The 23 Best Performances Of 2015 Across Pop Culture

From a Taylor Swift parody to a Pinot Noir ode.
FX/Getty/HBO/Fox

Whether an award show gave them proper due or the Internet paid them any mind doesn't matter when it comes to 2015's best performances, even though many of them accomplished one or both of those honors. Each item on this list exhibited a timeliness and wit that should live on in popular culture's annals. Presented in no particular order, here are the best things that happened on stages and in front of cameras this year.

Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, "Room"
A24
They breathed in the claustrophobia of a tiny garden shed and breathed out the vastness of a world unknown. We blubbered through the entire journey.
Kirsten Dunst, "Fargo"
FX
As a 1979 Midwestern beautician seeking enlightenment while evading the law, Kirsten Dunst submitted career-best work.
Kendrick Lamar on "Colbert"
Kendrick Lamar ripped through a searing medley during Stephen Colbert's first week on "The Late Show," confirming that everyone else who released albums in 2015 can only hope theirs is as dynamic as "To Pimp a Butterfly."
Missy Elliott at the Super Bowl halftime show
Missy Elliott was so lucky to score Katy Perry and her left shark as side acts during this year's Super Bowl performance. It had been 10 years since the rapper's last album, but she's still the supa dupa flyest around. Top that, Coldplay.
Constance Zimmer and Shiri Appleby, "UnREAL"
Lifetime
The surprise summer hit that lent Lifetime new credibility, "UnREAL" skewered the inner workings of reality TV thanks to Constance Zimmer's bite and Shiri Appleby's conflicted vulnerability.
Kristen Wiig, "Welcome to Me," "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" and "Nasty Baby"
Alchemy/Sony Pictures Classics/The Orchard
These indie dramedies gave Kristen Wiig a trio of roles -- an unbalanced talk-show narcissist, a 1970s hippie mama and a Brooklyn bohemian -- that capitalized on her "Saturday Night Live" roots while ushering in a new breadth for the actress.
Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett, "Carol"
The Weinstein Co.
It's more about what isn't said in "Carol" than what is. For that, Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett are flung out of space.
Kanye West's presidential announcement at the VMAs
Kanye West accepted the MTV Video Vanguard Award with a fiery 11-minute acceptance speech that ended with a declaration to seek the 2020 presidency. Politics -- both cultural and governmental -- never seemed this intriguing.
The cast of "Hamilton"
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
Rarely does a single Broadway show make as much of a dent in mainstream popular culture, but Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop take on the life of Alexander Hamilton is the most important show to hit the Great White Way this decade. If you have Twitter or a television, you've probably heard a thing or four about this show.
Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and BB-8, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
Walt Disney Studios
Once and always the best part of the "Star Wars" franchise, Harrison Ford was on point in "The Force Awakens." But nostalgia be damned because it's the new stars -- particularly Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn and BB-8 as the galaxy's cutest droid -- that make J.J. Abrams' movie the diverse sensation it is.
Madonna's "Like a Prayer" tribute to Paris
Madonna ran circles around every pop starlet half her age on the ongoing Rebel Heart Tour, but the signature moment came when she paid tribute to the Paris attacks with an impassioned speech and an acoustic rendition of "Like a Prayer."
Jason Segel, "The End of the Tour"
A24
Funny-guy-goes-dramatic is an old narrative, but boy, did Jason Segel shock us all with his bravura turn as David Foster Wallace.
Niecy Nash, "Getting On" and "Scream Queens"
HBO/Fox
Newly-anointed Emmy nominee Niecy Nash showcased her range with the grace of "Getting On" and the overblown camp of "Scream Queens." God help anyone who expects to own a scene opposite her.
Viola Davis' Emmy acceptance speech
Viola Davis became the first black woman to win Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series at the Emmys, and her empowering acceptance speech signaled many more to come. For at least a few blissful minutes, watching Davis quote Harriet Tubman and swell with pride felt like a new day in America.
Paul Dano, "Love & Mercy"
Roadside Attractions
Playing a young Brian Wilson as the Beach Boys recorded "Pet Sounds" in the mid-'60s, Paul Dano proved he knows how to pick complicated roles and ensure they overcome the clichés to which a lesser actor might resort.
"Please welcome to the stage ..."
Please welcome to the stage the most brilliant pop-music satire of 2015. Lara Marie Schoenhals lampooned the often ridiculous deluge of surprise guests Taylor Swift introduced on her 1989 Tour, replacing Matt LeBlanc and the U.S. women's soccer team with "the women survivors of ISIS" and "the ashes of the victims of the Salem witch trials." Bravo.
Domhnall Gleeson in everything
Walt Disney/A24/Fox
Domhnall Gleeson played a First Order baddie in "Star Wars," an unsuspecting programmer in "Ex Machina," a gentle Irish suitor in "Brooklyn" and a fur-trapping captain in "The Revenant." Bill Weasley who?
David Letterman's final months on the air
CBS
The more his days on "The Late Show" became numbered, the more warmth crept into David Letterman's famously crusty aura. He'll never cop to the influence he wielded over late-night comedy, but no need: Letterman's final episodes spoke for themselves.
Tituss Burgess, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
Netflix
Ellie Kemper's wide-eyed curiosity steered "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," but it was Tituss Burgess' restrained take on his character's outsize personality that won us over. Peeeeeeenot Noiiiiiir!
Carrie Fisher's "Star Wars" press tour
2015 was the year we realized life isn't as fun without Carrie Fisher around. The sharp-tongued actress and her droopy-tongued French bulldog Gary reminded us that celebrity interviews can be more than phony marketing tools. Everyone else should take note.
Common and John Legend at the Oscars
Glory came to the Oscars in February when John Legend and Common soared through the "Selma" anthem "Glory," backed by a spirited gospel choir and a model of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where history was made.
Tracee Ellis Ross, "Black-ish"
ABC
The kids on "Black-ish" made last year's list, but it was Tracee Ellis Ross who has been the delight of the show's second season. Her winning versatility as a comedic performer can rival any of the premium-cable stars who dominate the Emmys.
Donald Trump as presidential candidate
Ralph Freso via Getty Images
There are no words. Well, here's one: nightmare.

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