Best Performances of 2019 – The New York Times


With all due respect to the entire history of the police procedural, I’ve never seen one like this rape investigation. More than being interesting, it’s so interested, in the vicissitudes of victimhood and survival, in quiet and restraint. It’s hard to explain how that interest reveals itself, except to say that the people playing cops, accusers and parents create this nexus of frustration, outrage, patience, doubt, empathy, determination and shame. One beautifully written and acted exchange follows another. Danielle Macdonald, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Dale Dickey, Elizabeth Marvel, Annaleigh Ashford, Bridget Everett, Eric Lange: The show lets them all do painterly work, shading even minor characters. Kaitlyn Dever, playing a spiky foster kid whom law enforcement chews up and spits out, is especially good at navigating post-traumatic stress with no GPS. And as a pair of detectives, Toni Collette is self-amusedly made of Kevlar and Merritt Wever is the closest acting gets to emotional stethoscope.

Whenever that moment arrives partway through a movie or TV show in which your excitement, curiosity or belief spikes, odds are very good that Lucas Hedges, Hong Chau, Merritt Wever or Rob Morgan has arrived to do the spiking. Everything about them is a sideways thrill. I spent most of “Just Mercy” devastated by its most rueful death-row inmate, only to belatedly realize that it was Morgan who was breaking my heart. He’s got a raw, transparent realness you don’t teach or learn. It takes a certain amount of guts to cast him since that realness could expose what surrounds him, the way it does in “The Last Black Man,” as otherwise vacant.

Officially, what Ohashi did with her perfect-10 floor exercise at a college gymnastics meet in January was a solo routine. But somebody made a video of her slingshot leaps and Velcro-tight landings, and in it, you can see her daggone teammates not just cheering her on, but eventually moving with her in synchronicity to choice bits of songs like “Proud Mary” and “September.” They don’t just have the usual tumblers’ spunk. They’ve got rhythm and timing and great taste for that floor-exercise soundtrack.

Everybody in this musical, about beached stage actors who crash a small-town dance, worked with an astonishing sense of farce. But Leavel polishes narcissism to marbled perfection. The flailing limbs, the snobby rictus of disgust and self-delight. Remember in May when the Met Gala had lots of people wondering, “What’s camp?” Well, for eight shows a week, it was wearing skintight jungle prints and doing misleadingly titled numbers like “It’s Not About Me.”

“Hadestown” is a musical Greek myth, American music mash-up in which Hades is essentially Leonard Cohen, the three Fates are the Labelle trio, and Orpheus is the troubadour who replaced Garrison Keillor on the old “Prairie Home Companion.” But it’s Gray, as Hades’ lady, Persephone, who burned me up. Gray uses precision to amplify jaggedness, want and wrath and to ask and answer an urgent question: If Billie Holiday got dragged to hell, she’d be reborn as Tina Turner’s Acid Queen, right?

The best written thing on television of any kind this year also inspired the best acting. She’s a sexual time bomb. He’s a weak priest. Scott’s job is to keep the priest’s lust in tension with his chastity. Waller-Bridge’s is to convince him (and herself) that she’s worth the breaking of his vows. Morality, physics, theology, self-deception and grace pass between them, in halting verbosity and these friezes of guilt and incrimination. Unless a third season happens (Phoebe, don’t do it!), the only place to find the likes of these two again is probably the Bible itself.

People who love the first season found this second helping an unnecessary excuse to see Meryl Streep insinuate her way through a wig and fake chompers onto everybody’s last nerve. It was also crucial to discover that Kravitz can sulk, worry, break down and seethe with a soul she’s never been allowed to bare. While Streep and company are doing their gold-medal high jumps, Kravitz takes things where you’d expect a woman thinking about the murder she committed would: under the top.

It’s true that Jerome is around for the first three parts of this mini-series about the so-called Central Park Five, but the final installment focuses on the incarceration of Korey Wise, and Jerome and his full, searching eyes change the meaning of the dutiful, scrupulously moral thing we’d been watching. He gives the existential terror some rage and physical imagination and, most impossibly, these glimmers of wonder.

There are gimmicks, then there’s what these two have done — grown women playing middle-schoolers surrounded by actual middle-schoolers who manage somehow to keep a straight face. The riot comes in part from the contrast between the adult actors and the kids but mostly from Erskine and Konkle’s studied attitudinal accuracy that, in a single facial expression, can capture awkwardness, cockiness, horniness and chagrin.

Officially, the umbrage Kelly took during this one-on-one interview was the performance. But as he stomps around a hotel suite, his giant frame spewing profane self-defense all over, King holds steady. “Robert,” she intones, “Robert …” All journalist, of course, but a lot of profile in courage and a little Dr. Melfi, too.

This kid can eye-roll, wear 30 patterns at the same time, deeply develop what’s usually the funny-gay-best-friend sidepiece and supersonically deliver line readings like he’s been acting since the screwball era (he has not; Gatwa is 27). But playing a teenage Brit on the best show about young lust maybe ever, the most important question is: When does he breathe?

On March 8, scores of people left a Robyn concert at Madison Square Garden only to travel to the subway station beneath it and resume the show. I’ve yet to die, so I’ve yet to go to heaven. But surely an overcrowded train platform full of strangers all belting “Dancing on My Own” must be a nightly recurrence inside at least one of its gates.

1. Brandi Carlile

2. Alicia Keys

3. H.E.R.

4. Chloe x Halle

5. Post Malone and Red Hot Chili Peppers

6. Cardi B

7. St. Vincent and Dua Lipa

8. Kacey Musgraves

9. Jennifer Lopez

10. Diana Ross

If I ever teach a class, I’ll make sure to spend a week dismantling the shocking magic of Zendaya as a physical comedian. She’s playing a sullen teenage junkie, but she’s doing it with more colors than Crayola has crayons. Her face is a wonder of pique and lifelessness, the mask of tragicomedy, basically — on opioids.

Even though all of this guy’s YouTube micro-musicals are pretty straightforward (change the lyrics of an old show tune or current-ish pop hit and crosscut them with Trump-oriented news footage), I don’t know how he does it. Not simply the withering wit and the richness of his singing but the hydraulic reactions. Those alone make Joan Crawford seem like Steven Seagal.

In February, before she laid her soaring stank on Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s mega hit, Clarkson apologized for any perceivable disservice. But this murder was premeditated: she was barefoot. Anybody who plans to put a hurtin’ on a song does it shoelessly.

This man should no more have played D’Urville Martin than the Incredible Hulk should play Kermit the Frog. But Snipes doesn’t care. He’s made Martin such a prissy, sissy macho that you don’t know whether to call the Academy or Vince McMahon.

This 10-year-old pockets the movie’s longest, most rigorously conceived sequence from Leonardo DiCaprio, who otherwise owns it. She’s a world-weary child actor on a TV western. He’s a beached hack. And Butters excels at about half a dozen things (weathering his chauvinism and balancing adult wisdom with childlike wonder, for starters) while never losing the idea that she’s also playing a kid who expects the man-baby next to her to act like more of an adult than she is.


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