Editor’s note: this piece was originally intended to be a video with clips of the top breakthrough stars of 2011. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to complete the video for this week’s series of “Best of 2011” articles, but we’d like to share the list and possibly produce the video in the near future if circumstances allow.
I also personally apologize to the author of this piece that, against his insistence, we could not include a photo of the specially mentioned feature of the #1 performer (though it would probably drive up traffic considerably). – Kevin B. Lee
A wonderful year for film, 2011 has also produced its cavalcade of breakout stars. As the year comes to a close, entertainment outlets are rife with pieces celebrating the new gods’ ascension to pop culture’s pantheon, blissfully ignoring the fact that, as per years past, some of them will never again hit the spotlight as they did this year. I am not saying this to dampen the mood (well, maybe I am – I’m the guy at Christmas parties who tells kids there’s no Santa), but as a sort of service. In this respect, I’m like the Roman slave whispering in the ear of the Caesar: “Remember, you are mortal.”
10. Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Elaine May…Joan Rivers…Ellen DeGeneres…Melissa McCa—Wait, what? Well, apparently so, since the scene-stealer of this summer’s overrated Bridesmaids and the star of CBS’s Mike & Molly was recently crowned the new Queen of Comedy by EW. McCarthy’s turn as a cross-between the attitude of John Belushi’s public persona and the comedy stylings of Eddie Murphy in a fat-suit turned her into America’s Sweetheart. America needs better beer goggles.
McCarthy will next be seen in another Judd Apatow production, This is Forty, the Knocked-Up spin-off no one wanted.
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9. Asa Butterfield, Hugo
In the titular role of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, Butterfield stole the show from the much more experienced Chloe Moretz and owned the screen, that is until Ben Kingsley and his glabrous head showed up. With eyes bluer than robin’s eggs and a talent reminiscent of Haley Joel Osment during The Sixth Sense-era (but without the inherent creepiness), Butterfield has already proven himself as one of the top go-to child actors. He will next be seen in the long-gestating adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel Ender’s Game, once again in the eponymous role.
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8. Octavia Spencer, The Help
Already nominated for almost every award under the sun, Spencer looks like a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod for her role in The Help, where she served Ron Howard’s daughter shit-pie. You’ll never have lunch in this town again, lady!
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7. Felicity Jones, Like Crazy
In Like Crazy, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance festival, Jones plays a British exchange student who falls in love with Anton Yelchin, overstays her visa, goes back to England, and when she comes back, all hell breaks loose. This is improbable on two levels: First, a Brit being denied entry for a minor violation of her visa is terribly unlikely. Second level: Can you honestly believe a girl like Jones would go for a guy like Yelchin?
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6. Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
Yes, she’s great in The Descendants. But finding women born in 1991 sexually attractive wreaks havoc with my mind, which still thinks of the nineties when anyone mentions “last decade.”
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5. Tom Hiddleston, Midnight in Paris, Thor, War Horse
Hiddleston is probably my favorite of the bunch. I loved his portrayal of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris and he was equal-parts tempestuous and frustrated in Thor. He’s had a great year, and should go far.
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4. Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, The Artist
The sensation of this year’s award season is surely Michel Hazanivicius’ silent-film homage, a film I found only mildly preferable to root canal. Nonetheless, the charm and chemistry of its leads are undeniable, and they have invaded the zeitgeist’s consciousness in a big way. Possible success at the Oscar’s would mean more Hollywood parts, hopefully in films that are less akin to soggy bread. (pulpjuiceandsmoothie.com)
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3. Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Olsen’s central performance is everything in Martha Marcy May Marlene, which depends on an actress with a complete command of her character. Olsen delivers in spades, and displays a sort of precocious mastery of her craft that belies her age. She also has famous sisters or something.
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2. Jessica Chastain, EVERYTHING (aka The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, Coriolanus, The Help, The Debt)
2011 – The year in which Jessica Chastain photobombed every single movie ever made. Chastain has, rightly, become a household name this year, you all know that. But did you know that her character in Law & Order: Trial by Jury, in which she had a four-episode run, was Assistant District Attorney Sigrun Borg. You’re welcome.
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1. Michael Fassbender and his Mighty Schlong (not pictured) (Shame, A Dangerous Method, X-Men: First Class)
You could talk about the pent-up frustration of his Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method. You could applaud his versatility by taking on a superhero film and bringing to it a touch of class in X-Men. Or you could talk about his mighty schlong in Shame, which makes the one in Beaches of Agnes (you know the one I’m talking about) look positively microscopic. All hail Fassbender’s “Auspicious Asp of Amore”!
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Ali Arikan is the chief film critic of Dipnot TV, a Turkish news portal and iPad magazine, and one of Roger Ebert’s Far-Flung Correspondents. He also writes regularly for IndieWire’s PressPlay blog and The House Next Door.