Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2010: The Best Performances: Supporting Actress

If Best Actor and Best Actress were strong this year, and Best Supporting Actor was weak, then this category falls somewhere in between. In addition to the top 10, the following performances deserve attention: Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech, Rose Bryne in Get Him to the Greek, Dale Dickey in Winter’s Bone, Greta Gerwig in Greenberg, Barbara Hershey in Black Swan, Milla Jovovich in Stone, Keita Knightley in Never Let Me Go, Rooney Mara in The Social Network, Chloe Grace Mortez in Kick Ass, Kristen Scott Thomas in Nowhere Boy.

10. Olivia Williams in The Ghost Writer
As the wife of the former British Prime Minister, Olivia Williams is easily the most memorable character in Roman Polanski’s brilliant political thriller. Bitter and angry at the way her husband is acting, his affairs, and what the press is putting him through, she is also a master manipulator. It is hard to get a good read on her at the beginning - we initially think she is just the standard issue politician’s wife, but gradually her character becomes far more interesting and complex. Williams, who has sometimes struggled to get roles worthy of her talent, shows here once again why she needs to cast in better movies more often.

9. Elle Fanning in Somewhere
In a year that saw more than one teenage girl give a great performance (Chloe Grace Mortez had two, and Hailee Steinfeld also had one), Elle Fanning was one of the best. It is hard for most actors to deliver a performance as unforced and natural as Fanning does in Somewhere - considering that so much of this performance is not dialogue based, but all in the looks exchanged between father and daughter. The fact that Fanning, barely in her teens, was able to pull it off is nothing short of miraculous. This is a performance that understands what it is like to be a tween girl - the insecurity, bumping up against the desire to be the center of attention. We expect Fanning to throw tantrums when her father disappoints her, but she doesn’t - it is all much more subtle than that. Fanning proves her that Dakota isn’t the only talented sister in the family.

8. Dianne Wiest in Rabbit Hole
For whatever reason, Dianne Wiest does not often get great roles anymore. But her performance in Rabbit Hole, as Nicole Kidman’s wishy washy mother, trying desperately to help her daughter through the death of her young son. Wiest seems somewhat ditzy at the beginning of the movie, not quite understaning everything that is going on - but she is much more perceptive than we think she is - nothing gets by her, she just tries really hard to maintain a positive outlook, and forget the darkness in her own past. Wiest shows us once again why she won two Oscars, in one of the most underrated performances of the year.

7. Melissa Leo in The Fighter
Melissa Leo has been one of the best actresses working every since her brilliant work on Homicide: Life on the Streets in the 1990s - but it has only been in the last few years that filmmakers have given her roles worthy of her talents. Following up her Oscar nominated turn in Frozen River; Leo is brilliant as the white trash mother/manager of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). With a cigarette constantly dangling from her lip, and a seemingly never ending supply of guilt trips for her family, Leo is over the top brilliant. Yet underneath that huge hair, and all that makeup, Leo does a great job at making his woman seem believable. She does a great job as a certain type of woman - one who would rather her son fail with her, than succeed on his own. A brilliant performance.

6. Marion Cottillard in Inception
I said that DiCaprio had the only character with an arch in Inception, and that he has a nearly impossible role. Both of those are true, but even if Marion Cottilard isn’t playing a three dimensional character, she has perhaps an even harder role – precisely because her character SHOULD NOT be three dimensional. The entire movie, she plays a cipher – an echo of the person she used to be, who now only exists in the mind of DiCaprio. It is a hard role, one that I think most actresses would either try too hard to do, or be lazy with – but Cottillard walks that fine line to perfection in the film – and it makes her performance one of the best of the year.

5. Amy Adams in The Fighter
Amy Adams has made a name for herself playing sweet and innocent characters like she did in Junebug, Enchanted and Doubt. But in The Fighter, she does a brilliant job playing a working class woman, who swears like a sailor. From her introduction working in a bar, to her getting angry at Wahlberg for taking to a movie where “she had to read the whole thing”, to her final confrontation with Christian Bale, Adams nails every scene she is in - making what could have been yet another supportive girlfriend role into one of the most memorable roles of the year. A great performance by one of my favorite actresses.

4. Mila Kunis in Black Swan
Mila Kunis’ role in Black Swan is a difficult one, in that her role seems to change from scene to scene. At the beginning, she is the dance rival to Portman, effortlessly conveying that dark sexuality that Portman cannot bring to her dancing. She then becomes Portman’s object of sexual obsession, and goes drags Portman down deeper into her own sexuality. Then she’s back to being a rival – not just a dance rival, but a sexual one. Who her real character is is impossible to say, because she is constantly having to play whatever Portman wants her to be – but as Portman’s dark, mirror image, Kunis delivers a tremendous performance – once and for proving she is capable of playing more than just Jackie or Meg.

3. Michelle Williams in Shutter Island
Michelle Williams’ brief performance in Shutter Island is absolutely, emotionally shattering. For much of the movie, she exists only in DiCaprio’s delusions – an echo of his wife who he lost in a fire. But by the time her big scene finally comes late in the film, Williams absolutely kills the scene. It is a brilliant performance of an emotionally unstable woman, one who has completely lost it, and gone insane. And yet, Williams doesn’t go for over the top theatrics, but plays it much closer to the bone. The result is a performance that rips your guts out in just a few short minutes.

2. Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom
Jacki Weaver’s mother in Animal Kingdom is probably the most screwed up mother in any film this year – and considering the competition, that is saying something. She is fierecely devoted to her boys – trying so hard to protect them at every turn, and also perhaps regarding them a little too openly – a little to sexually. When the finale comes, and she has to decide between her son and her grandson, the casual, cruel way she discusses getting rid of her grandson is absolutely chilling, and based purely on selfish behavior. This is a brilliant performance, and I’m glad that she has received the attention she deserves for it.

1. Lesley Manville in Another Year
Lesley Manville’s performance in Another Year is one that is bursting with life. She is a woman at the end of middle age, still acting like a scatterbrained woman in her 20s, holding onto to her romantic ideals, even though love has long since passed her by. He does not realize that her friends view her with pity, and that finally she will push things too far with her behavior. For her, every day brings another crisis, another dead end, and she tries to put on a happy face and get through it – never allowing a silence to remain unfilled by one of her rambling stories. By the fourth part of the film, she has been thoroughly beaten down by life, but she finally seems to understand what she is going through – and that she is going to have to do it alone. This is a truly magnificent performance.

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