Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Breakout Stars of 2011

Adam Pally
Breakout Role: An unemployed slacker on "Happy Endings"
Why: Many may know Pally as the fat guy on that surprise-hit ABC series, but I think of him as the only reason that mid-season comedy wasn't cancelled. The Jersey native got his start in the infamous Upright Citizens Brigade and mastered improv to later become quite the scene-stealer. He has the potential to reach Zach Galifianakis- slash Charlie Day-levels of stardom with the right starring vehicles. Much like Galifianakis, he has no boundaries when it comes to comedy. He regularly posts Funny or Die videos, including a nerve-wracking series of interviews with celebrities called "Riding Shotgun with Adam Pally," and he has no filter on Twitter, where he actually live-tweeted the experience of flying with Tim Robbins and being his wingman as he macked on two girls half his age, despite the fact that Pally is married.
What's Next: Bit parts in the comedies Frankie Go Boom with Charlie Hunnam ("Sons of Anarchy"), Ron Perlman, Lizzy Caplan ("Party Down"), and Whitney Cummings ("Whitney"), and The To Do List with a slew of comedic actors, including Bill Hader ("SNL"), Andy Samberg, Aubrey Plaza ("Parks and Recreation"), Donald Glover ("Community"), and many  more.

Charlie Day
Breakout Role: A sexually harassed dental assistant in Horrible Bosses
Why: Fans of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" already knew back in '05 that Daly was one-to-watch. The rest of the planet caught up with that realization when they saw him get violated by Jennifer Aniston and accidentally inhale coke this summer. When he spazzes out at the slightest sign of inappropriate behavior, his eyes bulge and he turns into a panic-ridden clutz with Bobcat Goldthwait's less-guttural voice. He's a sight to be seen and heard.
What's Next: He'll be in Guillermo Del Toro's sci-fi action film Pacific Rim with Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, and Idris Elba, no doubt as the comic relief.

Felicity Jones
Breakout Role: A lovesick girl in Like Crazy
Why: I think it's safe to say that Felicity Jones has replaced Carey Mulligan as the new British It Girl. The 28-year-old actress's first starring role in an American film swept the indie festival circuit this year, picking up 8 awards, including the Grand Jury Prize and Special Jury Prize for direction and acting at Sundance. There's a little-known story going around that she submitted a video of her showering as her audition for a particular emotional scene in the film. It was a ballsy and unexpected move, which was a characteristic that was necessary for the role itself, since the director and co-writer Drake Doremus encouraged his lead actors to improvise many of the scenes and shot many of them with hidden cameras. Jones now has the rep for being game for anything and having the flexibility required to become an amazing actress.
What's Next: She'll be teaming up with Doremus again for another drama starring Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone and "The Office"), and then filming Ralph Fiennes' adaptation of The Invisible Woman, where she'll play Charles Dickens' secret mistress.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Breakout Role: A spy on "Undercovers"
Why: I realize that not only was her series canceled, but her first feature film, Larry Crowne, wasn't exactly critic-approved, but it's been a long time since there's been a worthy new female addition to the African American acting league. So long in fact that we're making an exception and inducting this 28-year-old South African Brit. Why wouldn't we brake the rules? She's gorgeous. She can do romance, light comedy, and action. She's perfect. Now all she needs is a better agent.
What's Next: The mystery thriller Odd Thomas, starring Anton Yelchin, Patton Oswalt, and Willem Dafoe, and the new supernatural series "Touch" with Keifer Sutherland.

Henry Cavill
Breakout Role: Clark Kent/Superman in Man of Steel
Why: Ok granted, we haven't actually seen Cavill in his breakout role, and technically playing Theseus in this year's Immortals would probably better qualify. But let's be honest, the only reason he's on our radar is because he's going to be the next Superman. He's going to try his very best to erase Bryan Singer's incarnation—that poor unsuspecting newbie Brandon Routh was coerced into starring in—from our memory. And with any luck he'll replace it with a better performance instead of an even worse one. So far so good. He's got the hair. He's got the piercing eyes. And he's got the carved physique. Now all he needs is a convincing American accent, an awesome villain, and millions of dollars worth of impressive special effects.
What's Next (Besides Superman): The action thriller The Cold Light of Day with Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver.

Jane Levy
Breakout Role: A city girl on "Suburgatory"
Why: Levy's first role ever was actually on Showtime's "Shameless." She played this dumb, skanky girl who agreed to be a beard for her gay classmate. She had heavy eyeliner, lots of gel in her hair, and wore provocative clothing. It was the complete opposite of the starring role she has now as the smart, snarky, anti-suburbs New Yorker who doesn't care what she looks like and refuses to conform. She's like all the good parts of Angela from "My So Called Life" and "Daria" mixed into one rebellious teenage girl. Levy's versatility will surely come in handy in the future.
What's Next: The drama Nobody Walks with Dylan McDermott, John Krasinski, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Olivia Thirlby, and the comedy Fun Size with Victoria Justice, Johnny Knoxville, Chelsea Handler, and Thomas McDonell (Prom).

