Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Top 15 Male Performances of 2015

Here is a selection of the best male performances I saw in 2015. There were, of course, many more to choose from, so do feel free to list your favorites as well!

15. Sylvester Stallone – Creed
as Rocky Balboa
I bought into it. I bought into the age, the guilt, the reluctance – I bought into Stallone’s restrained rediscovery of Rocky Balboa. The scene where Rocky explains why he won’t seek treatment for his cancer is likely to make Stallone a frontrunner for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. No arguments here.

14. Tom Courtenay – 45 Years
as Geoff Mercer

You wander around. You think. You take up smoking again. You keep to yourself, except in moments of weakness near bedtime. You shuffle around the attic, searching. Searching for a picture, a memory. You think. You remember. You sit alone, alienating those who love you. You think about the life you once had, and the life that could have been. And you try to not drive away those who matter most to you.

13. Félix de Givry – Eden
as Paul
Eden covers nearly two decades in the underground electronic music scene, and star Félix de Givry is present for damn near all of it. Paul is a DJ who refuses to conform to audience tastes, which greatly strains his career, his personal relationships, and his general well being. Paul isn’t a very likeable guy, but Givry’s compassion for the part makes us plead for Paul to wake the hell up and succeed.

12. Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
as Dalton Trumbo
Trumbo is one of those end-of-the-year-Oscar-hopeful-biopics that rarely interest me. But Cranston won me over early. He encapsulated the struggles of the famed, blacklisted screenwriter to shattering results. Seriously, what can’t Bryan Cranston do?

11. Tom Noonan – Anomalisa
Anomalisa hasn’t been released wide yet, so I risk describing Noonan’s contribution to the film, in fear of giving too much away. I will say that in order for Anomalisa to work, Noonan has to do an extraordinary amount with a single instrument. I’m still stunned any actor could pull this off.

10. Karl Glusman – Love
as Murphy
One of the biggest criticisms facing Gaspar Noé’s Love is that it is full of stilted performances. This is an argument I revisit every few years. Some people find the natural performances of first time actors to be wooden, cold, and dull. I often find them to be real. In Love, Glusman talks how real people talk, and behaves how real people behave, contradictions and all. I completely believed Noé’s ploy for naturalism in Love, which certainly includes Glusman’s courageous work in it.

9. Walton Goggins – The Hateful Eight
Chris Mannix
Of the many hateful people in The Hateful Eight, Walton Goggins’ Shane Mannix stole the show. He’s a truly repugnant character beyond all redemption, until, perhaps, he’s not. I’ve been a champion of Goggins’ work since his incredible turn in The Shield, and I’m so happy his career has taken off in all the best ways.

8. Liev Schreiber – Spotlight
as Marty Baron
With Marty Baron, there wasn’t a lick of the brooding intensity Liev Schreiber often brings to his performances. Instead, the actor played an earnest, sensible man striving for the truth. A real editor’s editor. I harped on Schreiber’s every word in the film, including his final monologue, which remains the highpoint of the entire film.

7. Michael Fassbender – Macbeth
as Macbeth
I have trouble with Shakespeare. It’s my own fault, I just can’t get into the complicated vernacular. But when you put Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender in a film together, I’m sold. And if anyone was going to (finally) make me respect Shakespeare’s challenging prose, who better than my favorite living actor?

6. Jason Mitchell – Straight Outta Compton
as Eazy-E
I had never heard of Jason Mitchell before seeing Straight Outta Compton, but from the film’s first scene, which showcases a tense drug scene gone awry, Mitchell had me hooked. Simply put, the film was most alive whenever Mitchell was on screen. Here’s to hoping he has a long a fruitful career.

5. Jacob Tremblay – Room
as Jack
Jacob Tremblay’s fearless turn in Room is one of the best child performances in years. Just seven years old when the movie was shot, Tremblay proved to have more conviction than many adult actors currently making millions per picture. I can’t believe Tremblay’s performance isn’t being considered more strongly for awards.

