Bruce Dern: After 50 years of supporting roles, this familiar character actor is suddenly an A-list star. For his lead performance as an aging father in Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska,” Dern won best actor at Cannes and has been strolling various red carpets ever since. It’s clearly an Oscar campaign, and a win would be the first for the 77-year-old. He was nominated once, for 1978’s “Coming Home.”
Jared Leto: The actor-rocker has recently turned down roles to focus on his band, Thirty Seconds to Mars. This year, however, he returned to the screen in a big way with “Dallas Buyers Club.” Leto’s portrayal of Rayon, a transgender woman living with AIDS during the mid-1980s, is rightly being hailed as one of the year’s best performances. So, what about the band? As it happens, its tour schedule has a conspicuous lull around March 2 – Oscar Sunday.
Robert Redford: The 77-year-old didn’t just carry a movie this year, he did so single-handedly: He’s the only actor in “All Is Lost,” a drama about a sailor stranded in the Indian Ocean. The result has been glowing reviews and strong Oscar buzz. Redford won a statue for directing 1980’s “Ordinary People,” but an acting nomination would be his first since 1974, when he was up for “The Sting.”
David Bowie: Everything about Bowie’s impressive year was done in secret. His album “The Next Day,” his first in a decade, was recorded in private, hush-hush sessions and released with little warning and no fanfare. After Bowie’s heart attack in 2004, it wasn’t clear whether he would ever record again, much less create something so impressively forward-looking and memorable.
Nile Rodgers: The legendary Chic mastermind and guitarist bounced back from a battle with prostate cancer in 2010 as funky and fine as ever. He was the driving force for Daft Punk’s global smash “Get Lucky” and the standout track “Lose Yourself to Dance.” He set up shop in the Hamptons this summer to work with the hottest EDM artists, including Avicii and David Guetta, on their songs and on some previously unreleased Chic material. This comeback is far from over.
Garth Brooks: He is certainly a man of his word. Brooks announced in 2001 that he was going to put music on hold to raise his daughters after he divorced their mom. With his youngest daughter set to graduate from high school, Brooks is ready to return to music. He unveiled his well-crafted one-man show, “Blame It All on My Roots,” in Las Vegas and in a CBS special, as well as a new boxed set.
Arsenio Hall: Gone almost two decades, the late-night host who changed late-night TV – then pretty much disappeared – returned this year to try to reorder the landscape once again. Whether he will ultimately succeed remains to be seen, but he returned with his charm intact, and even managed to put on a show that reminded some fans why they liked him so much in the first place.
“Homeland”: Hey, it didn’t go anywhere, so how can it “come back”? In fact, “Homeland” crash-landed after a soaring first season. Needed (badly) was a new direction, a reason for being and a gritty new story line that returned the show to its scarily plausible roots. The third season hasn’t been perfect, but there have been enough good episodes to reinforce “must-see” status.
“All My Children” and “One Life to Live”: It’s up to fans to decide whether their historic revival on Hulu was worth all the trouble, but the revival remains indisputably historic. Beloved soaps simply don’t return after cancellation, but these did. Unfortunately, their first season on Hulu also may be their last. Their production company has yet to confirm reports the revival is kaput, undone by labor disputes and other cost issues.
Stephen King: He’s ba-a-ack. Well, not really King, who hasn’t left for one minute, but Danny Torrance, the 5-year-old psychic in “The Shining,” the 1977 novel that established his creator’s career. In “Dr. Sleep,” Dan has grown up tormented and been driven to drink by his telepathic abilities. Fortunately, a cult of wannabe immortals and a magical child show up to make him relevant again. Take that, child-abusing demons.
Elizabeth Gilbert: Though Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love” sold millions of copies and practically started a cult, it caused her to be dismissed as a serious writer and overwhelmed all memory of her earlier books. “The Signature of All Things” reintroduced her to serious readers as a novelist with an ambitious and delightfully written saga of a 19th century female biologist whose scientific and personal explorations illuminate all the big ideas of that era.
Robert Galbraith: His mystery, “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” in which a washed-up cop investigates the suicide of a supermodel, was a critical success from the start, but the reading public didn’t lose its head until the big reveal: Mr. Galbraith was actually Ms. Rowling! J.K. Rowling, that is. From an 8,500-copy stallout to international bestseller lists overnight – now that’s a comeback.