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Top 15 Most Hardworking Performers in 2015

Manuel here continuing our year end review.

Remember in 2011 when Jessica Chastain went from unknown actress to Oscar nominee in the blink of an eye thanks to the whirlwind of release dates that had her starring in over six films in that calendar year? It was as great a calling card as you could ask for and while Chastain had a relatively subdued year (Crimson Peak, The Martian), other actors gave her a run for her money in the “how many projects can I appear on in one year” race. Not that it’s a contest, but we’re fan of lists here at TFE even as we understand they’re more jumping off discussion points rather than monolithic assertions of quality or taste.

And so find below a list of 15 actors who were extra hardworking and who you couldn’t have missed seeing in 2015. They were everywhere from superhero franchise films and prestige flicks to Netflix series and festival sensations.

The Martian cast had a busy 2015, but 2016 looks busier still for Damon, Chastain, Mara and Marvel boy Stan.

Rankings and inclusions were both arbitrary and subjective. Thus, they’re neither binding nor absolute (my personal fave and the inspiration for this post in the first place comes at #2).

15. Bill Murray (Aloha, Rock the Kasbah, A Very Murray Christmas)

14. Nicole Kidman (Grace of Monaco, Paddington, Strangerland, Secret in Their Eyes)

13. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Z for Zachariah, The Martian, Secret in their Eyes)

the ubiquitous dozen after the jump

12. Cate Blanchett (Cinderella, Carol, Truth)

11. Judy Greer (Tomorrowland, Jurassic World, Entourage, Ant-Man, Addicted to Fresno)

10. Mark Ruffalo (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Infinitely Polar Bear, Spotlight)

9. Anthony Mackie (Ant-Man, Love the Coopers, The Night Before, Our Brand Is Crisis)

8. Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Show Me A Hero, Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

7. Rachel McAdams (Aloha, Southpaw, True Detective S2, Spotlight)

6. Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation, Inside Out, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, Sisters)

And our Top 5

5. Tom Hardy
(Mad Max Fury Road, The Revenant, London Road, Legend)

Hardy had a busy 2015. He even played twins, doubling his odds of inclusion. Will it pay off with an Oscar nod come January? 

4. Domnhnall Gleeson
(Ex Machina, Brooklyn, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Revenant)

While Hardy gave us four sides of, one could argue, the same macho coin, Gleeson’s work this year surprises for its variety, so tender and smitten in one, so crazed and fascist in the next. For those who’ve seen it, does he at least get a happy ending in The Revenant?

3. Kristen Wiig
(Welcome to Me, Nasty Baby, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, Diary of a Teenage Girl, A Deadly Adoption, The Martian)

I’ve sung the praises of Ms Wiig before but goddamn if that roster of films alone don’t suggest a fearless actress who loves trying different things on for size.

2. Ben Whishaw
(Suffragette, Spectre, The Lobster, London Spy, In the Heart of Sea, The Danish Girl)

My favorite shaggy-haired Brit mostly played character roles this year but you have to admit he’s a stealth scene stealer without ever coming off as such. For anyone hoping he’d continue his path onto gay male leading status, look no further than the fascinating London Spy.

And the award for “2011 Jessica Chastain” (previously known as the "2004 Jude Law") goes to…

1. Alicia Vikander
(Ex Machina, Testament of Youth, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Burnt, The Danish Girl)

J-Law may have earned “Entertainer of the Year” from EW this year (which is all well and good considering the mag’s rubrics) but you have to admit fewer actors had as great of a year as Vikander. She may very well earn her first Oscar nomination for The Danish Girl but her work in Ex Machina best exemplifies her allure; even when you know you shouldn’t be besotted with someone so obviously built to be perfect, you cannot help but be caught in her spell. Thankfully, her next two projects sound most exciting. A Tom Stoppard-written film about the 17th Century tulip mania set in Amsterdam featuring Jack O’Connell, Judi Dench, and Dane DeHaan? A Derek Cianfrance film opposite Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz? Yes, please.

Feel free to tell me who I missed and whether you agree with our undisputed #1 placement -- Nathaniel himself has kicked off the Film Bitch Awards for 2015 with a special Gold Medal for Body of Work which you can see right here

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Reader Comments (23)

Alicia Vikander also had Seventh Son this year too, a movie I keep forgetting I saw because I keep forgetting it exists.

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKacey B.

I saw that Kristen Wiig was in the new Zoolander film and thought, "is she in a movie a month these days or what?" Some of these (all very talented) performers risk overexposure, though. I can't think of anybody I'd want to see in a different new movie every month--though Chastain comes pretty close. Movie stars ain't supposed to be TV personalities.

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDan Humphrey

Judy Greer also starred in Grandma and a whole lot of one off episode tv work, Kristen Wiig also starred in The Spoils Befire Dying (she received a sag nom for it), Anthony Mackie had Shelter and Avengers as well and Whishaw also voice Paddington.

