each other, one after the next until we see what his plan has been the whole time. He lays the groundwork for all the best jokes in the film and his performance just feels so complete that I had to put it up here.
#9 – Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in Creed
How do you make one of the most iconic characters in the history of American cinema fresh, giving him a real arc after 6 previous films? Well you start by getting someone else to write and direct so you can focus on your performance. Then you tap into both the legacy character who originated the role (Mickey) while not losing the 6 films of history the audience has at their disposal. What Stallone did here with Ryan Coogler is nothing short of miraculous. They revived a franchise, but more importantly, they revived a man who could have been lost to the caricature that many remember from Rocky IV. Sylvester Stallone gives a career best performance here, and for a comparison to another 7th film, he does what Harrison Ford could not do in The Force Awakens: portray the elderly version of a character without mugging his former self. I’m sure many won’t believe me in saying that, but I bought Rocky Balboa in a way that I did not buy Han Solo, and that really says something big about Ol’ Sly.
#8 – Oscar Isaac as Nathan Bateman in Ex Machina
Oscar Isaac is an absolute beast of an actor. While he is always recognizable as himself, he also totally inhabits every character he plays. His performance in Ex Machina as the deceptive genius who sees himself as a God, may just be his best performance yet. He’s as funny as he is intense, with what is possibly the best dance sequence in any film this year (the only competition to that being Alicia Vikander’s dancing in The Man From U.N.C.L.E) as well as the most deranged security camera footage ever put on film. For those who sat through the horrible Transcendance from last year, this is what Johnny Depp tried and failed to pull off there. The megalomaniacal genius who sees himself as God, who actually has a decent chance that he’s right.
Also of note is his performance in Star Wars The Force Awakens this year.
#7 – Alicia Vikander as Ava in Ex Machina
It was really hard to decide which of the two marvelous performances in Ex Machina was better, and the reason I’ve gone with Vikander is because of the nature of the role she has to play. This is a spoiler for Ex Machina so if you haven’t seen the film stop reading here and trust me that she’s amazing.
Ava is not a machine learning to communicate, nor is she a deceptive temptress trying to take advantage of Domhnall Gleason’s character. She is a fully conscious being playing a simple temptress for her creator while also playing a nascent machine for Gleason, turning into a tortured abuse victim to convince Gleason to take her away. On repeat viewings you see how she navigates all the hidden motives and alternate identities written for her. It’s a really incredible performance the more you dive in, and thus she just eeks out the win over Isaac.
Also of note is her hilarious performance in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
#6 – Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron in Spotlight
How do you quantify a performance that is entirely based in presence? Liev Schreiber is given almost messianic status in this film through how he is framed by the bodies working for and against him. He has a beautifully understated passion for justice underlying the Spotlight team’s mission. Every time he is on screen he is both the outsider and the soul of the film. When there is a moral quandary faced, he is the compass. When sins are revealed, he intercedes and absolves. This performance can’t be simply described, it must be experienced.
#5 – Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman in Steve Jobs
Winslet is going to receive a nomination for this role, though its likely going to be in the wrong category. Let me be perfectly clear, Steve Jobs could probably work without some of the other supporting characters but it could not work dramatically without Kate Winslet’s Joanna Hoffman and that is because she is a co-lead with Fassbender. She makes him a tolerable human being. She mediates his relationships to every other character. She is the only person who stands up to him effectively. And yet she is a character independent of him. Her relationships with the other characters show there is a world outside of Steve Jobs, and it’s a caring human world that lets the audience find a way into this film.
#4 – Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald in The Revenant
Tom Hardy has been working hard in Hollywood for a while now. I’m pretty sure the first time I saw him was Star Trek Nemesis, but the world really took notice in 2010 with Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Yet still, no Oscar recognition for the man despite some talk for his one man show in Locke last year. His performance in The Revenant though is the best performance of his career so far and the one that cements him as one of the best actors of his generation. This performance is brutal and dark, unforgiving like the environment of the film, and if Leo doesn’t get his Oscar this year, it’ll be because Hardy’s performance overshadows him in every scene they share.
