"Bridesmaids" aside, the post-Apatow comedic revolution has been kinder to the men than it has to the women. But one of the exceptions to the rule is Kathryn Hahn, who first came to fame on TV's "Crossing Jordan," but has been stealing comedy roles since "Anchorman" in 2004. Hahn was one of the more memorable news team members in the film (fingers crossed she gets an expanded role in the upcoming sequel), and was even better as Adam Scott's over-sexed wife in "Step Brothers." She's also paid her rom-com dues in films like "A Lot Like Love" and "The Holiday," and only earlier this year was stealing scenes in David Wain's 'Wanderlust" and on "Parks and Recreation." But there's a lot more to her than funny bones, and she was impressive in a small role in Sam Mendes "Revolutionary Road," and gave a great recurring performance in the first season of "Girls." It's not that she hasn't had proper showcases in the past. She starred in short-lived sitcom "Free Agents," and James L. Brooks gave her a good-sized role in the botched "How Do You Know?," but they've never quite landed. There's more on the way, most notably "We're The Millers" and "The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty" in 2013, but again, a canny indie filmmaker could end up storming the festival circuit by writing a role to her real strengths.
Michael Pitt is another slow-burner. He's been a familiar face on screen for over a decade, and seemingly every time he comes close to serious stardom, he ends up pulling back. For the most part, his bona-fides are from the indie world, beginning with an impressive performance in "Hedwig & the Angry Inch," followed soon enough by Larry Clark's "Bully." He tipped his toe into studio waters alongside Ryan Gosling in the "Rope"-indebted "Murder By Numbers," and M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village," but it was a pair of indies around the same time that really suggested he had the potential for DiCaprio-esque stardom: Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" and Gus Van Sant's "Last Days," the latter seeing him giving an astonishing performance as a Kurt Cobain-ish rock star. His next few films -- "Delirious," "Silk," the remake of "Funny Games" -- never quite went anywhere, but he seemed to get a second lease of life as one of the leads in the stacked cast of "Boardwalk Empire." It served as a serious reminder of his talents, and *spoiler* with the show-runners choosing to kill his character, Jimmy Darmody, off at the end of the second season *end spoiler*, Pitt's been a free agent for the last year or so. But it doesn't quite seem to have converted into more roles. The actor had a tiny cameo in "Seven Psychopaths," and was nearly cast as Tetsuo in the aborted "Akira" remake, but he doesn't seem to have taken a serious role in the meantime. Fingers crossed, that's about to change. He co-wrote, produces and stars in the 1920s drama "You Can't Win," which is one to watch on the festival circuit in the next year, and with any luck that'll see him get more attention. And he's returning to gangland territory for "Rob the Mob" alongside Nina Arianda soon. Pitt's talent certainly isn't in question, but it'd be nice to see him cropping up more on screen in the next few years.
The Baltimore-born James Ransone's had a few false starts along his decade-long career so far, but hopefully a recent run of success will mean more people start taking notice again. The actor made his debut in Larry Clark's controversial, little-seen "Ken Park," giving a storming performance as the auto-aspyhixiating, murderous Tate. Even if people didn't see it, he didn't have to wait for too long for more exposure. He played Ziggy, one of the most memorable (and infuriating) characters on the divisive second season of HBO classic "The Wire," a few small movie roles followed, but Ransone was hooked on heroin in his mid-20s, weighing a mere 115 pounds, and ended up 30 grand in debt, which understandably curtailed his career somewhat. When 'Wire' creator David Simon cast him again in military miniseries "Generation Kill," Ransone sorted himself out, and has steadily been climbing up the ladder again. HBO has continued to be good to him, with recurring roles on "How To Make It In America" and "Treme," and after smaller parts in "Prom Night" and "The Next Three Days," he's had more impressive parts in indie favorite "Starlet," and stole the show as the deputy in horror sleeper "Sinister." Next year should be good to him, too. He's got roles in Albert Hughes' "Broken City," Dito Montiel's "Empire State," AMC pilot "Low Winter Sun" with Mark Strong, indie "The Timber" and Jim Sturgess vehicle "Electric Slide." Perhaps most importantly, he's become something of a protege of Spike Lee. After cropping up in "Inside Man" and "Red Hook Summer," the director cast him in a key role in his "Oldboy" remake when Nate Parker dropped out. This is all heading in the right direction, but Ransone strikes us as the kind of guy who deserves leads, the kind of parts a young Pacino would have played. And we hope that casting directors start to realize the same thing soon.
She might not have got the Oscar nomination, but when "Juno" landed five years ago, Olivia Thirlby impressed almost as many people as co-star Ellen Page. Snappy, sexy, and able to get her head around the script's Diablo Cody-isms, it suggested that a star was born, and Thirlby swiftly followed it up with another strong performance in '90s coming-of-age tale "The Wackness." And later that year, she won rave reviews on stage for "Farragut North" opposite Chris Pine (the play was turned into George Clooney's "The Ides Of March," with Evan Rachel Wood taking Thirlby's role). But since then, the 26-year-old seemed to hit a bit of a speed bump. She was replaced (amicably) as Seth Rogen's high-school girlfriend in "Pineapple Express," and indies like "Arlen Faber" and "What Goes Up" never really went anywhere (though a recurring guest spot on "Bored To Death" proved more of a highlight). 2011 saw her venture into the studio world for the first time, but she was wasted in "No Strings Attached," and featured in the quickly forgotten "The Darkest Hour." This year has, admittedly, been better -- she showed a new side to her range with the kick-ass Judge Anderson in "Dredd," though the film's meager box office means it won't be a continuing interest. More crucially, and the thing that truly reminded us of her talent, was Ry Russo-Young's "Nobody Walks," in which Thirlby gives one of the more undervalued female performances of the year as an aspiring filmmaker staying with an L.A. family (John Krasinski and Rosemarie DeWitt) who up-ends their lives. Hopefully it'll remind more people of her talents.
Michael Pitt's far from the only actor to get a good showcase from "Boardwalk Empire" -- the increasingly strong series has given meaty material to everyone from veterans like Steve Buscemi and Michael Shannon to folks like Kelly Macdonald, Michael K. Williams, Michael Stuhlbarg and Gretchen Mol, and relative newcomers like Vincent Piazza, Jack Huston and Charlie Cox. But perhaps the actor we most hope gets a boost off the HBO show is perpetually underrated character actor Shea Whigham. The actor, a theater veteran who first broke out in "Tigerland" and "All The Real Girls" in the early '00s, seems to get better each time we see him, not least on 'Boardwalk,' as Nucky's semi-treacherous brother Eli, where he's been continually impressive. Whigham's one of those actors who has absolutely no problem getting work. In the last four years, he's managed to find room for 16 movies alongside three seasons of "Boardwalk Empire," but they're generally smallish roles in things like "Machete," "Fast & Furious," "Big Miracle" and "Savages." But every time he gets something with a little more substance, like his great work in "Take Shelter" or even his brief turn in this year's "Silver Linings Playbook," he shows why he deserves more work. And the few leads he has had -- he walked away with "Wristcutters: A Love Story" as the Russian-accented co-lead -- have only backed that up. It seems to us that Whigham is primed for a Michael Shannon/John Hawkes-esque break out to the big leagues. It just needs a sharp indie filmmaker to realize that and take that chance. In the meantime, he's reuniting with Scorsese on "The Wolf of Wall Street" and turning up in Terrence Malick's "Knight of Cups," which can only be welcome moves.