2010 Calvin Awards: Best Breakthrough Performance

By David Mumpower

February 10, 2010

Where's Indiana Jones when we need him?

This is the category BOP does in each year's Calvins that we specifically leave to the individual voters to define. We don't have hard guidelines about what qualifies for the Breakthrough Performance category. Instead, we leave the definition in the eye of the beholder, letting them determine the ten people who they knew little about heading into the year but now feel have marked themselves for future greatness. The purpose of this category is not to name the next Cary Grant in terms of movie celebrity or the next Harrison Ford in terms of box office appeal. Instead, this category is a determination of which thespians went from being less than a blip on our radar to people whose next projects we will be carefully monitoring.

Entering 2009, most of our staff was unfamiliar with Christoph Waltz. Some of our die-hard cinephiles had caught a few titles here and there, but most of his filmography has eluded our staff. That's rather unusual for an actor in his early 50s. The problem is that most of us don't speak German thanks (fittingly enough) to some of the soldiers glamorized in the movie that made Waltz famous, Inglourious Basterds. While Brad Pitt is the ostensible star of the Quentin Tarantino title and other notables such as Diane Kruger, Eli Roth and B.J. Novak received the body of the pre-release publicity for the WWII film, Waltz steals the show. And this happens almost immediately, too.


From the instant he makes a polite request of a dairy farmer to sample the man's wares, Waltz brings the malevolent Colonel Hans Landa to life, giving the character an unabandoned zeal. Landa doesn't hunt down enemies of state because it's his job; instead, he relishes the opportunity to prove that he is the best Jew Hunter in all the land. This chilling examination of the face of evil in the 1940s offers the perfect balance of viciousness to the over-the-top storytelling Tarantino employs in heroicizing the Basterds. Without Waltz, this film would border on being a comedy. His presence alone is enough to remind the viewer of what is at stake. We were captivated by his every move and believe he is the clear cut choice for Breakthrough Performance of the year.

Jeremy Renner finishes in second place for 2009 for his work in The Hurt Locker. Renner's character, SFC William James, replaces a prior officer who met an unfortunate fate. From the moment he shows up on screen, he personifies the opinion that the rest of the world holds of American soldiers. They believe our troops to be reckless, dangerous and addicted to adrenaline. Renner boldly plays up this archetype in creating a character who talks off his armor when attempting to disarm a bomb rather than seeking out stronger personal protection. He ditches his headset when others try to warn him to err on the side of caution. This is a man who embraces the practice of doing those thankless tasks that need to be done and if he gets to irritate others in the process, that's a happy bonus. Renner is a modern day cowboy who seems to relish conflict in all of its forms. His portrayal of this character is instantly iconic and we anxiously anticipate his follow-up performances.

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