Friday, August 16, 2013

The Fifties for 2013: Best Supporting Actress

Longtime readers know that every year, once I reach the point when I have seen 50 commercial releases in the U.S. market, I post a feature called The Fifties, where I celebrate the best achievements in typical film-awards categories from these early months of the year.  Most of these movies and performances are destined to be forgotten at year's end, either because no one can remember past Halloween or because the kinds of films that get released in winter, spring, and summer rarely translate into critics' prizes or Oscar fodder.

In recent years, my buddy Joe Reid—who gives great Twitter and who writes for Tribeca and The AV Club and his own blog and just about everywhere else—has appropriated the tradition of The Fifties, and this turns out to be an especially beautiful thing.  Partly because he tends to hit the 50 threshold around the same time I do; this year, without trying, we even hit it on the same day.  Partly because we love movies and gushing about movies in many of the same ways, but we don't always see the same movies.  Our overlap at this point is almost exactly 50%.  In terms of our departures, Joe saw lots of new Sundance and Tribeca titles, does a better job keeping up with what The Kids Are Watching, and has access to press screenings that enable him to peek further than I can into what's coming in the months ahead.  I saw some 2013 micro-releases at last year's Chicago and Toronto festivals, am more of an early-year bloodhound for Cannes, Berlin, and Venice hits that are finally bowing in U.S. cinemas, and I see a lot of short-run arthouse stuff that Joe also likes but sometimes can't fit into the crowded schedule of films and TV he already has to cover.  He makes sure I catch up with Chronicle and 21 Jump Street and keep an eye out for Short Term 12 and What Richard Did.  I natter at him about Paradise: Love and The Turin Horse and let him know that Lovelace isn't all that.  But we both struggle with Upstream Color and Place Beyond the Pines, we both show up at Tyler Perry joints, and we both agree that The Heat is the best mall-purchased present anybody gave us this summer.

We also only agree about half the time about movies we do share in common, and we can't find many patterns in when we do or don't, or why.

So for this year's Fifties, Joe and I will both name our picks in each category and then have a back-and-forth about our selections, our conspicuous omissions, our differences of opinion, and what we're looking forward to in the coming months.  We have enough overlap that our choices are worth collating, but we also diverge enough in our habits that you're essentially getting a supersized sense of what's been out there so far.  We'll start with Best Supporting Actress, a category I had atypical trouble filling out; in fact, I already wish I'd recast somehow in the troubling fifth spot.

Nick's Picks


Polly Draper, Side EffectsScarlett Johansson, Don JonSanja Mikitiššin, ClipIrit Sheleg, Fill the VoidEmma Watson, The Bling Ring

Joe's Picks


Melonie Diaz, Fruitvale StationAllison Janney, Touchy Feely and The Way Way BackEmmy Rossum, Beautiful CreaturesLili Taylor, The ConjuringEmma Watson, The Bling Ring



JOE: I've been waiting for Melonie Diaz to get the chance to show what she can do ever since she was such an intriguing presence in Be Kind, Rewind. She still doesn't exactly get the most room to spread her wings in Fruitvale, but Coogler does give her enough space to express Sophina's ambivalence about Oscar, how much she wants to give him credit for trying while at the same time not wanting to be that girl who stands by while a guy takes her and her daughter down the drain. That the script reduces her to crying into a telephone by the end is probably what I'll hold against it most, but she's done so much good work by then that I'm still so invested in her.

Meanwhile, Lili Taylor does the kind of physical work in The Conjuring that a performer in any other genre would be lauded for. And I'm not just talking about once she's possessed—though seriously, how little of that transformation appears to be makeup-based is such a credit to her. Not to mention how easily she sold me on the idea that she might actually kill her children. But even at the beginning, the way she's so playful with her kids, rolling around with them, playing games, she puts you in her and her family's shoes right away. And with Farmiga and (to an extent) Wilson's characters so opaque, Taylor has to work overtime to be such an open book without looking like a sap.

I had no idea you'd already seen Don Jon! And I am beyond thrilled to see you liked ScarJo so much in it. She really sold you on those marble columns, huh?



