Best Acting Performances | The Best of 2015

When considering the superlatives for last year’s films, we had acting performances broken up into male and female categories. We based our categories loosely on the Academy’s, but felt that the distinction between a lead and supporting acting performance was insignificant; a great acting performance transcends the amount of time the actor or actress spends on screen and is valued at the transportative nature of the performance itself, regardless of screentime or number of lines. As we talked over the categories for this year, we agreed that this transcendence extends to gender as well, that a great acting performance is a great acting performance, regardless of anything external to what’s on the screen. These are the best acting performances of 2015, the ones who brought their respective films to life more than any others.

When considering the superlatives for last year's films, we had acting performances broken up into male and female categories. We based our categories loosely on the Academy's, but felt that the distinction between a lead and supporting acting performance was insignificant; a great acting performance transcends the amount of time the actor or actress spends on screen and is valued at the transportative nature of the performance itself, regardless of screentime or number of lines. As we talked over the categories for this year, we agreed that this transcendence extends to gender as well, that a great acting performance is a great acting performance, regardless of anything external to what's on the screen. These are the best acting performances of 2015, the ones who brought their respective films to life more than any others.

Steve Carell
20. Steve Carell
The Big Short
As Mark Baum

"I have a feeling, in a few years people are going to be doing what they always do when the economy tanks. They will be blaming immigrants and poor people."
Steve Carell has dramatic acting chops and he will brandish them perennially in movies that wouldn’t possibly have the same emotional depth without him. He can be tortured or hysterical and, as Mark Baum, he’s often both. Sure, Adam McKay’s screenplay and directing give The Big Short its comedic panache, and no one breaks fourth walls with more charm than Ryan Gosling. True, these elements earn our buy-in at the start of the movie. But it’s Steve Carell’s character that we end the movie with--the one tortured voice, not shouting in the woods, but whispering from a skyscraper that juggling lofty morals and big money is no joke. – Brian Urrutia
Jennifer Lawrence
19. Jennifer Lawrence
Joy
As Joy Mangino

"Don't ever think that the world owes you anything, because it doesn't. The world doesn't owe you a thing."
Jennifer Lawrence is a movie star and dramatic actress of the highest order. She delivers results for the box office and tears for the Academy. Her performance in Joy is no exception. Lawrence demands your attention and steals every scene in the charming, charismatic way as only she can. – Jarryd Baxter
Idris Elba
18. Idris Elba
Beasts of No Nation
As Commandant

"I will always protect you because you are my son. And a son always protects his father."
Perhaps Idris Elba's greatest task in Beasts of No Nation was to take an archetype that is deservedly so reviled and subhuman that any sympathy could never be granted him and to somehow have the viewer grant him that sympathy. Like all great victims of Imperialism, his Commandant is ultimately a tragic, not despicable character, and that's in large part thanks to Elba's bringing the interiority of his character to life as his imposed and accepted world comes apart around him and he finds himself left alone with his deeds. Elba brings the Commandant to his knees from such a high and terrifying position with a mix of terror and grace. – Jeff Pearson
Charlize Theron
17. Charlize Theron
Mad Max: Fury Road
As Imperator Furiosa

"Out here, everything hurts. You wanna get through this? Do as I say. Now pick up what you can and run."
Charlize Theron steals the show. If you love solid sci-fi movies and wonder who the next righteous, badass protagonist is, she’s an Imperator for Immortan Joe, the wheezy and well-hydrated a-hole leader of the War Boys. The movie is called Mad Max, but by the end of it we are all bowing to our Furiosa. And we shall rage on. – BU
Cate Blanchett
16. Cate Blanchett
Carol
As Carol Aird

"Just when it can't get any worse, you run out of cigarettes."
She’s the best actress around. – BU
Christian Bale
15. Christian Bale
The Big Short
As Michael Burry

