Overlooked Performances: 2015

Here are ten performances from 2015 that did not receive nominations at this year’s Academy Awards, but which you should nevertheless check out. I would have included more, but I’m a bit pressed for time (the ceremony starts in less than three hours!) and I couldn’t find enough clips for some performances, like Allan Corduner in Woman in Gold, Blythe Danner in I’ll See You in My Dreams and Olivia Wilde in Meadowland.

Tom Courtenay (45 Years) – While this awards season’s focus on 45 Years has been centered on Charlotte Rampling’s performance as a wife feeling lost and betrayed by her husband’s long-buried secrets involving another woman, Courtenay deserves his own praise for playing the role of the husband with many strange layers of yearning for the long-ago past, confusion of his own and compartmentalization.

Paul Dano (Love & Mercy) – Playing a music legend can’t be easy, but Paul Dano gets inside the head of Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson, whose musical innovations in the mid-to-late 1960s are interrupted by nervous breakdowns (eventually diagnosed as manic depression and schizoaffective disorder). The world acknowledges Wilson’s brilliance, but in scenes like the one where he previews “God Only Knows” (one of his masterpieces) for his father, the beauty of the song – even in its raw form – is undercut by harsh comments from Dad (“It’s not a love song, it’s a suicide note.”), which Brian takes to heart more forcefully than the words of any other critic.

Benicio Del Toro (Sicario) – FBI and CIA operations in Mexico are observed by young, inexperienced agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), who is accompanied on her trips into the drug-cartel underworld by Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), a man who works on both sides of the border and does whatever he deems necessary to impose justice. Del Toro glides across the screen, always in control.

James Franco (True Story) – You never know exactly where you stand with Christian Longo, an accused murderer who claims to be protecting the “real” killer of his wife and children. Do you believe the soft-spoken, sad-eyed version of the man, or do you acknowledge the creepiness of the attention he pays to Jill Barker (Felicity Jones), girlfriend of Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill), the reporter who has been interviewing Longo about the story and impending murder trial? Franco keeps you on your toes the whole time.

Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight) – You wouldn’t want to spend much time with any of the bad seeds from Tarantino’s latest revenge flick, but Goggins brings some weird Southern charm to his performance as Sheriff Chris Mannix, a guy who has no idea what he got himself into when he asks to ride into town with bounty hunters (Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson) and a wanted woman being brought to jail (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

Jack Huston (The Longest Ride) – Although the main love story in this sappy drama is portrayed by young lovers in modern times (Scott Eastwood and Britt Robertson), the B story concerns two Jewish-American characters living in the 1940s and 50s, Ira and Ruth (Jack Huston and Oona Chaplin respectively, fulfilling some kind of quota-triple for descendants of powerful film-related families – Eastwood, Huston, Chaplin). I don’t expect great acting in any film based on the writings of Nicholas Sparks, but Huston did some very fine work in this multi-generational romance.

Ben Mendelsohn (Mississippi Grind) – You can see the acute desperation in gambler Gerry’s every expression and movement, whether he is quietly considering his next move (the character is essentially an introverted one unless he’s around certain people) or excitedly trying to convince his reluctant pal Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) to take a chance on a crazy bet. There was probably never any likelihood that Ben Mendelsohn would be nominated for an Oscar for such a small, under-seen film, but at least he was able to snag an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Male Lead (he lost to Beasts of No Nation’s Abraham Attah).

Michael Shannon (99 Homes) – Shannon applies both menace and an oddly seductive magnetism to the role of Rick Carver, a shady real estate broker who takes every available pleasure he can from bilking the system and making profits out of homeowners’ pain.

Jason Statham (Spy) – After a long career starring in action movies, Statham plays his role for laughs here as a super-cool, super-tough CIA agent who is comically awful at his job, klutzy beyond belief and, despite what his actions say to the contrary, convinced that he is James Bond incarnate.

Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) – Vikander plays Ava, the ultimate paranoid android, who uses her supreme artificial intelligence to question why she was built, what her life’s purpose is, whether she has the same right to independence as human women and whether she can ever escape the confines of her creator’s laboratory. (Don’t worry for Vikander too much; I’m pretty sure that she will win Best Supporting Actress tonight for The Danish Girl.)

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