4. Tom Hardy – The Revenant
as John Fitzgerald
John Fitzgerald is a bad man. He does vile, selfish things in The Revenant. Things that are hard to watch, and even more difficult to comprehend. But, because Hardy is such an engrossing actor, I was able to understand the depths of Fitzgerald’s depravity. Hardy is the best kind of performer; when he plays flawed men, he never asks you to forgive them. After all, bad men rarely think what they are doing is bad. As Fitzgerald, Hardy made me understand why his character would do the things he does, no matter how awful they are. Hardy is an actor who doesn’t judge or beg for forgiveness. He truly, simply, is.

3. Benicio Del Toro – Sicario
as Alejandro
Who the hell is Alejandro? Who is this guy wearing the fancy suit, saying little, acting with zero hesitation in combat? Picking apart Del Toro’s layered performance in Sicario was one of my favorite things about the film. And when all is revealed, I was surprised I had rooted for such a man, but, at the same time, I was glad I did. That’s the work of a masterful performer at play.

2. Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
as Steve Jobs
If you look at this list, most of the performances are supporting ones. And honestly, for a while there, Fassbender’s turn as Steve Jobs was the only truly great lead male performance I saw in 2015. This is for multiple reasons. The fact that he mastered Aaron Sorkin’s breathless dialogue is certainly one of them, but moreover, I love how Fassbender played a man full of emotional contradictions. One of his final scenes, atop a parking garage with his on-screen daughter, remains a highlight of the year. All of Jobs’ complications are right there on display, not to mention, for perhaps the first time, his ability to be vulnerable.

1. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
as Hugh Glass
What if you’re five feet away from witnessing the worst thing you can imagine, but you’re physically powerless to do anything about it? What if you’re wrestling nature, knowing you have no chance at winning? When do you give up? When do you let go? What motivates you to move forward? Is it revenge? A futile quest for peace? These are the challenges written all over Leonardo DiCaprio’s tortured face in The Revenant. Though Hugh Glass does speak intermittently, he often chooses (or is forced) to absorb what is happening. And in order for us to understand what the character is thinking (and how he feels about it) you need an actor who’s able to convey this level of emotional expression flawlessly. That’s DiCaprio in The Revenant. It’s a role that will be remembered as one of the actor’s very best. And, as many of have justly said, if Hugh Glass doesn’t win DiCaprio the Oscar, nothing worthy will.

2015 in Review


  1. I love all the choices here. Leo has to win the Oscar this year. Even if it wasn't my personal favorite performance of the year, no one can deny that it deserves all the awards it can get. He went through hell for that movie and it showed. Now let's see if i can come up with some favorites of my own.

    15. Jason Statham in Spy (It was just an okay movie, but his performance was too hysterical to ignore. He should do more comedy again.)
    14. Richard Jenkins in Bone Tomahawk (It's like seeing an Oscar worthy performance in an exploitation flick.)
    13. Jacob Tremblay in Room
    12. Jason Segel in The End of the Tour (Never really cared much for him until i saw him in this movie)
    11. Mark Ruffalo in Infinitely Polar Bear (This performance just really reminded me of my own dad when i was growing up. Made me miss him in a strange way.)
    10. Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies
    9. Tom Hardy in Legend (One of the best twin performances i have ever seen)
    8. Benicio Del Toro in Sicario
    7. Walton Goggins in The Hateful Eight (Definitely the stand out performance here. I really hope this can give him some bigger and better movie roles in the future.)
    6. Bryan Cranston in Trumbo (A true chameleon of an actor that can go from Malcolm in the Middle, to Breaking Bad and then to this so flawlessly.)
    5. Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs
    4. Sylvester Stallone in Creed
    3. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
    2. Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes (It's a shame not more people saw this movie.)
    1. Idris Elba in Beast of No Nation (A despicable character that he somehow made me sympathise with and hate at the same time.)

    Damn, that was really hard. So many great performances last year that i could have probably made a top 50 list. Looking forward to you list of female performances now.

    1. I really dig your picks. Of the ones that aren't on my list, Statham is such a good choice. It makes perfect sense that he could pull that off. Just shows what strong writing and convincing acting can do. Rylance was excellent in Spies and I totally get the Oscar buzz for that role. Elba damn near made my list. What a truly horrible character that he played with such intensity.

  2. I haven't seen the Hateful Eight, but I have mad love for Walter Goggins. He's one of those actors that can literally read the phone book to me. Just the phone book. Del Toro's performance was crazy good. I know he's got an Oscar already locked away, but he deserves another supporting Oscar.

