Friday, September 16, 2011

The Fifties for 2011: Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor

Regular readers might recall that once I see my 50th commercial release in any given calendar year, inevitably in late August or early September, I take stock of what I've seen so far and publish a listing of mid-year bests: hence, "The Fifties". This year, I reached that milestone with the humbling, direct, and deeply moving documentary The Interrupters, which Chicagoans can still catch in the delightful, family-owned Wilmette Theatre (which is where I saw it) unless they want to brave another swarm of sellout crowds when the film returns to the Siskel in October. Block Cinema on the Northwestern campus will also be showing The Interrupters for one night next month, interspersed amongst a great lineup of recent Eastern European breakouts that includes one of the movies nominated below.

As usual, I've picked five favorites in "big" categories plus a list of Honorable Mentions whom I at least entertained for inclusion, if only briefly. A shame I couldn't count Drive, which I saw this morning and would crop up in at least a few races, including a possible mention below for Bryan Cranston. Then again, no one is likely to forget Drive by December, whereas a lot of the jewels of the winter, spring, and summer could use the extra stumping, which is why I keep this feature alive from year to year. That and people seem to like it, and it helps my increasingly Havarti-like brain from losing track of my own reactions. Without further ado, the first few winnerless "races"... and if you haven't seen the films, keep an eye out, or actively track them down!

(Once again keeping my rationales to Twitter length, to keep the verbiage from spinning out of control.)



Best Supporting Actress
Mary Page Keller for Beginners, because she brings the deceased mother to stirring, idiosyncratic life through her sharp economy of playing and her coherent connecting of dots;

Mélanie Laurent for Beginners, because she manages to suggest what is attractive and difficult about her quiet mooninees, simultaneously warm, sensitive, odd, and unreachable;

Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids, because even when scenes are handed right to her, her comic styling feels bold rather than coarse, her gags fresh, and her foregrounding earned;

Mirela Oprişor for Tuesday, After Christmas, for refusing to be too shrill or conveniently lovable, and then balancing poignant and petty reactions to ruinous news, in heroically long shots; and

Maria Popistaşu for Tuesday, After Christmas, for playing neither a naïve nor a cynical mistress, keeping remarkable poise in dentist's office, showing such quiet disillusion at mom's house.

Honorable mentions in alphabetical order to Jessica Chastain for The Help, Jennifer Ehle for Contagion, Vera Farmiga for Source Code, Sally Hawkins for Jane Eyre, Amy Ryan for Win Win, Octavia Spencer for The Help, Marisa Tomei for Crazy, Stupid, Love., and Morgan Turner and Mare Winningham for Mildred Pierce. Yes, I know it's HBO, but I'm counting it, which is an especially good thing considering...




Best Supporting Actor
Brían F. O'Byrne for Mildred Pierce, for quickly itemizing the problems in the Pierces' marriage but helping to develop their relationship into the series' most quietly touching;

Chris O'Dowd for Bridesmaids, because beyond his refreshing casting as the prince we root for, he helps us keep our attraction to and exasperation with Wiig's Annie balanced;

Gustavo Sánchez Parra for Leap Year, for making a subtle entry, ordering the lead around in uncomfortable ways, and signaling so many motives for and feelings about what they do;

Christopher Plummer for Beginners, for showing us a good time and seeing fully and generously into his character without selling him into cutesy comedy or milking the sadness; and

Corey Stoll for Midnight in Paris, because he so wittily maintains that thick and plummy comic line through the Hemingway persona that he almost singly redeems a stunted premise.

Honorable mentions to Marton Csokas for The Tree, Shima Ohnishi for Caterpillar, Guy Pearce for Mildred Pierce, Brad Pitt for The Tree of Life, Sergei Puskepalis for How I Ended This Summer, Markus Schleinzer for The Robber, Goran Visnjic for Beginners, and Burt Young for Win Win.