"That's a nice haircut. Did you do it yourself?"
Christian Bale is well known for his ability to physically transform himself. He went from playing an emaciated, 120 pound Trevor Reznik in the Machinist to playing a chiseled, 200+ pound Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. However, the transformation that takes place in The Big Short by Bale is one of personality instead of physicality. Bale, who is more likely to be playing a charismatic jock, plays the quiet and socially awkward genius, Dr. Michael Burry. The movie is heavily reliant on this character as he is one of the only sympathetic characters in the film, and he pulls it off effortlessly. You really feel for him in his unenviable position. Bale continues to prove that he has as much or more range and ability than any other actor currently working. – AO
Saoirse Ronan
14. Saoirse Ronan
Brooklyn
As Eilis

"You'll feel so homesick that you'll want to die, and there's nothing you can do about it apart from endure it. But you will, and it won't kill you, and one day the sun will come out and you'll realize that this is where your life is."
In her coming-of-age tale, Ronan’s subtle transformation within every frame is something to behold. This performance is worthy of the highest honor. – JB
Jennifer Jason Leigh
13. Jennifer Jason Leigh
The Hateful Eight
As Daisy Domergue

"When you get to hell, John, tell them Daisy sent you."
If you want to see one of the most dramatic transformations made by an actor or actress this year, look no further than Jennifer Jason Leigh. And try not to look at all because she is hideous. I forget now where I ranked this performance but off the top of my head I feel it needs to be in the top 3 or 4 of the year. She is an absolute presence in this movie and you can’t take your eyes off of her. She is one of the most compelling characters in this completely character driven Tarantino movie, and she handles it with full competence and seeming ease. This is a case where I can’t even imagine what the actual actress is like in real life. The character is all that exists in my mind, which is an impressive feat. I can’t understand why there’s not more Oscar buzz for this supporting performance, but in my opinion she deserves it just a bit more than Kate Winslet. – AO
Tom Hardy
12. Tom Hardy
Legend
As Ronald & Reggie Kray

"What is that? I come here for a proper shootout! What you gonna do with that rollin' pin? You gonna bake me a cake? What I want is a shootout, a shootout is a shootout! Like a Western!"
Tom Hardy had himself quite the year. Considering that his performance in Legend was that of two totally opposing personalities in the Kray Brothers, Ronnie and Reggie, along with Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant, the man gave four of the most impressive performances of the year. Most impressive to me was his work here as the Krays. He played it cool and collected as Reggie, as quietly menacing as they come, one minute, and the next he was a loose cannon completely impossible to look away from for his unpredictability. Oftentimes both at once. While Legend itself won't change the world by any means, his performance has helped cement him as one of the finest working actors we've got. – JP
Oscar Isaac
11. Oscar Isaac
Ex Machina
As Nathan

"One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa: an upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction."
Oscar Isaac must've had a blast playing this role in Ex Machina. He gets to portray a mashup of JD Salinger and Mark Zuckerberg with a splash of alcoholism and set in the near future. The amount of flesh he gives to his character is unreal. It is simultaneously totally believable in his understated genius as well as his pompous-bro-douchiness. – CC
Emily Blunt
10. Emily Blunt
Sicario
As Kate Macer

"Do we get an opportunity to get the men responsible for today?"
"Emily Blunt can act!" a fellow Bit Player remarked. Her turn as a morally sensitive narcotics agent who gets dragged into the seemingly infinitely complex world of CIA/Drug Cartel politics is nothing short of spectacular. Her scenes with Benicio Del Toro especially are what takes Sicario from good to great. – CC
Michael B. Jordan
9. Michael B. Jordan
Creed
As Adonis Johnson

"I've been fighting my whole life. I ain’t got a choice."
He has come a long way since The Wire. Jordan showcased his acting prowess in Fruitvale Station, but with Creed, has proven that he is ready for the main event. – JB
Spotlight Ensemble
8. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d'Arcy Jones
Spotlight
As The Spotlight News Team

"If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them. That's the truth of it."
We decided to reward the entire crew from this wonderful movie. We couldn't pick anyone out to specifically reward because no one performance outshines the others. Perhaps this is what actors should aspire to. – CC
Adam Driver
7. Adam Driver
Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
As Kylo Ren