NICK: I loved that Johansson invested such full-bodied flair in that part, and I mean that two ways. First, she embraced her voluptuousness, which she has often and understandably been loath to foreground, but she did so without submerging personality, complexity, or comedy beneath the curves. Second, she demonstrates how hard she's been working in theater by showing me a complete character in voice, body, and behavior; I believed she had a whole life offscreen and was way, way more than a series of jokes or dramatic beats. We really miss her when she's gone, and for all of her extraordinary likeability in the part, she made it plausible that she might or might not be right for Jon.

As for your ladies: I like Diaz, even though I'm always distracted by remembering the revelation from Raising Victor Vargas that she looks exactly like Julia Roberts. I agree that she nicely conveys ambivalence about Oscar in a movie that sometimes has trouble doing that without awkward pointers in both directions; I just wish the film didn't strand her with so many under-directed "What is going on??" close-ups. Something about Lili Taylor's fast, breathy line deliveries always throws me off, but she's got great moments in The Conjuring. I think Vera does, too.

Speaking of deep casts, your other three ladies are all from movies that showcase several compelling women in supporting parts. Why'd you go with Janney, Rossum, and Watson over their castmates?



JOE: While it may seem like I was in the bag for Emmy Rossum's performance from that spectacular over-the-wine-glass reaction shot in the trailer, there's more to it than that. In a movie that encourages its share of diva flourishes, she seemed to both indulge (see this entire scene) and then later play counter to those flourishes, particularly in flashbacks. Moreover, she's an irresistible force onscreen and lives up to all the narrative hype about her as the Girl Gone Bad.

Janney's an interesting case for me, because I always say I want her to get bigger roles, but maybe she's just at her best when killing it from the sidelines. She's the best thing going in both The Way, Way Back (an under-thought movie that doesn't entirely deserve the wide streak of humanity she brings to her Boozy, Oversharing Mom cliché as written) and Touchy Feely (a better movie that still is never so simultaneously alive and affecting as when her encouraging, non-flighty reiki practitioner is around).

Finally, I am so glad to see we're in agreement on Emma Watson's affected, deeply hilarious performance in The Bling Ring. What a beautifully thought-out creation from the tips of her cigarettes to the Adderall coursing through her veins. That interview scene at the end where she keeps casually, relentlessly shutting her mother down is an absolute scream, and it's just the last in a movie full of them.

Now ... your turn on Emma. Do we like her for similar or vastly different reasons? Also, I should note that I'm saving Polly Draper for the Limited/Cameo role that Nathaniel invented and that I love so dearly, though I won't be able to flesh that one out until year's end. Just know we are simpatico on her as well. That said, I've neither seein Fill the Void nor even heard of Clip, so please education my American ass.



NICK: Watson occasionally plays to the rafters but Sofia Coppola movies can sometimes feel a little humor-starved, "Lip my stocking!" aside, so I'm all for it. I agree that her "Shut it, Mom" showpiece is a keeper, in which Leslie Mann is also very good, and I like her tetchiness in all the dinner and homeschooling scenes. I also appreciate the genuine panic she brings to the scenes of arrest and press-hounding, plus the irritated hauteur of lines like "You're so lucky your face isn't in that footage" to Taissa Farmiga, who's also terrific. The sentiment is bitter and genuine, even as you can tell Watson's character is jazzed by the media spotlight. It's not clear, in a good way, whether she'd undo her circumstances if she could.

Clip is a Serbian movie about Bling Ring-age girls who seem addicted to taking cellphone snaps of themselves and of each other, in increasingly compromised positions, while hustling to drink, fuck, and collect designer-knockoff duds as early as possible. The two movies would make a startling cross-cultural comparison, and though Clip is often crass and sometimes harrowing, the acting is great. Mikitišin plays the mother of the lead girl: worried about her daughter, irritated by her insolence, and genuinely in need of more help around the house. Sheleg also offers great, stern support to a younger actress.  She plays the Orthodox mother in Fill the Void who is goading her reluctant daughter to marry the husband of the daughter-sister-wife they have all just lost in childbirth. The role could easily get hammy or destructively unsympathetic, and it doesn't.

I like all these turns, including the brilliantly colorful and idiosyncratic character that Polly Draper comes up with in about two minutes total as Rooney Mara's saucy boss in Side Effects. That said, I'll be a little disappointed if even richer options aren't on the way by year's end. How are you feeling about the field so far, and who are you looking forward to seeing?



