Friday, January 15, 2016

Top 20 Female Performances of 2015

I’m happy to say that this list contains 20 performances, which is five more than my list of my favorite male performances from 2015. The reason is simple: I saw a lot more great roles by women than I did by men, of which I have no complaints. So instead of limiting this list to 15, I thought I’d open it up and let a few more in. Enjoy!

20. Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
as Gerda Wegener
Simply put, The Danish Girl wasn’t for me. But as the movie slogged on, a very interesting thing happened: the performance of a wondrous new talent named Alicia Vikander kept getting better and better. As the wife of a tortured transgender person, Vikander was The Danish Girl’s emotional core. Vikander had a hell of a 2015, with notable roles in Ex Machina, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Burnt. But with The Danish Girl, she was a saving grace for even the most ardent naysayers.

19. Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
as Daisy Domergue
Jennifer Jason Leigh is one of our finest living character actors, and the enthusiastic vile she put into Daisy Domergue was one of her very best roles yet. Enough said.

18. Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
as Kate Mercer
You remember him mentioning her. Your husband’s former lover, who was tragically lost decades ago. But what do you do when she’s brought up again? How long do you emotionally support your husband? When does your support evolve to fear, jealously, and shame? When do you start questioning if you’re good enough for him now, or if you ever have been? And, once you start questioning yourself, how do you stop?

17. Nina Hoss – Phoenix
as Nelly Lenz
So much of Hoss’ performance in Phoenix is dependent on the stillness of her face. Phoenix is a film all about quiet emotional discovery, and if Hoss couldn’t tell us everything with her eyes, then her performance, and the film itself, would’ve failed. Thankfully, that is not the case.

16. Elisabeth Moss – Queen of Earth
as Catherine
There were many fine films in 2015 about women on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the problem was, most of those movies were so small, they didn’t garner the amount of attention they should’ve. But the increasing emotional collapse of Elisabeth Moss’ Catherine in Queen of Earth was certainly one such breakdown worthy of praise. If you only know Moss from Mad Men, her Catherine will be unrecognizable.

15. Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
as Eilis
“After I had dinner at your house, you told me you loved me. Well, I didn’t really know what to say. But I know what to say now. I have thought about you. And I like you. And I like being with you. And, maybe, I feel the same way. So the next time you tell me you love me – if there is a next time – I’ll say ‘I love you too.’”

And from that moment on, she had me.

14. Olivia Wilde – Meadowland
as Sarah
Another film about a woman slowly losing her mind, this time due to insurmountable grief, Reed Morano’s Meadowland boasted an Olivia Wilde performance that I, quite frankly, didn’t know the actor had in her. I don’t want to say too much about the film, but this movie, and Wilde’s revelatory work in it, certainly deserved a wider audience.

13/12. Kristen Stewart & Chloë Grace Moretz – Clouds of Sils Maria
as Valentine & Jo-Ann Ellis
I’ve said this before, and I mean it in the nicest possible way, but watching Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria is watching her really act for the first time. Nothing she has done comes close to the depth, subtlety and confidence of her character, Valentine. I couldn’t take my eyes off her every movement. It was so fucking real.

Moretz is a performer I’ve long since loved, but nothing prepared me for her work as troubled movie star, Jo-Ann Ellis. Her gleeful coldness in her final scene literally made me gasp out loud. And that never happens.

11. Cate Blanchett – Carol
as Carol Aird
Look, once Cate Blanchett convincingly played Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, she proved that there is nothing she cannot do. I’d watch her apply wallpaper for two hours, and she’d still find a way to make it utterly captivating. Her nuanced work in Carol is yet another flawless performance she can add to her never-failing resume.

10. Laia Costa – Victoria
as Victoria
Any actor who can handle being on screen for damn near every second of a 138-minute long unbroken shot deserves to be acclaimed. But Costa’s work in Victoria goes beyond endurance. This is a performance of quiet command and frantic power. I didn’t agree with every decision Victoria made, but Costa made it impossible to not want to follow the character’s every move.

