Wednesday, February 1, 2017

2016 Year End Report: Supporting Actress

Best Supporting Actress
I’m not sure that was a truly great year for this category – despite the number of really strong performances, there, I do think this is one of those years where the top few performances are so much stronger than everything else, it looks weaker than it actually is. Still, some performances I did not have room on my top 10, but were great nonetheless include: Olivia Colman in The Lobster as the Hotel Manager, cheerfully heartless, as she explains and enforces the rules to everyone. Laura Dern/Michelle Williams/Kristen Stewart in Certain Women are all competing for second best performance in the films – but each help to anchor their segments, with sensitive, subtle performances. Paulina Garcia in Little Men who is, sorry, quite clearly wrong in the movie, yet understandable and sympathetic – even when she is being cruel. Greta Gerwig in 20th Century Women adds another lovable, eccentric young woman to her resume – this one with a little more heft than some of her others. Kate Mackinnon in Ghostbusters who was almost like an alien in her own movie – one that I enjoyed much more than the one I watched (and I liked the film). Janelle Monae in Moonlight/Hidden Figures is so empathetic in Moonlight – she’s the friend the main character needed at that time and so much fun in Hidden Figures that she steals the film. Imogen Poots in Green Room is the film’s most enigmatic character – she’s in the same position as the bad, but not part of them – another solid performance in a growing resume. Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad seemed to ignore the fact that movie and screenplay were horrible, and just go for broke – it worked. Kristen Stewart in Café Society delivers a rich, complex performance, even if the character wasn’t wholly there on the page. Kim Tae-ri in The Handmaiden is wonderful when she thinks she is the smartest person in the room – and great later, when it’s clear she isn’t. Rachel Weisz in The Lobster makes an interesting love interest for the main character – making us see exactly why he does what he does for her (and or, perhaps, doesn’t).
10. Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash
I really do hope that Dakota Johnson survives the 50 Shades of Grey franchise, because as she shows in A Bigger Splash, there is a great actress lurking inside her. In the film, she plays the young daughter of Ralph Fiennes – who spends most of the movie coming on to pretty much everyone in the cast (including her dad – who she barely knows) – as if everything is just a game. She says she’s 22, but she comes across more like a teenager playacting what they believe adults are like, instead of an actual adult. This role allows her to be funny, sexy, and flirtatious – and show more facets of her than 50 Shades of Grey ever will (even if she was far and away the best part of that film). There is a wonderful actress in Dakota Johnson – I hope she gets more of a chance to show it.
9. Kirsten Dunst in Midnight Special
I for one couldn’t be happier than Kirsten Dunst is experiencing a kind of career renaissance in 2016 – her excellent turn on Fargo season 2 is perhaps the best work of her career, but I feel that more people really should have been paying attention to her other great performance this year, in Jeff Nichols Midnight Special. In the film, she plays the mother of the special child at the heart of the movie – she shows up about half way through, and delivers a sensitive, subtle performance. She plays a mother who loves her child more than anything – and is willing to sacrifice for him, but could not stay in the compound where he was being exploited. Their strained bond, which heals throughout the movie, is one of the highlights of a thought provoking film. Dunst has always been a fine actress – and I hope she continues to get more great roles like this.