JOE: I'm feeling okay about the field so far. I have some incredibly solid runners-up on my list, in Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine and Marta Nieradkiewicz for Floating Skyscrapers, and I will wait patiently for someone else to make an even stronger case for Melissa Leo in Oblivion than I can. Going forward, I'm probably most intrigued to see what lies behind all those intense poses from Cameron Diaz in The Counselor, though the Lucy Van Pelt nature of Ridley Scott at this point is becoming parodic. And of course, in the "My Girls" column, I'm holding out hope that Laura Linney gets to be more than just a factotum in The Fifth Estate and that Jennifer Garner and Reese Witherspoon get something to work with in Dallas Buyers Club and Devil's Knot, respectively. You?



NICK: I can barely remember what's coming out without double-checking, but there are lots of reasons to perk up. Lest people assume from my list that I've got a fatwa out on recognizable names (though I do expect Irit Sheleg was a runner-up for the Gone Girl part), my antennae are definitely up for Jessica Lange in Therese, Alfre Woodard in 12 Years a Slave, Julianne Moore in Carrie, Juliette Lewis in August: Osage County, Carey Mulligan in Inside Llewyn Davis, and the various ladypeople of Her, Black Nativity, and American Hustle. Maybe my biggest hopes are for Léa Seydoux in Blue Is the Warmest Color, but I can't tell from Cannes reports if she's a lead or not.


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10 Comments:

Anonymous Liz said...

Yay, the Fifties! I always look forward to this.

Great choices all around, but Nick, I'm especially thrilled to see Irit Sheleg on your list. "Fill the Void" has really grown in my mind since I saw it a few months ago, and Sheleg is a big part of that. Serious, but not unyielding, and certainly not without feeling or compassion. Beautiful work.

1:21 PM, August 16, 2013  
Anonymous Matthew Eng said...

Good call on Polly Draper, whose character in Side Effects I haven't thought about since I saw the film, but who, instantly evoked my admiration upon seeing her above. Good for her for imbuing more nuance and personality into her negligible character and those barely-two minutes than Catherine Zeta-Jones managed to put into an entire film.

Also agreed on Emma Watson, although my initial feeling is to actually categorize her as a lead. Bling Ring strikes me as tricky in that way, in that three of its five leads (excl. Taissa Farmiga and Claire Julien, the former fabulous and the latter hilarious with barely a character to play) feel centralized within certain areas of the movie, yet are suddenly and swiftly effaced by Coppola in plenty of others (i.e. Watson in the beginning, Katie Chang in the end). The beginning of the film places Watson as the sidelined yet focus-pulling comic spitfire that I think Claire Julien ultimately becomes when Watson's Nicki finally and definitively pulls our focus completely, becoming more and more integral to the events of the film and easily being handed its wittiest, most inspired comic set-ups, a task that Watson more than lives up to. I'm not sure that's enough to position her as a lead, but both Nicki and Watson ultimately feel so crucial to the delivery of Coppola's concepts, helping them read as terrifically astute and subtle even when they're at their haziest and most on-the-nose, that it's hard for me to see her as anything but.

1:46 PM, August 16, 2013  
Blogger James T said...

That was really cool and I can wait even less now to watch The Bling Ring!
(I just watched the Spring Breakers and the girls seemed pretty good to me though I guess the roles weren't that rich.)

2:15 PM, August 16, 2013  
Anonymous BVR said...

Joe: Allison Janney is even more brilliant in "Struck by Lightning," probably the saving grace of that movie. She's so relentlessly bitter in it without floundering in cliche.

Nick: Thanks for The Fifties once again!

My picks:

Allison Janney, "Struck by Lightning"
Scarlett Johansson, "Don Jon"
Xenia Kalogeropoulou, "Before Midnight"
Andrea Riseborough, "Oblivion"
Emma Watson, "The Bling Ring"

Runner-ups: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Mickey Sumner (Frances Ha), Eva Mendes (Place Beyond the Pines)

2:39 PM, August 16, 2013  
Blogger James T said...

BVR - Xenia Kalogeropoulou is in Before Midnight?? How did I not know that and why am I still uninterested in seeing it??

People: Search youtube for a video of her in any of the old Greek movies she's in. Delicious film persona!

2:52 PM, August 16, 2013  
Anonymous BVR said...