9. Marion Cotillard – Macbeth
as Lady Macbeth
As I said in my Top 15 Male Performances post, if any two people can make me appreciate Shakespeare’s vernacular it’s Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender. Her Lady Macbeth is the best of what we expect that character to me. Like Blanchett, I’m convinced that Cotillard is capable of anything.

8. Aomi Muyock – Love
as Electra
Her intensity and desire, her disgust and sexuality, and tenderness and love. Love is a film about being unable to let go of a raging love that left you long ago, and first time actor Aomi Muyock was the perfect choice to play such a force. I certainly hope to see more of Muyock in the future.

7. Emily Blunt – Sicario
as Kate Macer
Many of the women on this list are performers I’ve long admired, but in 2015, they showed that they are capable of much more than many of us initially thought. Kate Macer encapsulated all of Blunt’s finest attributes as an actor. She’s previously shown us that she can be still, afraid, emotive, witty and, of course, badass, but Sicario was the first time she’s been able to do it all at once. The result was one of the best, if not criminally overlooked, performances of the year.

6. Juilette Binoche – Clouds of Sils Maria
as Maria Enders
Again, like Cate Blanchett and Marion Cotillard, Juilette Binoche is an actor who can do anything, and, as a result, we (perhaps unfairly) expect more from her than other performers. And as famed actress, Maria Enders, Binoche certainly did not disappoint. As, Binoche Maria tapped into the thing she does best, that sort of unique, hopeful despondency. I’ve seen Clouds of Sils Maria a number of times now, and I am just beginning to understand what makes Maria tick.

5. Sarah Silverman – I Smile Back
as Laney Brooks
Women spiraling out of control on film in 2015 didn’t get more intense than Sarah Silverman in I Smile Back. Silverman was all but reborn as manic depressive, Laney Brooks. There wasn’t a trace of Silverman’s trademarked humor to be found here. Laney was a hopelessly lost woman, plagued with thoughts of inadequacy, fogged by booze, coke, and men. I Smile Back is a difficult movie to take. Much like Steve McQueen’s Shame, it observes its troubled subject without judgment. All we can do is sit and watch the downfall in absolute horror.

4. Rooney Mara – Carol
as Therese Belivet
How Rooney Mara is able to tap into such a profound sense of detachment is beyond me. She plays lost characters a lot; women who are confused yet fierce, vaguely hopeful yet broken. Therese Belivet (my god, whatta name) is Mara’s most mature character yet. I so desperately wanted Therese to figure out her troubles, and go on life happily. It might be Mara’s best work yet, and given that she’s only 30 years old, we happily have plenty more great performances to look forward to.

3/2. Joséphine Japy & Lou de Laâge – Breathe (Respire)
as Charlie & Sarah
Breathe was the film that came out of nowhere for me last year (it was my third favorite film of the year). I was absolutely floored by it, thanks much in part to the two profoundly confident lead performances. Japy’s longing and innocence played beautifully against Laâge’s assurance and hidden rage. I never had a clue where these two were going, up until the film’s final, breathless moment.

1. Brie Larson – Room
as Ma
What a difficult role to pull off. I can’t imagine the depths of inner solitude you would have to dig into in order to play a character like Ma so effectively. But however Brie Larson got there, the result was one of the best, most disturbing, most victorious performances I’ve seen in ages. I understood everything about Ma. I understand her fear and anger, her depression and rage. I understood that even though she should be happy, her demons will take a great long while to put to rest. I understood all of this about Ma, because she was played by such a fearless actor. If Brie Larson is set to be the frontrunner for this year’s Best Actress Oscar, then justice has certainly been issued.

2015 in Review


  1. Another great list. This time with more movies i have yet too see though. Brooklyn, Carol and Clouds of Sils Maria are three movies that are definitely on my "too watch" list. But anyway, here is my list so far at least.

