The Fifties for 2013: Best Supporting Actress
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.
Polly Draper, Side Effects — Scarlett Johansson, Don Jon — Sanja Mikitišin, Clip — Irit Sheleg, Fill the Void — Emma Watson, The Bling Ring
Melonie Diaz, Fruitvale Station — Allison Janney, Touchy Feely and The Way Way Back — Emmy Rossum, Beautiful Creatures — Lili Taylor, The Conjuring — Emma 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.