Now, before we get into this, I feel the need to address the big grapefruit hanging above that post title. What makes a star? How I define a star in today’s Hollywood could be vastly different from how you or anyone else defines one. The five names I rattle off might make you say “Never heard of ’em” just as easily as they might make you say “What? That person’s been on the rise for years!” or any mixture of words in between. So allow me to attempt to explain what I mean.
I admit that, even for me, the definition can be a bit of a grey area. For the most part, however, I had either not heard of these actors prior to 2012, or a) if I had, it was only briefly and/or in some small capacity, or b) there’s one case in particular where the actor was the lead in a pretty major film a few years back…but kind disappeared from view since then. Short story long: 2012 will turn out to be a big year for these fine folks. Perhaps none will ever be Will Smiths or Julia Roberts, but there’s a damn good chance that each will have a fine career for years, if not decades, and perhaps most of the moviegoing public will know them by them soon. So…they’ll be stars (or character actors) that film buffs like you and I know and perhaps love. Let’s get to it.
(Dis)honorable Mention: That one gem from Django Unchained. Oh wait – that’s right. Django seems to be the first Quentin Tarantino film in a while to neither rejuvenate a once-beloved actor’s career nor kick off a fresh one (at least to most of us, a la Christoph Waltz). Does Don Johnson count? I don’t think so. Kerry Washington? Perhaps if she was given anything to do. Walton Goggins? Sorry, The Shield and Justified take credit there. You disappoint me, QT.
I’m putting Stuhlbarg here because he’s the “B” that I referred to earlier. You’re saying “What about A Serious Man??” right about now. I’m saying, “granted – and what, exactly, had he done since then (but prior to 2012), short of a bit part in Hugo, which more or less came out in 2012 itself.” (Yes, I’m long-winded.) Point being, although the 2009 Coen brothers flick put him on the map, it’s as though it put him in the middle of the Indian Ocean, for all the good it did him…until this year. In 2012, he’s credited for four films (as well as Boardwalk Empire, which doesn’t count), all of which are or were prestige and/or high-profile films: Men In Black 3, Seven Psychopaths, Lincoln, and Hitchcock. I’d say that’s a damn fine year for a burgeoning (character) actor, and I’d say that even prior to saying that he was not only instrumental to Lincoln and funny in his Psychopaths cameo, but also quite possibly the best part of MIB3 not named “Josh Brolin’s impersonation of Tommy Lee Jones.”
Scoot’s the “A” for me in the scenario above. I saw 2010’s Monsters probably in 2011 sometime and definitely heard his name (he was the star, after all), but I admit that I didn’t remember it for long. After all, it was a small film with a bunch of nobodies, and that’s kind of par for the course a lot in those occasions. But what’s also par for the course in those occasions is seeing one of those nobodies (say, Owen and Luke Wilson in Bottle Rocket) turn up a few years later, and then turn up some more, and before you know it, they’re starring in You, Me, & Dupree. Ok, bad example. All of this is to say that 2012 is the year where McNairy popped up enough that I had to take notice, from co-starring with Brad Pitt in Killing Them Softly (which I can’t comment on, having not seen it) to keying a central conflict in Argo, to keying yet another conflict in Promised Land (which no one but me saw). His talents might turn out to be a mixed blessing in terms of his career prospects, however, as he’s a bit of a chameleon – you can see in the picture above that he’s buried under bad hair and 70s glasses in Argo, where he was only a part of the ensemble American team stuck in Iran. Meanwhile in Promised Land, he showed off a hick drawl underneath a pile of stubble. Hopefully, casting agents and producers aren’t overlooking him as well.
Kazan has been acting in high(er)-profile films since 2007 (The Savages, Revolutionary Road, In the Valley of Elah), but I wouldn’t have been able to pick her out of a lineup prior to her starring turn in Ruby Sparks, the Stranger Than Fiction-like romantic comedy that – oh, yeah – she just happened to write and executive produce as well. Not bad going from unknown to working alongside the makers of Little Miss Sunshine, if you ask me. Sure, she’s got famous ancestors, so you might think that nepotism played a role in her ascent. That is, you might think that until you see her starmaking turn. She earns it.
Carano had acted in exactly one film prior to Haywire (Blood and Bone), and I’m guessing hers wasn’t all that big of a role. No matter, said Steven Soderbergh, who (now infamously) spotted the MMA star and decided to make her the star of his movie. Despite some hullabaloo about her voice and/or lack of acting ability, that’s not what I noticed: what I noticed was a competent actor that could stand alongside the likes of Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor and Michael Fassbender and hold her own just fine, thank you very much…and then she kicked their asses. It’s no wonder she was targeted quickly for the (ill-advised) “female Expendables.”
Know how I mentioned Tarantino and Waltz earlier? It wasn’t by accident. Clarke’s acting in Zero Dark Thirty brought back a familiar feeling – namely, the “WTF? Where has this guy been hiding, and why in hell haven’t I heard of him before?” (His most notable turn that I see was in Public Enemies, which I was never interested in, but am now.) He was so good that he had me wishing that, despite how great Jessica Chastain is (and she is that great), why couldn’t this guy have been the star? For those unaware, the first 30 minutes or so of ZDT are gripping, intense, and a bit uncomfortable, and they could have gone south fast had someone not as charismatic, funny, or captivating been watching guard. But those first 30 minutes belong to Clarke, and I can’t wait to see what the Aussie does for an encore.
Remember, we here at Man, I Love Films don’t do definitive lists. We do our favorites and we want to hear yours. So, make sure and tell us about them in the comments section below.