Thursday, December 24, 2015

Riske Business: Great Performances of 2015

by Adam Riske
Happy Holidays!

This week Patrick and I discussed some of our favorite performances from the movies of 2015. Is there a performance we missed that you want to get some attention? Let us know in the comments.

Adam: My first choice is Richard Jenkins in Bone Tomahawk. This is a movie that's filled with good performances but the one that sticks in my head the most is Jenkins. He's playing a type of character that you don't see in movies too often -- a man who is simple and maybe even a bit dim, but is resourceful and useful on the trail. Jenkins plays him with such sweetness that it gives Bone Tomahawk an emotional center (as does Kurt Russell, who is also great in the movie), which is important as the going gets rough. The movie never feels nihilistic and much of that is due to the heart that performers like Jenkins add to the film.

Patrick: I love Richard Jenkins in that movie, so I'm glad you named the performance because if you hadn't I WAS GONNA. He's been one of my favorite actors ever since seeing Eye of God years ago and this is one of my favorite performances from him. Certainly one of my favorites of the year.

There are a lot of great performances this year that I could easily point to as being strong -- Brie Larson in Room or Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs -- but I would much rather single out those performances I don't expect will be getting a ton of awards recognition. With that in mind, I won't bury the lead and will name a performance I know we both love: Laurence LeBoeuf as Apple in Turbo Kid. No actor's work made me as happy as she did this year. She has a very difficult role to play, when you think about it, having to be childlike without seeming broad or stupid and endlessly positive without becoming irritating. We have to fall in love with her for the movie to work as well as it does. Luckily I did.
Adam: As Steve Jobs might have once said, “dibs on Apple.” I’ll show myself out.

I couldn't agree more with your first pick. Apple is my favorite character of the year in any movie and all of that has to do with Laurence LeBoeuf. It's a performance I have a major crush on and it's an inspired take on the manic pixie dream girl trope used in many movies. Not to sound hyperbolic, but it's a "debut" (to me, not for LeBoeuf, who has been acting for several years) that recalled Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Both characters are ones I fell so head over heels for that I just wanted them to have everything they could possibly want in their respective movies. It's the "who is that?" performance of the year for me.

My next pick is Tessa Thompson in Creed. The majority of the accolades have been going to Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan thus far, but I think Thompson's work is being underrated as she completely nails her character (she's basically this movie's Adrian). Her performance is so appealing to me for a couple of reasons: a) she's falling in love with Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) throughout the movie in a believable way; these are both strong characters but ones who are guarded and decide to finally let their guards down and b) how excited she gets that her boyfriend is a boxer. I mentioned it in my review but there's a single moment in this movie that made me love her performance. It's at the end of the single-take boxing match where she gets in the ring and she pushes Adonis because she doesn't know how else to express how excited/turned on she is by that particular moment. I wonder if that was Thompson's choice or it was in the script itself. Nevertheless, it's phenomenal. I also like how she calls everything "john".

Patrick: I still haven't seen Creed, so I'll just have to take your word for it. I do know this: Rocky's sick. John.

For my next pick, I'll choose a performance from a movie I thought was good but then forgot was released this year: Leland Orser in Faults. Orser has always been a dependable character actor (he's so good that much of his career is defined by his single scene in Se7en) but got a chance to play a lead here and he's terrific. He's funny and pathetic and desperate and sad and carries a lot of the film's tricky tone on his shoulders. I think there's a lot of good filmmaking going on in Faults, but I think Orser's the reason to see it.

Adam: Leland Orser is good in Faults. I especially like his first scene where he is haggling over a free breakfast. It's a great indicator of who this guy is in just a few minutes of screen time. He's the best part of Faults, a movie I appreciate more than enjoy.

Patrick: I love that opening scene with Leland Orser. It made me so uncomfortable, which I usually hate (I am a nervous person) but it was all so comic that I was able to enjoy it.

Adam: My next pick is Jason Segel in The End of the Tour. It's such an open and emotional performance and it reminded me of some of his past work in Freaks and Geeks and Forgetting Sarah Marshall where I realized his best asset (besides being a funny performer) is his willingness to be really honest and straightforward. Playing David Foster Wallace might be tricky because he was a literary genius, but Segel's choice of portraying him as an ordinary guy riddled with insecurities who just happens to be a great writer makes the story that much more personal. He keeps the proceedings from becoming pretentious like a similar movie, My Dinner with Andre, was for me by comparison.
Patrick: Jason Segel is so good in The End of the Tour. I feel like it's really a leap forward for him as an actor -- he's good in everything, but this feels like a performance that's going to bring him to the next step...whatever that is. It's a really good movie in which he's totally great.

