5. Eva Green – Penny Dreadful
For an actress who’s extremely talented and undoubtedly gorgeous, one would think that Green would have a better career as there was extreme hype surrounding her between 2003 and 2006. Who knows, maybe her exotic looks, accent, and intense sex appeal made her hard to cast in most roles.
That said, she still got a lot of great roles in recent years. Yes, maybe “White Bird in Blizzard” were seen by no one, but she was fun to watch; she was deliciously entertaining in “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” and enjoyably campy in “300: Rise of an Empire”.
She’s often great; she has a crazy good screen presence and she surprisingly got her best part and a great opportunity to show her skills on television with “Penny Dreadful” as Vanessa Ives, a poised, mysterious, utterly composed, seductive, and formidable woman full of secrets and danger.
Green’s screen presence and physical appearance were perfect for the part. It was a deeply-felt portrayal of a tormented woman, pushing far beyond the boundaries of naturalism. While “Penny Dreadful” fans are well aware of the great work Green is doing, her performance hasn’t gotten the mainstream recognition it deserves. Sure, she got a Golden Globe nomination, but she deserved more.
4. The cast of Big Little Lies (Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley)
There are always movie stars appearing in HBO projects, but it’s still more than exciting to see so many big names on one show. “Big Little Lies” was a major hit for HBO, and one of the reasons why it was so addictive was how its all-star cast gave brilliant performance back to back.
Nicole Kidman had always been a risk-taker; some of her film choices could have come off as bizarre, but that’s what makes her great. Kidman loves to explore different material and even though her recent filmography has had some ups and downs, she suddenly got back to form with back-to-back hits “Lion” (earning her another Oscar nomination), “The Beguiled,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” and finally, “Big Little Lies,” where she portrays a woman who goes through physical and emotional abuse but tries to find a way to remain strong.
Reese Witherspoon brings her Southern charm, trademark accent, and vocal style to her character, which makes her entertaining to watch. Shailene Woodley needs to be in more projects, as here she depicts a very haunting portrayal of a woman who can’t survive her trauma.
And then there’s Laura Dern, who was also incredibly cool in another show, “Twin Peaks.” All the ladies shine and bring their movie star charisma to the show. They’ll be back for a second season with Meryl Streep. How exciting is that? Kidman is also doing yet another HBO show with Hugh Grant and Donald Sutherland. We can likely expect another Emmy-winning turn from her.
3. Billy Bob Thornton – Fargo
“Fargo” has had a lot of great performances from movie actors – that Mary Elizabeth Winstead snub at the Emmys for the previous season still hurts, but no other movie actor’s performance was as memorable and as great as Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo. The primary antagonist of the first season, Malvo is a hitman who lives with the philosophy that human beings are, at the end of the day, still very much like primal beasts.
Thornton is an actor of great range; once you see him in “Sling Blade,” “A Simple Plan” and “Bad Santa” back to back, you see three wildly different characters. But he’s also no stranger to deadpan and that’s just not referring to “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” but several other works as well.
However, throughout the course of the show, he gets to wear many masks as well – his police investigation scene is gold as is “Aces!”, of course. Then he can be scary as hell. Think of his ending moment or the elevator scene. And his one-liners were delivered in the most proper way possible. No matter what he does and why he does it, Thornton’s Malvo is a character for the ages.
2. Matthew McConaughey & Woody Harrelson – True Detective
Matthew McConaughey has been a movie actor for almost his entire career, even though his career was always strange. He started off as a character actor; he then established himself a dramatic movie star, though he switched to romantic comedies, which were hardly critically acclaimed stuff. Since 2011, he went on to work in mostly indie films by auteur directors.
McConaughey has also done television at the peak of his “McConaissance” run, and “True Detective” was one of the key elements of him totally turning his image around; the show gained him a new audience and changed many others’ thoughts on him. He totally embraced Rust Cohle, a philosophical, nihilist detective.
Show creator Nic Pizzolatto originally thought of him for Woody Harrelson’s character, which was not a character that someone would want to see again, so Harrelson ended up getting less recognition for that, but his equally terrific performance added a lot to the material and his worldview and personality against McConaughey’s Rust, which often balanced the tone of the show. So they basically completed each other. It was more than acting, of course: the script was great, and the direction was amazing, as was the atmosphere.
The second season took a different approach and ended up being divisive, but honorable mentions go to Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams as their performances seemed to win the season’s detractors hearts as well. But it seems the second season hurt the show’s popularity so much that the third season ended being ignored, even though it was a very solid season and they even had a small reference to McConaughey/Harrelson characters.
1. Frances McDormand – Olive Kitteridge
The four-hour American miniseries based on the 2008 novel of the same name by Elizabeth Strout gave Frances McDormand a chance to prove once again that she’s one of the best living actresses still working. McDormand plays the decidedly unsentimental title character: a misanthropic, strict, but well-meaning retired schoolteacher. Time passes and she turns out to be a judgmental grandmother and caustic loner. She just doesn’t how to show love to her family.
It’s obviously a demanding and complex role, but McDormand pulls it off remarkably with such a realistic and impressive portrayal of depression. Even in the scenes where she doesn’t talk, she does splendid work with just her facial expressions. Her every expression speaks volumes. She never overdoes it, never overacts. She always finds the right tone and balance, whether it’s a dramatic or comedic moment. It is a character that is hard to love but also hard to hate. All in all, it’s an overwhelmingly beautiful performance and a perfect role for McDormand.
Honorable mentions should also go to Bill Murray, Zoe Kazan, and even though he’s not just known for movie work, Richard Jenkins, who’s also outstanding and charming in his part. McDormand won the Emmy, the SAG Award, and the Satellite Award for her remarkable portrayal, and she certainly deserved every one of them.
Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce in “Mildred Pierce”
Hugh Grant in “A Very English Scandal”
Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney in “John Adams”
Riz Ahmed and John Turturro in “The Night Of”
Christian Slater in “Mr. Robot”
Benicio Del Toro, Paul Dano, and Patricia Arquette in “Escape at Dannemora”
Amy Adams in “Sharp Objects”