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15 Comments:

Blogger Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I'm probably overemphasising when I say so, but it sort of breaks my heart that Amy doesn't make your top 5. I'm especially antsy to see Beginners, more because of your ringing endorsement than anything else but I'm always game for more Ewan McGregor.

Your words on Stoll make me want to sit you down and pick your brain about Hemingway's writing who we're doing for an American Lit course this semester.

(PS. I'm curious as to what you specifically liked about Hawkins in Jane Eyre. It's possibly my own misgivings about the novel, but the film retains almost all my issues with Bronte's narrative but I found Dench's Mrs. Fairfax to be a shockingly well acted one, considering there was no character.)

9:03 PM, September 16, 2011  
Blogger Walter L. Hollmann said...

Once again, I am reminded of how few films I see. BUT, I was overjoyed to see Jennifer Ehle in your honorable mentions. I saw Contagion with a group of friends and she was all we could talk about after.

9:46 PM, September 16, 2011  
Blogger Colin Low said...

Have I mentioned how much I love these? You are so good with carving out each actor's contribution to the overall picture.

Unfortunately I haven't seen most of these movies, but good calls on the most grounded and humane players in Bridesmaids. Can't wait to see Beginners somehow.

10:01 PM, September 16, 2011  
Blogger Tim said...

At the risk of latching onto entirely the wrong thing, Oprişor in Supporting? Do I misremember her as being in more of the film than is the case?

Also: yay for Farmiga in the honorable mentions! Maybe the best performance I've seen all year in terms of finding details about a character that are not present whatsoever in the screenplay.

10:07 PM, September 16, 2011  
Blogger Colin Low said...

@Tim: I've only seen her do it in The Departed, but I already suspect that that's Farmiga's wheelhouse. So even though Nathaniel R says there won't be another Thelma Ritter...

10:10 PM, September 16, 2011  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@A:EE: Ryan put up a long fight against McCarthy and might have squeaked in if not for the (unfair) reason that both the film and the performance remind me of City Island and of Julianna Margulies' role and performance therein, both of which I prefer. The quick-feeling wrap-up of Win Win gives Ryan too little to do (and is even more short-changing of Melanie Lynskey's character and performance). I wanted to give them both all the screen time Bobby Cannavale got to showboat in exactly the way anyone would have predicted. Quick answers to your other questions: my favorite ideas about Hemingway are all stolen from Fredric Jameson in his book Marxism and Form (less intimidating than it sounds!), and I liked Hawkins' severity, even in her deathbed penitence scene, particularly since we haven't seen a whole lot of chilliness from her thus far.

@Walter: Ehle's palpable, very nearly excited admiration for the virus is my favorite thing in Contagion; she doesn't seem truly alarmed until the thing mutates and the threat level only increases. A completely plausible gloss on scientists I know and (loosely) work with. Loved her, though like almost everyone in that movie, I'd have liked to see more.

@Colin: Thanks! Beginners is out on DVD on November 15, I gather...

@Tim: Oprişor's not around for a good while that we spend with the husband and mistress, or (obviously) for their other shared scenes, save the coming-together in the dentist's office. Though in truth, I questioned these categorizations, too. It would be much more "me" to consider all three leads, and think of Popistaşu's mother, for example, as a supporting player, but I thought this category needed a little help, and that swayed me.

As for Vera Farmiga: I'm not sure I've ever seen her not do that, and I hope somewhere she's saving up all the footage she's recorded of herself in character by way of auditioning for parts she didn't get, like the Cate Blanchett role in I'm Not There. I need to own a DVD of The 100 Faces of Vera one day. Have you seen her in Never Forever, where she pulls off the "Let me just act a whole new revision of the script for you" trick but gets to do so in a genuine lead role.

10:21 PM, September 16, 2011  
Blogger tim r said...

Am I allowed to admit that I like this feature even more than the year-end picks? By then there are heavy-hitting consensus favourites that can't not occupy space on the lists (eg a Waltz, a Blanchett) whereas here you are panning for hidden gold.

