5. Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
This is the most recent turning point on this list, and it may be a bit too fresh to tell for sure. Hopefully this entry isn’t jumping the gun, but it also feels as though it fits perfectly here. Steve Carell is a terrific funnyman who had his biggest break (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) many years after he started appearing in films. He was patient getting to the forefront of comedies, and he took over the world once he was there.
He was on “The Office” for many seasons, “Little Miss Sunshine”, “Crazy, Stupid, Love, and many more. He did dip his toe into the dramedy pool a few times, with films like “Dan in Real Life” and “The Way, Way Back”.
While these films showed that he could dabble with drama a little bit, nothing truly prepared anyone for his frightening role as John du Pont in 2014’s “Foxcatcher”. There was virtually nothing funny about his hunched demeanor, frigid personality, and harrowing gaze. He was from a different universe, never mind planet. He was so far removed from being the Steve Carell that usually lights up a room.
That was only three years ago, and there has already been a slight change in Carell’s filmography since. He is both funny and compelling in “The Big Short” and “Café Society”. He is due to star in the tennis biopic “Battle of the Sexes”, and he will take part in another fully-fledged drama Beautiful Boy next year. Mark my words: the reinvention of Steve Carell’s career has just begun, and you haven’t seen anything yet.
4. Ryan Gosling – Half Nelson
Here’s another child actor has made the list. Ryan Gosling has cemented himself as a great stoic actor who can play a sweetheart or a badass with precision. While he was never a punchline, Gosling didn’t have quite the same reputation in the early 2000’s, where he was a supporting actor with some signs of promise (“Remember the Titans”) or a lead that wasn’t given the material he quite deserved (“The Notebook”).
He wasn’t meeting his potential at the time until “Half Nelson” 2006’s drama about addiction. We felt compassion for Gosling’s character who battled his dependency on crack cocaine, and each and every usage of that drug felt like a punch to the gut.
We had been swooned and even entertained by Gosling before, but this was a connection we weren’t used to. This was a candidness that was fresh. This was a minimalism akin to the Hollywood greats of yesteryear. Gosling didn’t just meet expectations – he went beyond what even the most optimistic fans of his prophesied.
Gosling would then take part in films like “Lars and the Real Girl”, “Blue Valentine”, “Drive”, “La La Land” and more. He didn’t just lead films, he enriched them. He’s taken parts in comedies, dramas, thrillers, and even a musical. This was because we saw him take on so many different challenges in his one role in “Half Nelson”.
3. Cary Grant – Suspicion
Cary Grant is one of the few actors who is legitimately a master at both comedic and thrilling cinema. Grant has taken part in some of the best screwball films, such as “Bringing Up Baby”, “His Girl Friday”, and more. Grant did star in dramas along the way (“Only Angels Have Wings” comes to mind), but we weren’t introduced to the unnerving Grant we are all familiar with now. Where was the Cary Grant that double-crossed us in “Notorious”? Where was the man that gave us chills in “North by Northwest”?
In case the hints haven’t clicked yet, Grant’s most mysterious works are all related to Alfred Hitchcock, and his first Hitchcock outing would be the moment we were finally introduced to this completely different side of him.
Grant is charming in “Suspicion”, but only to Joan Fontaine’s character. To us, this is the first time his charms haven’t completely worked on us as viewers. Something was off, and we could tell. This opened the door to a number of other Hitchcock films, and the noir films that would soon follow as well.
It is worth noting his excellent work in the film “Charade”, which is almost every genre under the sun (romance, comedy, thriller, horror, mystery), because Grant could easily pull off every aspect of these styles. It was “Suspicion” that first exercised his abilities in such an extensive way.
2. Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
Before 2010, Jessica Chastain wasn’t quite the superstar she is today. Somewhere in 2010 and 2011, she appeared everywhere from out of thin air. This is not a complaint, as Chastain is a solid actress who has dominated the screen in stellar performance after stellar performance. In 2011, she was the superb supporting actress who stole scenes in films like “The Tree of Life” and “The Help”.
Luckily, there was enough evidence here that Jessica Chastain, a mysterious figure at the time (her age wasn’t even revealed back then, let alone other private information) could lead a film. This is the kind of trust that usually takes many years for a performer to instill in the industry.
Chastain delivered effortlessly in Kathryn Bigelow’s political epic “Zero Dark Thirty”. She captured the kind of transformation you’d see over the course of a television series in only a few hours. She captured the essence of each and every scene.
It was almost as if this star who just had her big break in 2011 just had yet another big break one year later. From there on out, Chastain was hand picked for challenging and definitive roles. She had her career take off later on in her life, but Chastain is clear evidence that you can do anything you set your mind to.
1. Matthew McConaughey – Mud/Dallas Buyer’s Club
If there was ever an actor who felt like they weren’t trying as hard as they should, it’s America’s cowboy Matthew McConaughey. After “Dazed and Confused” and the occasional ‘90s film, McConaughey got happily trapped in the rom-com game in the 2000’s. It almost became tiresome, especially since the few dramas he would take part in felt as stale.
If anyone were to tell me that this man would win an Oscar and I would be okay with it, I would have told them they were insane. However, that was last decade. In the early years of this decade, McConaughey starred in a number of films that made us begin to question if we actually did see everything he had up his sleeves (“Bernie”, “The Lincoln Lawyer”, “Killer Joe”).
Then you had the one-two punch that changed the world’s perception of him forever. In “Mud”, he was an existential lone wolf that captured our hearts and made us fear for him. In “Dallas Buyer’s Club”, he has a change of heart toward decency while he battles HIV. Both films showed a complexity that McConaughey has never shown before.
What was his career like afterwards? “Interstellar”, “The Dark Tower”, “Kubo and the Two Strings” and more. At this point, the film could be “Sing” and it would be interesting to see McConaughey as a koala. When most of the world had little interest in McConaughey’s next flick, now we are all incredibly eager to see what he can do next.
Author Bio: Andreas Babiolakis has a Bachelor’s degree in Cinema Studies, and is currently undergoing his Master’s in Film Preservation. He is stationed in Toronto, where he devotes every year to saving money to celebrate his favourite holiday: TIFF. Catch him @andreasbabs.