    If DiCaprio doesn't win for the lead this year...then the game is rigged, which is what I've thought for a long time anyway. This is DiCaprio's year. It seems like all the really "pretty" actors (male and female) need to ugly themselves up in order to win. DiCaprio had to nearly freeze to death in order to be taken seriously. Kudos to him this year.

    1. Love that you're a Goggins fan! I've dug that guy since way back in his Shield days. His arc on that show, literally up until the last episode, was amazing. He went from being the punch line character of the early seasons, to the show's emotional back bone.

      I definitely think there's a history of "pretty" actors having to ugly themselves in order to win the Oscar. As much as I love Leo in Wolf of Wall Street, no one is going to give him in Oscar for doing what a lot of people assume he does in his real life anyway. You know?

  3. I haven't seen a lot of films of the year as I'm going to see The Revenant later this weekend. Kudos for mentioning Walton Goggins who I think really came into his own with the film and really got into his development. Of all the characters in the film, he seems like the one person that had a sense of goodness to him where he was naive yet comes to realize what is happening. He would be my pick for Best Supporting Actor.

    1. Hell yeah about Goggins. I would love if any of the actors I listed here ended up getting nominated for Supporting. Sadly, I think only Sly will make the cut.

      And man, I cannot wait to hear what you think of The Revenant.

  4. I feel like a broken record because I have said this on a million blogs in the weeks since I've seen Creed, but Stallone is amazing in that film. Glad he made youe list. Interesting pick to go with Jason Mitchell over co-star O'Shea Jackson Jr. from Straight Outta Compton. Granted, Mitchell doesn't have the advantage of actually growing up with and being the spitting image of the person he's playing, but I thought it was at least as good a performance.

    Haven't seen most of these just yet, of what I have seen, I would have to include Jason Statham from Spy and Nicholas Hoult from Mad Max: Fury Road. Great post!

    1. Thanks! I really loved Sly in Creed. Like I said, if he takes home the Oscar, I certainly won't be complaining. For me, Straight Outta Compton was most alive when Mitchell was on screen. He was fucking electrifying. But Jackson was certainly good as well.

  5. Awesome list. I'm glad Leo is number one, he certainly deserves it. Tremblay, Goggins, Del Toro, Cranson and Fassbender (in Steve Jobs, haven't seen Macbeth) yet are some of my favorites too.

    1. Thanks! Good stuff - glad we like a lot of the same performances this year!

  6. Amazing list, man. I haven't seen Macbeth, but Fassbender was fierce in Steve Jobs (didn't care for the movie that much). I think my favorite (unsung) pick here is Liev Schreiber in Spotlight. That is a perfectly subdued but totally nuanced piece of acting. I really dug that one. Del Toro, Tremblay, Goggins, all worthy of mention. Which brings me to Tom Hardy. Why is he not getting any awards love (seemingly)? That performance is fucking perfect..."menacing" is how I described it in my review of the film. And you're right Leo had better win or else.

    1. Thanks man! Dude, how great is it that Hardy landed a nomination today? So glad you share in my Liev Schreiber praise.

    2. So great. I totally wasn't sure it would happen.

    3. Definitely my biggest positive surprise of the noms.

  7. Fantastic list, lots of great performance here. Love the mentions for Courtenay, de Givry, and Noonan (what did you think of Thewlis' work?), their performances are terribly underrated. Tremblay deserves an Oscar nom for LEAD actor so much. I still need to see and rewatch some films, but my current Best Actor and Supporting Actor lineups are:

    Best Actor-
    1. Colin Farrell, The Lobster
    2. Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation
    3. Jacob Tremblay, Room
    4. Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
    5. Michael B. Jordan, Creed
    6. Tom Courtenay, 45 Years
    7. Paul Dano, Love & Mercy
    8. Félix de Givry, Eden
    9. Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes
    10. Andrew Garfield, 99 Homes

    Best Supporting Actor-
    1. Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina (he could be called a lead, but I think that while he is the one who kickstarts the film, Gleeson and Vikander's characters are the ones who the story revolves around)
    2. Benicio del Toro, Sicario
    3. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
    4. Jason Statham, Spy
    5. Jason Mitchell, Straight Outta Compton
    6. Emory Cohen, Brooklyn
    7. Ben Whishaw, The Lobster
    8. Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
    9. Michael Shannon, 99 Homes
    10. Sylvester Stallone, Creed

    1. Great stuff! I thought Thewlis was great; they all were. Great, great voice work. I really hope The Lobster is considered a 2016 release, because it deserves awards attention this time next year. I adored that film.

