Louis C.K. (Blue Jasmine, American Hustle)
Many know C.K. from his stand-up, but of course he’s best known to the general public for his FX show Louie. While that show is charming and emotional and funny, it’s so autobiographical that it wasn’t always clear how talented C.K. was as an actor with range. His role as a bit of a bounder in Woody Allen’s Streetcar retelling Blue Jasmine and his exasperated, put-upon FBI operative in American Hustle, however, showed us a little more shading.
Adam Driver (Frances Ha, Inside Llewyn Davis)
Driver has long been a favorite in Girls and though his film roles this year weren’t massive, they were a big step up from last year’s “Doe-Eyed Telegram Operator” in Lincoln. The understated Frances Ha was perfect for his naturalistic acting style and it takes someone pretty talented to pull focus from Justin Timberlake in a singing scene. I expect he’ll only get bigger and bigger.
Ruth Wilson (The Lone Ranger, Saving Mr. Banks)
It’s a shame that Idris Elba gets all the love around here when at least half of it, by rights, belongs to Ruth Wilson. She’s maddeningly electric in Luther (the show drags when she’s not in an episode) and Hollywood (or at least Disney) took notice this year giving her significant roles in the (disappointing) Lone Ranger and (also disappointing) Saving Mr. Banks. The Mary Poppins flick might have felt a little empty and insincere on the whole, but there was nothing missing from either Colin Farrell or Ruth Wilson. I could have watched them for another hour.
Jane Levy (Evil Dead)
Levy has always been an impressively mature presence on Suburgatory and she did not disappoint in this year’s remake of the classic Sam Raimi horror flick. To be put a position where you’re compared so closely with Bruce Campbell and to come out the other side looking not just good but kind of great? That’s impressive. The film wasn’t the best we saw this year, but that had nothing to do with Levy’s energetic performance.
Liam James (The Way Way Back)
This kid held it down against Sam Rockwell. That’s damn impressive. Don’t recognize him from TV? He only played young Shawn in, oh, 60 episodes of Psych. I had no idea. He’s also been serving time as Linden’s moody son on The Killing. Kid’s got a future.
Max Casella (Blue Jasmine, Inside Llewyn Davis, Oldboy)
I’m not sure if it’s a stretch to call Casella a TV actor. It’s been years since his most famous role in Doogie Howser, M.D. and, of course, he is and always will be a Newsie. But his long term character work is starting to pay off and he really hit his stride this year particularly in Blue Jasmine and Inside Llewyn Davis. I could see him having a late in life career renaissance in the manner of Jackie Earle Haley. Another child actor who never really seemed like a child.
Taran Killam (The Heat, 12 Years A Slave)
We’re always on the look out to see which SNL player is going to break out next. Who among the current cast is going to be the next Kristen Wiig or Jason Sudeikis or Will Ferrell? (And who, for that matter, is going to be the next Rachel Dratch or Chris Parnell.) Killam pulled into the lead this year not only because of a rather predictable, sideways move into The Heat, but also because of his wholly unexpected role in 12 Years A Slave. It was a small part, but he was partnered with Scoot McNairy: Serious Drama Supporting Player King. Killam could do worse. Given that his wife already landed herself a plum Marvel gig, things could be quite rosy in the Killam/Smulders household long after their time on the small screen is done.
Brie Larson (The Spectacular Now, Short Term 12, Don Jon)
I think we’ve made our crush on the United States Of Tara actress abundantly clear at this point. Larson already impressed us with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and 21 Jump Street but she had an absolutely incredible year and vaulted herself from cartoon/love interest to serious contender for Indie It Girl.
Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso And Moises Arias (The Kings Of Summer, Ender’s Game)
These kids were plucked from a Showtime show, an ABC Family show and a Disney Channel/Miley Cyrus vehicle. Not bad, not bad. Arias had perhaps the most impressive year, stealing the show from the other two kings and making his mark in Ender’s Game. But it’s Robinson who’s fared the best from this high-profile indie. He’ll be starring in the upcoming Jurassic World and it’s only going to go up from there. Melissa and Joey will soon be just a particularly shameful incident in his rearview.