This year’s MVPs. Starting with the guy who used to be the guy from Skins
What a difference a year makes. Back in January, you probably would have vaguely recognised Jack O’Connell for a) getting unceremoniously booted out
of a car in This Is England having displayed insufficient racism, or b) being that kid in Skins who used promiscuity to mask his deep-seated psychological problems. He had a series of solid British TV performances shoring up his Wikipedia page, but you certainly wouldn’t have singled the Derby-born 24-year-old out for Hollywood megastardom.
Here in December, though… well, he’s snapping aggressively at the heels of Messrs Fassbender and Hardy. The run of incredible performances that propelled this rocket-like ascension began in March with Starred Up. If you’ve not seen it, then firstly, why the hell not?, and secondly, it’s a thrilling, yet startlingly grim prison drama in which O’Connell plays a teenager so vicious he’s been ‘starred up’ to an adult prison. For 106 minutes, O’Connell’s Eric sprints, shanks, slugs and gouges his way to respect among some of the most hardened criminals in the country. “I met a geezer who was dubbed ‘Wandsworth’s most violent inmate’,” he told ShortList earlier this year. “He knows what his fists can do. He knows he’s capable. I wanted to introduce that to Eric.” This he very much did, and with style.
Less ‘handy’ but equally embroiled in staggeringly violent surroundings were O’Connell’s next two roles: Private Gary Hook in Troubles-set war film ’71, and Second World War prisoner Louis Zamperini in Unbroken.
Both performances saw O’Connell exuding Brando-esque levels of gritty, soulful machismo and, in the case of Unbroken (directed by Angelina Jolie), announcing himself as a bona fide Hollywood leading man. Not that all this success has gone to his head, of course. He revealed to ShortList that he’d spent much of his time on the set of Unbroken trying to turn Mrs Pitt into a Derby County fan. Good man.
Here are the other men who owned 2014.
Isis, Ferguson police brutality, the Scottish referendum; 2014 has seen many significant news items, so you may not expect the year’s most urgent political voice to belong to a former Footlights comedian who re-enacts Supreme Court cases using dogs in robes and glasses. But since his hit show Last Week Tonight debuted in the US in March, the ex Daily Show reporter has taken on topics from the US prison system to Fifa corruption with wit, research and profane intellect.
The Everton keeper’s ongoing contribution to this year’s ‘beard boom’ would be reason enough for his inclusion here, but it’s actually his sporting prowess we’d like to salute. Not content with shepherding his club team to a mightily impressive fifth place Premier League finish in May, Howard went on to put in the performance of a lifetime for the USA at the World Cup. His thou-shalt-not-pass heroics propelled his country doggedly through the group stages, and the team’s (noble) defeat to Belgium in the first knockout round remains most memorable for Howard’s 15 spectacular saves. He promptly found himself on the receiving end of countless gushing US think-pieces (one began: “My fellow Americans, specifically those who’ve just now fallen in love with Tim Howard: you’re late”), as well as a personal phone call of thanks from Barack Obama.
After dominating the season’s final GP in Abu Dhabi last month, Hamilton became Britain’s first two-time Formula One champion since 1973, describing the victory as “the happiest moment of my life”. He’s now the darling of Mercedes (there are rumours of long-term contract talks), and now the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year Award. At just 29, Hamilton is now reportedly worth £70m, and could well dominate F1 for some time to come. As well as, potentially, the music industry; he’s also hard at work on his debut hip-hop album…
Whether you agree with the comedian-turned-political firebrand’s opinions or not, 2014 wouldn’t have been the same without him. Alongside publishing his personal manifesto, Revolution (“This book makes revolution not only possible, but inevitable and fun”) and a subversive children’s book (a twisted take on The Pied Piper), he clashed with a TV reporter over enquiries about his rent, inspired a million Parklife-based gags, threatened to sue The Sun and risked a potential Twitter ban for posting a journalist’s phone number. And calling Nigel Farage a “pound shop Enoch Powell” on last week’s Question Time was a nice way to end the year.
From “the fat guy in Parks And Rec” (not our words, the words of Guardians Of The Galaxy director James Gunn) to Marvel protagonist, Lego leading man and soon-to-be Jurassic World star, in the space of a year. Not bad going.
Where to even begin with the unlikeliest of global pop superstars? The Suffolk-born former busker’s second album, X, has shifted more than a million copies this year, going four times platinum, and seen him christened Spotify’s most-streamed artist on the planet. This is all in addition to bagging the No1 chart spot with his single Thinking Out Loud, earning three Grammy nominations, playing a third sell-out Wembley gig and even prancing about on stage with several Victoria’s Secret models. Whether you like him or find his colossal popularity genuinely mystifying, it seems the ginger kid is here to stay.
(Images: Sky; Disney; PA)