The 65th Emmy Awards are this Sunday and, to prepare, all this week Vulture will be examining the major — and a few minor — categories. Let's put aside trying to predict who will win and focus on the more important question: Who ought to win? Today, let's dig into the "Miniseries or Movie" categories. That's a wide, wide range of programming!
Outstanding Supporting Actor
Scott Bakula, Behind the Candelabra
James Cromwell, American Horror Story: Asylum
John Benjamin Hickey, The Big C: Hereafter
Peter Mullan, Top of the Lake
Zachary Quinto, American Horror Story: Asylum
John Benjamin Hickey provided the bulk of the comic relief on the technically-a-comedy The Big C, and he was wonderful on the show's grief-drenched final episodes. Any other year, we'd say him! But jeez Louise, Peter Mullan's performance as the volatile, violent Matt in Top of the Lake will haunt us for years to come.
Outstanding Supporting Actress
Ellen Burstyn, Political Animals
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Asylum
Charlotte Rampling, Reckless
Imelda Staunton, The Girl
Alfre Woodard, Steel Magnolias
Last year, Jessica Lange won for playing American Horror Story’s diabolical bigoted Southerner Constance, and this year it will be her co-star Sarah Paulson. It really should be. She’s basically a lead in Asylum, and while it’s true voters love themselves awards veterans, and there are a few here (Burstyn’s an Oscar and Emmy winner; Woodard has an Emmy, and both she and Staunton have been up for Oscars), Paulson had the meatiest, rangey-est, most wrenching work to get through (yes, through) as Lana, a sixties-era lesbian journalist trapped first by an out-of-control nun and then a serial killer (and then the serial killer’s serial-killing son!). As played by the excellent Paulson, Lana is strong through the worst, and you knew she’d somehow emerge heroic in the end.
Outstanding Lead Actress
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Asylum
Laura Linney, The Big C: Hereafter
Helen Mirren, Phil Spector
Elisabeth Moss, Top of the Lake
Sigourney Weaver, Political Animals
Top of the Lake is so, so good. And Elisabeth Moss is fantastic in it, and she should probably win an Emmy. Buuuuut: We picked Moss to win Lead Actress in a Drama for her work on Mad Men, so in the interest of sharing the wealth, a tip of the hat to Jessica Lange, who makes the borderline kabuki of American Horror Story: Asylum feel a little more real and grounded. Boozy lounge singer, spank-happy nun, lip-synching mental patient — she does it all.
Outstanding Lead Actor
Benedict Cumberbatch, Parade’s End
Matt Damon, Behind the Candelabra
Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra
Toby Jones, The Girl
Al Pacino, Phil Spector
This category really comes down to Damon and Douglas, and between them Michael Douglas pulled off the bigger feat. He both avoided caricature and managed to turn Liberace into something of a sympathetic predator (when Scott Thorson moved in with the showman, he was only 17). Douglas moves with ease between Liberace’s public persona — charming, ostentatious, and undeniably talented as a musician — and his private, in which he’s soft-spoken, sweet, and most sincere in his desire to be a good boyfriend while at the same time making outrageous requests, such as wanting Scott to appear more like the pianist himself. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime role, and Douglas disappeared into it entirely.
Outstanding Miniseries or Movie
American Horror Story: Asylum, FX
Behind the Candelabra, HBO
The Bible, History
Phil Spector, HBO
Political Animals, USA
Top of the Lake, Sundance Channel
If Behind the Candelabra is the last film we get from Steven Soderbergh, it will have been a notable swan song. But in terms of the movie or miniseries that gutted us? It’s gotta be Top of the Lake, Jane Campion’s slow-burning crime drama, as mesmerizingly beautiful to watch as it was harrowing. Elisabeth Moss is an investigative detective who is drawn back to a town she had left behind by a sexual abuse case involving a pregnant 12-year-old. Over the course of seven episodes, the series reveals itself to be as much (if not more so) about the way people deal with traumas as it is about solving the central mystery. All of the performances are haunting. This is how you do rich, character-driven work in a crime drama, The Killing!