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11 underrated performances in 2015 movies

There are a slew of great movie performances not getting much attention during awards season. For instance: Charlize Theron's Furiosa!

The Golden Globes happen Sunday and the Oscar nominations will be announced next week. Monday night saw the New York Film Critics Circle hand out its awards to the likes of Saoirse Ronan, Michael Keaton and Kristen Stewart. But as ever during awards season, many great performances have fallen by the wayside — work that doesn’t automatically attract major accolades, but should. Here are 12 performances we feel should be getting more attention.

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Peter Sarsgaard, ‘Experimenter’
Want to hear something insane? Peter Sarsgaard has never even been nominated for an Oscar. Among the great actors who haven’t had that honor, he’s up at the top. His turn as (in)famous social psychologist Stanley Milgram — steely, remote but prone to bragging — is his best since “Shattered Glass,” though the movie’s release was too small to attract the big time. That explains a lot of the people on this list.

Cynthia Nixon, ‘James White’
Former “Girls” actor Christopher Abbott was justly nominated for an Independent Spirit award for his performance as a young rich kid on the edge. But every bit his equal is Nixon, who plays his tough-love but still genuinely loving mom, who has succumb to cancer. Few moments this year were more terrifying than the scene where she suddenly and briefly finds herself physically unable to talk.

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Tessa Thompson, ‘Creed’
There’s serious Oscar talk for Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, but don’t neglect Thompson, who plays the girlfriend of Jordan’s Adonis, but doesn’t just play The Girlfriend. Standoffish yet vulnerable, she has a life of her own, and doesn’t play nice when her new lover fumbles.

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Charlize Theron, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’
Theron’s Furiosa is more than a one-armed badass who can drive a mean truck. Her copious, horrific backstory is never explained, but it’s all there in those eyes: that million-yard stare that tells you all need to know about years of abuse and oppression at the hands of evil old men.

Jason Mitchell, ‘Straight Outta Compton’
In a just world this lavish biopic idolizing artists who used to be pop culture enemy number one would be a serious Oscar contender. Ditto the guy who did a spot-on, funny yet childlike Eazy-E.

Lucy Owen, ‘The Mend’
In the same just world, this raucous, deeply anxious indie would be gobbling up indie awards left and right, and Josh Lucas’ ravenous turn as a gleefully self-destructive no-goodnik would be seen as a major comeback. And Owen, who plays his on-off girlfriend, would be the Next Big Thing. Her character is a type — the woman who always falls for the wrong guy — but she imbues her with such depth of feeling that you almost understand her knack for terrible decision-making.

Cobie Smulders, ‘Results’
Freed of “How I Met Your Mother” and on hiatus from Marvel fare (for which she plays steely Maria Hill), Smulders gave two terrific performances in tiny movies. In “Unexpected” she played a teacher suffering grouchily through a pregnancy. In Andrew Bujalski’s bizarre version of a rom-com, she’s a tightly-wound, hyper-sweary personal trainer who can barely control her roaming, explosive emotions.

Joel Potrykus and Joshua Burge, ‘Buzzard’
The year’s best dynamic duo were the stars of this intensely funny indie. Burge played a low-level con-artist who goes too far; Potrykus (who wrote and directed, too) was his low ambition former office monkey co-worker, who has misplaced confidence in a seriously go-nowhere life. Each got a killer scene involving the disgusting consumption of foodstuffs: Potrykus snapping up Cheetos on a treadmill, as though playing the world’s saddest real-life video game; Burge tearing messily into a plate of hotel room spaghetti for five horrifying minutes.

Ben Mendelsohn, ‘Mississippi Grind’
There are losers and then there’s Mendelsohn’s Gerry, a gambler who never had it and possibly (but possibly not!) never will. An entire life of mistakes and failure can be read in his every body movement, especially when compared to his partner-in-crime: the confident (and also very good) Ryan Reynolds.

Ben Vereen, ‘Time Out of Mind’
Richard Gere dirtied himself up to mostly pass as one of NYC’s homeless, but it’s his costar who steals the show. The Broadway legend played a fellow sufferer who briefly swings into Gere’s life and gabs his face off before disappearing as quickly as he entered.

Harrison Ford, ‘The Age of Adaline’
The best thing about “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is how it somehow coaxed the young, fun (but now also grief-stricken) Harrison Ford out of old, grumpy Harrison Ford. But he was also pretty great in this otherwise middling fantasy-romance, as a man who meets an old lover, played by Blake Lively, who still somehow looks like Blake Lively. His work is the definition of haunted, and it’s amazing watching this typically remote actor completely and movingly discombobulate.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
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