WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Armed with a soulful intensity, Ahmed broke out in a big way as accused killer Naz in HBO’s gritty crime miniseries. He skillfully embodied Naz’s wildly conflicting emotions: his angst and confusion after being arrested for murder; his gradual toughening up as he learned how to survive in prison; and his stoic reaction to the ultimate verdict. Ahmed took Naz from boy to man in just eight hours, proving his status as one of Hollywood’s hottest actors is well-earned.
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH, SHERLOCK: THE LYING DETECTIVE
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: The normally composed sleuth was all over the emotional map in Season 4’s second installment, giving Cumberbatch a chance to sink his teeth into quite a few meaty scenes. We saw Sherlock strung out on heroin and (gasp!) sporting a few days of stubble, and Cumberbatch had a ball once Sherlock snapped into manic case-solving mode. He even found time for a poignant heart-to-heart with pal John Watson, confirming that Cumberbatch’s turn belongs in the pantheon of all-time great Holmes portrayals.
ROBERT DE NIRO, THE WIZARD OF LIES
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: In portrayaing disgraced Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff, De Niro delivered one of his strongest performances in years (and perhaps even decades). Although the Oscar winner’s depiction was layered with impressive subtlety and nuance, we can’t say we walked away feeling much sympathy for Madoff. What we did walk away with, thanks to De Niro’s dialed-in work, was a strong sense that Madoff was a dispicable, sad, empty shell of a human being.
GEOFFREY RUSH, GENIUS
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Eureka! The Oscar winner was an inspired bit of casting for Nat Geo’s Albert Einstein biopic: Not only did he bear a striking resemblance to the legendary physicist, with a mischievous grin and that trademark mane of frizzy hair, but he managed to capture Einstein’s dueling personalities. Rush brought considerable charm to Einstein’s lighter moments, and also the appropriate gravity to the iconic scientist’s battles against virulent anti-Semitism. A nomination for Rush? Pretty much a no-brainer.
JOHN TURTURRO, THE NIGHT OF
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Like his character’s revolting feet, we’re itching to honor Turturro for some of the finest work of his career. As quick-to-settle defense attorney John Stone, Turturro was charmingly sleazy, with Stone always looking for the easy way out. But Naz’s murder case woke up a long-dormant passion for justice in Stone, and Turturro’s stubborn determination transformed him into an unlikely hero. James Gandolfini was set to portray this role before his death… but now we can’t imagine anyone else playing it but Turturro.