Two days ago Variety‘s Ramin Setoodeh posted about 11 under-the-radar performances “that haven’t been buzzed about enough, but deserve Oscar consideration. To my surprise I agree with six of his assessments. I’ll start with these and conclude with my four disagreements. No comment on Helen Mirren‘s Woman in Gold performance as I haven’t seen the film.


(1) Robert De Niro, The Intern. As a retired windower who becomes a chauffeur and trusted confidante for online-fashion tycoon Anne Hathaway, DeNiro “injects this comedy with so much soul he’s almost as impressive as Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give,” Setoodeh writes. HE comment: Definitely a winning supporting performance. It’s odd to think of Jake LaMotta or Neil McCauley playing a correct and well-mannered Mr. Belvedere, but that’s what this performance essentially is. But two things may happen. One, DeNiro’s performance as Jennifer Lawrence‘s dad in Joy may outshine his Intern-ist. And two, a Norbit-like effect from Dirty Grandpa, a throwaway horndog comedy in which DeNiro costars with Zac Efron, may spoil the soup.

(2) Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria. HE comment: Yes, 2014 was a banner year for Stewart with three striking performances in Clouds, Camp X-Ray and Still Alice. She definitely upped her game. But nobody paid the slightest attention to Olivier Assayas’s film, which I found glum and meandering when I saw it in Cannes 17 months ago. Stewart’s Best Actress Cesar award for her performance as Juliette Binoche‘s personal assistant will have to do.

(3) Robert Redford, Truth. HE comment: Redford is one of those actors who can’t change his appearance or accent, but he captures Dan Rather with that particular, very familiar cadence that the former CBS Evening News anchor used on the air for so many decades. Plus he conveys a affecting sense of dignity. Truth has been killed by the liberal media and is currently buried in a 20-foot-deep pit so Redford hasn’t a prayer, but this is one of his best post-1990 performances.

(4) Rachel McAdams, Spotlight. HE comment: Setoodeh says it better than I could in this instance: “There’s a scene in Spotlight where McAdams confronts an elderly priest accused of pedophilia by knocking on his door. When he matter-of-factly confesses, she lands every nuance of her newspaper reporter character: the frantic shuffling of notes, the faux-calm line of questioning, the stoic nod intended to mask the sudden rush of adrenaline in her cheeks.”

(5) Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation. HE comment: An excellent performance by an obviously new-to-the-game novice. I liked him so much in Cary Fukunaga‘s film that my inability to understand approximately 80% of his dialogue due to his impenetrable African accent wasn’t that much of a problem. Looking forward to the subtitle option on the Bluray!

(6) Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight. HE comment: Spotlight is so naturalistically brought to life by all the players that singling out Ruffalo’s performance as Boston Globe reporter Michael Rezendes…well, I don’t want to rain on this. I’m just saying that Michael Keaton and Liev Schreiber‘s performances as Walter “Robby” Robinson and Globe editor Marty Baron, respectively, are just as riveting. Ditto Stanley Tucci as thorny pain-in-the-ass attorney Mitchell Garabedian and Brian d’Arcy James as Boston Globe reporter Matt Carroll. There are no weak links in this film.


(1) Matt Damon, The Martian. HE comment: Yes — a very charming, likable, charismatic performance. But if you go to your dictionary and look up the word “insubstantial,” you’ll find a poster of The Martian in place of a definition.

(2) Bel Powley, The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Setoodeh writes that Powley’s performance as a precocious young artist who has an affair with her mother’s boyfriend “is the kind of debut that brings to mind Carey Mulligan in An Education.” HE comment: No — not even close. Powley was cast at least partly because she resembles Phoebe Gloeckner, author of the graphic-novelish, diary-like tale that the film is based upon, but the sexual material was/is unwelcome and unbeguiling. As I wrote when the film opened, “Powley is a fine, skilled actress with presence, but she probably needs to stay away from romantic material for the foreseeable future.”

(3) Emory Cohen, Brooklyn. HE comment: Cohen plays a very sweet and gentle Italian-American plumber who falls head over heels for Saoirse Ronan, but he’s too short for her — when they face each other she’s got him by at least a couple of inches. Brooklyn is a fine, old-fashioned romance set in the early ’50s, and the fact is that Cohen’s height argues with the tone of the film. If he had only been given the Alan Ladd or Humphrey Bogart treatment during shooting (standing on lumber, wearing lifts), it would be a different story. Women may have less of a problem with height disparity today, but in the Korean War-era they definitely preferred their guys to be taller as a rule, or at least the same height.

(4) Blythe Danner, I’ll See You in My Dreams. Setoodeh notes that Danner’s performance as septuagenarian widow who falls for Sam Elliott “could build off the momentum of her Gotham Independent Film Awards nomination.” He also suggests that her acting has made some viewers “sob.” HE comment: The movie is mildly, inoffensively watchable (except at the end when Elliott keels over out of nowhere), but it’s not substantial enough to warrant award consideration in any category.