#3 – Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
This performance by Daisy Ridley is the single biggest reason why I didn’t give The Force Awakens a negative review. What she brings to this role in not just a sense of charisma and passion that is remarkable for a 23 year-old, but a presence that rivals what Jennifer Lawrence brought to The Hunger Games. It’s not often that science fiction films result in truly great dramatic performances (though this year has quite a few of them), nor is it often that we find such an incredible debut lead performance. But Ridley has it. She kept me in that film, and it saddens me that she is not going to get any recognition for her acting this year come Oscar time.
#2 – Jeff Daniels as John Sculley in Steve Jobs
Last year, the most undersung performance in any film was Paul Reiser’s supporting performance in Whiplash. Sitting next to the flashier role from J.K. Simmons it’s not hard to understand why, but that doesn’t make up for how unrecognized it was. This year we have another predicament in the film Steve Jobs. With a likely Best Actor nomination for Michael Fassbender, an almost assured Best Supporting Actress nomination for Kate Winslet, and a possible nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Seth Rogan, the best performance in that film is likely to be completely ignored, that of Jeff Daniels as John Sculley. In three beautiful scenes and two flashbacks we see all the joy, pride, potential, anger, resentment, and regret that comes with working with Steve Jobs. Daniels masterfully portrays how love and hatred can rest in the same relationship harmoniously. The final shot of Daniels in this film is just like Reiser’s last shot in Whiplash. That was the best shot in all the films of 2014, and this is the best shot of any film in 2015 and its all because the actor brought everything they had to the role, leaving us without words as they leave the film for the last time.
Also of note is his performance in The Martian this year.
#1 – Jada Pinkett-Smith as Rome in Magic Mike XXL
My Queen! I bow down to the glory of this perfect supporting performance. She gives this role every inch of glamour and depth that it deserves and she elevates this film from an enjoyable road trip into one of the best pieces of genre cinema to be released in 2015. She commands the screen from moment to moment. She is the master of ceremonies for the ResErection team in the movie, and this makes her the MC for our experience as viewers. The biggest problem with the original Magic Mike was that Matthew McConaughey’s Dallas wasn’t a real MC, he just managed the place leaving many of the dance sequences feeling lifeless. In just two sequences, Smith’s Rome electrifies the audience both on screen and off, giving what is in my estimation, the best performance by any actor in any role this year.
So there are my top ten performances of 2015 and below are the other 27. Thanks for reading and comment below with your favourites and remember to follow me on twitter @MyntWatchesTV or on Letterboxd.
Alison Brie as Lainey in Sleeping With Other People
Anna Kendrick as Lisa in The Voices
Anne Hathaway as Jules Ostin in The Intern
Benicio Del Toro as Alejandro Gillick in Sicario
Blake Lively as Adaline in The Age of Adaline
Brie Larson as Joy Newsome in Room
Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird in Carol
Charlize Theron as Furiosa in Max Max Fury Road
Greta Gerwig as Brooke Cardinas in Mistress America
Holly Hunter as Dawn in Manglehorn
Jason Sudeikis as Jake in Sleeping With Other People
Jessica Chastain as Lady Lucille Sharpe in Crimson Peak
Kiersey Clemons as Cassandra “Diggy” Andrews in Dope
Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass in The Revenant
Matt Damon as Mark Watney in The Martian
Michael B Jordan as Adonis Johnson in Creed
Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs
Mya Taylor as Alexandra in Tangerine
Olivia DeJonge as Rebecca in The Visit
Olivia Thirlby as Christina Maslach in The Stanford Prison Experiment
Paul Dano as Brian Wilson in Love and Mercy
Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pheiffer in Spotlight
Robert De Niro as Ben Whittaker in The Intern
Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet in Carol
Sean Bean as Mitch Henderson in The Martian
Tessa Thompson as Bianca in Creed