We love awards season in Hollywood, but it's often a terrible measurement of all the great performances given each year. Sure, Cate Blanchett and Chiwetel Ejiofor deserve their recognition, but on a totally different level so do people like Jamie Denbo and Jessica Chaffin, who played the fantastically hilarious Boston ladies in The Heat. They give the kind of performances that are never even going to be discussed for awards. But the year in movies would have been so much less without them, and without the following performers.
So, without further ado, we bring you a list of actors who you won't see on any podiums in the coming month, but deserve kudos nonetheless.
Amy Acker in Much Ado About Nothing
One of the pure delights of this year was Joss Whedon's Shakespearean backyard experiment, and responsible for much of that delight was Amy Acker's Beatrice. Acker, an actress best known for her stint on Angel, takes on one of the Bard's most famous females with aplomb. She speaks the words clearly (which is a bigger hurdle than you might think if you don't watch many modern Shakespeare translations) while making her Beatrice alternately fierce and awkward. This fair lady is gangly, as well as beautiful, and the result is Shakespeare by way of a vintage rom com.
Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo in The Heat
It's no surprise that these ladies have been the talk of spinoff rumors, since the ladies behind the Ronna & Beverly podcast are a complete scream in The Heat as Beth and Gina, the best pair of trash-mouthed Boston-lady sidekicks since however many pairs of sisters there were in The Fighter. Please do yourselves a favor and track down the BluRay, since there are so many more deleted scenes of Denbo and Chaffin cutting up and making it virtually impossible for Joey McIntyre to keep a straight face.
John Gallagher Jr. in Short Term 12
Attention and accolades have rightly been showered on Brie Larson for her performance in this heartbreaking indie about the people who work at a short-term foster care facility, but anchoring her performance is an equally good one by John Gallagher Jr. Gallagher plays her boyfriend and colleague. He provides some of the humor of the story—the movie opens with his riotous story about sharting—and gives it an emotional stability.
Domhnall Gleeson and Bill Nighy in About Time
Gleeson's been a star on the rise, even if most of the public didn't realize it, for some time now. He almost broke through last year in Anna Karenina, as the chaste and moral Levin, but in that film, he ultimately took a back seat to Keria Knightley, Jude Law, and a huge beard. Still, Richard Curtis had the foresight to cast him as his romantic lead, and a good thing too. Blessed with charm for days, Gleeson manages to navigate some rather tricky waters when it comes to his character's romantic subplot, but he manages to hold on to the audience throughout, keeping us onboard for the real virtue of the film: all the scenes with Gleeson and Bill Nighy as a son and father who share a time-traveling ability. This is why you keep hearing about how About Time isn't a romantic comedy at all, really. Because ultimately, it boils down to Gleeson and Nighy, playing ping-pong and walking on beaches and grappling with how to best navigate a life that you have more (and also less) control over than you think.
Matthew Goode in Stoker
He's just too good-looking, is maybe the problem. You can't ever trust it. So he keeps getting cast in these parts where he's either cheated on by beautiful women because he ends up shorting their circuits (Match Point) or his handsome façade masks dark secrets (Watchmen). Regardless, the second he shows up in Stoker, he couldn't be up to more trouble if he were accompanied by neon devil horns floating atop his head. And despite a third-act twist that makes his performance in the rest of the film all the more dubious, Goode is easily the highlight of the Stoker cast as the devil incarnate at his most seductive.
Idina Menzel in Frozen
In a way, Idina Menzel's performance in Frozen will win an award, but Menzel won't receive it. The show-stopping "Let it Go" is the current front runner for Best Original Song. That award will go to songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. The Lopezes certainly deserve the kudos—they wrote a great song—but Menzel had to sell it, and she does a hell of a job. Pair that with the rest of her voical performance in the movie and you have a fully fledged character, a frightened young woman who comes into her own over the course of the movie.
Julianne Nicholson in August: Osage County
Nicholson has one of the toughest roles to play in August: Osage County: she has to be the quiet one in a room full of loudmouths. But Nicholson, who is great at playing stoic, pulls it off, making Ivy's story of seriously misplaced love the most heartbreaking part of the film. When Ivy ultimately makes an ill-advised decision, Nicholson convinces you that it's one her character has to make despite its outlandishness. Notably, Nicholson is also doing fantastic work on Masters of Sex, as a woman with a different kind of tragic secret.
Simon Pegg in The World's End
Pegg's performance in the final installment of his and Edgar Wright's Cornetto trilogy is one that might have had a hope at a Golden Globe nomination if the comedy category hadn't been so stuffed with pseudo-comedies. In this story of a group of friends reunited for a pub crawl in their hometown (that has been taken over by aliens), Pegg is the man child of the group, the one who has refused to grow up. He's petulant, arrogant, but, miraculously, ultimately sympathetic.
Sam Rockwell in The Way Way Back
The Way Way Back was a sweet end-of-the-summer coming of age story, featuring a handful of knockout performances. You had Steve Carell, playing a total douche, and Alison Janney in drunk, daffy glory, but the best of all was Sam Rockwell as a motormouthed water park manager. Rockwell is an actor that's been so good in so many movies and this one is no different. His Owen, who essentially adopts misfit Duncan, is completely magnetic, but also belies sadness. He's a dude working at a water park for goodness sakes, but he has all the bravado of a talk show host.
Michaela Watkins in In a World
Everything's coming up Michaela Watkins this year, with a plum role in ABC's very funny Trophy Wife and a rising status as one of indie film's best supporting players. In In a World, writer/director/star Lake Bell knows enough to give Watkins—as her onscreen sister— plenty to do. Her rocky-marriage subplot isn't breaking new ground in narrative ingenuity, but Watkins plays a character who could have easily come across as selfish or thoughtless, and instead, she makes her real and sympathetic.
Emma Watson in The Bling Ring
We can officially say we're in Phase Two of Watson's career, what with the Harry Potter franchise behind her. The Bling Ring gives her one hell of a jumping-off point, letting her shed every bit of Hermione, down to the accent. Watson plays spoiled, bored, and overly convinced of her own shallow righteousness as well as anybody in the film. She also knows how far she can push her character into ridiculous without breaking her, and it turns out, that's quite a lot.