Just like the female list, this was really really hard to narrow down to only 10 performances. Why was 2015 such a great year for movies??? I don't know, but I'm grateful that it was. Anyway, here are my top 10 favorite male performances of the year, as the title of the post promised.
10. Sylvester Stallone - Creed
It almost hurts for me to put this on here, because I know (just like the rest of you) how terrible of an actor Stallone is. I say this as I sit here watching Cobra, so believe me when I say this is a very fresh wound for me. But damn if he isn't great in Creed. Emotional to the core, this is easily the best he's ever been, breathing new life into an old character I had all but given up on.
9. Jason Mitchell - Straight Outta Compton
Any of them leading performances in this movie would have easily slipped into this list but as I revisit the fil in my mind I find myself going back to Mitchell's stellar portrayal of Eazy-E and seeing him as the true highlight, so here we are. Perhaps the most volatile and emotionally fragile role in the film, Mitchell handles it with sincerity and never once makes you feel like you're watching an actor. He just *is* Eazy-E, plain and simple.
8. Ben Mendelsohn - Mississippi Grind
Most movies depicting gambling addiction don't really portray it's characters in a way that comes across as totally sincere. By which I mean they never seem like humans, as much as just conduits for the film to pass along its message. But this movie makes it work, and furthermore it's entirely due to Mendelsohn's tricky performance that makes it so. He's flawed, but very human; seedy, but sympathetic. Few actors could pull off a role like this and he does so with admirable ease.
7. Paul Dano - Love & Mercy
For some reason, 2015 was a great year for biographical films. And though Love & Mercy wouldn't be at the top of that list, Dano's mentally unstable performance as the younger Brian Wilson (John Cusack plays his older counterpart) would stand right near the top for me. Paul Dano is a terrific actor, and this is easily his son best performance since There Will Be Blood. And that is saying something.
6. Jude Law - Black Sea
Yep, Jude Law has officially revoked his rom-com license. Black Sea is an intense film, packed with strong performances and enough tension to kill a horse, but it's really in Law's borderline psychotic performance that the movie manages to make a mark. Channeling Bogart in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, this is a classic man-obsessed-with-gold performance, but just like his peers, he makes it work and completely sucks you in. If he continues to make more movies like this, it wouldn't be unreasonable to see an Oscar win in his near future.
5. Jacob Tremblay - Room
Little kids in movies usually put me in a bad mood. I find myself repressing my urge to strangle the whiny little brats and it generally just makes me feel like a sociopath and a jerk, so I like to avoid that. That being said, wow, this kid is good. The fact that he could hold his own opposite Brie Larson (who was basically perfect) is impressive enough, but his ability to evoke so much emotion and bring such a complex character to life is simply astounding -- especially for someone his age. I'm curious to see if he can ever follow this one up.
4. Idris Elba - Beasts Of No Nation
One of the biggest actors in film and TV, yet this is the first time I can honestly say I was totally blown away by just how great of an actor he really is. This could have easily come across as a one-note performance, a maliciously evil personage with relatively little else to see it as. But somehow, Elba takes this character and paints him as almost sympathetic, and certainly very damaged and vulnerable. An impressive performance that has me very hopeful for his future projects. Maybe we'll get to see more of this... I really hope so.
3. Christopher Abbott - James White
Quite possibly the most down-to-earth and totally human performance of the year. This movie almost hurts to watch, as the titular character is forced to care for his sick mother in the wake of his father's death. He's a damaged person, who drinks, takes drugs, gets into fights and is generally unpleasant to most people he meets, but his heart is clearly in the right place. And this is all conveyed to its maximum potential due to Abbott's incredible performance. Watching this film has a certain resemblance to a trainwreck, as you witness his downward spiral facing a life without direction and no further guidance. It hurts, but does so in such a beautiful and tragic kind of way, it's impossible for me not to admire it greatly. It's almost disturbing how completely genuine this performance was.
2. Michael Shannon - 99 Homes
And now for my favorite supporting performance of the year, bar none. Michael Shannon is a very pigeonholed actor, and it's not hard to see why. He has a brutish appearance and a wild look in his eye that makes him a perfect casting choice to play someone on the verge of a mental breakdown (see: Take Shelter). But here, he isn't crazy at all. No he's just one of the seediest and most corrupt businessmen you could ever have the displeasure of meeting. And he plays this character in a way that makes you both love him and hate him. Its hard to root against him, but impossible to root for him, as he takes advantage of an imploding housing market with such a despicable aloofness, its almost admirable. Any other actor would have missed out on the duality of this role and it wouldn't have worked: he would have been a caricature. But thanks to great casting, Shannon totally knocks it out of the park and makes Rick Carver into one of the most memorable characters of the year.
1. Michael Fassbender - Steve Jobs
To me, this was almost a no-brainer #1 choice before I started this list. After it got going, I realized Fassbender had some truly compelling competition, but ultimately Steve Jobs still stands as my favorite male performance of the year. In preparation for watching the film, I found myself pouring through hours of footage of Jobs at conventions and doing interviews to get a refresher course on the man before watching the movie that people would later criticize for being wildly inaccurate. And you know what? Maybe everything about this movie (and the way his role was written) is completely fictionalized, but I was totally entranced by Fassbender's embodiment of the man and view it as acting gold in every way. It didn't feel like impersonation, as so many performances in bios tend to end up like. By 1/3 of the way through, I had forgotten I was watching Fassbender (which is all the more impessive, considering I have watched nearly every film he has ever acted in), because he played Steve Jobs so well and so naturally, it just didn't feel like anything he had ever done before. Everything from his vocal intonation to his mannerisms and air of superiority was spot-on. To make it even better, the movie didn't choose to go for the bland hero-worshipping you might have expected. This was a challenging movie with complex character and never once feels like it's trying to make you like Steve Jobs. But you don't need to like him to appreciate a great movie and a great performance, and that's exactly what it is.