I wanted to choose someone from The Hateful Eight next because it has what I think is the best ensemble of the year, which is hardly a surprise given the fact that almost every actor Tarantino works with gives their career best performance in his movies. Samuel L. Jackson reminded me that he should only act in Tarantino movies. Kurt Russell invokes the Kurt Russell rule. Jennifer Jason Leigh continues to take big chances and is always willing to do something crazy and different. I really love Tim Roth in the movie, though, which isn't something I get to say very often. He's great in Reservoir Dogs and Rob Roy and parts of Four Rooms and a handful of other movies, but his performance in H8 proves again that he can be really, really funny. His timing and his choices are so great and strike such a different note from the rest of the cast without ever feeling like he's in a different movie. But again, I could probably have chosen any actor in the film and talk about how good they are.

Adam: I’m super excited to be seeing The Hateful Eight soon. So glad to hear your enthusiastic comments about it!

My next pick is Daisy Ridley from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Talk about someone becoming a star overnight. I've seen the movie three times now and one of my big takeaways is how she's so expressive and wide-eyed in the movie. It helps make the entire movie's enthusiasm infectious. I also think she's great at bringing out energy in her co-stars. They seem the most invested when she's around. Just thinking about it makes me want to use up all of my sick days.

Patrick: I love her. Shhhh.

Adam: I want to dance with her at my wedding. I hope my wife will understand.
Patrick: Next, I'll go with another young female discovery from this year: Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl. I'm a little mixed on the movie, which is a very good coming of age drama (though I maybe didn't find it to be the masterpiece I've heard it called), but not at all mixed about Powley's fascinating, deeply felt performance as a girl who discovers her sexuality through an affair with her mom's much older boyfriend (played by Alexander Skarsgård). She reminded me a little of Aubrey Plaza with her enormous, expressive eyes and general sadness (this is appropriate, since the movie is a lot like the Sundance version of the The To-Do List). While well written and directed, Diary of a Teenage Girl really lives and dies by Powley's performance. She's something.

Adam: I've not yet seen that one. I’ll be adding it to my list of things to see soon.

My next pick is Jason Mitchell, who played Eazy-E in Straight Outta Compton. Of all of his co-stars, I think Mitchell was able to humanize his real-life subject the most. I think his fellow actors had less control over the image of their "characters" since their real life counterparts were producers on the movie. Mitchell is what sticks out to me most because he’s not afraid to appear unlikeable in certain scenes (the ones with Paul Giamatti come to mind) and the way he handles his predicament late in the movie is effective as well. He's the heart and soul of Straight Outta Compton just as Eazy-E was in most respects for N.W.A.

Patrick: Mitchell was really good -- maybe the only performance I really liked in the movie (which I thought was good overall, don't get me wrong). Good call.

I loved Mya Taylor in Tangerine, still a good bet to make my Top 10 of the year. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, who plays her best friend in the movie, might be the performance that has more people talking because of how energetic and showy and funny it is, but I was blown away by just how soulful and wise and sometimes sad but ultimately strong Taylor makes her character. What's even more impressive is that this is his first real role, so she's either tapping into some kind of unaffected newcomer authenticity or is just this talented. Either way, I'm looking forward to seeing her in more stuff.
Adam: Great pick! I'm about 20 minutes into Tangerine and I'm enjoying it.

My next choice is Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road. This seems to be a year where I'm drawn a lot by two things in movies - a) Westerns and b) strong female characters that are action oriented. Theron fits both bills, as I see Fury Road as a post-apocalyptic Western of sorts. She is so good in the movie that she steals it from Mad Max (Tom Hardy) himself. It's difficult to play a leader in a movie unless you find an actor/actress who can fit the bill in terms of charisma and I think Theron does that so well in Fury Road. She's capable and motivated. It's also an excellent physical performance, which often does not get enough credit in assessments of actors/actresses.

Patrick: YES to Charlize Theron. I've joked a few times this year that I want someone to write a post-apocalyptic Expendables movie starring her, Apple and Bianca Bradey from Wyrmwood. It would be so much more badass than any of that Barney Beret/Lee Christmas shit. Drummer's in the house!!

Adam: Sigh. I like those movies against my better judgement. Drummer is in the house!!

Patrick: I'll single out Romain Duris in The New Girlfriend, François Ozon's characteristically quirky but sensitive relationship drama that not enough people saw earlier this year. I think speaking in too much detail about what makes Duris' performance so good would necessitate spoiling aspects of the film that I don't feel comfortable spoiling, so I'll just say that he has a very, very difficult task and pulls it off with grace and dignity. Looking back on what he manages to do in the movie, it's a shame that he's going to be completely ignored come awards season. But don't worry -- Eddie Redmayne will continue to get all the accolades. #punchableface

Adam: But he’s the girl who eats all of the Danishes!

My last pick will be a pair of performances from a movie I just saw tonight and that's Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy from The Revenant. DiCaprio's is such a grueling physical performance that I felt actively bad for him throughout the movie. Homeboy suffers for his art, yo. Tom Hardy I'm usually mixed on, but here he was a great villain, such an antagonizing figure with just these dead eyes and no moral center. His speech about G-D and the squirrel is still lingering in my head.

