Monday, February 06, 2012

Best of 2011: Supporting Actor

If you're one of the folks who's clicking through for Honorees but then dashing away—can I interest you in a real review? I'm kind of proud of this one. No? Okay.

Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
... for being smug but also astute, a rich conduit of humor but not a hammy one, and a careful articulator of the veiled theme of anti-Semitism;

Chris O'Dowd, Bridesmaids
... for being raffishly un-typecast as the flawed prince we root for, helping us to balance our attraction to and exasperation with Wiig's Annie;

Gustavo Sánchez Parra, Leap Year
... for arriving subtly into the film, uncomfortably pushing the lead around, and signaling so many motives for and feelings about what they do;

Christopher Plummer, 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;

Shea Whigham, Take Shelter
... for the subtlest, steadiest gaze by which we observe the hero, expressing friendship as guys do, even as tacit sympathy tilts into distrust.

Runners-Up: Brían F. O'Byrne as the patience-tested but unexpectedly loyal ex-husband in HBO's Mildred Pierce; Corey Stoll as a beacon of wit and a rough-patch of welcome texture in Midnight in Paris; Brad Pitt, playing a man aware of his shortcomings and expressive deficiencies but nonetheless mired within them in The Tree of Life; Niels Arestrup, so elegantly warm and so eloquently aggrieved in War Horse; Sergei Puskepalis, who passes from intimidating colleague to dangerous enemy in How I Ended This Summer; and Shima Ohnishi as the physically demanding, ethically unsalvageable husband in Caterpillar, bravely submitting himself to Wakamatsu's aesthetic of florid overstatement without losing the character inside the hyperbole.

For Distinguished Group Efforts: The colorful trio of henchmen that Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, and Mark Strong bring hilariously to life in The Guard; the vivid conclave of misguided but sympathetic managers, scouts, and board members in Moneyball, extending as well to Philip Seymour Hoffman's banked flame of inextinguishable animosity; and Peter Carroll, Chris Haywood, and Hugh Keays-Byrne as the unsettled and unsettling clients in Sleeping Beauty.

Additional Runners-Up: Marton Csokas for his believable spin on what is more or less the O'Dowd role in Julie Bertuccelli's The Tree; Kenneth Lonergan for nailing the desire for camaraderie but the helplessness at real intimacy as the cross-country dad in Margaret; Bryan Cranston, who's been limping around the borderlands of petty crime for so long in Drive that he's almost forgotten how quickly it can all end; Brian Cox for his fatigue, his knack for conciliation, and his weariness with a tone-deaf leader in Coriolanus; Patton Oswalt for bringing so much color and personality to Young Adult that you almost stop begrudging what a crutch his character is; Burt Young for blurring the line between a mental fog and a shocked reaction to shabby treatment in Win Win; Shahab Hosseini, for making us wonder and worry throughout A Separation just how unstable his character is; Guy Pearce for both his flaunted and his wounded vanity in Mildred Pierce; Markus Schleinzer for an unforgettable face and a failure to play his hunches correctly in The Robber; Kiefer Sutherland for half-tolerating and half-loathing Melancholia's effulgent wedding, perking up when something truly interests him, refusing to believe that his only source of pleasure might destroy him; Ezra Miller, giving his most plausible and well-shaded spin on his troubled-youth typecasting in the Sundance drama Another Happy Day; Nick Nolte for being so moving on the lawn and in the diner and in the dark of Warrior, despite some overshooting towards the end; Jamie Bell, for so concisely forcing us to ask whether St. John is a worthy partner or a hovering trap for the heroine of Jane Eyre; Goran Visnjic for his odd, impish boyfriend in Beginners, tempting us to question his sincerity before certifying his love past all doubt; Kevin Spacey for finally showing up to play ball again in Margin Call, after what feels like years; and Charles Parnell for taking a bemused interest in his daughter's rebel streak in Pariah until, suddenly, he doesn't—though even then, he keeps re-drawing the line between empathy and aloofness.

Maybe one day I'll regret that I'm leaving out Albert Brooks and the whole Tinker Tailor crew, but as glad as I am to applaud their solid work, none of them truly interested me as much as all of these guys did.

Films I Hated to Skip Before Posting: Cold Weather, Of Gods and Men

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Blogger Sam Brooks said...

Beautiful, beautiful review. I'm going to try get a hold of that film, it sounds like something that I'd enjoy. Even though I'm in the wrong hemisphere and frankly, generation, to have been immediately affected by Matthew Shepard's death, it's something that I've read up on and gives me chills in a personal way that other tragedies kind of don't? I didn't know this film existed, and I'm very, very keen to see it.

