Wednesday, January 27, 2010

2009 Year in Review: Best Supporting Actress

Probably the weakest of all the acting categories this year, and yet the 10 performances listed below are wonderful. Like with the actress category, most of the actresses below are European born, so let’s hope next year that American actresses have a better 2010.

10. Maria Victora Dargus in The White Ribbon
The cast of Haneke’s The White Ribbon is so large, and all are so great, so it’s a shame to single out just one actress from the great cast. However, as Klara, the Pastor’s oldest daughter, Dargus makes the biggest impact of any of the children in the movie. Seemingly scared of her overbearing, strict father in the beginning of the movie, she takes her punishment for being late, and later, when he humiliates her in front of her schoolmates, she faints. Yet, Klara is a more complex character then she at first appears. But Klara is not as innocent as the film implies or her good looks at first suggest, and the performance is anything but simple. How about that moment when she eyes her father’s bird - the same bird that will be found crucified the next scene. This is one of the best performances in a film full of them.

9. Rosamund Pike in An Education
Rosamund Pike is gloriously dimwitted in this movie. Pike is an actress who normally exudes intelligence, but here she somehow appears as if there is not a thought running through her pretty little head. Her eyes are either vacant, or else she looks completely confused. She is the source of much comic relief in the film, and yet there is also a subtle kindness to her performance as she reaches out towards Jenny. Pike is a great, underrated actress, and this is her finest performance.

8. Diane Kruger in Inglorious Basterds
German born Kruger has struggled to find any decent roles in Hollywood - making one crappy National Treasure movie after another. But as always, Tarantino showed a sixth sense about acting talent when he cast her as the German movie star, and double agent, in his alternate history epic. She looks gorgeous, all glammed up in that basement , and then at the movie premiere. She is charming, as she at first wins over the German soldiers, then tries in vein to talk her way out of the trap she is in. She is a classic Tarantino women - tough, sexy, smart with some great dialogue. Hopefully this is a start of a better career for her in American movies.

7. Marion Cottilard in Nine
Nine is a movie where almost all of the pleasures are on the surface level. The one exception is Cotillard’s brilliant performance as Daniel Day-Lewis’ long suffering wife. Her first song, “My Husband Makes Movies” is sad, and touching as she talks about how much she has sacrificed in order to support her husband. But her real shining moment is a new song written specifically for the movie - “Take it All”, a raunchy, burlesque number where she finally leaves Day-Lewis. Cottilard is gorgeous, has the best singing voice in the film, and the best eyes in show business, and she uses it all to her advantage. Cottilard is the one person in this movie that I can praise without pause. A brilliant performance.

6. Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air
In Up in the Air, Vera Farmiga is finally getting the sort of attention she has deserved for a few years now. She plays a road warrior – the female equivalent of Clooney’s character – who spends most of her time travelling, and likes easy relationships full of fun and sex. She seems bright and cheerful for much of the film, but there is a real person ticking away inside of her character – her final scene is emotionally devastating, and we find out that we have been wrong about this character all along. A great performance by a great actress.

5. Samantha Morton in The Messenger
Samantha Morton has the most difficult role in Oren Moverman’s The Messenger. She plays the wife of a soldier killed in Iraq, but unlike the other family members of the fallen, she seems at peace with her husband’s death. She doesn’t lash out in pain or grief or anger when she is notified, but instead remarks on what a tough job these men must have telling people their loved ones are dead. Her reaction haunts Foster’s character, and the audience. She risks losing our sympathy by starting a slow romantic relationship with Foster, but somehow she makes it feel real and natural. In her mind, her husband died when he went to Iraq, because he came back the first time another person. Without an actress of Morton’s caliber in this role, it could have come off as unbelievable or worse, but Morton builds the character from the ground up. A remarkable turn by one of the best actresses in the world.

4. Marion Cottillard in Public Enemies
Cottilard had a great year (she's the only one with two performances mentioned), with this film and Nine. Normally the women in the films of Michael Mann are there as simple eye candy, but Cottilard is so much more in Public Enemies - she is actually the emotional heart of the movie. As the woman who falls in love with John Dillinger, Cottilard uses her eyes - the best in show business - to show her great emotional journey. I’m not there is a more emotional scene in any action movie this year than her concluding sequence when she learns of Dillinger’s death. I was not a huge fan of Cottilard’s Oscar winning performance of La Vie En Rose, but if it allows her to continue to make movies this good, I’m glad for it nonetheless.

3. Mo’Nique in Precious
Some performances come out of nowhere and knock you flat. Mo’Nique’s turn as the foul mouthed, abusive mother in Precious is one of those performance. She plays a woman more concerned with her welfare cheques than she is with her own daughter. She is a constant string of insults hurled at her daughter, who over years, she has convinced Precious that she is a worthless, fat piece of trash. This is an uncompromising, unflinching performance of the year, unafraid to look at a woman that seems like a stereotype at first, but gradually reveals the real person underneath. Her first scene in the film is a knockout of expletitives hurled with venom and hate at her daughter. This scene is only outdone by her final scene, where she finally admits the abuse that happened, and the reasons behind it. I am not sure if Mo’Nique will ever do as good as she again as she does here, but this is performance will remembered for years to come.

2. Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air
When I saw Anna Kendrick in the indie film Rocket Science a few years ago, I fell in love. With Up in the Air, everyone else gets a chance to do so. She is brilliant as a young woman and recent University graduate who believes she knows the best way to overhaul her new company. While out on the road with George Clooney, she has her eyes opened wide to the realities of the business world, and the personal sacrifices she will be expected to make. She is sweet and lovable in the film, and drives Clooney to see life in a new way. This is Kendrick’s coming out party, and her performance is a marvel.

1. Melanie Laurent in Inglorious Basterds
Melanie Laurent is one of the secret weapons of Tarantino’s masterpiece. Her opening scene, she is covered in blood and running away from her would be murderer. When we see her again, she has remade herself into a successful movie theater owner, fending off the advances of a Nazi war hero. She is stunningly beautiful in her scenes where she is dealing with the Nazi, a bundle of nerves as she comes face to face with Landa, who may know her secret, and incredibly sexy as she prepares for her big night. Her most memorable moment though is on the big screen as she cackles at the Nazis that she is about to kill. The close-up there is her best moment, and the moment that makes the movie hit as hard as it does. A brilliant, under appreciated performance.

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