Love that you have both Oprisor and Popistasu, as I certainly will too. The wonderful Keller > Laurent, for me, and is that movie's real wild card. Can't wait to see Ehle in CONTAGION, and glad you put a word in for Chastain, who really impressed me. Think she'll get an Oscar nod?

Among the guys, O'Dowd and Plummer are favourites as well, and Stoll really is excellent.

I see Pitt as a lead in TREE OF LIFE, which is odd, as we normally go the other way round in such cases. He may well make my list.

Oh, and by the way, your DRIVE tweet is immense.

2:54 AM, September 17, 2011  
Blogger MD said...

This may be my favourite feature on your site, partly because you're so good at conveying what the performers do for their picture in quick pieces (not that your longer writing isn't great ;)).

Of your main nominees, I've only seen Bridesmaids and Beginners, but I agree with everything you say about the performances. I'm happy Mary Page Keller made such a good impression on you, because her role was one of my biggest worries as I went into the film. It would be easy to trivialise her or cast in her the role of a villain who kept Plummer in a loveless marriage. Instead the film gave her the space to crave out a brief but touching performance, and I love it for that. Plummer, Visnjic and Laurent would also make my lists if I made them.

Not keen on Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life, or do you think he was more of a co-lead? I'm interested in your thoughts on all of Tree's performances, by the way. I know a lot of people didn't like Chastain, but she really hit it out of the park for me.

Sarah Paulson in Martha Marcy May Marlene and Rachael Blake from Sleeping Beauty would probably make my list too. And I know you were iffy about the performances in Meek's Cutoff, but I found Ron Rondeaux to be the shining light. He faces the same problem Keller avoided in being trivialised by his movie (although this is intentional with Cutoff), but manages to be intriguing without mythologising or trying to represent an entire race.

Sorry for this comment - I start out complimenting you for brevity, then ramble endlessly! Looking forward to the next posts. Particularly interested to see if you found McGregor as good as the rest of the ensemble.

3:08 AM, September 17, 2011  
Blogger MD said...

And I just caught Brad Pitt in your list. Darn my lack of comprehension.

3:10 AM, September 17, 2011  
Blogger tim r said...

Also: I wonder if you either liked Maya Rudolph less than I guessed you might, or if she's going to pop up as a surprise lead...

4:47 AM, September 17, 2011  
Anonymous JStor said...

Yay for the Mary Page Keller love. It was her, more than Plummer that made Beginners the special film that it was. (That's not to say that Plummer wasn't very good, but Keller's performance elevated the entire film, for me at least.) Laurent is good, but I don't know if I'd put her in my top five, in all honesty. Eh... here's a list for comparison:

Trieste Kelly Dunn for Cold Weather, for being an effective sounding board, adversary and collaborator in equal measure;
Vera Farmiga for Source Code, for doing my favourite performance of the year so far, and because she elevates her limited role to something I can still remember to this day;
Sally Hawkins for Submarine, for finding the right balance between being a concerned mother and a possibly adulterous wife without coming across as cold or distant to the audience;
Mary Page Keller for Beginners, for the same reasons described by Nick;
Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids, for the same reasons described by Nick.

Supporting Actor just feels really bare so far, so I understand your inclusion of the Mildred men.

Raul Castillo for Cold Weather for being a perplexed Watson figure and being wonderfully intelligble mumblecore-y in everything;
William Jøhnk Nielsen for In A Better World for being undeniably calculating and anti-moralistic yet still really vulnerable;
Chris O'Dowd for Bridesmaids, for the reasons described by Nick;
Brad Pitt for The Tree of Life, for being the best he's ever been, and making his character equally horrifying and sympathetic;
Christopher Plummer for Beginners, for the reasons described by Nick.

Again, love this feature of the blog... aw, heck, I just love the blog and website in general. Please keep up the good work.

