Favorite Performances of 2015


Another year down. Another string of stellar performances. This time, I decided to go against ranking based on gender. There's also no "lead" or "supporting" categories, since the Oscars already pull that nonsense and this is simply about highlighting quality work across the board. So, here are my 15 favorite performances of 2015. All have given me a reason to cheer. All are worth gushing over.

by Jericho Cerrona January 24, 2016

Anne Dorval, Antoine Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément Mommy

Dorval is the unraveling widowed mother, Pilon the psychologically unstable son, and Clément the damaged former school teacher living across the street in 25-year-old wunderkind Xavier Dolan's ambitious melodrama. The results are a trifecta of powerhouse acting.

Bernard Pruvoust Lil' Quinquin

Bernard Pruvoust's bumbling Commandant Van deer Weyden may be investigating a series of mysterious murders in Bruno Du Mont's wonderfully droll Lil' Quinquin, but he could just as well be putting on a classic comedy workshop. Raising his huge eyebrows, providing pratfalls, and unfurling dialogue with a distinctly bizarre delivery, Pruvoust absolutely owns every scene. The year's most oddly endearing character by a wide margin.

Nina Hoss Phoenix

As a former Jewish nightclub singer who survived the Holocaust with reconstructed facial surgery intact, Nina Hoss gives a heartbreaking, vanity-free performance as someone essentially playing the role of her former self in Christian Petzold's powerful drama-noir. Hoss's unique gifts; of being able to tell us a multitude of emotions through simple gestures and a knowing look, is everything.

Joshua Burge Buzzard

Joshua Burge's performance as Marty Jackitansky, the power glove-wearing drone working for a dreary Michigan Bank Mortgage department in writer-director Joel Potrykus's Buzzard, is crucial to understanding what the film is going for. With his greasy hair, bulging eyes, nebbish demeanor, and stoned poker face, he creates a character bordering on mental illness who nevertheless remains oddly sympathetic. Plus, no one can eat an entire bowel of spaghetti quite like Burge.

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Maya Taylor Tangerine

As formally exciting as Sean Baker's lo-fi experiment is; (complete with a tricked-out iphone 5), there's little doubt it be as compelling without Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Maya Taylor's undeniable chemistry as two trans-sex workers running around Los Angeles. This isn't really "acting" so much as reacting and observation; with both Rodriguez and Taylor going all out with high-strung physicality, comic vulgarity, and even most winningly, moments of genuine warmth.

Elisabeth Moss Queen of Earth

Tapping into how those with genuine depression often view reality, Elisabeth Moss is ferociously committed to Alex Ross Perry's cause as a woman gradually losing her grip on reality. Because of her multi-layered approach; at one moment euphoric, while in the next descending into a fetal position of teary-eyed panic, Moss is in many ways playing an alien visitor trapped in a world which can never truly understand her.

Gregg Turkington Entertainment

Existing as a bold corrective to the idea that movies need sympathetic protagonists, Rick Alverson's jet-black ramble into the American wasteland has at it's center a towering performance from comedian Gregg Turkington. Playing a variation on his real-life standup alter-ego Neil Hamburger, Turkington concocts an inedible impression of a man both hostile and withdrawn; a ghost drifting through dingy bars and cheap motel rooms who just might make you laugh before gouging out your eyes.

Lea van Acken Stations of the Cross

Dietrich Bruggermann's formal experiment is composed of 14 shots representing the 14 stations of the cross of Christ, and young actor Lea van Acken is virtually in every frame. Her feverish, wide-eyed performance as Maria, who takes a messianic burden upon herself while struggling with extreme fundamentalist upbringing, is phenomenal in its restraint. With nowhere to hide because of Bruggermann's static tableaus, Acken is forced to carry the entire film, which she does with an incredibly naturalistic power.

Bel Powley The Diary of a Teenage Girl

The story of 15-year-old Minnie's coming-of age in Marielle Heller's touching film is so free of sentimental tropes that British actress Belle Powley is allowed the uncommon freedom to inhabit a female character unapologetically enthusiastic about sex. This is personified through contradictory, unformed, but nevertheless honest reactions to subject matter that could have come across exploitative. However, Powely never makes us feel guilty for investing in Minnie and a key sequence where she stands examining her naked body in front of a mirror, is a literal and metaphorical representation of her fearlessness.

Michael B. Jordan Creed

As the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, who died in the early rounds of Rocky IV, Michael B. Jordan exudes charisma, wit, and a physical tenacity that's matched only by writer-director Ryan Coogler's reverentially muscular new perspective on the Rocky franchise. Without the actor's keen understanding of portraying a young man determined to forge his own legacy, this could easily have fallen into cliche, but Jordan can flash that winning smile as well as knock out you out in a fight, and he absolutely reinvigorates what could have been a stock character.

Saoirse Ronan Brooklyn

Eilis Lacey is an Irish shop girl who moves from her small village to New York during the mid-1950s to pursue her dreams, but Saoirse Ronan transcends such simplistic character outlines with a performance so true and attuned to the moment that John Crowley's pleasant drama achieves near greatness. It's a performance subtly encompassing timidity, fear, heartbreak, surprise, and joy--all in a single look. Ronan's face in closeup may in fact be the special effect of the year.

Peter Ferdinando Hyena

Moral ambiguity is the order of the day in Gerard Johnson's ultra-violent British gangster picture, and Peter Ferdinando exudes that push and pull quality between doing what's right and what's necessary as a narcotics officer in over his head. Sweaty, disheveled, and spending most of the film in a state of paranoia, Ferdinando brings a pent-up energy and combustible emotional range to an archetypal role.

Teyonah Paris Chi-Raq

Spike Lee's rowdy, impassioned plea to stop inner-city violence could have gone the way of cartoon farce, and though he certainly dabbles in those areas for comedic effect, Teyonah Paris's dazzling performance as Lysistrata keeps everything ground in a kind of emotional truth. She has to look spectacular (which she does), have a commanding presence (which she has in spades), and deliver dialogue in the form of verse with searing passion (which she accomplishes with aplomb). Her committed performance is at the center of a film reaching out it's hands in love while screaming from a pulpit in anger.

Rachel McKeon Homemakers

Visions of aimless millennial youth are a dime a dozen these days, but Colin Healey's debut feature captures the roving frustration, drunken restlessness, and emotional instability of that time in our lives by focusing on Rachel McKeon's punk rock musician, Irene. This is a no-holds-barred, reckless, and surprisingly poignant performance; brilliantly portraying a fragile, angry, and sarcastic young woman perhaps afraid that her tough girl facade is beginning to fade.

Rami Malek Da Sweet Blood of Jesus

While Chi-Raq is currently getting raves (and for good reason), this greatly underappreciated Spike Lee Joint contains many pleasures, chief of which is Rami Malek's winningly humorous turn as the personal assistant of Stephen Tyrone Williams's wealthy black anthropologist. Malek's off-kilter line delivery, hilarious facial reactions, and overall sweet-natured presence takes a stereotypical "background" role and enlivens it with real heart and soul.