2007 Calvin Awards: Breakthrough Performance

February 14, 2007

Since you probably aren't sure, our winner is the guy on the right.

We started recognizing Breakthrough Performance with movies released in 2003. Winners in the category thus far have included Terrence Howard, Zach Braff and Keisha Castle-Hughes and allow us to give notice to several performers who might not otherwise receive a great deal of attention. These are the actors who we believe stood out so much that we're likely to see more of them very soon. Where previously they might have rated low on the awareness meter, they've bumped up several notches to the point that they could be legitimate big names quickly.

Our winner this year in a fairly close race is Michael Sheen, whose portrayal of Tony Blair in The Queen truly made us stand up and take notice. The Welshman has had a distinguished career both on stage and screen, The Queen was the first time where we actually came away from a movie saying, "Who is that? And what else has he done? And what is he doing next?" He actually had a key role in the Underworld films as Lucian, though he looked entirely different during that performance. Coming up, he'll play Dylan Thomas in a movie about the poet's tempestuous relationship with his wife Caitlin.

A year ago, you might not have known the name Sacha Baron Cohen. Or if you did, you might have recognized him as the guy who did that obscure British sketch show that got picked up by HBO. Today, you would have had to have hidden under a rock for several months with no access to TV, magazines or radio to not be aware of Cohen's mighty presence. After a great supporting appearance in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby as French race car driver Jean Girard, Cohen took the world by storm in the weeks leading up to the release of his film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. And then the film made $26.5 million in its first three days in theaters. Now, Borat is a household name, with Cohen winning a Golden Globe for his performance and having Fox chief Rupert Murdoch so hopeful about his return for a sequel that Murdoch announced it without any real confirmation. What's next for Cohen? At this point, there is no Borat sequel actually planned, but he will be playing Signor Adolfo Pirelli in Timothy Burton's adaptation of the musical Sweeney Todd. He'll also reprise his role of Julien, the "I Like to Move It Move It" lemur, in Madagascar 2. Finally, he's slated to star in Curly Oxide and Vic Thrill as well as Dinner for Schmucks.

Daniel Craig is our third British Isles performer on the list. Like Sheen, he's actually had a long and industrious career both on stage and onscreen, but mainstream moviegoers had no idea who he was until his name was announced as the next Bond (that's despite some fine headlining performances in smaller flicks like Enduring Love and Layer Cake). For months, the debate rages as to whether Craig could fill the gigantic shoes of some of his predecessors. $165 million in North America alone would seem to say yes. He's a different Bond to be sure, but apparently is closer to what author Ian Fleming had in mind when he wrote the books. Craig's next roles include Lord Asriel in the adaptation of the beloved Philip Pullman novel The Golden Compass (Northern Lights for the Brits). He also stars alongside Nicole Kidman in The Invasion, as well as I, Lucifer and the next Bond film.

While many of us took notice of Abigail Breslin as the sweet little girl in Signs, few of us remembered her name. We certainly won't be forgetting her now, as her performance as Olive in Little Miss Sunshine has cemented her in our minds as one of the finest child performers in the business. Here is a little girl who was perfectly willing to look ordinary for a role, and her portrayal of Olive was so genuine that one can't help but be touched by her. We'll almost certainly be seeing a lot more of Breslin in the future. Her next projects will have her working alongside Catherine Zeta-Jones in No Reservations and Ryan Reynolds in Definitely, Maybe.


Vera Farmiga is another one of those actors who has been in the business for a while, but for most people, The Departed was the first real opportunity to see her shine. She started many years ago alongside Heath Ledger in the television series Roar, and has had a number of TV stints since then. Fans of indie films know her for her role in Down to the Bone, which got her a couple of critical awards here and there. Now, as the only true female character in the male-dominated The Departed, Farmiga was more than able to hold her own against some amazing talent. She has a number of movies coming up in the short term, including the Sundance flick Joshua, in which she co-starred with Sam Rockwell. It seems likely that we'll see her stick primarily to the indie side of things since that is where she'll score her most challenging and rewarding roles.

You know James McAvoy. You just don't know you know him. In 2005, he played the faun Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The trouble is, since he was covered in hair and had hooves, he simply wasn't recognizable as a human being. McAvoy, a Scotsman, has also had some pivotal roles in some television programs, including the Sci Fi Channel's mini-series Children of Dune. But we really noticed him in 2006's The Last King of Scotland, where he portrayed the personal physician to the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. We're frankly disappointed that he hasn't received as much attention as Forest Whitaker during this awards season, as McAvoy was every bit as important to the movie's success as his cohort. He'll star in the indie films Starter for Ten and Penelope this year, as well as Becoming Jane, a Jane Austen biopic. He'll top it off by co-starring with Keira Knightley in Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's Atonement.

Foreign language films often afford us the opportunity to see performers we wouldn't otherwise have the chance to get to know. Twelve-year-old Ivana Baquero, who starred in Pan's Labyrinth as a bookish young girl who creates fantasy in order to escape the reality of her terrifying world in fascist Spain, is just such an example. Her measured ability and maturity are impressive. Baquero hopes to emulate her most admired actresses in Jodie Foster and Natalie Portman by attending college, so our exposure to her might continue to be limited in the short term.

In a group of memorable actresses from The Departed, Natalie Mendoza as Juno stands out as particularly special. While she doesn't have any upcoming movies lined up, she is starring in the BBC series Hotel Babylon. Our Brit-centric list continues with Emily Blunt, who impressed us by being every bit as key to The Devil Wears Prada as Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. She has a lot of projects coming in the near future, including the horror film Wind Chill. On a larger scale, she stars with Steve Carell in Dan in Real Life and Tom Hanks in The Great Buck Howard.

Children of Men's Claire-Hope Ashitey shares the final spot with Keri Russell, who is well-known for her starring role on television's Felicity, but not particularly for film. Honorable mentions go to Little Miss Sunshine's Paul Dano, Rinko Kikuchi of Babel and Art School Confidential's Max Minghella. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
Top 10
Position Person Film Total Points
1 Michael Sheen The Queen 50
2 Sacha Baron Cohen Borat 41
3 Daniel Craig Casino Royale 38
4 Abigail Breslin Little Miss Sunshine 33
5 Vera Farmiga The Departed 27
6 James McAvoy The Last King of Scotland 23
7(tie) Ivana Baquero Pan's Labyrinth 19
7(tie) Natalie Jackson Mendoza The Descent 19
9 Emily Blunt The Devil Wears Prada 14
10(tie) Claire-Hope Ashitey Children of Men 12
10(tie) Keri Russell Mission: Impossible III 12

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