Barkhad Abdi, actor in 'Captain Phillips'
It’s not every day that a fledgling actor almost steals a movie from Tom Hanks, but that’s just what Barkhad Abdi accomplished in “Captain Phillips.” The Somali-born Minneapolis resident makes an indelible impression as Muse, the lead pirate whose crew seizes control of a container ship at sea.

He won the role at an open audition at a Cedar-Riverside community center, where he declared, “I was born in Mogadishu and I am this part.” (Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali, all Minneapolitans, play the other Somali raiders.)

Abdi viewed his character as a man from a background similar to his own, but with less luck. Muse is the story’s antagonist, but Abdi and writer/director Paul Greengrass, show that he’s trapped in his way of life. Abdi, 28, conveyed the character’s conflicted nature, alternately fierce and soothing, and ad-libbed the film’s chilling key lines: “Look at me. Look at me. I’m the captain now.”

The rookie performer won Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominations this month and is widely predicted to be a supporting actor competitor when the Oscar nominations are announced Jan. 16.

Marion McClinton, theater director
 In 2001, stage director Marion McClinton got an Obie for August Wilson’s “Jitney” and a Tony nomination for Wilson’s “King Hedley II.” That could have been the highlight of a stellar career for the St. Paul native, but 2013 found McClinton back in top form.

He staged four contemporary plays of different styles, starting at the Guthrie with Tracey Scott Wilson’s drama “Buzzer,” a lyrical piece at the hot intersection of urban crisis and racial privilege. Next, he teamed with formidable actor Ansa Akyea in “Jackie and Me” at Children’s Theatre, capturing the heft and heartbreak of Steven Dietz’s magical realist work about a white kid who travels back in time to witness Jackie Robinson’s triumph and struggles.

For Lydia Diamond’s “Stick Fly” at Park Square, McClinton summoned a gifted cast that deftly navigated issues of race, love and ambition in a wealthy black family. And at Pillsbury House, he created a surround-sound immersion for Marcus Gardley’s poetic historical saga “The Road Weeps, the Well Runs Dry.”

To top off the year, he directed a reading of Wilson’s “Radio Golf” for the New York Public Library, which is recording all 10 plays in the playwright’s 20th century cycle.

His next big challenge: Shakespeare’s “Othello” March 8-April 20 at the Guthrie.

Matt Rasmussen, finalist for National Book Award
It is fairly usual for a slender debut book of poetry to pass almost immediately into graceful and quiet obscurity. It is not usual for a poet’s first book to be reviewed all over the country, make several “best of-the-year” lists and become a finalist for a major literary award.

But Matt Rasmussen’s “Black Aperture” — a haunting collection of 31 brief poems he wrote over 10 years about the death, by suicide, of his older brother — did all of those things. In 2012 it won the Walt Whitman Award, which guaranteed publication, and this year it was named one of five finalists for the National Book Award.

Rasmussen is about as Minnesotan as you can get: born in International Falls, graduated from Gustavus Adolphus, now living in Robbinsdale. He told the Star Tribune last fall that he was grateful for the state’s support — grants from the Bush Foundation and the State Arts Board allowed him to enter the two competitions that rocketed his book to prominence.

The day after the National Book Awards celebration, Rasmussen posted on Facebook that he felt he had let the state down by not bringing the prize home. A warm response of 300 supportive comments and likes made clear that the state did not agree.

Masha Zavialova of the Museum of Russian Art
Because organizing a museum art exhibition typically requires years of research, travel, loan requests and writing, it’s rare for curators to produce more than one show per year. So 2013 was a banner season for curator Masha Zavialova, who opened three exhibits at the Museum of Russian Art, each deeply informed by her exemplary scholarship, wide-ranging connections, fascinating labels and extraordinary personal experience.

Born and raised in Russia’s former imperial capital, St. Petersburg, she grew up in the Soviet era when religion was officially banned — which enhanced its appeal to the dissidents featured in her show “Concerning the Spiritual in Russian Art, 1965-2011.” Soviet sexual equality meant hard work and often harsh lives, as seen this summer in “Women in Soviet Art.” And the country’s glamorous and turbulent czarist past is surveyed in “The Romanovs: Legacy of an Empire Lost,” up through March 23.

With Zavialova’s guidance, TMORA has recontextualized the Soviet-era Socialist-Realist style it first championed and become a sophisticated interpreter of all Russian culture.