Best Performances of 2015
Wesley Morris, the Times's critic at large, looks at performances that amazed this year and will linger into 2016. Here's the full version of this piece: http://nyti.ms/1JccbOt
- •Tituss Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”No show with Jane Krakowski doing more of her hall-of-fame, funhouse-mirror comedy should have a performance that tops hers. But Tituss Burgess’s does. His character is big, black, gay, broke and, therefore, inventively fabulous — like Loretta Devine in drag as Luther Vandross. His work is breathless and weightless and psychologically aerobic, yet it aches. Episode 8 — in which Titus discovers it’s easier to be a werewolf than a black man — is a masterpiece of self-melodrama.
- •Roberta Vinci, the U.S. Open semifinalsI don’t like to see Serena Williams lose, particularly 2 matches from what would have been a calendar-year Grand Slam. But, Vinci found a way to use Williams’s nervous fatigue against her, inventing angles, instigating both international and on-court bafflement, playing the best match of her long career. Vinci was ultimately fearless, both during the match and in her on-court standup routine that followed. Seamlessly, she went from giant-slaying to open-mike night at the Comedy Cellar.
- •Chris Sullivan, “The Knick”Who isn’t excellent on this show? But, as Knickerbocker Hospital’s uncouth ambulance driver, Sullivan does the most with the most — he’s got the most height, biggest beard and thickest brogue. A lot of actors blending brutishness, opportunism and grudging compassion would hit a wall. This guy just keeps smashing through them.
- •Kristen Stewart, “Clouds of Sils Maria”She was a strong complement to Julianne Moore in “Still Alice,” but here, Kristen Stewart manages to be even more emotionally intelligent running lines with Juliette Binoche. No young actor (she’s 25) is growing with this kind of sensual intensity. With age comes restraint, guile and variation. Her instincts have always been sharp. But now she would make the Swiss Army nervous: That sharpness comes in a variety of blades.
- •Annie Lennox, the 2015 Grammy AwardsWell into what’s become an annual duet-studded death march, Lennox took the stage with Hozier and sang his hit, “Take Me to Church” — fitting given what she achieved that night: holiness. Moving into “I Put a Spell on You,” she made good on the song’s threat, putting on a chilling display of soul power. Arriving at gale force, she was part tsunami, part seductress, entirely capable at 60 of bringing down the house, setting it on fire and leaning into the inferno to light a cigar.
- •Selenis Leyva, “Orange Is the New Black”The least spectacular of the show’s seasons still managed to call another powerhouse off its deep bench. This year that was Selenis Leyva, whose character, Gloria, lost stewardship of the prison kitchen and her bond with her son. But the threat of failure brought something new to her acting: rage, defiance, misery, callousness, humor, remorse. All that feeling seemed to come through Leyva’s body, specifically her arms. Yeah, they’re limbs. But with her, they also shoot bolts of lightning.
- •Marcia Gay Harden and Sam Elliott, “Grandma”Marcia Gay Harden has only a few scenes in this Lily Tomlin comedy. And Sam Elliott basically has one. But both actors change the movie’s temperature. Harden plays one of those steely lawyers in a pink power suit, but she gives her character about a dozen subtle traits that are in constant, visible conflict with one another. In Elliott’s role as an ex, his devastation is ours.
- •Jada Pinkett Smith, Andie MacDowell and Elizabeth Banks, “Magic Mike XXL”Each woman made an exclamatory, yet unprintable, contribution to my moviegoing experience, particularly Andie MacDowell, who has never been more lascivious. This is a movie about the pleasure certain women require from men. But its sexuality is so nimble that when Jada Pinkett Smith and Elizabeth Banks connect in the open space of a convention center, the scene becomes — hotly, hilariously — about the pleasure certain women require of each other.
- •Drake, “Hotline Bling”For more than a week, the world mocked this video. Drake stripped himself of an editor’s rescue and danced in long takes, apparently to a different song. And those moves: bent over, half-step dice-rolls, drunken-wedding-reception belly dances, imitation slo-mo puddle jumps. Whatever they were, people ran to the Internet and made versions of their own. But Drake’s original dominated because it was sexy. The comely Latinas, chilling in cutaways, were a ruse. It’s not them you want. It’s him.
- •Shiri Appleby, “UnREAL”Throughout this show’s first season, Shiri Appleby took one of the most psychologically layered parts on television (a brusque, immoral TV producer) and never overplayed trauma. She respected the architecture of the writing while finding new spaces in which to hide secrets.
- •Érica Rivas and Diego Gentile, “Wild Tales”Damián Szifrón’s tragicomic allegory of modern-day Argentina comprises five suites of perfectly choreographed insanity, the last of which begins as a perfectly ordinary wedding reception and mutates into a war among the betrothed and their guests. Ms. Rivas’s brewing hysteria and Mr. Gentile’s macho cluelessness are played for both laughs but also something larger and grimmer. They help make a violent Looney Toons bit feel like sick national cataclysm.
- •Tracee Ellis Ross, “black-ish”The degree of difficulty that Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Laurie Metcalf and Niecy Nash face on their respective shows is vertiginous. But Tracee Ellis Ross works just as hard in her marriage of pragmatism and new-age nuttiness. Her screen time always feels shorter than her co-star Anthony Anderson’s, but she just does more with what she’s got. She’s so good that even when the writers aren’t giving her great comedy, she makes her own.
- •D’Angelo, Apollo Theater, Feb. 7For an hour, I sat in my seat worried that he wasn’t ready for us — for the screaming and hooting, for the orgasmic yeses. That mighty voice was tenuous. The pacing on the potent new songs felt rushed. He seemed fatigued. But during two encores, a very good show became unforgettable. D’Angelo locked in and let go. Ready for us? Ha. We weren’t ready for him.
- •The HBO All-Stars (Power-Rankings Edition)In order: Laurie Metcalf, “Getting On” Regina King, “The Leftovers”; the cast of “Veep”; John Oliver, “Last Week Tonight”; Niecy Nash, “Getting On”; Raúl Castillo, “Looking"; Becky Ann Baker, “Girls”; Effie Brown, “Project Greenlight”; Thomas Middleditch, “Silicon Valley”; Robert A. Durst, “The Jinx.”