2009 Calvin Awards: Breakthrough Performance

February 11, 2009

Somewhere, out there...

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Each year, we see great performances from actors who are either new to the scene or who we perhaps haven't noticed much in the past due to the fact that their previous work has been somewhat low-profile. Past winners have included Ellen Page (Juno), Michael Sheen (The Queen), Zach Braff (Garden State) and Keisha Castle-Hughes. Time will tell if these actors have big futures ahead of them, though at least in the cast of Sheen, we can say that he was in fact in yet another attention-worthy film in 2008.

For 2009, the performance most worthy of breakthrough recognition from us was Dev Patel in Slumdog Millionaire. Really, almost any of the actors and actresses in this film might have been worthy of notice (you'll see another one further down the list). None of them are widely known in North America, even if Patel does have a starring role in the British teen dramedy Skins, and all of them gave exemplary performances in Slumdog Millionaire. Patel, though, has the most impacting role in the film. He plays modern-day Jamal, a young man who has been through much in life, and whose experiences have led him to the unlikely opportunity to play for the grand prize on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Patel does a fine job of imparting the outrage of an almost-adult who has been wrongly accused of something, and shows the hopelessness of his situation in life while still giving us an inkling that good things could be coming his way if he just holds on.


Second place goes to a guy that I have loved for a long time now, but he's just now really receiving his due notice. Jason Segel's first "big" role was in Judd Apatow and Paul Feig's awesome television series Freaks and Geeks. On that show, he played the lovable loser Nick Andropolis, the goofy stoner with dreams of being a drummer. He also had a recurring role on Apatow's Undeclared, but it's really been in the past two or three years that people really started to pay attention to Segel. The TV series How I Met Your Mother has opened a lot of doors for him, and it doesn't hurt that he was a supporting player in Knocked Up. Now, with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, we have proof that Segel can be a leading man and that audiences will flock to the box office to see him in such roles. Knowing that he wrote the screenplay for the film makes it that much better. We like to say around here that "talent tends to cluster," and the Apatow crew continues to prove this fact on a regular basis.

We find a much more subtle performance in third place. The Visitor is a quiet little film that didn't achieve much box office attention. And that's a shame, because it's a very moving, delicately paced story that goes in unexpected directions. Richard Jenkins is getting all of the attention for Best Actor (including an Academy Award nomination), but the fact of the matter is that The Visitor couldn't have worked as well as it did without the quiet, optimistic presence of Haaz Sleiman, who plays the Syrian drummer Tarek Khalil. I'm hoping this fine performance opens some doors for Sleiman beyond the simple Random Middle Eastern Guy #1 sorts of things.

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