Jennifer Aniston
Breakout Role: A nympho dentist in Horrible Bosses
Why: I know how old Jennifer Aniston is (42) and I know how long she's been in this business (23). I'm not delusional. I realize she got her big break in 1993's Leprechaun (ha!) and an even bigger one on "Friends," but we've never really thought of Aniston as an actress. She was either Brad Pitt's wife, Brad Pitt's ex-wife, Vince Vaughn's girlfriend, John Mayer's girlfriend, Justin Theroux's girlfriend, or that chick from "Friends," who maintains a sick body and keeps doing lame rom-coms. It wasn't until we all saw her try to molest a guy wearing, a majority of the time, practically nothing, performing lewd acts, and delivering profane lines that we realized that maybe, just maybe, she can actually act. I even liked her in this year's Just Go With It. I'm amazed by how she managed to develop chemistry with Adam Sandler...the guy who dressed up as a chick and played his Al-Pacino-romancing twin sister this year. That guy! Honestly, I think she deserves an honorable-mention Oscar just for the effort alone.
What's Next: The comedy Wanderlust with Paul Rudd.

Jessica Chastain
Breakout Role: An assassin in The Debt, a mother and wife in The Tree of Life, and an infertile housewife in The Help
Why: Chastain has been secretly snagging choice roles all year, proving she can play an assassin, doting mother, and a misunderstood housewife. I only had the pleasure of seeing her in The Help, but it was enough to co-sign her debut. She transformed from these docile women that she was known for into this dense blonde bombshell. She was practically unrecognizable. I look forward to seeing what she transforms into next.
What's Next: The C.K. Williams biography Tar with James Franco, Michelle Williams, and Mila Kunis; the horror Mama with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau ("Game of Thrones"); the untitled Terrence Malick romantic drama with Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz; the crime drama Wettest County with Tom Hardy, Shia Labeouf, Mia Wasikowska, and Guy Pearce; and the sci-fi action film Horizons with Tom Cruise.

Jonah Hill
Breakout Role: A statistician in Moneyball and a reluctant babysitter in The Sitter
Why: The 28-year-old Judd Apatow protege made a play for the big leagues this year, dropping half his body weight, co-starring in a big budget sports drama with Brad Pitt, and co-creating his own animated FOX series, "Allen Gregory." Every year one of Apatow's boys kicks some Hollywood ass. 2007 was Seth Rogen's year with Knocked Up. 2008 was Jason Segel's year with Forgetting Sarah Marshall. And this year was finally Hill's turn. But this is only the beginning...
What's Next: Next year, his first writing credit will hit theaters when he partners up with Channing Tatum for the revival of the action comedy 21 Jump Street; then he'll costar with Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn in the comedy Neighborhood Watch; then he'll costar with Mark Wahlberg in the action comedy Good Time Gang; then he'll reteam with his buddies James Franco, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, and Jay Baruchel in the action comedy in The Apocalypse; and then he'll reprise his role in the animated sequel How to Train Your Dragon 2.

Kristen Wiig
Breakout Role: A super religious shut-in in Paul and a bankrupt baker and maid-of-honor in Bridesmaids
Why: Every "SNL" generation has a few stars who eventually breakout on their own. Andy Samberg tried in '07 with Hot Rod and Will Forte tried with MacGruber in '10, but neither had any luck. They seem presently destined for cameos and supporting roles. But after building up her resume with the help of a few "SNL" and comedy friends, she developed street cred for being up for anything. She's not just a chick in a film. She's a comedian. She revived the women-can-be-funny-too belief when she co-wrote Bridesmaids and bucked every girly stereotype comedies usually brand women with.
What's Next: The comedy Imogene with Annette Bening, Mat Dillon, and Darren Criss; the dramedy Revenge for Jolly! with Elijah Wood, Ryan Phillippe, and Oscar Isaac; the horror comedy Freezing People is Easy with Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd; the Sean Penn-directed comedy The Comedian with Robert De Niro; and the animated sequel How to Train Your Dragon 2.

Mamie Gummer
Breakout Role: A type-A doctor in "Off the Map"
Why: Meryl Streep's daughter has actually done a few films in the last five years, but her official debut was in a short-lived adventure medical drama. For 60 minutes every week, we forgot she was Hollywood royalty or had such a hard act to follow, and managed to enjoy her curt comedic deadpan delivery without being distracted.
What's Next: The comedy He's Way More Famous Than You.

