ACTOR OF THE YEAR
Anyone who has seen Hunger or Inglourious Basterds, knew that Michael Fassbender was going to be an actor to watch. This year, he gave four performances that have each left an impression on me. His Edward Rochester was brooding even for a gothic period-piece. He proved to be a bankable star in larger budget productions as Magneto in X-Men: First Class. Now he has managed to make two men interested in sexual taboos potentially be contenders for this awards season with Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method and Brandon Sullivan in Shame.
Chastain recently said in an interview that her family didn't believe that she was starring in all of these big movies. Perhaps this is because two of them were delayed while the other two were lower-profile independent releases. Now that the year has come to an end, with many performances, Chastain has emerged this year as without a doubt of there being any contest as the most talented performer to keep an eye on. In two films she plays a wife who is trying to be supportive of husbands who are slowly losing their control on reality, referring to Samantha LaForche in Take Shelter and Virgilia in Coriolanus. She was brilliantly insecure as Celia Foote in The Help and paranoid as Rachel Singer in The Debt. Yet, in what was the most graceful feat of acting this past year, she embodied nurture as Mrs. O'Brien in The Tree of Life.
MY TOP 10 TELEVISION SERIES
10. Modern Family (season 2 episodes 11-24, season 3 episodes 1-10)
Created by Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd
As the show continues on into its third year, the writers and actors have managed to feature comedy on a weekly basis that ranges from subtle wordplay to laugh-out-loud slapstick. With such loveable ensemble, this shouldn't come as a surprise. The family aspect is argueably the most interesting, and frankly, I don't even think the "Modern" part of this show has anything to do with how diverse and unorthodox this family can be, but how these characters are facing 21st century problems that could only have arisen in a family structure in the last decade or so (or are a play on the typical "family" issues). An interesting and unique show that is quickly filling the void that the equally-wacky Arrested Development left.
9. The Killing (season 1)- AMC
Created by Veena Sud
Any episode of any show I watch has to make me want to return for the next episode. The Killing is like a really good, but never-ending Law & Order episode. Similar to say The Shield or The Wire, The Killing takes what is normally an episodic genre, the police procedural, and reinvigorates it with intensely cold allure with an enthralling atmosphere. The show is not so much about the death of a little girl, but about the reaction to death. This leads to some memorable performances, but Mireille Enos stands tall about her cast members as Sarah. Never does the show ask you to sympathize with any of these people. Instead, it plays with empathy and walks a tricky line between revealing too much and holding back too far.
8. Parks and Recreation (season 3, season 4 episodes 1-8)- NBC
Created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur
This year on a show that was first written off (in season 1) and then returned to become one of the most acclaimed comedies (in season 2), the characters manage to continue to grow and overcome any expectations or predictions. The cast, led by Amy Poehler, is full-proof without a weak actor or actress in its ensemble. Nick Offerman's Ron Swanson has achieved a cult status with the other characters on their way there as well, with the casting of Rob Lowe having paid off in his hilariously eccentric portrayal of Chris Traeger. There was not a single bad episode of this year as the series remainded consistenly fun, sweet, loveable, and surprisingly optimistic in an age of cynicism.
7. Fringe (season 3 episodes 10-22, season 4 episodes 1-7)- FOX
Created by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci
For a show that is perhaps the most serialized of a procedural on television (I mean that each episode contains a case to solve, but you can't miss out on the season-long arcs), it continued to propel itself forward by changing the formula of how the show had been set up for the past two years. Now, episodes take place in alternate universes, the past, the present... all while the characters continue to bond as relationships evolve, the action never stops moving, and the mysteries and mythology of the series becomes denser and more fascinating with each episode. This has required the cast to often play their characters under different circumstances. Very little can compare to John Noble's Walter Bishop, a former asylum patient in one reality and a dictator in the next. The show also manged to take the third season's cliffhanger and even still play with our expectations during the first quarter of season four.
6. Justified (season 2)- FX
Created by Graham Yost
Based on the short story, "Fire in the Hole" by Elmore Leonard, Justified has a lot going for it. The show has mastered having a slow boil that explodes towards the final episodes of the season. The back-water town of Harlan, Kentucky has proven to be the perfect setting for this modern western-noir featuring Timothy Olyphant as the badass U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. This season also featured Walton Goggins leading Boyd on a path of both corruption and redemption all while a new villain named Mags Bennett, played by the amazing Margo Martindale, attempted to wrestle control of Harlan away from corporations. Even when an episode would be self-contained, the characters and their interactions are what proudly keeps me wanting to return week-after-week.
