7. Cate Blanchett – Carol
In Carol, Cate Blanchett does what Cate Blanchett does best by delivering one hell of a power-house performance that rivals her Academy Award winning turn in Blue Jasmine just two years prior. Blanchett plays Carol, an unhappy mother going through a divorce with her untrustworthy husband who falls in love with a young retail employee played by Rooney Mara.
Between Blanchett and Mara, Blanchett has the more booming, in-your-face performance. Tears are shed and screams are screamed. This unabashed intensity is hard not to admire, leaving audiences rooting for a woman who’s just trying to find love. In this year of powerful women in film, Blanchett’s performance as Carol stands out as one of the best of the bunch.
6. Paul Dano – Love and Mercy
Paul Dano has got to be one of the most underrated actors working today. After stellar performances in There Will Be Blood, Little Miss Sunshine, 12 Years a Slave, and Prisoners, Dano manages to outdo himself once again by playing Beach Boys savant Brian Wilson in his younger days (opposite John Cusack, who plays the older Brian Wilson).
Playing someone as iconic as Brian Wilson is a risky move especially given Wilson’s struggle with mental illness. Thankfully, Dano sensitively portrays the damaged superstar in a way that gives the audience a sense of understanding, sympathy, and admiration. While Cusack also did solid work, it was Dano that pushed the movie from solid biopic to one of the best films of the year.
5. Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs may have underperformed at the box office, but let’s just consider that a reminder that box office returns don’t equal quality. While the script and direction were both worthy of praise, Fassbender’s performance as Apple’s co-founder was the clear stand-out.
Bringing the raw, savage energy of Steve Jobs to the screen isn’t an easy feat. Actors such as Ashton Kutcher have tried, but critics generally found his performance to be middling at best. Leave it to Fassbender to show the world how it’s done. It helps that Sorkin’s script, which paints a less flattering picture of Jobs than we’ve come to expect, gives Fassbender good material to work with, but it’s safe to say Fassbender would have been able to strengthen any Jobs biopic.
4. Rooney Mara – Carol
Blanchett may be the bigger name in Carol, but that doesn’t make her the better performer. On the contrary, Rooney Mara’s portrayal of Therese Belivet, the soft-spoken retail employee that falls for the titular character is just as impressive, if not more-so than the top-billed actress.
Her reserved performance isn’t as flashy as Blanchett’s, which means attention to detail may be necessary in order to catch the more subtle nuances displayed. Despite her clear status as a co-lead, the choice to campaign for Best Supporting Actress could very well win Mara her first well-deserved Academy Award.
3. Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
Saoirse Ronan has a reputation for her ability to perfect just about any accent thrown her way. It’s ironic then that Ronan’s best performance happens to be the one where she’s able to use her natural Irish accent.
Brooklyn has the misfortune of having a fairly simple story. The plot presented to the viewers isn’t, by any means, something they haven’t seen before. With that in mind, how is Brooklyn sitting pretty with a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes with Best Picture nominations coming from the Critics’ Choice Awards, Producers Guild of America Awards, and Satellite Awards? Let’s just say Ronan is a huge part of it.
The phenomenal script, beautiful production design, and solid supporting performances certainly help the film, but Saoirse Ronan’s undeniably loveable performance as Irish lass Ellis Lacey is what makes this movie what it is. You don’t need to be interested in Brooklyn’s plot to enjoy it. The enjoyment comes from Ronan’s ability to make the audience fall in love with this simple, everyday Irish girl.
2. Brie Larson – Room
After a critically acclaimed but criminally overlooked performance in Short Term 12, Larson came back to wow the audience in Room. Based on Emma Donoghue’s award winning novel about a young mother living in captivity with her son, Room has become a critical darling thanks in large part to Laron’s portrayal of Joy Newsome.
At first glance, one could easily assume Room is a movie that belongs on the Lifetime channel instead of the big screen. Looking deeper, however, viewers will find a psychologically complex and emotionally rewarding tale of struggle and triumph. Laron brings her multifaceted character to life in a way that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat, hoping everything will work out in her favor. It’s no wonder Larson is the Best Actress frontrunner – because she deserves it.
1. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
2015 is starting to look more and more like the year that the “Oscars hate Leo” meme becomes a thing of the past. With a fresh Golden Globe win under his belt and plenty of support from critics, it’s starting to look like people are going to have to look for a new underdog to root for. Five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams could certainly use a boost from ravenous social network users, but she’s not quite as popular.
Admittedly, this was a much stronger year for women, given the release of feminist hits like Room, Carol, Brooklyn, Suffragette, and Mad Max: Fury Road. That does not mean, however, that DiCaprio’s frontrunner status can or should be attributed to good timing. This remains one of the best performances of his career, as well as a standout performance in comparison to other stronger years.
Given the smaller cast and overwhelmingly large focus on DiCaprio’s character, the renowned actor is given the perfect movie to show off his skills as a talented actor. Iñárritu allows DiCaprio to be the number one focal point throughout The Revenant’s lengthy runtime, and DiCaprio is able to hold the audience’s attention until the very last second.