Note to the Academy: Since you Oscar voters tend to be memory-challenged jerks, it won't be hard for you to leave out some of the best performances of the year. You can hardly think back past yesterday. That's why I'm here, to remind you of some great actors who did themselves proud in 2015 and don't deserve the cold shoulder. You have no problem remembering Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant or Jennifer Lawrence in Joy because they're megastars and their movies just came out. But can you think back weeks and even months? Here's a "don't forget" list to nudge your noggins.
Amy Schumer officially became the goddess of movie comedy when Judd Apatow's Trainwreck opened this summer. Using her own life as an outline, Schumer crafted a raucous script that exploded romcom clichés and replaced them with something fiercely funny. To see her mix it up with the boss lady played by the ever-terrific Tilda Swinton (another probable snub) is an indelible, impure pleasure. Schumer merits recognition as both actress and screenwriter, yet the Academy remains allergic to laughs. Stupid.
When The End of the Tour debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, everyone predicted certain Oscar attention for Jason Segel. Known for comedies (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Segel astonished critics and audiences in the role of David Foster Wallace, the celebrated novelist (Infinite Jest) who hanged himself in 2008. James Ponsoldt's movie simply watches Wallace being interviewed at the end of a book tour by Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). Yet Segel's ardent, alert performance takes full measure of the man. Listen up, Academy.
Lots of deserved attention is being paid to Mad Max: Fury Road and its 70-year-old Aussie director George Miller. Good to hear. But why is Charlize Theron's name not among the actresses being touted for Oscar love? She's dynamite as Furiosa, a warrior with a mechanical left arm and a fever to save her female allies from serving as a sex slaves to Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his war boys. Tom Hardy stars as the heroic Max, but Furiosa is the character who reps the film's feminist heart. And Theron just blows you away in every scene.
With Creed stirring up a lot of feelings we forgot we had for the Rocky franchise — yo, for the talent reborn in Stallone — why is no one leading the cheers for Michael B. Jordan? The actor who impressed us mightily in 2013's Fruitvale Station reunites with young director Ryan Coogler to play Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of the late heavyweight champ Apollo Creed. And a raw and riveting Jordan goes way beyond the call of fight-flick duty to find the character’s grieving heart.
For playing a personal assistant to a movie star (Juliette Binoche), Kristen Stewart won a César, the French Oscar that no American actress had ever previously won. Yet you won't find Stewart's name among the nominees at the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes. What, you're holding the Twilight movies against her? Stewart gave her all, even to that twaddle. And in Clouds, she brings rare cunning and expert comic timing to the role of Hollywood insider who knows the fame game firsthand.
Is Michael Keaton playing a lead or supporting role in Spotlight? The New York Film Critics Circle named Keaton Best Actor for portraying Walter "Robby" Robinson, the Boston Globe editor who led the Spotlight reporting team to blow the whistle on sexual abuse among Catholic priests. Other groups believe Keaton is part of an ensemble. It shouldn't matter either way. There is no confusion about Keaton's performance — it's a triumph. Don't let it slip between the cracks.
As an FBI field agent coming up against a Mexican drug cartel, Emily Blunt brings heat, heart and bruising power to Denis Villeneuve's tension-packed spin through America's covert War on Drugs. Trying to hold her moral ground while the ground keeps shifting, Blunt finds the film's dark poetry. So let me ask: How is she not a leading candidate for Best Actress?
You see what Idris Elba does with the role of a warlord in an unnamed African country, and you think: How come the Academy hasn't already engraved his name on an Oscar statue. Yeah, he's that good. It's a tough role, a commandant who builds a murderous army of children, typified by a new recruit (the superb Abraham Attah). Elba reveals inklings of a buried conscience that make the commandant's brutality even scarier. Maybe his name is absent on some year-end lists because Beasts debuted in theaters and on Netflix, a global streaming service. As if that makes Elba and the movie any less vital. Wake up, voters.
Watch the breakout star performance Bel Powley gives in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and you realize this Brit actress can do almost anything. Except, it seems, build Oscar momentum. Powley, 23, takes us inside the head of Minnie Goetz, a 15-year old dealing with all the whirling confusions of sex and self-worth. And she lifts Marielle Heller's debut feature into a rarefied area of bracing entertainment and blunt truth.
WTF, people. As Beach Boys innovator Brian Wilson, Paul Dano gives the kind of indelible performance awards were minted for. I'm told that problem is that there are two Brian Wilsons, meaning that Dano splits the role with costar John Cusack, who plays the older, drugged-out version of Wilson. All due respect to Cusack, but this is Dano's movie and he tears into Wilson's talent and psyche like an actor possessed. There is no better musical moment on film this year then Dano in studio coaxing musicians on "Good Vibrations." I don't care if you nominate him as Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor — just effing do it.
Two crucial reasons Sean Bakers altogether terrific Tangerine will be remembered as way more than that indie movie shot on tricked-up iPhones are Mya Taylor and Kiki Kitana Rodriguez. They play two transgender hookers working the Hollywood back streets on Christmas Eve. Taylor and Rodriquez, both transgender themselves, had never acted before. You'd never know it from their hilarious and heartfelt performances here. Climb down from your high horse, Academy, talent is knocking.