Other people I would consider doing a great collection of work this year include:

Anna Kendrick (The Voices, The Last 5 Years, Pitch Perfect 2, Digging for Fire)
Sam Elliott (Grandma, I'll See You in My Dreams, The Good Dinosaur, Digging for Fire, Jusiified S7)
Samuel L. Jackson (Chi-Raq, The Hateful Eight, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kingsmen: The Secret Service)
Brie Larson (Room, Trainwreck, Digging for Fire)
Jennifer Jason Leigh (Anomalisa, The Hateful Eight, Welcome to Me)
Peter Sarsgaard (Black Mass, Experimenter, Pawn Sacrifice)
Michael Stuhlberg (Trumbo, Steve Jobs, Pawn Sacrifice)

There really were a lot of people with multiple projects which has happened mainly due to multiple festival films being held over for over a year. Your top two choices are especially great especially since these women did some great work this year.

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

One women I completely looked over was Elizabeth Banks who had Love & Mercy, Hunger Games, Magic Mike, Pitch Perfect (director as well) and Wet Hot American Summer.

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

Spoiler Alert for Revenant and Domnhall: happy his ending is not.

Great list!

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMattyD.

Oooh, do auteurs and casting directors have IDEAS for Oscar Isaac, girl!

It's so nice to see. I can't remember an actor I've been this excited about. If he keeps reading the Kidman-Tilda-Julianne-Pfeiffer playbooks he'll be the greatest male actress we've ever had.

Give him a Birth, an I Am Love, a Two Days One Night. BUILD CINEMA AROUND THIS MAN.

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

When will Kristen Wiig lead a studio movie again? McCarthy stays relevant and all the work Wiig is doing is not earning her I Smile Back level placements in the conversation for year end awards. She's wasting her time searching for a Monster's Ball or Frozen River. Do something where the general audience can see you instead of worrying about the people who would rather watch some homely American indie staple or a glamours foreigner.

So anxious for Chastain next year she needs her Best Actress Oscar so I can stop hating Jennifer Lawrence for placing girlfriend in the uncomfortable position so many living greats find themselves in (Sigourney Weaver, Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, Annette Bening). Chastain does not deserve to be there.

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Numbers 1 and 2 were the ones that came to mind when I first realised the focus of this post. However, the third one that came to my mind wasn't mentioned here: Paul Giamatti (MADAME BOVARY, SAN ANDREAS, LOVE AND MERCY, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON).

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

I agree that you missed Elizabeth Banks. Directing + acting roles, elegant on the red carpet and she is great company on any talk show she ends up on.

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Oscar Isaac was also in Mojave, although its exclusion is perfectly understandable.

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLola

Hello, Matthias Schoenaerts: Far From the Madding Crowd, The Loft, A Little Chaos, Disorder, Suite Française, The Danish Girl.

And Judy Greer is also part of the underrated Archer voice ensemble.

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

In terms of the quality of the performances Blanchett must be number one on the list. That's three performances that are Oscar nomination-worthy.

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

I can't believe you missed Matthias Schoenaerts :))

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterIan

Ian & Paul -- well... perhaps Manuel figured I gave him enough attention here where he placed #1.

December 29, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Never enough attention for that man!

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

If I didn't see the ubiquitous Helen Of Mirren for the next 5 years i'd be ok with that.

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMary

I was just thinking about Jessica Chastain and how her career may be headed for Jill Clayburgh territory (suddenly ubiquitous and in demand by top directors, Oscar-nominated two years in a row, then just as suddenly not). Love her, but she doesn't seem to have resonated with audiences or the industry the way some of her peers have. Too thoughtful and sophisticated in an era when JLaw personalities are most appreciated.

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Love your #1 choice.. she has become one of my top 3 favorite actresses..

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Perhaps it's also that pesky age thing, Mike: both JCs in their mid-30s (i.e., the Danger Zone) when hitting their strides.

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Maggie Smith - The Second Best Marigold Hotel, Downton Abbey & The Lady in the Van - pretty impressive for an 81 year old ..

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEllsworth

@ Mike, Chastain is on Facebook a lot and is shamelessly promoting herself whenever she can. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, good on her. But it doesn't scream of sophistication to me :)

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Paul Outlaw, age is definitely a factor, which is why I don't blame Chastain or her camp for trying to fudge it when she first broke through.

Yavor, that is funny (and true), but by sophisticated I mean she can talk about things like animal welfare, feminism, and film in greater detail than most other actors. It's just that there's a limited audience interested in hearing about Isabelle Huppert, Theda Bara, and the humanity of veganism, unfortunately.

She'd be a huge star if she took up twerking, cursing, and discussing butt plugs on the talk show circuit. :/

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike

You guys forgot Tom also delivered excellent work in Peaky Blinders this year

December 30, 2015 | Unregistered Commentersati

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