This was another really hard list to write up. There were a lot of great male performances this year and, like with the actresses, another equally valid top 10 could have been made from my honourable mentions. Once again, my rule of 1 performance per film is in effect and 1 performance per actor, which made some choices really hard. With all that out of the way, here are my top 10 male performances from 2015.
10. Alex Jennings – The Lady in the Van – as Alan Bennett, Jennings is spot on in terms of body language and his vocal patterns but the whole nature of the performance, it being a dual performance as the writer and the person that makes it so good. The way Jennings shows the dual nature of Bennett is excellent, along with how his sympathy is more driven by selfishness than kindness and this makes his performance as Bennett so compelling.
9. Adam Driver – Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Since it is so close to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I still don’t feel comfortable talking too much about Driver’s performance for fear of spoiling the film. I’ll just say that the bursts of anger, the power and the intimidating nature of the character are presented brilliantly but it’s the quiter moments, without the mask on, that make Kylo Ren such a compelling character and it’s these moments that put him into this list.
8. David Oyelowo – Selma – Due to the stature in which Martin Luther King is held, it would be incredibly hard for any actor to live up to the expectations that were placed upon them. Oyelowo manages to live up to these expectations by making King human. He shows both the power that King has which led to so many people supporting him, but also the flawed human being behind the public persona, the issues in his marriage, his insecurities, without this human element to the role, Selma would not have been as strong a film as it ended up being.
7. Michael Keaton – Birdman – It’s hard for any actor to do a performance which is essentially autobiographical without it descending into self parody but Keaton is able to pull it off in Birdman. His performance shows the price of fame and the damage that the fame has done to himself and to his family, along with a brilliant, egotistical nature, with Keaton’s performance as Birdman highlighting the insecurities of Riggan Thomson and the desire for glory is brilliantly represented. It also helps that Keaton is an excellent physical actor, with boundless energy making the physical comedy moments of the film work so well.
6. Ian McKellan – Mr Holmes – We’ve seen many different incarnations of Sherlock Holmes over the past few years but McKellan is one of the most compelling, and the only one to reach the high modern standard set by Benedict Cumberbatch. McKellan gives us a very different Holmes, one plagued by guilt, one struggling with his memories, the old brilliance of his mind fading as he nears death. Through the flashbacks we see the intelligence of Holmes and the damage that his typical attitude can cause to people and in his old age, we see his memory fading, having to write on his wrists to remember peoples names and this, combined with the relationship between Roger (strengthened by great chemistry between McKellan and Milo Parker) makes this Holmes such a sympathetic character and one of the more fascinating depictions of Holmes in the modern age.
5. Tom Hardy – Legend – This is one of the harder performances to pull off this year and continues my trend of actors in dual roles. Hardy brilliantly shows the differences between Ronnie and Reggie Kray, from the way they speak to the body language of the two brilliantly, with the twinning effects helping make each performance stand out on their own. The way the twins change throughout the film and the traits that each twin passes onto the other are expertly portrayed by Hardy, along with both the fun and pain that the life of a gangster can represent and the damage it can do. Without Hardy’s performance, I would have struggled to recommend Legend to anyone.
4. Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies – This is probably the hardest performance to talk about because of how much it relies on subtlety. The way that Rylance plays Rudolf Abel shows the ambiguous nature of the character throughout, even down to his accent. This subdued aspect fits the nature of Abel, letting us know how he was able to stay off the radar of the authorities for so long, along with the intelligence of the character and his quick thinking in the scene where he gets arrested. The subdued nature of the character even creates some of the best comedic moments in the film, mainly with the constant repetition of ‘would it help’ creating both a subdued and pragmatic attitude to the character throughout the film. I wish I could explain in better detail why I though Rylance was so good but you’ll just have to see it for yourself, his performance is one that explanations can’t do justice to.
3. Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs – It was incredibly hard to just choose one of Fassbender’s performances to be on this list. In any other year, his incredible turns in Macbeth and Slow West would have easily been in this list but, since I can only choose one performance per actor, I had to go with his performance in Steve Jobs. The way Fassbender portrays Jobs shows the incredible mind that the character possesses but also how the limitations of his life, his closed nature, his unwillingness to accept help from others, impact his work. The film is essentially about Jobs coming to accept and learn from his failings, particularly in relation to his daughter, and only when he recognises them can he achieve true success and this character development for Jobs is brilliantly portrayed by Fassbender, one of the main reasons why Steve Jobs was such an excellent film.
2. Matt Damon – The Martian – This is a performance without which the film would not have worked. If the wrong actor was cast as Mark Watney then the entire film would have fallen apart. Thankfully, we got the perfectly cast Matt Damon. Damon is able to bring across the intelligence of Watney brilliantly, making the methods he uses to solve the constant problems he faces on Mars incredibly interesting. The determination that he shows and the will to survive is inspirational but it’s the humour and warmth of the character that makes it work so well. Damon makes Watney such a likeable character and this, more than any other aspect of the film, makes you want to see Watney rescued more than anything else. Without this performance, the entire film could have failed.
1. JK Simmons – Whiplash – Since I saw the film back in January, no other performance could top it. The terrifying intensity of Simmons is electrifying along with having some brilliant dark comedy and dialogue in the film. Where he shines though is showing the moral complexity of the character, the idea that his methods may be justified being more terrifying than any other aspect of the performance. No other performance made me feel this way so no other performance could be at the top of this list.
- Domhnall Gleeson – Ex Machina
- Kyle Chandler – Carol
- Tom Hiddleston – Crimson Peak
- Thomas Mann – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
- Kodi Smit-McPhee – Slow West