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The Top Breakthrough Performances of 2012

Written by on December 18, 2012 

For every fresh, new face in directing this year (check out our best directorial debuts of 2012) there have been an equal number of new stand-outs on the other side of the camera. While anticipation for many of the year’s films relies around certain actors or actresses, we’ve rounded up a group of talents that were virtually unknown a year ago, but thanks to stellar performances they are now deservedly in the spotlight. While some are already well on their way to fame, signing to a number of projects, the others will surely be on their way, especially if last year’s rundown was any indication. Check them all out below and let us know your favorites in the comments.

Gina Carano (Haywire)

When thinking of breakout performers, we rarely give action stars their due credit. We swoon when Tom Cruise runs down a building or does his own fights, but when a newcomer hits the scene we just shrug our shoulders. So let’s take a moment to give Gina Carano some well deserved credit – when Steven Soderbergh was looking for the perfect balance of unflappable grace and bone-breaking action for Haywire‘s Mallory Kane, she delivered in spades. Her effortless fighting prowess more than highlighted the pugilistic deficiencies of her thespian counterparts, so long as you weren’t too busy feeling their pain to notice. – Brian R.

Lola Créton (Goodbye First Love and Something in the Air)

I saw Olivier Assayas Something in the Air with, I kid you not, virtually zero awareness as to the existence of Lola Créton. This lack of familiarity, much like Scoot McNairy, may have given her an unfair advantage, what with that lack of prior associations and the like. But I then saw Goodbye First Love, the newest work of Mia Hansen-Løve — Assayas’ wife, in what I think is a not-so-coincidental side-note — and was taken aback by the equal (if not greater) power of her turn here. Although her beauty contributes to an undoubtable onscreen luminescence, Créton and her directors wisely use that to expose hidden levels of vulnerability and strength, adding resonant layers to what’s on the page. You can see Goodbye First Love on Netflix Watch Instantly while the better of those two, Something in the Air, will open this coming spring. Don’t miss it. – Nick N.

Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, Lawless, Lincoln, Jack and Diane and The Place Beyond the Pines)

From seemingly nowhere, Dane DeHaan has turned heads and landed the coveted role of Harry Osborn in the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but it’s definitely no mistake. His 2012 roles spanned a loner sociopath finally standing up for himself after receiving superpowers (Chronicle); an unfortunate bootlegging lackey happy to stay in the shadow of his one and only friend (Lawless); an idealistic, star-struck soldier caught almost speechless in the presence of the President (Lincoln); and a troubled, adolescent reconciling his current lot with the hot-tempered shoes of a dead criminal father (The Place Beyond the Pines). Providing neurotic, introverted eccentricity opposite a potently volatile knack for turning a dangerously pitch black, DeHaan should see himself further in the limelight in the years to come. – Jared M.

Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward (Moonrise Kingdom)

It’s not very often that an actor other than a Wilson brother, Jason Schwartzman or Bill Murray gets to take the reigns in a Wes Anderson film. With Moonrise Kingdom, not only did Anderson incorporate a new 1960s period, but he also found two young actors that fit seamlessly into his angsty, yellow-tinted world. While watching both Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward play the troubled duo of Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop, I often forgot just how young they actually were, thanks to the way they effortlessly handled Anderson’s mature dialogue; not to mention their ability to carry the entire film without any help from veterans like Bruce Willis and Murray. Their performances were nothing but impressive and I eagerly wait for where they venture to next. – Megan E.

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