10 female film performances that awards season insanely ignored

The underrated and gutsy roles that blew us away in 2015.

by Courtney Iseman
26 January 2016, 2:50pm

Karidja Touré in 'Girlhood'

The Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, and other mainstream ceremonies have been getting flack for years for nominating the same megastars in the same kinds of blockbusters time after time. Glossy big-budget films are often the ones that so clumsily try and fail (or worse, don't try at all) to accurately portray real women, and those are the films that get celebrated. The real gems go unnoticed, even if they created serious buzz throughout the year for breaking down barriers. This year's Oscars are already facing a boycott due to the ceremony's not-so-subtle whitewashing, and there are plenty more problems with diversity where that came from. Until a change hopefully happens one year soon, we want to give a shout-out to the female performances that inspired us--and that award season missed -- in 2015.

Kristen Wiig in Welcome to Me

The one consistent feeling you have throughout watching Welcome to Me? Discomfort. That might not necessarily make for the most entertaining movie viewing of all time, but it does speak volumes about Wiig's performance. At first glance, Wiig's Alice Krieg is an extension of her SNL socially awkward characters. But a few minutes in, you realize Wiig is portraying an isolated woman dealing with mental issues with a profound emotional intelligence. You cringe as you watch Alice fulfill her dreams of being the next "Oprah" with her own talk show, unsettling her viewers with reenactments of her childhood bullying and meat-cake cooking segments. The cringe, though, is proof Wiig is under your skin.

Bel Powley in Diary of a Teenage Girl

Marielle Heller's Diary of a Teenage Girl lit up the filmscape this summer with praise for its groundbreakingly honest portrayal of female teenage-dom. It seems criminal, then, that the actress at the center of the movie went unrecognized when it came to awards. Dealing with a neglectful, partying mother and sleeping with that mother's boyfriend, Powley's Minnie is the force in this story. She captures the temptation and curiosity of a teen girl, the occasional penchant for danger, and the wide-eyed innocence in a way Hollywood never seems to nail. She scares us with her decisions, but we don't judge her; we relate to her. Powley manages to keep even the most disturbing parts of her tale from being all doom and gloom -- but they all feel very, very real.

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Tangerine

Sean Baker's Tangerine changed the film game this year. It was shot on an iPhone 5s. It stars two transgender actresses. It tells the tale of a friendship between two prostitutes yet holds not a shred of judgment. Along with its two stars, this film captivated its audiences and got everyone talking. Yet those stars went un-nominated, un-thanked for all the excitement they gave viewers. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez spends the entirety of Tangerine brilliantly balancing toughness and innocence. She can handle her own, but is still vulnerable to emotional pains like a cheating boyfriend. She is simultaneously a boss lady and a young girl with real fears. Rodriguez carries her character's lifestyle with boldness and no shame, which is what helped this movie change so many viewers' perspectives.

Arielle Holmes in Heaven Knows What

Heaven Knows What really goes there. It's brutally honest, and pushes viewers to a point of unsettling fascination with what it's like to be a heroin addict today. The film is based on lead actress Arielle Holmes' own (unpublished) memoir. This is less acting and more an incredibly immersive star turn. Holmes is playing herself, but the ease of which she goes from junkie to carrying a feature film is astonishing. She throws herself into telling her story, never afraid for a second of revealing too much. The openness with which she portrays her own suicide attempt, fights, scores and dreams is pretty mesmerizing.

Teyonah Parris in Chi-Raq

Teyonah Parris was tasked with more than being the lead actress in a Spike Lee movie. Chi-Raq had a mission. Lee told Parris he wanted this movie to inform, to teach and to save even one life with its message about the epidemic of gun violence in Chicago and throughout the U.S. Parris took that direction seriously. She takes charge of her character, dominating a story that's meant to do more than simply entertain. She throws herself into the role of Lysistrata, who organizes a sex strike among the women of Chicago's South Side to catalyze an end to the gang wars. Parris brings an inspiring strength to the role of being a leader who's brave but new at this whole starting a movement thing. It's a complex dynamic to convey, especially considering Chi-Raq's script is entirely in rhyme.

Rinko Kikuchi in Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Similar to Wiig in Welcome to Me, Rinko Kikuchi was challenged in portraying a woman losing touch with reality in Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter. She, too, delivers. Kikuchi masterfully plays Kumiko as a quiet woman grappling with mental and emotional struggles as well as a serious habit for getting carried away by her daydreams. The particular daydream at hand is Kumiko's belief that Fargo is a true story. She sets off to find the suitcase buried at the end of the movie, and her awkward journey has us feeling embarrassed for her, pitying her and rooting for her all at once. Never over-simplifying Kumiko to being just delusional, Kikuchi makes the audience both want to help her find her treasure and shake her out of her ill-fated mission.

Karidja Touré in Girlhood

Céline Sciamma's Girlhood made waves in France with its all-black, mostly female cast. Beyond that, Girlhood invites audiences to see what it's like to be a black teen girl in certain neighborhoods of Paris today. Sciamma doesn't dictate that we condemn or support any bad behavior by the girl gang she focuses on. We just get roped in by the friendships, victories and struggles of the intriguing yet typical characters at the center of the film. One of those characters is Marieme, played by Karidja Touré. Touré is fierce as the member of this girl gang, but instantly relatable as a teen with emotions and fears, who needs friends and support. Like the rest of the cast, she was discovered in an open call for the film seeking non-professional actresses, and her unpolished, unassuming nature helps keep every interaction refreshingly real.

Desiree Akhavan in Appropriate Behavior

Desiree Akhavan has a lot of plates spinning in Appropriate Behavior. She wrote and directed the film, which is an extension of herself and her life, but the actual storyline is fictional. She delves into going through a rough breakup, being bisexual, hiding that sexuality from her strict Iranian parents, and being adrift in a hipster Brooklyn. One oft-repeated bit of praise for Akhavan has been how relatable and universal she managed to make such a niche story. Not all of us are around the 30 mark in Brooklyn dealing with a lost love, bisexuality and parents we fear won't accept us, but there are notes and themes there we all understand all too well, and Akhavan makes them feel even more accessible with her honesty and quiet expressiveness.

Zoë Kravitz in Dope

Did Zoë Kravitz have to plumb the depths of her soul to disappear into a character wildly unlike herself in Dope? No, but she lit up the screen with her understated acting and perpetual coolness. Kravitz explained in an interview that she hasn't related to roles in urban movies before, but this character of Nakia spoke to her. We see that connection in her performance -- we lose Zoë Kravitz and gain Nakia, a girl with determination studying for her GED. Dope isn't exactly Citizen Kane, but, as Kravitz has pointed out, it is the Risky Business of our generation. It's the classic underdog party movie, revamped with fresh diversity and cooler characters. The way Kravitz electrifies every scene she's in is one of the things that makes this movie instantly iconic.

Tessa Thompson in Creed

It's part writing and part Tessa Thompson's performance that keeps Creed's Bianca multi-dimensional. Too many movies about a rising athlete or rock star deduce that protagonist's love interest to a flat trophy wife or girlfriend, but Bianca has her own goals, hopes and struggles, brought vibrantly to life by Thompson. "It was important to [filmmaker Ryan Coogler] that she wasn't this ringside cheerleader," she told Vanity Fair. Sure, up-and-coming boxer Adonis Creed's rise is the central arc of this movie, but Thompson makes sure Bianca isn't just there for the ride. Bonus points: Thompson sings in the movie, too, an authentic talent she normally puts to use in her band Caught a Ghost.


Text Courtney Iseman

diary of a teenage girl
bel powley
Zoë Kravitz
awards season
karidja toure