James T: She is AMAZING in her extended cameo! She grounds a quite eggheaded scene with poised humility and bemused sadness. Every time I think of the movie my mind drifts back to her and her beautifully delivered monologue.

3:46 PM, August 16, 2013  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Liz: See you at the Irit Sheleg Fan Society meeting! (I'm running for Secretary.) I'm so glad to hear another champion of her work, which I think you've summed up perfectly. I've also had the same experience you have of Fill the Void more generally, which I found a little blunt and suffocating at first but only find myself admiring more in retrospect. This isn't the last time you'll see it pop up.

@Matthew: Hi, Matthew!! First, please know how fully and shamefully aware that I still owe you an occult baby. Still on the way. Meanwhile, I think this is a really brilliant crystallizing not just of where Watson fits in The Bling Ring but of how the movie operates on a whole. Coppola really succeeds in making it feel totally of a piece, yet you're totally right about those discrete movements within the film, whereby different characters bob to its surface or recede to the background. Suffice it to say, Joe and I found ourselves visiting the lead/support problem when it came to this movie, but we didn't discuss it from this angle. Your comment guarantees that we'll keep talking. Thanks!

@James T: I'm glad you liked Spring Breakers, but I agree that the actresses are well-manipulated elements within the direction and the images than they are expert performers.

@BVR: Haven't even heard of Struck by Lightning, so that's exciting. Sumner was definitely a runner-up for me, though I didn't say so. I've missed seeing Oblivion at every turn, including two more big-screen reprises this week, but eventually I'll catch it.

@James T and BVR: I just can't get too excited about anything, really, having to do with Before Midnight, but I'm so glad my site has finally fulfilled its true calling: to bring people together under the auspice of Xenia Kalogeropoulou! This was written in the stars.

11:00 PM, August 16, 2013  
Anonymous JCS said...

I love the Fifties. I love Joe Reid. This sounds like a match made in heaven. My choices below, just for comparison. (I especially look forward to your views on Our Children and In a World...:

Stephane Bissot in Our Children for creating a complex, thoroughly unlikeable yet wholly sympathetic character in her actions towards such a translucent lead;
Eva Mendes in The Place Beyond the Pines for playing a loving wife and mother and waching her crumble over the span of years with minimal make-up and a whole lotta acting chops;
Mickey Sumner in Frances Ha for letting us feel properly ambivalent towards Frances but still providing ample reasons why she (and we as an audience) should care about her, as much as she's fucking her life up;
Michaela Watkins in In a World... for providing a tacked-on B-story with necessary gravitas, humanity and occasional hilarity; and
Emma Watson in The Bling Ring for all of the reasons outlined by everyone so far, and for "Her hot bod!" and "I wanna rob!" and "MOM!" and "I wanna lead a country one day for all I know" and...

With runners up being Charlotte d'Amboise in Frances Ha, and Jacki Weaver in Stoker, for essentially being my "Polly Drapers" in their respective films: creating characters who have stayed with me long past their respective films' run times.

Look forward to the rest of this feature!

7:43 AM, August 17, 2013  
Blogger Glenn said...

've seen 76 films that have received a release (so plenty more at Tribeca and San Francisco that either won't get a release) or are coming out very soon.

My choices so far would be:

Julia Garner, "We Are What We Are"
Gabby Hoffman, "Crystal Fairy"
Nadezhda Markina, "In the Fog"
Emma Watson, "The Bling Ring"
Oprah Winfrey, "Lee Daniels' The Butler"

With sad eyes that I couldn't include Kaitlyn Dever ("Short Term 12"), Eva Mendes ("Pines"), Lily Taylor ("The Conjuring"), Selena Gomez ("Spring Breakers") and Jacki Weaver ("Stoker").

3:57 PM, August 19, 2013  
Anonymous goran said...

How exciting to see a mention of "Clip" - I watched it just last week and was mesmerised. I was worried it might come off as an exaggerated vision to Western viewers (because really, eerily, it isn't). Mikitisin was fine in it but I was more impressed by the lead, who was strikingly natural and self-possessed, ScarJo voice and all - I can't believe she was 14!

In terms of Supporting Actress of the year so far, however, I'd go with:
Julianne in What Maisie Knew, with the ladies from Paradise Love and the above-mentioned Merkina in In the Fog (good call, Glenn!) as runner-ups.

10:01 PM, August 19, 2013  

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