15) Naveen Andrews, Lost
Much can be said about how the final season of Lost didn't quite work exactly as planned. but there was one episode that I'd put up there with the best of them, the Sayid centric Sundown, kind of a dark, jungle set western with the most depressing/awesome ending ever. It worked largely on Andrews back, and he has been long the unsung hero of Lost as far as the acting goes. If you go back and look there's rarely a Sayid episode that doesn't land, and a moment that Andrews isn't terrific. Call it a lifetime achievement award for always being overlooked.
14) Clarke Peters, Treme
Treme is so full to the brim with good performances its hard to pick any out and say that they stand out against the rest, but there's such a power to Peters performance, very different from his mild-mannered Lester Freamon on The Wire, that you can't quite overlook. He's such a subtle actor that he makes such a passionate, raw character something much more interesting then it perhaps could have been in less delicate hands. Stellar work.
13) Arliss Howard, Rubicon
I loved this performance. The character spends the first half of Rubicon as a narrative device, but Howard lends such a quiet sarcastic superiority it became very awesome very quickly. His CIA middle-man became perhaps a subtler Benjamin Linus, always using people with a smile on his face. It's a shame nobody watched this show, if only for Howard's awesomeness.
12) Denis O Hare, True Blood
This is a difficult one for me, because I thought the third season of True Blood was, for lack of a better word, awful. An Incoherent, rambling mess that left you screaming 'who cares' to the treetops, rooftops or whatever is high up where you live. But O Hare was a very bright light amidst the turgidness. Recognizing the ridiculousness very quickly, he gives the kind of campy, extremely OTT, Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince Of thieves performance that the thing needed, and it lead to more then one moment of class on his part. The scene in the TV studio was nothing short of magic.
11) Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad
There are more grandstanding performances on Breaking Bad, ones that get more attention and perhaps once that melt your face a little more then Esposito's, but I'm tempted to see this is the subtlest incarnation of villainy I've seen in quite a long time, but none the less menacing for it. Gus is the kind of character who is mercilessly in control of everything around him, including his own behaviour, that the littlest emotion goes a long way. Chilling as shit.
10) Michael Raymond-James, Terriers
Terriers, the second great show of this year after Rubicon that came and went with nobody giving a shit, was a dark show, very much a subscriber to the Breaking Bad method of story-telling, but filtered through a buddy PI show. It ended up a surprisingly effective mix, and Raymond-James, who most will know as Rene from True Blood, as the supporting half of the pairing is equal part comic relief, and strangely, sort of the heart of the show.
9) Ryan Hurst, Sons Of Anarchy
There are more famous names on Sons Of Anarchy, Ron Perlman and this year Hal Halbrook, but its Hurst who has always just stood out against the male cast. A ferocious pit of anger and vengeance, seemingly forever on the brink. Its the kind of raw, intensely masculine performance you'd expect out of a show that shares so much blood with The Shield. Frickin psycho.
8) Terry O Quinn, Lost
In a way its always been Terry O Quinn, who has been the reason why Lost didn't cave in itself. In the troublesome years of season two and three, before the show gave itself over to Michael Emerson and the writing had no urgency, it seemed like O Quinn was holding the Lost universe afloat by sheer force. Whatever crap they gave to him he nailed, so in a way he earned the golden role of ultimate island badass evil motherfucker they gave him in the final season. Amidst the inconsistencies, O Quinn was a rock, neither to arch or quiet and just owned all the way through. Its fitting for Lost to end as it began, with O' Quinn stealing the show.
7) Michael Cristofer, Rubicon
Just for that speech alone. As has been muchly documented, Rubicon began a little slow, and it wasn't until Cristofer's speech in the fourth episode that everyone stood up and took notice that this could be a show worth paying attention to. Cristofer always made his character immensely intriguing, alternating between doddering old man, and the smartest mind you'll ever come up against.
6) Jared Harris, Mad Men
One of my complaints against the third year of Mad Men is how little it did with Harris, but thankfully this year give him quite the showcase, in which he takes to the Manhattan night with Don and they go on a crazy night out, only with added poignancy. It's a tough role Harris has, essentially the disapprover, but I feel in the fourth year much more depth was given to him and he made more of a mark then Kartheiser or Slattery for me.
5) Walton Goggins, Justified
When the first thing you see a character do is blow up a church with a rocket launcher, one retains the right to be a little suspicious. But Goggins' born again racist psychopath turned out to be one of the more engaging characters of the year 2010. Going from archetypal monster of the week to a character that almost out-charisma'd the pillar of awesome that is Timothy Olyphant, it became quite the performance. Goggins gets ignored because its too easy to throw him off as a hillbilly, but he's a much smarter actor then that, as he demonstrated on Justified.
4) Michael Shannon, Boardwalk Empire
Oh Boardwalk Empire. So much talent, so much greatness it boggles the mind why nobody is calling you the best thing since anything, but it seems nobody is. And no-one can quite put a finger on why. Anyways nobody is going to deny the levy of great performances on display, the stand out of which for me is Michael Shannon's FBI agent Van Alden, who despite in theory being the most noble character on the show, he's just doing the lord's work after all, is still the most terrifying. Shannon is one very talented man, as one would have to be to stand out against this cast.
3) Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Despite my near pathological love of Breaking Bad, in which I gave two 10/10's in a single season, I am placing Mr Emmy winner Aaron Paul at number three, as delighted as I was he won. I think the best thing about Paul's performance is how far its come, improving with the show, and in its third year, Paul found a maturer edge to the character, the story about his woodshop box is amongst the finest acting anyone on this show has ever done, and Paul's name now deserves to be up there with all the other talented fucks who make the show what it is.
2) John Goodman, Treme
I'm tempted to call Goodman one of my favourite actors working today. There's so much moreto him the angry fat guy he seems to play in all of his film roles ( post Big Lebowski, in which he played the single most awesome angry fat guy of all time.) but his writer's blocked English professor on Treme is pretty much the best he's ever been - sans Barton Fink - There was such a sadness permeating every word, and in the back half of the season it was almost heartbroken. Particularly because this was a show about finding the joy again after the despair, Goodman's character could never quite make the leap.
1) Dean Norris, Breaking Bad
In the first episode of Breaking Bad, Norris seemed to be a broadly drawn joke. a slightly more homely Vic Mackey who Walt could always be putting one over. Throughout the second and third season, seeing the breaking of Hank was almost the show's most electrifying plotline, particularly this year, when the panic and the anger at his own inability to just get the fuck over it rose to very amped up level. It climaxed of course in One Minute, which serves as a tour de force for Norris, and for the show. The best work of the year came from such a wonderfully unexpected place, it was hard not to be amazed.