And now to the lead categories. A really nice group of male performances, and an astonishingly good group of women this year. It pained me to leave several women (Brie Larson and Charlize Theron in particular) off my list. In the end, my top votes go to the youngsters, Saoirse Ronan and Michael B. Jordan.
Steve Carrell, The Big Short
As much play as The Big Short got during awards season, little of it fell onto Steve Carrell's excellent performance, which in my mind far exceeds his nominated Foxcatcher role from last year. Carrell's gift for comedy serves him well in this comedy, and his dramatic chops come through it the final scenes where he acts as the movie's flawed soul.
Tom Courtenay, 45 Years
In this quiet but powerful marital drama, the story is mostly seen through the eyes of Kate (Charlotte Rampling). This makes what Tom Courtney does as Geoff even more remarkable. As we watch him dealing with a painful reminder of his past, we see him a long history both with his wife and before he met her.
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Fassbender doesn't look much like Steve Jobs, so the movie doesn't try for impersonation. This makes his role even more powerful, as Fassbender gives us all sides of a man with great vision and immense flaws. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Fassbender is our best working actor today.
Michael B. Jordan, Creed
Of all the outrage of this year of #oscarssowhite, for me no snub stung as much as the exclusion of Michael B. Jordan, giving a great movie-star performance as Donnie Johnson Creed, a young man of great discipline and vision dealing with his vision. After Fruitvale Station and Creed, let's hope Hollywood learns its lesson and gives Jordan more great roles.
Jason Segal, The End of the Tour
The End of the Tour is a talky, charming, moving film about reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) hanging out with reclusive writer David Foster Wallace (Jason Segal). The usually comedic Jason Segal digs deep into the soul of Wallace, giving us his wit, his intelligence, and also his great loneliness.
My Pick: Michael B. Jordan
Second: Michael Fassbender
Runners Up: Abraham Attah (Beasts of No Nation), Michael Caine (Youth), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCapiro (The Revenant), Jesse Eisenberg (The End of the Tour),
Matches with Oscar: Just Fassbender. DiCaprio and Damon made my runners-up list. Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) was good but not great, and I didn't see Bryan Cranston in Trumbo.
Cate Blanchett, Carol
As the title character in Carol, Blanchett is mesmerizing. Her performance is big and stagy in the best way, since Carol is constantly performing in the movie- both in society and in her relationship with Therese. In the moments where her veneer drops, her performance becomes even more powerful.
Emily Blunt, Sicario
With her performance as a woman working hard in a man's field, Emily Blunt's performance as Kate Mercer reminded me of Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs. Blunt brings intelligence and real moral deliberation to her part as a DEA agent. She excels at both the action and the emotional moments, and it's mesmerizing to watch.
Rooney Mara, Carol
As Therese Belivet, the second half of this love story, Rooney Mara's quiet and initially naive character is a perfect counterpoint to the sophistication and confidence of Carol. As viewers, Mara often wordlessly takes us on a journey into what it looks like to fall into attraction, infatuation, and love.
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
A beautifully quiet and powerful performance that's a wonder to behold. Sometimes with little more than a flash of the eyes or a movement of the hand, Rampling is able to suggest a myriad of emotions. She deserves a nomination for the wordless final scene alone.
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Sometimes there's a perfect match between actor and star, and this is one of those times. Saoirse Ronan grows into her own as an actress just as her character Eilis finds herself in a new country. With great humor and great heart, Ronan gives a beautifully nuanced performance.
My Pick: Saoirse Ronan
Second: Rooney Mara
Runners Up (and a great bunch they are): Juliette Binoche (Clouds of Sils Maria), Nina Hoss (Phoenix), Brie Larson (Room), Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), Lily Tomlin (Grandma)
Matches with Oscar: 3. The Academy rightly rewarded Blanchett, Ronan, and Rampling. They also rewarded Mara, but ridiculously in the Supporting character. It pains me to leave off the great Brie Larson (my 6th), and I haven't yet seen Jennifer Lawrence in Joy.