"Forgive me. I feel it again... the call from light. Supreme Leader senses it. Show me again the power of the darkness, and I'll let nothing stand in our way. Show me, grandfather, and I will finish what you started."
Adam Driver absolutely crushed his performance as Kylo Ren. Filling in the shoes of Darth Vader is a tall order and especially being able to remain scary and unpredictable despite showing his very human face is where Driver really proved himself in this role. Intense, dark, brooding, and at the same time complex and flawed, he succeeded where so many villains have failed. – CC
Jacob Tremblay
6. Jacob Tremblay
Room
As Jack

"When I was small, I only knew small things. But now I'm five, I know everything!"
Lil' Kurt Vile absolutely steals the show in Room, which is quite the feat considering Brie Larson delivers such a career-defining and lauded performance. The film, like the Emma Donaghue novel upon which it is based, is told through the lens of Jacob Tremblay's character Jack, and Tremblay presents Jack's innocence and wide-eyed terror at the outside world in a way that actually kind of makes you concerned for the young actor's living conditions it's so realistic and believeable. The performance would be impressive (but a little strange) from even the most seasoned actors, but delivered by the nine year-old Tremblay it becomes an actual wonder to behold. – JP
Kate Winslet
5. Kate Winslet
Steve Jobs
As Joanna Hoffman

"I have the correct time, and we're running out of it."
In the current supporting actress race in the Academy Awards, her main competition is Alicia Vikander and Rooney Mara. Both of these competing performances are more realistically lead roles and probably don’t belong in the supporting category. This is especially unfortunate for Kate Winslet who supplies an actual supporting role. She portrays Joanna Hoffman, the personal assistant of Steve Jobs. With so many others shining so brightly beside her, saying she is clearly visible is the best compliment I can give her considering the Orion’s belt of performances by Michael Fassbender, Seth Rogen, and Jeff Daniels. She is Steve Jobs’ moral North Star in the movie and his equal, being one of the only characters strong enough to confront him and make him see the error of his ways. – AO
Tom Hardy
4. Tom Hardy
The Revenant
As John Fitzgerald

"You came all this way just for your revenge, huh? Did you enjoy it, Glass? 'Cause there ain't nothin' gon' bring your boy back."
While much of the attention when it comes to The Revenant and acting performances is being devoted to Leo finally taking home the Oscar, it cannot be overstated how that particular performance, while visceral and intense, just maybe was overshadowed by Tom Hardy's dynamic and fearsome portrayal of the film's antagonist, John Fitzgerald. At the very least, the two actors make each other better every step of the way, whether sharing the screen or not. The mere presence of Fitzgerald permeates every moment, whether he's haunting Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) or haunting the viewer with his commanding and convincing appearance. Hardy serves the film most importantly as his character, while the film's ostensible villain, asks the viewer to question their own morality if faced with the same situation. Hardy has made a name for himself playing these morally ambiguous types that give life to his incredible range of acting. – JP
Brie Larson
3. Brie Larson
Room
As Ma

"You're gonna love it. The world."
Apparently Brie Larson can make any movie you need her to make. – BU
Michael Fassbender
2. Michael Fassbender
Steve Jobs
AS Steve Jobs

"Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra."
If you still needed any help, Michael Fassbender will make you forget about Aston Kutcher. – JB
Leonardo DiCaprio
1. Leonardo DiCaprio
The Revenant
As Hugh Glass

"He's afraid. He knows how far I came to find him."
When I first heard about Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in The Revenant I thought “I’m glad The Academy will finally reward Leo’s amazing career but does it have to be for this movie?” I figured Leo was nothing but a rage machine and that it wouldn’t be all that great of a performance. I was completely wrong. While he doesn’t necessarily show a lot of range, you’ll see an incredibly physical and intensely emotional portrayal of a man seeking revenge for his dead son. You’ll also see the best crawling since The Wolf of Wall Street*. He is ambushed by Native Americans, attacked by a bear, buried alive, launched off a waterfall, thrown off a cliff, and forced to sleep in a dead horse. He hardly utters a word the entire time but you don’t even notice. Leo will be fully deserving of his first Oscar. Unless Michael Fassbender steals it from him…

*Special thanks to my fellow Bit Player, Brian for this joke. – AO
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