None of these performances will garner Oscar nominations, but all deserved more recognition than they received from the critics and the general public.
Emma Stone, Irrational Man
Because of Woody Allen’s, um, icky personal history, critics and audiences were ready to dismiss Irrational Man, which was marketed in part as yet another movie about an older man getting his groove on with a younger woman. But the film’s a lot more complex than that, deftly tackling questions about morality, justice, and finding a meaning in life. Stone plays a college student who falls in love with her professor (Joaquin Phoenix). She captures the idealism and enthusiasm that leads her into the affair. But she also convincingly portrays the growing horror her character feels as she realizes the relationship is a terrible mistake. It’s an unjustly overlooked performance in an equally underrated film.
Henry Cavill, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Playing a spy in 1960s Europe, Henry Cavill (Superman from Man of Steel) is droll and charming in a way that evokes old school Bond films in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The character’s clever and witty without stopping to wink at the audience. Displaying a seemingly effortless charisma and terrific comic timing and delivery, Cavill shows that he could have a bright future ahead of him both as a leading man and comedic character actor. It’s a shame the new Superman universe is so dour and humorless it keeps Cavill from showing off his considerable comic talents.
Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road
As usual, action movie acting is almost entirely ignored by critics. Hardy doesn’t say much of anything in the acclaimed Mad Max: Fury Road, but it takes a charismatic actor to command the screen even in silence. And Hardy does that. Even with the spectacular stunts and crashes all around him, Hardy is the strong center of Fury Road. When he does speak, it matters. His climactic “Max…my name is Max” line provides a moving finale to the year’s most thrilling action spectacle.