    15. Emily Browning in Legend
    14. Laura Linney in Mr. Holmes
    13. Zoe Saldana in Infinitely Polar Bear
    12. Joan Cusack in The End of the Tour (Funniest part of the movie by far.)
    11. Rachel McAdams in Spotlight
    10. Rebecca Hall in The Gift
    9. Tessa Thompson in Creed
    8. Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road
    7. Helen Mirren in Trumbo (I honestly didn't even notice it was her for a long time in the movie.)
    6. Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs
    5. Olivia Cooke in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
    4. Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina
    3. Emily Blunt in Sicario (Biggest Oscar snub of the year next to Idris Elba.)
    2. Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight
    1. Brie Larson in Room (Totally agree with everything you said about her. She has to win the Oscar this year.)

    Again a really hard list to narrow down. I expect i have to change it again once i see the three movies i listed at the beginning at least. I'll probably check out some more from your list as well once i get the time. I might check out I Smile Back just to see how Sarah Silverman does in a dramatic performance. Not something i ever thought i would see.

    1. Man, how much of a bitch was Mirren in that movie? She dove right into it. So sad about Blunt. That whole movie got that shaft with awards. Sucks.

      So, so happy to see Larson at number 1. Really hoping she pulls out the win.

  2. For me, so far....

    1. Brie Larson-Room
    2. Jennifer Jason Leigh-The Hateful Eight
    3. Charlize Theron-Mad Max: Fury Raod
    4. Rachel McAdams-Spotlight
    5. Kate Winslet-Steve Jobs
    6. Daisy Ridley-The Force Awakens
    7. Alicia Vikander-Ex-Machina
    8. Aomi Muyock-Love
    9. Greta Gerwig/Lola Kirke-Mistress America
    10. Jessica Chastain-Crimson Peak.

    1. Great list. Totally love seeing Muyock here. I really hope that movie finds an audience once it's released on DVD.

  3. Great list! Rooney Mara, Brie Larson and Emily Blunt's performances are some of my favorites this year.

  4. Wonderful list! I love that you extended it to 20 instead of 15. More people should have seen Queen of Earth and Meadowland. The Best Actress lineup this year is so wonderful. Larson would be my number 5, and considering how damn good she is in Room, that's a testament to how many brilliant performances there were this year by actresses. Here are my current Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress lineups:

    Best Actress-
    1. Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
    2. Cate Blanchett & Rooney Mara, Carol
    3. Rinko Kikuchi, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
    4. Mya Taylor & Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Tangerine
    5. Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
    6. Greta Gerwig & Lola Kirke, Mistress America
    7. Teyonnah Parris, Chi-Raq
    8. Desiree Akhavan, Appropriate Behaviour
    9. Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
    10. Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road

    Best Supporting Actress-
    1. Rose Byrne, Spy
    2. Sarah Paulson, Carol
    3. Olivia Colman, The Lobster
    4. Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
    5. Jada Pinkett-Smith, Magic Mike XXL
    6. Jessica Chastain, Crimson Peak
    7. Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight & Anomalisa
    8. Phyllis Smith, Inside Out
    9. Miranda Hart, Spy
    10. Julie Walters, Brooklyn

    1. Kikuchi was so good in that film. It's a shame it was released so early in the year, maybe it would've stuck around in people's minds better if it was released later. Also great to see Smith land on your list for XXL. I loved her in that movie.

  5. Amazing list, I agree with so many of these (I still need to see a few) but if I made the same list, Saoirse, Brie, Alicia, Jennifer, Kristen, and Nina would make it too.

    1. Thanks! Nina Hoss was so good, right? I really loved her in that film.

  6. Great list, glad you loved Saoirse as well. I'm dying to see Macbeth and Carol.

    1. Thanks man. Macbeth is a great adaptation. So visually stunning.

  7. I haven’t seen many films from 2015 so this list provides me a long list to watch next. I can’t wait for Macbeth, Queen of Earth, Meadowland and Sicario. I also believe Cotillard and Blanchett are capable of anything, two of my favorite actresses on this list with Rooney Mara, which I can’t wait to see as Therese Belivet. As you said, I’m sure she has a bright future ahead; and I’d love to see her working again with Fincher.

    By the way, I’m surprised about the lack of nominations for Sufragette. I haven’t seen it yet, maybe it’s a big disappointment, but it was one of the films of 2015 I was anticipating the most because of Abi Morgan being the writer and having such a powerful female cast.

