With all of the year end lists and overviews, I thought I would focus on some of the breakout actors of 2011; those whose star is on the rise. These performers became some of the most buzzed about names in film and have firmly established their place in the cinema landscape. While I’m sure you could write about a great many actors, I’ve chosen five to highlight. Also, for the most, part I wanted to choose people who appeared in more than one film, in part to gauge their range and demonstrate consistency. So, without any further ado, here are my picks for the actors who have helped shape this year at the movies.
The Rising Stars of 2011
Michael Fassbender has carved out a name for himself this year with three very different films. Within the mainstream, his turn as Magneto in X-Men: First Class received raves from audiences and critics alike, ensuring him a bright future in Hollywood if he chooses to pursue it. Meanwhile, art house ventures Shame and A Dangerous Method have many supporters (mainly for the former) as well. In fact, Fassbender could cap off the year with an Oscar nod for Shame, his second collaboration with director Steve McQueen.
If Carey Mulligan hadn’t already cemented her name as one of the top up-and-coming actresses working today, this year has certainly proved her talent. Her performances in Drive, while more of a symbol than a full character, embodied the perfect catalyst for Ryan Gosling’s Driver. She’s also received praise for her work in Shame, which I’ve admittedly yet to see. If the buzz is any indication, though, she could receive her second Oscar nomination for the film. Looking ahead to 2012, Mulligan appears to have another solid year with The Great Gatsby and the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis.
Every now and then, a performer has a year when they seem to become ubiquitous within cinema landscape. This year marked that time for Jessica Chastain who has appeared in films such as The Tree of Life, The Help, Take Shelter, The Debt, and Coriolanus. She’s received great notices for each; currently having earned a Golden Globe nomination for The Help and an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Take Shelter. And with her slate of 2012 films including another Terrence Malick film and Wettest County, the latest from John Hillcoat, we’ll continue to see Chastain quite a bit.
Though he’s already established himself within the realm of movie buffs with films like Half Nelson and Blue Valentine, this year marks a new high for Ryan Gosling. With a trio of movies, each appealing to different audiences, perhaps he’s closer to achieving household name status. First, there’s the genre piece Drive, which may not earn him award consideration, but the film has turned up on quite a few Top 10 lists this year. Second, Crazy, Stupid, Love proved his abilities in a rom-com setting. Lastly, the political thriller The Ides of March allowed him the chance to hold his own against heavyweights like George Clooney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. If that lineup of films doesn’t lead to even more high-profile projects and acclaim, I don’t know what will.
Of all the comedic performances this year, Melissa McCarthy’s turn in Bridesmaids has been the most talked about, go-to example of a standout. Surrounded by other skilled comedians, McCarthy stole each scene in which she appeared. Though she’s acted steadily in movies and television for over a decade, this clearly marks a turning point and her notoriety will undoubtedly continue to increase from here. Case in point: we’ll be seeing her alongside Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in Judd Apatow’s next film This Is 40 in 2012.
Bonus List: A-Listers in a Slump
On the opposite end of the spectrum from these emerging stars, there are A-list celebrities who fell into a slump this year. I don’t want to dwell on the negative too long, so these will be fairly brief.
Unfortunately, Ms. Portman has fallen victim to a case of the post-Oscar win doldrums. With uninspired films like No Strings Attached and Your Highness (not to mention a lackluster part in Thor), she’s squandered her accolades for subpar material and paychecks.
Even though you could argue that he hasn’t maintained the best track record in recent years, this year marks a real low for Bruce Willis. Of the two features he appeared in, one (Setup) went straight to DVD and the other (Catch .44) barely received a release. Ouch. Maybe next year can make up for it with his parts in Wes Anderson and Rian Johnson’s films.
If this year has proven one thing, it’s that people are tired of Ryan Reynolds’ shtick as evidenced by the poor performances, both critically and commercially, of The Green Lantern and The Change-Up. Maybe more supporting roles would serve him better in the future.
This one is tough because we all love the guy, but Tom Hanks has had a pretty lackluster year. In the summer, Larry Crowne debuted to mostly negative reviews and an overall disinterest from audiences. Now his latest film, Oscar-bait material Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, has garnered fairly mixed reactions and most likely won’t earn him any awards consideration. Maybe the upcoming Cloud Atlas can raise him back up where he belongs.
After building up his career over the past few years, Russell Brand took some missteps in 2011. The live-action/CG hybrid Hop was thoroughly trashed by critics and the remake of Arthur, though perfectly suited for Brand, was largely ignored.
Well, that wraps up my picks for the actors of 2011. Who do you think is most worthy of recognition on either list?