In the spirit of giving thanks this week, we’ve assembled a top-10 list of the actors whose presence is always welcome on a movie screen. Some are obscure, some are rapidly rising through the Hollywood ranks, but they’re all fighting the good fight — and we look forward to watching them battle for years to come. So pour yourself a glass of cider, unbuckle your belt and have a look. Rest assured, there are no turkeys here.
10. Elizabeth Banks
You don’t know the name, but you know the face. In 2005, this blond beauty with the wide grin let the “40-Year-Old Virgin” tote his bike in her trunk, and in 2006 she was the best part of otherwise unremarkable films ranging from the sci-fi horror flick “Slither” to the football drama “Invincible.” Wielding impressive improv skills and a heartwarming laugh, Banks has a big ’07 in store, with roles in “Spider-Man 3,” the Vince Vaughn Christmas comedy “Fred Claus,” the Ryan Reynolds romantic comedy “Definitely Maybe” and the Jessica Alba drama “Bill.” We peg her as Cameron Diaz just before “There’s Something About Mary,” so get on the bandwagon while you can.
9. Abigail Breslin
Move over, Dakota, because Hollywood’s got a new cute-kid obsession. Without the performance of Breslin (who was only 8 when she shot it!), “Little Miss Sunshine” would have been another in a long line of indie films about quirky, bickering families. Instead, as soon as the camera closed in on her pudgy cheeks and innocent eyes, you understood why the Hoovers would go through anything to make her dream come true. After a second ’06 appearance in “The Santa Claus 3: The Escape Clause,” Breslin has four more movies on the way. Let’s hope she never lets that innocence slip away.
8. Rob Corddry
Yes, he really is as funny in person as he is on camera. Now, this former “Daily Show” correspondent is finally turning his full attention to movies, and we feel bad for whatever actor tries to go toe to toe with his razor-sharp sarcasm and troublemaking grin. In 2006, the funnyman was filming nonstop, and we’ll reap the benefits in ’07 with Michael Ian Black’s “The Pleasure of Your Company,” the Justin Long comedy “Patriotville,” the Will Ferrell/ Jon Heder synchronized-skating comedy “Blades of Glory,” Ben Stiller’s “The Heartbreak Kid” and several others. At the very least, we expect Corddry to eclipse former boss Jon Stewart’s film canon (“Death to Smoochy,” “The Faculty”) pretty easily and set himself up as another Steve Carell.
7. Julianne Nicholson
There are some actors who “act,” and there are others — rare ones — who can hide the puppet strings so well, all you feel is the warmth of a family member or good friend. For almost a decade now, this red-headed charmer has wielded her considerable talent in an impressive mix of super-independent indies (“Tully,” “Seeing Other People”) and supporting work in better-seen flicks like “Little Black Book” and “Kinsey.” The term “bringing to life” gets thrown around a lot, but there’s no better way to describe what she does in “Flannel Pajamas,” one of the most in-depth explorations of a relationship ever committed to film. As that current indie expands wider, Nicholson is looking forward to next month’s release of “Two Weeks,” a “Family Stone”-like comedy/drama co-starring Sally Field. Wherever she decides to go next, we’ll be watching — and you should too.
6. Curtis Armstrong
Sure, older folks still love him because he brings back memories of Booger (“Revenge of the Nerds”), Miles (“Risky Business”) and Charlie De Mar (“Better Off Dead”), but even younger audiences can sense what Hollywood has known for decades: This character actor brings plenty of flavor to any stew. In the last few years, he’s popped up in everything from “Van Wilder” to “Dodgeball” to “Ray,” and 2006 had the frizzy-haired fast-talker doing his thing in the underrated “Akeelah and the Bee.” Next year has Armstrong giving an off-the-wall performance as the lawyer on the other end of Jeremy Piven’s telephone in “Smokin’ Aces,” an ultra-violent flick starring Ryan Reynolds, Alicia Keys, Ben Affleck and Piven as a mob turncoat. Mr. Armstrong, we only have one “Dead” question to ask: “Do you have any idea what the street value of one of your performances is?”
5. Mos Def
Every year it seems like 10 more hip-hop stars decide they’ll give this whole acting thing a shot. But has there ever been one that’s taken the “craft” as seriously as the Black on Both Sides rapper? Shaping a chameleon-esque career that is earning him Gary Oldman-like admiration, every performance redefines his voice and persona — as well as what we expect from a musician/actor. Who else would have accepted the sci-fi comedy “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” never mind stole the whole movie? This year saw Mos Def developing a nasal New York accent for the Bruce Willis drama “16 Blocks,” blowing minds as a Brazilian dishwasher in the under-seen drug drama “Journey to the End of the Night” and even keeping it real in “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” with a spot-on portrayal of, well, his own amazing self.
4. Doug Jones
The most terrifying performance of 2006 might belong to a man you’d never recognize on the street, in a movie you won’t be able to see for another month. But trust us, catch the Pale Man scene in “Pan’s Labyrinth” and you’ll never be able to get it out of your head (see “Scariest Film Of The Year? ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ Director Spills His Guts” and watch Jones’ ultra-creepy clip right here). After years in everything from “Hellboy” (he was Abe, the skinny sidekick) to “The Benchwarmers” (he was the robot), this veteran physical performer is ready for a big breakthrough. He’s currently on set in Vancouver, British Columbia, looking amazing as the Silver Surfer in the sequel to “The Fantastic Four.” When the film comes out, Jones will no longer be the poor man’s Andy Serkis.
3. Paula Patton
OK, so that wasn’t her singing voice in “Idlewild,” but that doesn’t mean that every line from this fast-rising actress wasn’t music to our ears. Now, as the Denzel Washington thriller “Déjà Vu” hits theaters, musician Robin Thicke’s wife is showing her versatility (see “Denzel Washington Falls For Dead Woman In Mind-Bending ‘Deja Vu’ “ ). It’s hard to avoid the “next Halle Berry” whispers that seem to echo louder with each performance, and here’s a shocker: In real life, she is genuinely appreciative of everyone, from the actors to the makeup people to the camera-operators, who help her look so good. The next few years should offer this actress a chance to stretch — and we’re eager to watch.
2. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
With his last few films, this increasingly intense 25-year-old has made us feel worse and worse about making fun of “3rd Rock From the Sun” for all those years. Sure, Leonardo DiCaprio started similarly with a few years on “Growing Pains,” but Gordon-Levitt has us thinking about a different performer: Ryan Gosling. After a daring performance in 2004′s “Mysterious Skin” and a 180-turn as an introspective Sam Spade in “Brick,” this transformative young thespian has some interesting choices ahead. Next up is “The Lookout,” a crime drama about a brain-damaged crime accomplice; behind that is the Quentin Tarantino-produced thriller “Killshot” in ’07, as well as an Iraq war drama about a soldier who refuses to serve. All together, it almost makes us want to pick up some “3rd Rock” DVDs and see what we were missing all those years — almost.
So who gets the #1 slot on this esteemed list of actors 2006 would have been nothing without? Who are we as thankful for as cranberry sauce and sweet potato pie? Sit tight, the answer will be revealed soon enough with an exclusive interview with the winner himself. Or is it herself? Cue maniacal laughter.
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