I'll close out my picks with a list of other performances I want to give a shout out to including Bryan Cranston in Trumbo, Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation, Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies, Jason Bateman in The Gift, Michael Fassbender in Slow West, Joshua Burge in Buzzard, Rachel McAdams in Southpaw, Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy and the entire ensemble cast of Spotlight; I can't pick just one.

Patrick: So many good picks you mention. It's been a really good year, right?

Adam: I think every year is a good year for movies and performances ☺

Patrick: I'll highlight Ray Wise in Digging Up the Marrow, a movie that came out almost a year ago and got a pretty mixed response (I like it a lot). Some didn't like the documentary/first person format, some didn't like how much screen time writer/director Adam Green gave himself. I can't imagine that anyone didn't love the lead performance by Ray Wise, which is funny and weird and sad and mysterious. Wise is one of those actors who is so good every time he shows up that he's often called upon to play roles that don't do justice to his talents because his presence is a kind of quality shorthand. In Digging Up the Marrow, though, he gives a performance unlike anything he's done and I would argue it's one of his best. He's so good in the movie.

Adam: I still haven’t seen it. Because I’m a bastard person.

Patrick: I know I'm forgetting a bunch of others, but a few non-awards contention performances I'll mention (that you haven't already) are Henry Rollins in He Never Died, Mae Whitman in The DUFF, Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina, Sarah Snook in Predestination, Malin Akerman in The Final Girls, Elisabeth Moss in Queen of Earth, Amy Schumer in Trainwreck and, of course, the entire cast of Entourage, in particular Jerry Ferrara, who brought new depths and new hats to Turtle.

Adam: I like how Turtle finally came out of his shell. [Gunshot]


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  2. For me, the best performance of the year is Jason Seagal in the End of the Tour. I haven't seen anything to come close to rivaling it. But I've yet to see Hateful Eight or the Revenant. Very much looking forward to those!

    Just to throw one out you guys didn't mention, I thought Ryan Gosling was the MVP in the Big Short, a film packed with great performances. He was terrific

    1. Yes! I liked all of the performances in The Big Short too :-)

  3. I want to mention two little performances: Lindsey Moser in Magic Mike XXL and Shih-Ching Tsou in Tangerine. Both play store clerks and basically have one scene, and both make the most out of them. (My wife made the comment that Tsou, the clerk at Donut Time, spends half her scene getting ready to call the cops and the other half curious despite herself as to how this weird little drama in her store is going to play out.)

  4. Drummer's in the house!

    Now I'm sad that there's no Apple/Furiosa Expendables movie. Enough of that Stallone nonsense, give me Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt and Angela Bassett shooting people in the face.

    I am the Hague!

    1. I recently watched The Asylum's Mercenaries (aka Expendabelles 3.0) with Zoe Bell, Kristanna Loken, Vivica A. Fox and Brigitte Nielsen. That's almost as good, right?

  5. Apple for me also is my fave character of the year, I love it so much, interesting point is our friends at KillerPov is that none of them have seen the movie yet and have made there top ten lists already, I mentioned the movie needs to be seen but no one got time to see it yet, it could be my number 1, I cant think of a film I loved watching so much all year, the film played me and my heart strings like a violin, I was putty in the filmakers hands, damn its great

  6. One person I'm sad to see left off this list is Alicia Vikander, who's had one hell of a year and is quickly becoming one of my favorite new actresses. She was phenomenal in Ex Machina, bringing both innocence and abject terror to the role of Ava. She was also great in The Man From UNCLE, taking what could have been the typical Bond-girl role and injecting it with edginess and a ton of charisma. I have yet to see The Danish Girl, but hear she's great in it. She's definitely someone I'll be keeping an eye on in the coming years (and not just because I'm falling in love with her - don't tell my wife)

  7. Die Antwoord in Chappie.

    1. I had other issues with Chappie...but I oddly liked both of them in it.

  8. You gave props here to just about everyone I would have mentioned...except for Paul Dano in Love and Mercy. Elizabeth Banks is great in the movie, but Dano delivered one of my favorite performances of the year, without a doubt.

  9. I'm kinda disappointed you left out Channing Tatum in Jupiter Ascending and Rob Schneider in The Ridiculous 6. Clearly the highlights of the year!

    No but seriously, of the ones you left out, I'd like to highlight Lily Tomlin (Grandma), Jessica Chastain (Crimson Peak) and Tobey Maguire (Pawn Sacrifice). Great performances all three, and Maguire especially really surprised me.

  10. I have yet to see any of the big oscar racers, but some of my favourites this year has been:

    Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw, Both the leads in Respire, Kurt Russell in Bone Tomahawk(he was also the best thing in Furius 7), Maika Monroe in It Follows and everyone in What We Do In The Shadows.