2008 Calvin Awards: Breakthrough Performance

February 20, 2008

Well, I had asked for a taco phone, and this is not a taco phone.

We have never had a unanimous result in the history of The Calvins, and we still don't in 2008. One voter stood in the way of our winner for Breakthrough Performance accomplishing this feat. Somehow, we get the feeling Ellen Page will get over it. After all, the woman formerly known as Kitty Pryde has had a storybook year that will end with an appearance at the Academy Awards as a Best Actress nominee. Clearly, we are not the only ones blown away by her winning performance as a pregnant teen handling the repercussions of her situation in startling fashion. The genius of Juno is that rather than turn into a mopey Goth Girl blaming the ills of the world for her mistake, Ms. Page handles everything with a shield of caustic wit blended with youthful optimism. A year ago at this time, we were making fun of anything and everything involved with the X-Men: The Last Stand, an abomination of a movie. Now, we are looking at one of its cast members and saying, "This girl is a revelation as an actress." Much of the credit for this goes to Juno's quirky, strippy writer and its genetically gifted director, but Ellen Page is the main reason why Juno went from a tiny indie movie into a $100 million blockbuster. She is the dominant, nearly unanimous choice for Breakthrough Performance of the year.

The difference between first and second place in this category is, in the immortal words of Larry Miller, the difference between shooting a bullet and throwing it. Seth Rogen is the thrown bullet in this scenario. His turn in Knocked Up is certainly not his first. In fact, he won our staff's collective heart all the way back in 1999 for his work in Freaks and Geeks. He was only 17 years old at the time. All the signs were there that he would be a special talent. Those were confirmed when he started working on Undeclared, a show for which he was not just on-air talent but also a member of the writing staff. Of course, few people knew who he was due to the fact that both programs were cancelled fairly quickly. Rogen's small part in The 40 Year-Old Virgin was his first mainstream exposure, but it wasn't until his unlikely turn as a leading man in Knocked Up that he became a media sensation. That success continued with Superbad, a movie he wrote and gave himself a small part in, but that's not the reason for his nomination here. We are focused on his work as the romantic lead in a $100 million movie wherein his deadpan humor and impeccable timing proved him to be something of a modern Bob Newhart. Rare is the actor who can make a seamless switch between straight man and punchline finisher in the same sequence, but Rogen did just this in Knocked Up. We always thought he was a savant, but even we are surprised that he is this good this fast.

With only one person not voting for Ellen Page, there is only one first place vote unaccounted for as of yet. It went to our third place finisher, Josh Brolin, for his gripping performance as Llewelyn Moss in No Country for Old Men. Brolin's father, James, is well known for his deft portrayal of handsome characters, normally romantic leads, in Westworld, Capricorn One, Gable and Lombard and Barbra Streisand. This makes his chameleon-like performance as a white trash Texan trying to survive an ill-fated get rich quick scheme so surprising. Twelve months ago, nobody knew who this guy was unless you read TMZ religiously enough to know he is married to Diane Lane. Much has changed in the interim. Brolin started 2007 with a part in the Planet Terror half of Grindhouse. Then, he was in the critically acclaimed In the Valley of Elah (Tommy Lee Jones has been very good for Brolin's career) and the blockbuster American Gangster. Those three titles alone would have been more than enough for Brolin to have a good year, but it's No Country for Old Men for which he will be remembered throughout his career. Brolin manages to make Moss just the right combination of soldier-smart and trailer trash-naïve. The result is a character every bit as engaging as the showier Anton Chigurh. Recently celebrating his 40th birthday, Brolin is the proverbial 20-year industry veteran who has become an overnight sensation.


Once stakes a claim to the fourth and fifth spots in the Breakthrough Performance category. The man who finishes fifth, Glen Hansard, had a brief moment of international celebrity due to his work as a guitarist in 1991's The Commitments. He hasn't been seen since unless you are a fan of world music. Meanwhile, Markéta Irglová, our fourth place selection, is a complete unknown. What their work in Once demonstrates is that chemistry is a mercurial, oftentimes fleeting phenomenon that may not be forced. When it organically happens in the wild, however, the results are sublime. Simply seeing the two of them singing "Falling Slowly" will explain why the duo has earned top five placement on our list. BOP is thrilled to hear that the two of them continue to collaborate together on future recordings. Their haunting union makes Once's soundtrack the best since Moulin Rouge!. Hansard and Irglová come across as more than just musicians doing some acting in the movie, however. In fact, I maintain that they have the best onscreen chemistry of anyone since George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight. Clearly, there is a lot to love about Once and since it is largely a two person movie, we had a clear call in selecting both of them in the top five for Breakthrough Performance.

Our sixth and seventh place selections are not from the same movie. In fact, they are from diametrically opposed movies. Amy Ryan has a solid chance to win Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars, and we too are dazzled by her gritty work as a junkie mother who has lost her daughter to kidnappers. Ryan bravely chooses to portray the character as unsympathetic and shameless, making her the key to the entire movie's success. Ryan has dominated awards season, so her presence here is probably the least surprising on the list. Meanwhile, Jonah Hill was probably best known as the Girly Scream guy in Accepted heading into this past year. In Superbad, his bromance with Michael Cera showed that he is the funny fat guy the Internet Generation has been waiting for. He's your Chris Farley, people! Relish him! Hopefully, this doesn't make Michael Cera his David Spade.

The rest of the top ten is comprised of Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Gordon Pinsent and Saoirse Ronan. In case you are unsure of the identity of Mintz-Plasse, here's a hint. His driver's license says McLovin. Enough said. We mentioned earlier that Josh Brolin is an overnight sensation at 40. What does that make Pinsent, a character actor who has been working five more years than Brolin has been alive? A debate could ensue about whether a 77-year-old should be eligible for Breakthrough Performance, but BOP's staff mainly knew of him in two ways. He was on a clever mid-'90s show called Due South and he was among the cast of thousands in The Good Shepherd. Since we could not pick him out of a lineup and he was so brilliant in Away from Her, we believe his selection is more than justified by the unique circumstances of his largely anonymous career. We are aware of him now. Meanwhile, the 13-year-old Ronan could be Pinsent's great-granddaughter, making them perfect bookends at the bottom of the list. Her portrayal of a selfish, petty schoolgirl who gets a man sent off to war is chilling in its believability. We do not want this kid to ever crush on us. Lives are ruined when she falls in like.

Just missing a selection in our list are Nikki Blonsky in Hairspray, Gerard Butler for 300, Sam Riley in Control, Paul Dano for There Will Be Blood, Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose, Kelly MacDonald for No Country for Old Men, and Sarah Roemer for Disturbia. (David Mumpower/BOP)

Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Album
Breakthrough Performance
Best Cast
Best Director
Best DVD
Best Overlooked Film
Best Picture
Best Scene
Best Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
Best Video Game
Worst Performance
Worst Picture
Top 10
Position Person Film Total Points
1 Ellen Page Juno 65
2 Seth Rogen Knocked Up 46
3 Josh Brolin No Country for Old Men 41
4 Marketa Irglova Once 27
5(tie) Glen Hansard Once 26
5(tie) Amy Ryan Gone Baby Gone 26
7 Jonah Hill Superbad 25
8 Christopher Mintz-Plasse Superbad 19
9 Gordon Pinsent Away from Her 14
10 Saoirse Ronan Atonement 13



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