Matthew McConaughey
Breakout Role: A sleazy defense attorney in Lincoln Lawyer
Why: In '99, McConaughey made his first big splash with the comedy Edtv. But once the ladies discovered how dreamy he was in 2001's The Wedding Planner, he became the romantic comedy love interest. It didn't matter that between rom-coms he filmed the adventure film Sahara or the dramatic thriller Two for the Money, or the sports drama We Are Marshall. He was just a topless six-pack with a charming Southern accent and a bohemian lifestyle. It wasn't until he starred in a crime drama adaptation where he got in touch with his inner dirtbag that everyone realized that maybe the 42-year-old actor could do more than glisten.
What's Next: The thriller The Paperboy with Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron; the stripper comedy Magic Mike with Channing Tatum; the drama Mud with Reese Witherspoon; and the war drama Thunder Run with Gerard Butler and Sam Worthington.

Max Greenfield
Breakout Role: The neurotic poser on "New Girl"
Why: It's tough being the comic relief on a serious series, but it's even tougher on a comedic series. Everyone's being funny. Everyone's got their own one-liners. And everyone's got their own schtick. It's hard to standout. But Greenfield infuses Schmidt with just enough douchey, self-conscious, over-eager desperation to be funny without being annoying. It's a delicate balance, and after more than 10 years of bopping around television, he's finally found his groove.
What's Next: The second half of the first season of "New Girl."

Melissa McCarthy
Breakout Role: The tough-yet-promiscuous government agent in Bridesmaids
Why: When I first saw McCarthy in "Gilmore Girls," she played this klutzy, lovable goofball with the energy of a hyper squirrel. And once the series was over, she was one of many characters that viewers would never forget. But I found it hard to pinpoint where exactly McCarthy (or any of the show's quirky actors) would be able to revive her career. Then she found another role as the goofy sidekick on Christina Applegate's comedy "Samantha Who?" Unfortunately, after two seasons it was canceled too. But that turned out to be more of a blessing than a setback. A year later, she scored the lead role in "Mike & Molly," a romantic comedy series on CBS. And shortly after, the series became a hit. Not content to rest on her laurels, McCarthy continued her pursuit of comedic roles, extending to film. Having proven to have a knack for character-driven bit parts, like the single-mother support group leader in The Backup Plan and the demanding wife in Life As We Know It, it's not shocking that she could conjure up yet another scene-stealing character as a bridesmaid. Going nude—as in sans makeup—dressing butch, and shamelessly coming on to a man she just met was bold, unexpected, and fearless. It's why she won an Emmy. And it's why she's no longer "that fat girl" but "that funny chick."
What's Next: The Judd Apatow comedy This is 40, starring Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Seth Rogen, and Megan Fox.

Michael Fassbender
Breakout Role: The dashing Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, Magneto in X-Men: First Class, the infamous psychiatrist Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, and a sex addict in Shame
Why: The 34-year-old Brit has been building up to this moment for the last ten years. In '06, he did 300. In '09, he did Inglorious Basterds. But this year, he went all out with back-to-back films, impressing critics and audiences with powerful performances of troubled men with challenging, life-altering decisions.
What's Next: The sci-fi horror Prometheus with Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, and Patrick Wilson, and the drama Twelve Years a Slave with Brad Pitt and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Naya Rivera
Breakout Role: The sharp-tongue cheerleader on "Glee"
Why: While it's true that Rivera has been on "Glee" from the start, it hasn't really felt like she's been apart of the series until this season, when her character finally came out of the closet and addressed the reasons behind her mean spirit. Best of all though is the discovery that she has some pipes on her too, and deserves just as many solos and duets as the rest of the usual lead vocals. Her Amy Winehouse and Adele tributes were rather impressive for a supporting actor. It's a wonder why she's been kept in the background all this time. 
What's Next: Next year on "Glee" we're going to meet Santana's mother, played by Gloria Estefan, and she'll get a role model played by Ricki Martin.

Oscar Isaac
Breakout Role: As the abusive orderly slash pimp in Sucker Punch and the ex-con husband in Drive
Why: Isaac doesn't really have a rep for playing likable people, but he was honestly the only shining star in that painfully depressing comic book adaptation that promised badass sword-wielding mavens and delivered damaged and sexually abused orphans/runaways. Sure he played a sadistic sociopath, but he just did it so convincingly, you didn't want to take your eyes off of him.
What's Next: The dramedy Revenge for Jolly! with Elijah Wood, Ryan Phillippe, and Kristin Wiig; the drama Learning to Fly with Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Holly Hunter; The Bourne Legacy quasi-spinoff starring Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, and Edward Norton; the Coen Brothers drama Inside Llewyn Davis with Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake; and the crime thriller The Jesuit with Paz Vega.

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