Oscar Isaac: For years, this handsome Cuban-Guatemalan actor has been languishing on the sidelines in fizzlers like the Russell Crowe vehicle “Robin Hood” and the little-seen “Agora.” It took the Coen brothers to give Isaac a lead role in a major movie, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” in which he plays – fittingly – an unknown folk singer struggling for recognition. Isaac has been nominated for a Golden Globe.
Miles Teller: After playing a party-animal with a nonstop mouth in teen flicks like “Project X” and “21 & Over,” the 26-year-old Teller won critical acclaim for a dramatic role: a party animal with a drinking problem in “The Spectacular Now.” Teller may yet have a serious career ahead, even if he’s returning to type in next year’s “That Awkward Moment.” He’ll play – guess what? – a party animal with a secret girlfriend.
Adele Exarchopoulos: The 20-year-old actress with the tricky surname has become a French sensation, winning Cannes’ prestigious Palme d’Or – along with co-star Lea Seydoux and director Abdellatif Kechiche – for her role as a young lesbian in the NC-17-rated “Blue Is the Warmest Color.” (Only one woman, Jane Campion, had won the award previously.) Her English may be limited, but she clearly has an eye toward working in Hollywood: She recently confessed that the director she’d most like to work with is Judd Apatow.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: The Seattle duo turned mainstream hip-hop upside down this year by challenging the genre’s deeply ingrained themes and still keeping things fun. “Thrift Shop” became an anti-bling anthem, while setting the scene for “Same Love,” which eloquently advocated for equal rights for same-sex couples. They were rewarded with No. 1 hits and a boatload of major Grammy nominations.
Lorde: The teenage sensation from New Zealand proudly came from nowhere to one of the year’s biggest hits, “Royals,” by tapping into the disconnect between the lifestyles glamorized in pop culture and teenage reality. Her debut, “Pure Heroine,” continued poking holes in the illusion, declaring in her deep, warm voice, “I’m tired of putting my hands up in the air. So there.”
Pharrell: So what didn’t Pharrell do this year? He was involved in the summer’s two biggest hits – Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” – as well as producing and performing on albums from Jay Z, 2 Chainz and even The Lonely Island. He also put out his own work, including an impressive 24-hour-long video for “Happy,” his theme from “Despicable Me 2.”
Netflix: And what a breakout. Three original productions that launched last year (”Arrested Development,” “Hemlock Grove” and “House of Cards”) combined for a total of 14 Emmys; neither “HoC” nor “Development” won for best drama or comedy, respectively, but got Netflix a ticket to the party. Netflix also established a new viewing phenomenon – “bingeing,” or the glutinous consumption of favorite shows hour after hour (after hour). Some series found new converts (and fanatics) via Netflix, most notably “Breaking Bad.”
Kerry Washington and “Scandal”: Who is this wonderwoman, Olivia Pope, who cries bitter tears in one scene and devises plots with steel-hearted resolve the next? She is hot and cold, fire and ice – always impeccably dressed. Washington’s true breakout year was 2012, with “Django Unchained,” and the April premiere of “Scandal,” but the “breakout” kept on rolling into this one, with a best actress Emmy nomination, a memorable “Saturday Night Live” host outing, and now, household name status.
Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong and Vanessa Bayer of “Saturday Night Live”: “SNL” had a historic cast turnover on the eve of its 39th season and yet managed to break out three major cast members – McKinnon, Bayer (”Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy”) and new “Weekend Update” co-anchor Strong. These three key female players are poised to become major “SNL” stars of the future.
David Rakoff: It is sobering when an author’s breakout book appears after his or her death; if only Rakoff – beloved for his essays and voice on NPR’s “This American Life” – could be around to enjoy the reaction to “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish,” a series of vignettes in anapestic tetrameter that takes us through more than 100 years of American life with humor, heartbreak and wonderful verbal invention.
A.S.A. Harrison: Rakoff’s fellow Canadian writer also died before her novel, “The Silent Wife,” compared by many to the wildly popular “Gone Girl,” hit the streets. A thriller that tells of a marriage gone lethally sour in chapters that alternate between the points of view of husband and wife, this was Harrison’s first work of fiction and displays a talent we were unlucky to lose.
Alice Munro: A third Canadian writer is fortunately very much alive at 82. Once adored mainly by the literati, this year Munro was a Nobel Prize winner and, for the first time, with “Dear Love,” a No. 1 bestseller.