6. Regina Casé in The Second Mother
One of the biggest injustices of this year’s Academy Awards, the exclusion of Brazilian social drama The Second Mother from the Foreign Film category made it impossible for Regina Casé, the movie’s lead, to have any chance to be included in the Best Actress race. It’s a shame, since Casé’s performance is wondrous in its sincerity and warmth, modulating the script to convey the character arc of Val, a live-in housekeeper for a family in Brazil.
In less capable hands, the subtlety of the script, the way it twists the stereotype that Val could easily be put in, could have been lost – in Casé’s performance, it’s made even clearer by how much sympathy she makes us feel for the character and her struggle to earn money to raise her daughter.
The Second Mother is, no doubt, one of the most precise social dramas of Brazilian class struggle in recent years, but Casé is the one that makes it resonate with audiences that are getting in touch with that reality for the first time. Her work highlights every aspect of the conflicting relationship she develops with the family that employs her, with her recently returned daughter and with the prospects for her future. It’s a funny, affecting performance that deserved more award recognition that it got.
7. Shameik Moore in Dope
Straight from Cartoon Network’s Incredible Crew, Shamiek Moore is quite a surprise in his starring role in Dope, a very smart crime comedy made by writer/director Rick Famuyiwa. As a nerdy teen from a tough neighborhood in California, he has to show a wide range as the film relies heavily on his performance to work – he’s sometimes the straight man in his ragtag trio of friends completed by Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori, sometimes just another geeky kid in a high-school movie, and sometimes a smarter-than-usual teen learning all the privileges he’s not privy to because of the color of his skin. Bringing all of this aspects together in a coherent and engaging lead must not have been easy, but Moore does it with seamless ease.
His assured performance allows the movie to tell its story with more fluidity and tone clashing than it would usually be tolerable – whenever we’re blindsided by Dope, especially in a talky monologue in the last minutes, dangerously close to soapbox activism, Moore brings us back to what and who this story is about. That’s the mark of a real star, and sealing his performance with a nomination would have made sure that he gets treated as such.
8. Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina
A lot of the magic in Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s debut as a director, hangs on Alicia Vikander’s performance as Ava, the artificial intelligent being created by Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and “tested” by Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) throughout the movie. The Swedish actress doesn’t disappoint, surpassing the strange sex appeal the movie lends her character and creating a performance that’s rich on detail and highlights the fundamental mystery of intentions that make up Ex Machina’s plot.
As a character that’s constantly being analyzed by those around her, Vikander makes us hang on to her every word and gesture – she’s undoubtedly the movie’s MVP.
Of course her exclusion from the Oscars have a lot to do with the genre the movie fits in – science fiction hasn’t been favored by the Academy, especially when the actor in question has delivered another celebrated performance in a much more palatable and “academic” drama such as The Danish Girl. Ex Machina is still Vikander’s greatest achievement in 2015, though, especially when taken in context with what the movie asks her to do – it’s a complicated, magnetic and unforgettable performance that’s eventually very empowering.
9. Greta Gerwig in Mistress America
Greta Gerwig is often dismissed as just another charming leading lady for indie dramedies. In her films with her boyfriend Noah Baumbach, though, she shows she’s much more than that – be it as the clueless young ballerina in the sublime Frances Ha or as the 30-something with entrepreneur dreams in Mistress America, she lends this characters not only warmth and charisma, but profundity and understanding of their own views about themselves and the world, digging deeper than the surface they show the world and dropping hints and modulating behaviors to represent that.
In Mistress America, specifically, she builds a wickedly funny, and yet strangely affecting character in Brooke, balancing the idealization of herself she clearly harbors and show to the world with the inner doubt and realization of her failure that lives within the character.
While she serves as a Gatsby proxy for aspiring writer Tracy (Lola Kirke), Brooke is also the star of a tragically beautiful story all by herself. When Mistress America breaks with the idealization of its characters and situations, our affection for her doesn’t follow – in a lot of ways, with her broken dreams and twisted sense of society, Brooke is very relatable.
10. Joseph Gordon-Levitt in The Walk
Though fairly criticized for his “silly” French accent, Joseph Gordon-Levitt puts on quite a show in Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk, a underestimated ode to both the city of New York and the humans (and foreigners too!) that made and make her come to life.
If you can look past the laughable imitation of a French man speaking English, Levitt’s performance is charming and understanding of the very essence of his character, his megalomaniac dreams and feats of artistry, his passion for the rush of big heights, his sometimes egoistical personality. It’s a kinder, mellower portrayal of tortured genius and an alternative take on an antihero, anchored in Levitt’s affable persona to eventually expand our view of his character.
Levitt also makes The Walk’s most irritating narrative trick work: the voice-over narration, sometimes accompanied by images of Levitt’s Philippe Petit telling us his story on top of the Statue of Liberty, with the World Trade Center far in the distance. He infuses this scenes with such energy, usi g the limited space, his gestures and his eyes with such ability, this scenes go from narrative contrivances to absolute pleasures to watch. It is, sometimes, a performance that singlehandedly carries the film it’s in, and that’s a feat for any actor.
Author Bio: Caio Coletti is a Brazilian-born journalist, a proud poptimist, and has too many opinions to keep them all to himself.