So many of your choices for Best Supporting Actor mirror mine! I'll just throw two of my personal favourites into the ring that didn't get mentioned in your runners-up. One is Chris Pratt in Moneyball, doing a whole lot with a tiny, tiny role and really nailing the lost, hopeful boy and yet somehow father in his first scene, and finding an arc where there isn't one for him. It's an entirely different use of his talents that Parks and Recreation, which uses him brilliantly, and I hope he does more dramatic stuff.

Another is Alex Shafer in Win Win, who rendered one of the most convincing portrayals of inarticulate, sullen adolescence that I've seen in ages. But it's those little moments where he shows that he's still a kid that endears me to the performance.

Totally agree with you on Plummer and O'Dowd and your other picks make me even more excited to see those films, especially Take Shelter.

4:01 AM, February 06, 2012  
Anonymous Liz said...

Every year, this category is an embarrassment of riches in terms of number of quality portrayals, as you've just illustrated. And almost every year, the Academy ends up with a nominee list that seems so...uninspired. Plummer is so far ahead of that field that it practically seem unfair.

Love the mention for the group of scouts in "Moneyball." Their big scene also has my favorite throwaway line:

Old Scout: "Who's Fabio?"
Background Scout: "He's the shortstop from Seattle."

8:07 AM, February 06, 2012  
Blogger Colin Low said...

Thanks for the Laramie Project review, especially the preface. (I'm currently studying how trauma is, indeed, always a retrospective becoming-event, so I'm grateful for your open admission about how it wasn't self-evident. It can't have been easy to say that you were less affected by something than everyone expected you to be.) I haven't read the whole review because I'm saving up for the movie, which sounds like the kind of thing I'd love.

Supporting Actor! I was too distracted by Mortensen's and Whigham's broader, more scenery-chewing co-stars (Knightley and Shannon/the weather, respectively) to notice the subtleties of their work, so I'm tempted to reassess. Plummer and O'Dowd are pretty flawless. Love your points on Pitt, Ohnishi (though, supporting?), Oswalt and especially Visnjic, whose role's effect in Beginners I think you've really put the finger on.

11:00 AM, February 06, 2012  
Blogger Andrew Rech said...

I think it's been quite the strong year for actors on the edges, and it's annoying that the Academy really didn't have to look to hard to get a better roster. Yet they still came up with - outside of Plummer - the least interesting round up of the 4 acting categories.

Inspire choices and love the mention of O'Byrne, just finished Mildred Pierce and I think he's the secret weapon.

I think Tinker Tailor has the ensemble of year, and it was insanely hard for me to pick the standout among the supporting men. I'll go to bat for Mark Strong though, since I haven't read many people single him out. I never thought much of him as an actor before, but I loved his weariness, and the palpable heartbreak in his last scene. And that smile at that Christmas party...gah! Hoping it leads to more opportunities where he's not simply a villain. Colin Firth was also great and I think despite the limited screentime, gave a sharper performance than in The King's Speech.

Also, I want to second Sam Brooks choice of Alex Shaffer. Major props to Shaffer for making an initially numbed and disconnected character far from an uninteresting subject, or one-note performance. Love the way he gradually lets people in, from that Jon Bon Jovi conversation with Amy Ryan to the rapport he builds with that other boy on the wrestling team. Such a great year for this category!

2:19 AM, February 07, 2012  
Blogger Andrew K. said...

My absolute favourite thing of this write-up is the citation of Mark Strong (et al) in The Guard. I LOVED Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but I thought Mark was just great in The Guard, menacing and funny without being too much of either. I like the Whigham citation because even though Take Shelter seems to be this tunnel visioned outlook on mental health I find it to be a good look at the small town machinations of people and I especially loved the texture of all those bit players (particularly Mixon).

(PS. I see you mention the three clients in Sleeping Beauty. What did you think of Leslie? And, did you see him in Three Blind Mice in 09?)

8:59 AM, February 08, 2012  
Blogger David said...

Wow, what a ridiculously rich year for Supporting Actor, a category I'm not usually so crazy about (but I think that's mostly just unabashed actressexuality).

I'm glad to see someone point out Niels Arestrup. I felt his work in War Horse was unexpectedly profound and only emphasized by the standard Spielbergian sentimentality that surrounds him (although, the film surprised me, too, in its own way).

2:45 PM, February 14, 2012  

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