  8. SOLID list! Del Toro should definitely be on that list, especially your #3 spot! He was so fantastic, and the fact that he made us root for him IS good acting!

    1. Thanks! I'm bummed that Del Toro's performance didn't garner awards attention. He's so damn good in that movie.

  9. Solid picks. He's not up there, but I thought Will Smith did an outstanding job as Dr. Bennet Omaru in Concussion. It's my favorite Smith performance to date.

    So glad you chose Liev's role in Spotlight. Such a subtle and restrained performance. 2015 was a great year for him in general. You had Marty Baron and then you had his powerhouse confession scene in the final episode of the third season of Ray Donovan. He has definitely become one of my favorite actors after 2015. Can't wait to see what he does next.

    1. I didn't really like Concussion, but I agree that Smith was great in it. I've always loved Schreiber's work, but yeah, with Spotlight and Ray Donovan, he's now one of my legit favorites. Such a strong actor.

  10. Awesome list! If Stallone gets nominated and wins the Oscar, I won't complain. He's so good, and I even thought he deserved some consideration for the brokenness he showed in Rocky Balboa. Glad to see picks like Goggins, Mitchell, and Schreiber on here, and I can't wait to see Macbeth, Anomalisa, and 45 Years.

    Instead of a list, here are my current Actor lineups: (* = current win)


    Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation
    Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
    Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
    Ben Mendelsohn, Mississippi Grind*
    Jason Segel, The End of the Tour

    Tremblay just misses right now, and I HATE that.


    Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
    Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation*
    Tom Hardy, The Revenant
    Matthias Schoenaerts, Far from the Madding Crowd
    Ronald Zehrfeld, Phoenix

    Note: I could very well go with The Revenant guys in the end. These things keep changing. ;)

    1. NICE work here. I loved Mississippi Grind. Everyone in it was so good, and it didn't go where nearly every other movie of its kind does. Loved that. Mendelsohn is just so good in everything.

  11. "The scene where Rocky explains why he won’t seek treatment for his cancer is likely to make Stallone a frontrunner for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar." - I legit teared up when he said 'My wife tried it' and I never even saw any of the previous Rocky movies. I'd be fine with him winning just for that scene

    I love your inclusion of Hardy and Fassbender in Macbeth - I liked him better in Steve Jobs too but he really carried Macbeth because the script was all over the place when it came to Cotillard's character

    1. That's a great scene, right? And, just to be clear, we never saw his wife pass. Between Rocky V and Rocky Balboa, she had died of cancer off screen.

      Fuckin' Fass, man. That dude can do anything.

    2. Have you seen Legend? Hardy is unbelievable in it but the film doesn't deserve him

    3. Yep, couldn't agree more. He just barely didn't make the cut here for his performance(s) in that.

    4. I thought it would be his best, but it kinda feels like a bit of a gimmick given that he is playing both parts and the script drags everything down. However in either of those roles I saw nothing of Tom's gestures or voice or mannerisms or anything you see in interviews with him. I consider his work in Locke and The Drop to be slightly better because it's so beautifully subtle but for me Hardy in that is so much better than Lead actor nominees this year.

      JFC, Redmayne....

    5. I'm really excited to hear your thoughts on The Revenant and Hardy's work in it. He's so fucking good in the film.

    6. I think I'll see it next weekend, it premiers here on Friday, I hope I get tickets because everyone wants to see it - people I never saw mention movies wanna see what DiCaprio goes through that finally gets him the Oscar :)

      How would you rank Hardy's work in it comparing to his other roles? And have you seen him in Peaky Blinders? Awesome show btw

    7. I just posted my Oscar Nominees edition of In Character, and I basically say that, for me, it's an even split of Warrior and The Revenant as Hardy's best work. I haven't seen Peaky Blinders though.

