Best of 2012: Jennifer Carpenter, Peter Dinklage among Dramatic Actor picks

As we said yesterday in our Best of 2012 nominations for Best Comedic Actor, this has been an incredible year for TV, and trying to narrow down the field here to just seven contenders for voting purposes was a near-impossible task. We could have created dozens of categories to give more people their due, but by the time we finished we’d still be looking at 2012 well into 2013.

The criteria we’ve used to select Dramatic Actor is the same as we did in the comedy genre: the list includes actors and actress, leads, supporting parts, and even guest stars. We’re basing this solely on the best performances (no matter the size) of the past year, as these are the people we did a little happy dance to ourselves whenever they were on the screen within the past 12 months. The poll for voting is at the bottom of this article, and the results will be revealed on Friday, December 21 at noon.

Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad” (AMC) – Walter White is the Danger, and he’s also the new Tony Soprano. Who would have ever thought a science teacher with cancer would come so far? If you look between Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Jonathan Banks, you have three actors who were all terrific on the hit AMC show this past summer. However, this is the case where Cranston’s brilliant performance is a key reason why everyone else on the show excels, and this role is successful in both re-shaping his career along with the sort of roles that cam be played on TV.

Elisabeth Moss, “Mad Men” (AMC) – Just Moss’ scene as Peggy announcing her departure from SCDP is worthy of a spot on this list. This is a character who is simultaneously bound to her era while still being an agent of change, and we’ve argued for several years now that this is a show about Peggy’s journey just as much as it is Don. While she may not have had the screen time of Mr. Draper this year, Moss stole every scene she was a part of.

Jennifer Carpenter, “Dexter” (Showtime) – Speaking of someone evolving and stealing scenes, did you ever imagine that Debra Morgan would be where she is now? Carpenter is really the star of “Dexter” this season, as she has somehow found that balance between devastation, pain, longing (and for her adopted brother, no less), and resolve, all while still keeping the same Deb wit (and swear words) that we saw from her back in season 1. Just through some of her monologues alone, we learn more about how we are supposed to feel about Dexter than some of his own actions.

Jimmy Smits, “Sons of Anarchy” (FX) – Smits beat out the leading man in Charlie Hunnam narrowly here, and there was one main reason for it: every single time Nero was on the screen, he completely took over. This is possibly Smits’ finest work on TV to date, and that is saying a lot considering some of his impressive work (including a great arc on “Dexter” back in season 3). If Kurt Sutter cannot find a way to get this conflicted “businessman” back for another go to spend time with Gemma, we’re going to be crying more than when Tara was being carted of to jail.

Michelle Dockery, “Downton Abbey” (PBS) – It should be noted that we are going off the American airdates here rather than the British ones as to not confuse anyone, and the scenes between Dockery and Dan Stevens during the season 2 finale sealed the deal here. “Downton Abbey” is that rare show where you could literally plug in seven or eight actors here, and any of them would be deserving. We decided on Dockery here mostly because without here, there would be a gaping hole in what is the story’s heart.

Mandy Patinkin, “Homeland” (Showtime) – This was another tough debate, mostly because we don’t like to be the Emmys with “Modern Family” and plug a category with just one show. Do you go with Mandy, Damian Lewis, or Claire Danes here? Since Brody has confused us occasionally this year and Carrie sometimes feels like a little much, we’re going for a man who brings us the understated gem of the show in Saul. He is one of the few supporting characters on TV we would actually want to watch a spin-off for thanks to the power Patinkin conveys in his face, even when he is now saying anything. Heck, we would even be willing to watch Saul drink coffee for ten minutes. It’d still be brilliant.

Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones” (HBO)  – Speaking of someone who is the heart of a show, you have one of the few sources of comedy on all of “Game of Thrones” in the man responsible for Tyrion Lannister. Even though the guy is not the poster child for morality, you still want to root for him based mostly on the passion and the drive he has for the game; which, in this case, is survival in a world where power is a death sentence. Dinklage’s work in “Blackwater” may be the benchmark used for future actors in fantasy epics, and we’re not quite sure that sort of power and emotion will ever be equaled.

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