2012 Calvin Awards: Breakthrough Performance

By Reagen Sulewski

February 15, 2012

She's googling to find out how she can become a part of the Rhythm Nation.

While not all our picks for Breakthrough Performance of 2011 are brand new to cinema, and in fact several have a number of films under their belt, none of this year's choices were considered within the ranks of actors that people would pay attention to or expect great performances from. Well, they've got our attention now. One interesting theme for this year – the revenge of the little sister, as three of our top five are younger siblings of more famous (for now) actors in the family.

While there's a good reason the role of Lisbeth Salander in the American remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was sought by every young actress in Hollywood, it was far from a sure thing that whoever got the role could pull it off. Enter Rooney Mara, who wasn't just equal to the task of playing the emotionally stunted Swedish goth detective, but made a serious case for herself as an improvement on Noomi Rapace's take on the character. Mara's take on the role was a more violent, alien performance filled with barely concealed rage at the Swedish society that had betrayed and mistreated her for her entire life. It takes a big leap to make a 100-pound girl intimidating, but Mara managed it with ease. The only slight problem with her winning - she finished tenth last year for The Social Network. Okay, so not everyone considered that her breakout role. Go back and look at how many times we tried to give this award to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And Rooney is threatening to make older sister Kate the “other” Mara.

Finishing just one point behind was Jean Dujardin for The Artist. Although he's appeared in a number of French films, including a well regarded James Bond parody, this was the first long look he's gotten States-side. While not exactly carrying the movie single-handedly (more on that later), Dujardin had a monumental task in having to be the emotional center of this silent film, and without the benefit of dialogue. While this could have easily degenerated into shameless mugging for the camera (and okay, it's a broad performance, but we are talking silent film here) Dujardin found a way to be vulnerable and find that star quality needed for the performance.


Only a few more points behind was Elle Fanning for Super 8. The younger sister of Dakota, and with a ridiculous extensive resume for a 13-year-old, here Elle played the almost literal girl next door who was probably named “J.J.'s Childhood Crush” in the draft screenplay. Fanning took this character and fleshed it out into a fully realized little person on the cusp of figuring out how to exist in the world where all the grownups are just as screwed up as she is. A couple of knock out scenes with wise-beyond-her-years performances didn't hurt, not to mention some of the most eerily effective zombie acting ever.

Familiar to us from her long running role on Gilmore Girls (and less so, on Mike & Molly), Melissa McCarthy is one of those actresses that you would have assumed would never really get a meaty role to sink her teeth into. Along came Kristen Wiig to create a role in Bridesmaids for her, which we voted up to fourth place. What's usually a stock crude male role turned into a moral center of the film in McCarthy's hands, as she stole basically every scene she was in.

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