5. Homeland (season 1)- Showtime
Created by Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon
What could've been 24-lite has instead turned into one of the most enthralling guessing games on television. Often times, this show would flip itself on its own head by revealing plots or secrets at unexpected moments that would have you asking, "where could they go from here?" Like any good puzzle, there is somehow even more depth and exploration after each reveal that leads to a more interesting experience. Ultimately, the show is anchored by two phenomenal performances that depict chacters that might not be in complete control of what they are doing. Damian Lewis and Claire Danes deliver career-defining turns as the POW returning from war and the CIA agent who suspects him of treason.
4. Game of Thrones (season 1)- HBO
Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
In the era of television where the quality of just about everything is at the highest, here is a series with art direction so intricate, that the images of the sets alone are enough to warrant one to keep watching. For the first season of the adaptation of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, the crew has created a fully realized world that the cast has filled with compelling characters from old men and women to young boys and girls. Most interesting is how the show feels more like one about political intrigue than something from the 'swords-and-sandals' genre. Sean Bean, master of characters in medieval times, leads a fantastic cast. The standout of course being Peter Dinklage's cleverly rude Tyrion.
3. Boardwalk Empire (season 2)- HBO
Created by Terence Winter
HBO has delivered another series with such a panoramic view of its chosen sub-culture of society. This time it is 1930s prohibition in Atlantic City and with each episode, the layers of society and crime are pulled away to expose some of the most humanistic depictions of characters to ever be put on television. The always fascinating Steve Buscemi leads an all-star cast of noted and character actors who deliver anywhere from the most endearing to the most frightening of performances. With the second season, the show dealt with some very depressing storylines that only served to make the characters feel richer and the stories feel like a major event was going to happen each and every week.
2. Breaking Bad (season 4)- AMC
Created by Vince Gilligan
I'm amazed at how each and every week, this show somehow puts its players in such an unescapeable situation and it only gets worse for the characters from there. Cranston's ferocious Walter White and Paul's inexperienced Jesse Pinkman have the best chemistry (no pun intended) on television. Due to the manner in which each episode somehow places its characters in a corner only to explode the next week in some form of physical or emotional carnage, the writers have managed deliver the most masterful and riveting auroa of suspense. This season felt even more dangerous than usual as Walter and Gus (manipulatively played by Giancarlo Esposito) went through an exchange of power that led to what was quite possibly one of the most explosive (pun intended) conclusions to a season that I've seen in recent memory.
1. Sons of Anarchy (season 4)- FX
Created by Kurt Sutter
There really is not enough praise I can lend to this show that hasn't already been noted by its fans and critics. Kurt Sutter has created an epic that can only be described as Shakespearean in scope. Quite possibly the best paced show on the air, every episode leads into the next one like you are turning the pages of a novel. The cast was also superb with Katey Sagal's devasting presence as Gemma, Charlie Hunnam continuing to be one of the great revelations of talent, and in a year where shows mercilessly toyed with their characters, the journey that Ron Perlman takes Clay on can only be described as one of the most breattaking character arcs on any show ever. The show is a tragedy of great proportions. I can't even fathom where Sutter and company will take the town of Charming next, but I eagerly await the poor decisions these characters are bound to make. Loyalty and family. It doesn't get more Shakespearean than that.
UPDATED OSCAR PREDICTIONS
-Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
-Midnight in Paris
-The Tree of Life
-The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
-Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
-Alexander Payne (The Descendants)
-Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive)
-Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
-Steven Spielberg (War Horse)
-Stephen Daldry (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
-George Clooney (The Descendants)
-Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar)
-Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
-Michael Fassbender (Shame)
-Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
-Demian Bichir (A Better Life)
-Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)
-Viola Davis (The Help)
-Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
-Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin)
-Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)
-Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
-Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)
-Albert Brooks (Drive)
-Jonah Hill (Moneyball)
-Nick Nolte (Warrior)
-Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
-Armie Hammer (J. Edgar)
-Berenice Bejo (The Artist)
-Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
-Carey Mulligan (Shame)
-Octavia Spencer (The Help)
-Shailene Woodley (The Descendants)
-Jessica Chastain (The Help)
-Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
-Diablo Cody (Young Adult)
-Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
-Thomas McCarthy and Joe Tiboni (Win Win)
-Will Reiser (50/50)
-Annie Mumulo and Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids)
-Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, and Jim Rash (The Descendants)
-John Logan (Hugo)
-Eric Roth (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
-Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian (Moneyball)
-Tate Taylor (The Help)
-George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon (The Ides of March)