2014 Calvin Awards: Breakthrough Performance

By Kim Hollis

February 12, 2014

He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. God, I hope he loves me not.

Every year, we like to celebrate the performers who are either new, re-surging or made a big, big impression on us for the very first time. The beauty of this category is that different voters can have their own definition of what “breakthrough” means. We have no stated “rules”. Thus, we always wind up with a fascinating mix of nominees throughout our top ten finishers, and this year’s results are no exception.

The winner of our Calvin for Breakthrough Performance is Lupita Nyong’o, who simply blew us away in 12 Years a Slave. She was mentioned on 10 out of 17 ballots in this category, indicating that she had a broad cross-section of popular support. She received an Academy Award nomination for her role as Patsey, the beautiful, hard-working and persecuted slave of Edwin Epps. She bears her tribulations in her eyes and her posture, delivering a nuanced performance that leaves a big impression even as her screen time is limited.

12 Years a Slave was the first long-form film appearance for Nyong’o, though she had been on the production crew for movies such as The Constant Gardener and The Namesake. Almost immediately upon her graduating with an MFA from Yale, she was cast in 12 Years a Slave, and it seems safe to say she was the proper choice. She’ll be on the big screen again later this month in the Liam Neeson action flick Non-Stop, and it will be fascinating to watch her career trajectory from here.




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Our runner-up is Daniel Brühl, whose portrayal of Niki Lauda in Rush carries the film. That’s not to say that Chris Hemsworth is bad in the film, but his role required him to primarily be attractive and party a lot, which wasn’t really a stretch. Brühl’s role had more depth, as Lauda is a complex human being. Although Brühl doesn’t shy away from his more unpleasant qualities, he still makes the character so interesting that you can’t help but root for him, at least a little.

Although Brühl has been capturing the attention of some of our voters for some time, with bravura performances in films like Good Bye Lenin! and The Edukators, Rush was the first time that he was the centerpiece of a film that was widely seen by our voters. For upcoming projects, his film A Most Wanted Man, in which he stars with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, was shown at the recent Sundance Festival. He’s also in the process of filming a Michael Winterbottom film titled The Face of an Angel.

In a quirk of voting, our third place finisher received the most first place votes, but because her film didn’t receive as much support as either that of 12 Years a Slave or Rush, appears lower down on the ballot. Despite five people putting her at the top spot on their ballot, Adèle Exarchopoulos comes in just after them both. In the French film Blue Is the Warmest Color, Exarchopoulos (along with her co-star Léa Seydoux) demand that viewer respond emotionally and viscerally to their story, which is more than just a titillating story of lesbian as a film that explores jealousy, need, cheating, abandonment and self-discovery.


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