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.

Favorite Albums of 2015


Another year down. Another crop of records obsessed over. This time, I decided to go against ranking things in a traditional list. Instead, I've simply compiled 15 of my favorite albums and placed them in alphabetical order. All have given me sonic pleasure throughout 2015. All are worth cherishing.

by Jericho Cerrona January 10, 2016

Alex Calder Strange Dreams

Like a more obscure Max DeMarco, Alex Calder makes warped pop music with hints of melody wrapped in an acid bath. An unsettling combination of VHS tape hiss and synth-pop wonder.

Chester Watson Summer Mirage

A 19-minute, 6 track EP might seem disappointing after the 18-year-old Florida rapper's 70-minute opus Tin Wooki dropped last year, but condensing ideas actually makes his abstract sound more palpable. Atmospheric production, bass-heavy beats, and stream-of-consciousness rhyming means this kid has some legitimate skills.

Gentleman Surfer Gold Man

Sacramento, CA weirdos make another blast of carefully calibrated, mostly instrumental madness after 2013's bizarro masterpiece Blaks with this spastic, demented, and unhinged gem that showcases some serious musical chops. Prog-rock that's way cooler than you and flaunts it.

It Only Gets Worse Christian Country Home

Alabama-based spoken word artist Matt Finney and Dutch musician Mories get bleak and daringly beautiful with this, their third collaboration; an immersive plunge into the realm of atonal glitches, analog synths, and despairing wordplay.

Kamasi Washington The Epic

A 10-piece jazz band, 32-piece orchestra and 20-member choir all tackling swing, funk, bebop, soul, orchestrated free-jazz as concocted by a 34-year-old jazz musician wunderkind. Ambitious, unwieldy, and utterly brilliant.

La Luz Weirdo Shrine

A gorgeous waltz through Dick Dale-inspired guitar licks, ambient organs, and dreamy vocals in the Shangri-las mode, all manned by producer/guitar maestro Ty Segall. More than simply "surf rock" pastiche.

Palmbomen II Palmbomen II

The latest brainchild from Neatherlands-based musician Kai Hugo (and friends) is a concept album revolving around The X-Files (yes, you heard that right). Wobbly, synth-driven 90s kitsch, done right.

Petite Noir La Vie Est Belle / Life is Beautiful

This extraordinary achievement from half-Angolan, half-Congolese musician Yannick Ilunga weaves African rhythms with 80s new wave and anthemic indie rock to give us something close to perfection.

The Pop Group Citizen Zombie

Pioneers of late 70s UK punk are back with a comeback few expected and even fewer thought would turn out this brilliant; a cacophonous, groove-heavy art-rock album that recalls Bowie in it's uncompromising mixture of strangeness and melodicism.

Protomartyr The Agent Intellect

Frontman Joey Casey shouts, slurs, and mutters his way through Protomarty's latest slab of gutter post-punk. If The Fall crawled out of the underbelly of Detroit, it would sound something like this.

Shamir Ratchet

The year's best summer jam record, bar none; an infectious mix of R & B, disco, house, and wonky pop, all carried along by 20-year-old Shamir Bailey with eccentric confidence.

Tal National Zoy Zoy

There's so much complex history running throughout the undulating percussion and graceful vocals in this album that signifiers such "world music" feel extremely narrow. Based out of Niger and utilizing elements of Afro-beat, desert blues, and West African call-and-response, Zoy Zoy is musically dense, consistently pleasurable, and always full of life.

Viet Cong Viet Cong

Taking the basement-dwelling lo-fi aesthetic of last year's Cassette and then blowing it up to new levels of sonic brilliance. Think little dabs of Joy Division, Wire, and Guided by Voices along with the Calvary post-punkers usual habit of atonal racket, feedback-drenched noise, and monotone vocals.

Wand Golem

This thing gets heavier, dreamier, doomier, and more epic as it sludges along. Pure psych-metal with elements of Brian Eno and T. Rex thrown in to balance out the bong smoke. It's Cave-In getting into a bathroom brawl with The Melvins and Sabbath! And of course, Ty Segall is involved.

Young Fathers White Men are Black Men Too

Recorded on-the-fly in apartments and hotel rooms, this is the year's most boldly left-field hip-hop album, if one can even label it as such. A patchwork of spontaneous outbursts and layered experimentation.