14. Kristen Stewart – Clouds of Sils Maria
Most critics are beginning to believe the wooden performances in the Twilight movies could be blamed on a lack of passion because Kristen Stewart keeps (pleasantly) surprising them. After great performances in Adventureland and Still Alice, Kristen Stewart manages to top herself in the criminally underseen Clouds of Sils Maria.
Stewart is sharp as a knife in her portrayal of Valentin, the assistant of international movie star Maria Enders (played by Juliette Binoche). She handles the sudden mood swings of her character elegantly, constantly piquing the interest of an audience begging to know how her relationship with Maria will change over the course of the film.
13. Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Most people have concluded that Spotlight is one of the best movies of the year. Most people have also concluded that it’s a potential Best Picture frontrunner. What most people can’t seem to agree on, however, is who the standout performer happens to be. Spotlight is, without a doubt, an ensemble film.
This is a film where it’s hard to pinpoint who the lead is. The characters all share a pretty equal amount of screen time and they all have the resources to show off their acting range. Most people seem to be juggling between Ruffalo, Keaton, and McAdams.
Mark Ruffalo is no stranger to starring in ensemble films. After all, he’s an Avenger. Just like his rock-solid performance as the Hulk in the aforementioned film, Ruffalo once again manages to stand out despite a highly talented group of co-stars. Viewers can tell that this is a topic that really strikes a nerve with Ruffalo.
This is something that he’s doing not just because it’ll get him paid, but because he cares about it. Ruffalo apparently made frequent trips to the home of the real-life man he’s portraying, taking notes and making sure to get his character just right. His commitment is absolutely evident every second he’s on the big screen.
12. Sylvester Stallone – Creed
The Rocky franchise is nearly forty years old, and it took Stallone this long to perfect his portrayal of the boxing champion. This isn’t to say that Stallone’s previous portrayals of the character were lacking. Rather, it seems Stallone has outdone himself, something I wasn’t confident would happen.
The recent bombardment of long-overdue sequels and unnecessary reboots had me worried that Creed would be another bust alongside Terminator: Genysis. The good news is it was far from a bust. In fact, it was one of the best sequels of 2015. Part of this is due to Stallone’s portrayal of Rocky in a completely different role than the audience is used to.
This time, Rocky puts his boxing gloves up and takes on the role of a trainer – a role that Stallone gives plenty of emotional punch. There’s this unfortunate misconception about Stallone that he’s only capable of playing big buff action stars, but if his recent Golden Globe win is anything to go by, it’s safe to say that Stallone may finally be getting the credit he deserves.
11. Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina
Really, one could replace Ex Machina with any of Vikander’s three big roles this year because she was the standout in all of them, but let’s just limit it to one. Vikander seemingly came out of nowhere and has since proven herself as the breakthrough actress of 2015. Her performance in Ex Machina, where she plays a humanoid robot named Ava, was haunting and arresting.
Earning her both a BAFTA and Golden Globe nomination, Vikander is the undeniable stand-out in this Sci-Fi mind-bender. Viewers will find themselves sympathizing with protagonist Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), as they will likely connect with Ava in many of the same ways as him. As a result, Vikander’s performance could be deemed downright hypnotic.
We as the audience want to help her just like the brilliant but naïve lead. Vikander’s portrayal as the fragile android isn’t just one of the best performances of the year, but it’s one of the best portrayals of artificial intelligence in any movie.
10. Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Tarantino’s latest is a movie that relies heavily on its gifted ensemble, given the way the film is presented to the audience. This Western whodunit, which takes place almost entirely in one building, needs gifted performances to keep audiences alert during dialog heavy scenes – and trust me, there are a lot of dialog heavy scenes.
Luckily, Tarantino found his ace of spades in Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays the toothless, fowl-mouthed prisoner of John “The Hangman” Ruth. Jason Leigh’s first collaboration with Tarantino has resulted in an almost inevitable place on Tarantino’s ever-growing list of regulars. Regardless of your feelings on the admittedly polarizing film, it’s hard to deny the fact that Jennifer Jason Leigh brings this demented gang member to life with plenty of scene-stealing moments.
9. Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road is not necessarily an acting showcase. This is a movie that’s light on dialog and heavy on action. However, that doesn’t stop Charlize Theron from leaving a lasting impression on the viewer.
Furiosa is one of the best movie characters of the year, and it’s Theron that helps make that happen. Some critics have gone as far as to say that Furiosa is the best female action character since Ellen Ripley (who made her debut all the way back in 1979). These flattering comparisons couldn’t be made if Theron botched her performance.
Judging from the widespread acclaim, we can assume that Theron didn’t do that. On the contrary, she stole the entire movie and made us question why it was called Mad Max in the first place instead of Mad Furiosa.
8. Jacob Tremblay – Room
Brie Larson may be the most acclaimed member of the cast of Room, but let’s not overlook 9-year old Jacob Tremblay’s extraordinary portrayal of Jack, the boy who has lived his entire life in a single room with no knowledge of the existence of anything outside.
Room presents the audience with an extremely touchy topic – something that can be daunting when presented to someone as young as Tremblay. Luckily, Tremblay proves to be just as mature as the rest of the cast.
Room is a movie that rides on Tremblay’s performance, as Jack is the cog that keeps the plot moving. Without someone as talented as Tremblay playing this delicate character, the movie would have fallen apart entirely. For fans of the novel, be grateful they were able to cast someone who could handle this heavy of a role.