    1. I'd love to hear your thoughts on Macbeth and Sicario in particular. I think the general consensus for Suffragette is that it was well intentioned by meandering. I didn't have much of an interest in seeing it.

  8. Ooo nice list! My favourite of the year is Charlotte Rampling. Absolutely 100% destroyed me. But yes actresses > actors by a mile.

    1. Rampling was so damn good in that film. Her final few scenes were perfect.

  9. UGH, so much here that I need to see!!!

  10. Great post! As always, Alex, your writing is fabulous. I have yet to see a single one of these movies. Thank God for Netflix. Have I mentioned, here, how much I love the novel upon which Room is based?

    1. Thanks Steph! That's so nice! I gave Room to my mom for Xmas, and she loved it. I need to read it myself.

  11. Great work! Must have been tough to shoot that film for Laia Costa. She is one to watch for the future, and so is the director of Victoria.
    I thought it was a strong year for female action heroines with Daisy Ridley in Star Wars,Charlize Theron in Mad Max, and Rebecca Ferguson in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation. But I realize those blockbusters may not appeal to everyone.

    1. Really excited to see where Costa and Schipper's careers go. I agree, it was definitely a good year for female heroines, especially outside of super hero franchises.

  12. Great list with a lot of amazing choices. There are quite a few performances I've haven't been able to forget about; Cate, Brie, Kristen. My favorite is probably Jennifer Jason Leigh. The Hateful Eight is not very rewarding to me, but I can't even put into words how much I loved her as Daisy.

    1. Thanks Katy! Loved JJL in The Hateful Eight. I don't think she'll win, but I'm so glad she finally landed an Oscar nom!

  13. I really hope Respire girls have long and awesome careers unlike Adele who just had Blue and disappeared :(

    1. Oh same here. But I don't think Adele's career has ended or anything. I think she's booked steady stuff since Blue, but none of the films have dropped yet. I still have high hopes for her career.

  14. While I unfortunately missed many of the female-led films of 2015, I will say that I wasn't that impressed with Blunt in Sicario. The film was great, but she was meh, in my opinion.

    I cannot wait to see Room! It never came to my area, and I'm totally pissed. I've watched the trailer like 400 times, and it just gets better and better.

    1. I think Room is getting a strong new theatrical push starting this weekend. Those Oscar noms should drive plenty of new business to it, so hopefully you'll have a chance to see it!

  15. Rooney, so good.

    I haven't seen too much talk about Clouds of Sils Maria, I'll make an effort to seek it out :)

    1. Sils Maria is a really good one. Like a delicate little puzzle. I absolutely love it.

  16. Excellent list! I haven't seen the performances from Rampling or Cotillard yet, but I expect they'll also be two of my favorites.

    Here are my female lineups (and honorable mentions) right now:

    Cate Blanchett, Carol
    Nina Hoss, Phoenix
    Rooney Mara, Carol
    Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
    Alicia Vikander, Testament of Youth

    HMs: Jennifer Lawrence, Joy, Carey Mulligan, Far from the Madding Crowd, Cate Blanchett, Truth, Brie Larson, Room, Blake Lively, The Age of Adaline, Emily Blunt, Sicario, Laia Costa, Victoria, Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road, Rinko Kikuchi, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, Joséphine Japy & Lou de Laâge, Breathe (Respire)

    Rose Byrne, Spy
    Elizabeth Debicki, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
    Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
    Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria
    Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina

    HMs: Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars, Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy, Andie MacDowell & Jada Pinkett Smith, Magic Mike XXL, Raffey Cassidy, Tomorrowland, Sarah Paulson, Carol, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anomalisa, Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs, Zoe Saldana, Infinitely Polar Bear, Assa Sylla, Girlhood, Alicia Vikander, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

    1. Dude, Rose Byrne was soooo good in Spy. I wish roles that like got more attention. Great list!

  17. I love Brie. She earned that Oscar alright. And she's amazing in Room. I think she'll be my number one female performance this year too.