  12. Replies
    1. That's hysterical. Guess I still really love his work in The Shield. Thanks for the catch!

  13. I think I haven't seen enough great movies to make a list such as this. And I haven't seen The Revenant yet as well but I already agree about the choices from there, I mean, Hardy and DiCaprio are the best of 2015 for me.

    1. They rock, right? I'll be interested to hear what you think of that film!

  14. Great list - Leo is truly exquisite in The Revenant. His performance, the cinematography and story didn't even make the film feel like it was three hours long. Time flew by and his performance was something I could watch over and over. My favorite scene is where Hugh is crawling over to Hawk - it's heartbreaking. Love your inclusion of Michael, Tom, and Jacob too. Many of the others are ones I have to see this year. :)

    1. Thanks Katy! Oh god, that scene in The Revenant was devastating. When he was helpless while watching what was happening to Hawk, that killed me.

  15. As I’ve commented on the female performances list, saldy I haven’t seen many of those films yet. The ones I’m dying to watch are The Revenant, Love, Sicario and Macbeth. Speaking of Shakespeare, as much as I love some of his plays, films sometimes don’t do justice to his powerful writing. Some of my favorite have been the 50s adaptation of Julius Caesar, mainly because of Brando, and the adaptation of Hamlet by Kenneth Branagh, which received loads of criticism but I thought it throw a new light on the play and it made it quite thrilling. I haven't watched Polanski's version of Macbeth, but I've been told is a very good one too.

    I’m sure DiCaprio has done a terrific job in The Revenant and I’ll be glad if he wins that Academy Award, at last. I’m very excited about The Revenant. I love Iñarritu’s work and I bet Tom Hardy is great there too. Since I watched him in Warrior and Bronson I realized the potential he had, even though he already caught my eye when I saw him on The Reckoning. I expected Walton Goggins to have more exposition for that role; he’s been a favorite of mine since I saw him on Justified and Sons of Anarchy. And as much as I want DiCaprio to win, ‘cause he’s been nominated like forever and he deserves it, I’m gonna be a little sad for Fassbender. You know he’s my favorite actor from nowadays and I think he’s superb in Steve Jobs. I’d probably have not been interested in the film if it wouldn’t have been for him, but I feel like he should have won that Academy Award for Shame. But Academy voters and I have a different taste. Anyways, as he’s still young, I hope he will get more chances to win in the near future.

    1. Hey Maria! We're alike in that Fassbender is our favorite current actor. And as much as I would love for him to win an Oscar very, very soon, this year, it has to be DiCaprio's. It's one of those rare instances when the actor is long overdue, yet he's going to win for a performance he SHOULD win for. Unlike, say, Al Pacino or Denzel Washington. But the bottom line is that he is sensational in The Revenant. Can't wait to hear what you think about that movie!

  16. Oh man, I hated Goggins *so* much! Although he became so much less annoying after he gets shot :P
    My favourite of the year so far is Tremblay. Where did they find that kid? I am yet to see The Revenant though so lessee. Doubt anything can surpass Leo's performance in WoWS for me but I am curious.

    1. Oh and yaayy for choosing Schreiber in this list. He was sooo great!

    2. Did you see Tremblay's Critics Choice speech? I mean, holy shit, the poise that kid has. Love him. So happy you like Schreiber's inclusion!

  17. You will not be surprised to hear that I haven't seen any of these movies yet. But what a line-up of wonderful actors!

    1. Haha well I'd LOVE to know what you think of some of these films and performances.

  18. A number of thoughts, here, but my favorite thing is the addition of Schreiber in one of the most underrated performances of the year. Great pick!

    1. Thanks! So happy you agree. I thought he was astounding in that movie.

  19. I've seen Anomalisa and didn't realise... wow... Phenomenal.

    Fassbender probably my best performance of the year, what a jet!

    1. Seriously, how damn good is Fass? The man is remarkable!

  20. Agree with most of those picks, particularly Tom Hardy and Benicio del-Toro, though for the life of me I can't get on board the Leo-train. He's great in roles like Wolf of Wall Street (2013), but in these more layered, historical roles or roles with accents (e.g. Gangs of NY, The Departed), he stands out like a sore thumb to me. He's probably my least favorite part of The Revenant.

    1. And hey, fair enough. I think his Wolf of Wall Street performance is superior to anything he's done in years. But I do love his Revenant work as well.