8:09 AM, September 17, 2011  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tim R: I actually like it better, too, for the same reason. In markets where people have access to international and independent titles, it's often the case that spring is at least as good a season as fall, so I hope it's a nice counter-weight to all the autumn-focused awards coverage. I think Chastain might well get in this year, but I get the sense that Take Shelter is the vehicle around which Chastain People might be rallying. I'd put McCracken in lead for Tree of Life if I put anyone, and a second viewing pushed Pitt further in the background for me. I like him in it but don't love; he almost wasn't in my Honorable Mentions.

As for Rudolph, I love her in SNL and so relished what she brought to Prairie Home Companion, but in more recent movies, I often wish she were showing us a little more. Doesn't help that I think the Bridesmaids script can't quite figure out how much or how little to do with a few of its characters. I'd definitely put her in that category.

@MD: Thanks! So glad to see so much love for Keller pouring in from so many corners. Will definitely have my eye out for whatever she pops up in next, though I suspect it won't help that I see so little TV. I can see that argument about Rondeaux, and in general I think that movie's worth another look for me.

@JStor: Thanks so much for the compliments, and even more for the fantastic suggestions. I missed a lot of these movies in theaters, and I'm glad to have another incentive to hunt them down... plus, I love getting the clear sense that you, too, are always rooting around for great work no matter whether or not it's been pre-flagged as a "buzz" magnet. These write-ups are really appetite-whetting.

4:55 PM, September 17, 2011  
Blogger Andrew Rech said...

Yay love these choices! Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne would both make my half-way list, though regarding Bridesmaids, Wendi McLedon-Covey and Ellie Kemper were my favorite characters, and probably would have made it over both McCarthy and Burn, but since they just dissapeared after their hilarious heart to heart on the airplane, I feel like there just wasn't enough to give them a shout out, though it certainly isn't their fault.

Love your Ehle mention. Both her and Winslet were by far my favorite arcs in Contagion, though I think I slightly prefer Winslet, just for how she nails her hotel room scene, and the phone calls with Fishburne. It needed more of both of those ladies, and less of Law if you ask me.

The Help has so many rich choices, but I probably would go with Chastain, and even make her a double nominee with The Tree of Life

Supporting Actor is much harder to gather up a five for me. As I still have a lot of catching up to do (Beginners is the thing I probably most regret missing in theaters when I had the chance, so far this year) but at the top would be Brad Pitt who I think gives the performance of this career in The Tree of Life. I've thought about his performance more than any other thus far I reckon. Otherwise it would be Chris O'Dowd and Kyle Chandler in Super 8. After just catching Drive I could nearly fill this category from that movie alone though. We'll see at the end of the year!

7:33 PM, September 17, 2011  
Blogger Sam Brooks said...

Grand write-ups, this is one of my favourite things to read, but I'm going to admit I love reading you write about performance.

One performance I'm going to bring up as one that I was personally attracted to, but don't expect to make any year-end lists, was Clotilde Hesme in Mysteries of Lisbon. She injects the film with such feminine fire, ferocity and pathos, and I loved the piece as a whole, but I found her performance kept me interesting during the difficult third quarter of the epic.

My personal favourite would be Jessica Chastain in Tree of Life, for reasons I can't quite explain, but her scenes of grief rang so truly with me.

And a special mention too one of moment of Cate Blanchett's performance in Hanna, when she is talking to the grandmother. It was just one perfect reaction shot when the grandmother accuses her of wanting children, and in that moment her face is this kind of pool of ugly recognition and unreserved loathing. It was a scary shot of human darkness in a ridiculous film (that I actually liked!)

10:07 PM, September 17, 2011  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

love this!

about Vera --- this is basically what she said to me when i asked her about choosing roles and she admitted that sometimes you don't want to take them but if there's no character there you have to find it any way. 'it's your job description' would that all actors took that job description as seriiously as she seems to.

and i have the same reservations about Maya Rudolph. I think she's going for subtlety but it ends up reading as ... AND????

and i second Tim's comment about the DRIVE tweet.

you do too many things well. it's not fair that you can write 4000 words about something and when you're forced into 140 characters you're just as good at that. NO FAIR.

12:24 AM, September 18, 2011  

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