Buffalo Tom: To put it in gambling terms, you couldn’t have gotten odds that this unpretentious Boston trio led by Bill Janovitz would release an album in 2011 approaching the heights of its 1992 masterpiece, “Let Me Come Over.” And yet that’s exactly what’s happened with the newly released “Skins,” with Janovitz balancing heart-on-his-sleeve ballads such as “Don’t Forget Me” with raggedly honest guitar anthems. It’s not nostalgia as much as a rock ‘n’ roll rebirth.
Ben Foster: Recently seen in the hyper-violent remake of “The Mechanic,” this character actor deserves more acclaim outside Jason Statham’s universe. Foster first turned heads as Claire Fisher’s angsty boyfriend in HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and then walked away with 2007’s “3:10 to Yuma” as the menacing Charlie Prince. And his haunted Iraq war vet in 2009’s “The Messenger” deserved an Oscar in a year that the less-nuanced “The Hurt Locker” racked up multiple nods.
Zack Snyder, auteur: This director has a way with spinning CG flash into popcorn movie gold (See: “300"), but his incoherent fanboy fantasy “Sucker Punch” sent critics on the warpath. Fans eyeing high ledges after measuring what this may portend for Snyder’s upcoming turn with the Superman franchise should take comfort that he isn’t credited as a writer on “Man of Steel,” which means it could be at the level of his take on “Watchmen.” Wait, is that good?
Singing as the modern lottery ticket: With rumors of “American Idol’s” death being proved greatly exaggerated, Fox’s upcoming “The X Factor” and NBC’s “The Voice” are next in line promising glory to under-famed Americans who can carry a tune. While “Idol” certainly has been no stranger to imitators during its run, aren’t there other talents ripe to be rewarded with untold riches? How about “America’s Next Top Sousaphonist” or “American Educator”?
— Chris Barton