EW Staff
December 21, 2001 AT 05:00 AM EST

VIN DIESEL in ‘The Fast and the Furious’ — As hot-rodder Dominic, Diesel shifted his withering stare, bulging biceps, and shaved head into overdrive, becoming the epitome of throbby, NOS-fueled testosterone — and finally answered the question ”Is Vin Diesel a star yet?” You bet.

MARTIN SHORT as Jiminy Glick — With clueless sycophancy and a knowledge of La-La Land lore last updated in 1976, it was as if Short were channeling Byron Allen, Mary Hart, and your local entertainment reporter — and had eaten all of their personal assistants to boot.

TED LEVINE, Rusty Nail’s voice in ‘Joy Ride’ Unlike his role as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, Levine didn’t need a suit made of skin to freak audiences out. In fact, he didn’t even need skin: Just the sound of his guttural threats as the disembodied CB stalker were enough to scare you off crank-calling forever.

KATIE FINNERAN in ‘Noises Off’ — Proving it takes talent to play the talentless, Finneran shines as the dim bombshell in the show’s disastrous farce-within-a-farce. As she robotically spouts her lines when chaos ensues around her, one can almost imagine her character repeating to herself the show must go on, but Finneran makes sure it goes on hysterically.

CHRISTOPHER WALKEN in ”Weapon of Choice” video — For a generation that only knew Walken as Hollywood’s Favorite Sociopath, watching the former Off Broadway hoofer soar through this Fatboy Slim video was a revelation. Now if we could only get Dennis Hopper to do Oklahoma!

MARIAH CAREY as herself — A true diva knows that anything done quietly is not worth doing, so Carey made her meltdown loud and public — loopy website messages, a TRL striptease, a dramatic hospitalization. Would calling ”encore!” be insensitive?

PATRICK DEMPSEY on ‘Once and Again’ — As Lily’s schizophrenic brother, Aaron, Dempsey was heartbreaking, intense, and most of all, true. A rare example of TV getting the trauma of mental illness right.

SISSY SPACEK in ‘In the Bedroom’ — Her character, Ruth, didn’t know what to do with all the rage she felt after her son’s murder, but Spacek knew what to do with the character. Brave, unglamorous acting at its most shattering.

THORA BIRCH, SCARLETT JOHANSSON, and STEVE BUSCEMI in ‘Ghost World’ — As Mr. and Miss-anthropes trying with varying success to overcome their own cynicism in Terry Zwigoff’s oasis from superficial teen flicks, this oxymoronic trio of loners captured the notion that teen and adult angst can be startlingly similar.

JACK BLACK in ‘Shallow Hal’ — The High Fidelity funnyman made the transition from sidekick to leading man in a big way. Black toned down his act and his look for the Farrelly brothers’ romantic comedy, and not only did he shine, he also got the girl — all 300 pounds of her.

THOMAS JANE and BARRY PEPPER in ’61*’ Barry Bonds may have nabbed the headlines with 73 dingers, but the best home run chase of 2001 took place on HBO between Jane and Pepper. As original Bronx Bombers Mantle and Maris, they hit back-to-back grand slams for director/coach Billy Crystal.

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