2015 Calvin Awards: Breakthrough Performance

By David Mumpower

February 11, 2015

Your theory of a donut-shaped universe is intriguing, Homer.

The concept of Breakthrough Performance has always been left in the eye of the beholder among our voters. For some people, an actor may remain a relative unknown even after appearing in a handful of films. Rather than identify only people delivering fantastic work in their first major outing, we as a group choose to celebrate anyone who has impressed us for the first time. This leads to back-handed compliments that are tongue-in-cheek digs more than anything (some wiseacres voted for Channing Tatum this year for Foxcatcher), but it also empowers our staff with the ability to designate the work that made us stand up and take note of an ascendant talent.

Previous winners include Lupita Nyong’o, Hailee Steinfeld, Christoph Waltz, Dev Patel, Ellen Page, Michael Sheen, Rooney Mara, Zach Braff, Keisha Castle-Hughes and Terrence Howard. We have for the most part favored youthful thespians over the years, but we also hit home runs with our identifications of Waltz, Page, Sheen and (to a lesser extent) Howard as actors to watch in coming years. This year, we again follow this trend by selecting a man who was a virtual unknown only months ago for the Breakthrough Performance of 2015.

While Eddie Redmayne was sharing scenes with Matt Damon all the way back in 2006 in The Good Shepherd, his career was primarily spent as a bit player until 2011 when he portrayed Colin Clarke in My Week with Marilyn. His only work since then, however, had been a smaller part in 2012’s Les Misérables. As such, his heart-wrenching portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything feels like an out of nowhere performance. Redmayne nails the awkwardness of a socially inept student whose world is turned upside when he learns that he will never walk again. Even worse, he is presumed to have only two years to live.


There is a bit of a scorched Earth vibe to The Theory of Everything, which is based on Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, an explosive memoir written by Hawking’s ex-wife, Jane Hawking. She sacrificed much of her life to aid the world’s greatest mind in his journey to uncover the mysteries of the universe. Redmayne is asked to provide sympathy to a hard man whose disability has driven his life choices, many of which are selfish and single-minded. In addition, Redmayne had to cede his ability to move for much of the film, something he has stated led to “numerous freakouts” for obvious reasons. The fact that he accomplished so much in the face of such obstacles speaks volumes about his natural ability. Redmayne may never top his performance in The Theory of Everything but even if he does not, he has still already established himself as the next great British actor.

Do you believe in miracles? Only two years ago, Rosamund Pike had the misfortune of earning two spots on the Worst Performance list. Our staff considered her work in Jack Reacher and Wrath of the Titans to be so atrocious that we struggled to decide which role deserved more damnation. We voted each one to be among the worst half a dozen “acting” jobs of the year. Fast forward to today and the 36-year-old thespian with more than 20 major film credits – she’s a Bond Girl, for God’s sake! – almost won the category of Breakthrough Performance for Gone Girl. Our evaluation of our ability heading into the year was so low that in delivering one of the great acting jobs of 2014, we were suddenly forced to reconsider all of our preconceived notions about her as a thespian. Only two years after kicking her when she was down, we collectively accepted that she has more talent than we have previously acknowledged.

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