Michael B. Jordan, Creed

Movie star acting is harder than it looks. Charming the audience isn’t always a natural act, and it can take more preparation than acting out an emotional scene. Director Ryan Coogler found himself a man who can do both in Michael B. Jordan. Adonis is a hard role to get right; Creed, in general, should not have worked. Coogler and Jordan found the right note between deference to the underdog story of the original movie and the swagger that Adonis has as a black man who had to prove himself time and time again. This new modern Rocky is an entirely different animal than the Italian Stallion. But the attraction to Jordan’s performance isn’t its modernity. No, this is a classic performance, through and through, and it will be remembered as such.

Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina

This one the Oscars got right. Well, kind of. They actually gave one to her for The Danish Girl. But history will remember her for her role as Ex Machina‘s android, Ava. There was not a more nuanced piece of acting this year, and few others in any other year. It’s hard to make robots interesting, and harder to pull off a robot who wants to be human. The last shot of Ex Machina, Vikander’s crowning achievement, contains volumes.

Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation

Another performance passed over by the Academy. Elba, who radiates charm in most of his roles, takes on a con man’s sleaziness here. He’s convincing both as the strutting commandant and then as a passed-over, drunken mess. It’s a role that could have been one-dimensional, nothing more than an accent. In Elba’s hands, it’s the pillar that holds up the movie.

Juliette Binoche, Clouds of Sils Maria

Binoche has her Oscar, so she’s received her due as an artist, but how the awards groups turned a blind eye to this poignant part is beyond me. This part was tailor-made for other actors to give it attention- she plays an older (a relative term- Binoche is only 52) actress hired to act again in the play that began her career, but this time in the older role. Binoche grows increasingly desperate throughout the movie, finding the prospect of her career drawing to a close disheartening. The movie itself is rather dissatisfying, but the exactitude with which Binoche approaches her part stays with you.

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

For all the attention The Revenant was given for Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance (and make no mistake, it was a good performance), I would have preferred more of it be sent Tom Hardy’s way. He was nominated for the Supporting Actor Oscar, but he should have won. More than one person has described Hardy’s character, Fitzgerald, as animalistic, but that’s because they mistakenly perceive his deep need to survive as inhuman. The key to Hardy’s performance is that he understands the most basic of humanity’s traits and makes it palpable: selfish greed.

Fifteen More

Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Nina Hoss, Phoenix
Brie Larson, Room
Maika Monroe, It Follows
Teyonah Parris, Chi-Raq
Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria
Mya Taylor, Tangerine
Tessa Thompson, Creed
Jacob Tremblay, Room
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Past Top Fives


Michael Keaton, Birdman
Edward Norton, Birdman
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin
Agata Trzebuchowska, Ida


Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Great Gatsby


Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Javier Bardem, Skyfall
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower


Viola Davis, The Help
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life
Tom Hardy, Warrior
Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life


Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
Lesley Manville, Another Year
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Christian Bale, The Fighter


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