8. Sarah Gadon in Indignation
Sarah Gadon’s role in Indignation is a very tricky one – she plays a troubled young woman, in 1950s Ohio, who has had a history of mental health issues, resulting in a suicide attempt the year earlier. In the film, like the Philip Roth novel it is based upon, her character is seen through the eyes of the main character – a neurotic young man, who obsesses over why she gave him a blow job on their first date, and what that says about her – but is never quite able to see her clearly, because he cannot see her as anything other than in relation to him. This makes the character somewhat mysterious – but it’s hard to play an enigma, and Gadon doesn’t try. What she does is suggest all the depths of her character so that the audience sees them, even if the main character never does –and does it all so subtly, you never catch her at it. She’s been doing solid work in her (and my) home country of Canada for years now (for David Cronenberg among others) – and it’s nice to see her continue to break out.
7. Jena Malone in The Neon Demon
There is no shortage of weirdness on Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon – but nothing in it can top Jena Malone – who fully commits to her role as a makeup designer who befriends Elle Fanning – but wants something more from her (as do everyone in the film). Malone has always been a strange, rather daring actress – unafraid to go to some dark places. In The Neon Demon there’s a lot for her to do – being the seemingly kindly mentor at first – the main characters conduit to this dark world, and then she slowly reveals who she is. Can I 100% explain why Malone ends up having sex with a corpse in the movie? No, I cannot – but I can tell you she fully, completely commits to that scene – as she does to later, bloodier scenes as well. As long as Malone continues to be the most interesting person in nearly every movie she’s in, I’ll continue being a fan.
6. Maria Dizzia in Christine
In the months since I’ve seen Christine, Dizzia’s performance has continued to haunt me. When we first meet her Jean, she seems like the ever loyal underling to Rebecca Hall’s title character – helping her do her segments, edit, etc. Yet, there is a darker undercurrent to her chipper demeanor – she’s putting on an act for everyone in the office, subtly undermining Christine, while under the guise of helpfulness. This is the kind of quiet, understated performance that gets lost in awards season – and to be fair, I probably wouldn’t remember it as well as I did, were it not for the mesmerizing, brilliant and disturbing final scene of the film, which is all Dizzia, and is perhaps by favorite final scene of the year. A great performance by a fine character actress.
5. Riley Keough in American Honey
Keogh has been kicking around for a few years now, doing interesting work in a variety of roles, but her performance in American Honey really should be her big breakthrough. Here, she plays Krystal, the leader of the roaming group of travelling magazine salespeople, who are all teenagers. She inspires loyalty through a mixture of alcohol, fear, cruelty and encouragement. The way she intimidates Sasha Lane’s character – answering the door naked – is wonderfully passive aggressive – and throughout she does a great job of articulating a pitch that only people like this would buy.
4. Naomie Harris in Moonlight
Naomie Harris delivers a wonderful performance in Moonlight – as the main characters crack addict mother. It isn’t always to find new notes to play in addict roles – they are often the same – but Harris does that. In the first segment, she is a woman who truly does love her son – and want what’s best for him. The drugs have not fully taken hold yet – but they start to. In the second, she is in the throes of her addiction – she loves Chiron, sure, but she needs the drugs more than she does him – and isn’t above guilting him into doing what she wants. In the final section, she’s seen only briefly – trying to put her life back together, knowing she has failed her son – but still wanting to help him. Harris has been doing stellar work for years now – I loved her in Skyfall and 28 Days Later in particular – but this is her best work to date. It’s raw and emotional, comfortable in the more realistic moments, and stylistic ones as well. Harris has always been good – here she is truly great.
3. Viola Davis in Fences
Denzel has the showiest role in Fences, but Viola Davis gives the finest performance in the film – the one that requires the most depth and range of emotions – from the seemingly contented woman in the first act, laughing and joking with her man, mothering all the men in the movie in various ways. As the film progresses, and her world is upended, Davis goes from hurt to anger, to finally acceptance and love again. No one cries on screen better than Davis – a skill she shows off well here. But her righteous anger is mesmerizing – whether it’s loud – yelling as Washington about how she has given up her dreams for him, or quietly bone chilling (“You are a womanless man” would be the line reading of the year in most years). Davis has been a great actress for a long time – owning most of the movies she appears in, no matter how small her role (this year, she was one of the only decent things in Suicide Squad). This may be her crowning achievement.
2. Lily Gladstone in Certain Women
Newcomer Gladstone delivers the best performance in a film full of wonderful, veteran actress (Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and her scene partner, Kristen Stewart). She plays Jamie, a rancher who spends most of her day alone, with only animals as company. At night, she heads to town, and wanders into a class about school law – a subject she has no use for – and yet, she cannot help but be drawn to the teacher – Kristen Stewart. Their low-key conversations at the end of each class at the local diner, are the highlight of her life – and when Stewart doesn’t show for class one night, she goes on a long drive to Stewart’s hometown to find her. Gladstone’s performance is quiet – she barely speaks, even when she isn’t onscreen by herself, and subtly heartbreaking. She plays a lonely woman, who believes she has made a connection – the end result, as she drives home, alone again, is an extended shot of Gladstone, where she doesn’t speak, but utterly breaks your heart. A brilliant, low-key performance by an actress whose career should be bright.
1. Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea
Williams has long since established herself as one of the best actresses in the world – with brilliant work in Brokeback Mountain, Shutter Island, Blue Valentine, My Week with Marilyn, Wendy & Lucy, Take This Waltz among many others. Even by her lofty standards, her work in Manchester by the Sea is something truly special. As Casey Affleck’s ex-wife, Williams is truly exceptional. Her early flashback scenes seem rather ordinary – a working class wife role – the type you would think you didn’t need an actress of her skills to do. But once we know the secret of the movie, and we see Williams again in the present, she is heartbreaking. In the single best scene of the year, she and Affleck meet by chance on the street, and she tries to talk to him – he’s unable to hear it, unable to accept it. Affleck is great in that scene to be sure – but Williams is equally stunning. Williams should already have at least one Oscar by now – hopefully this performance will bring her first.

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