The Fifties for 2013: Best Supporting Actor
Keith Carradine, Ain't Them Bodies Saints — Emory Cohen, The Place Beyond the Pines — John Gallagher, Jr., Short Term 12 — Ben Foster, Ain't Them Bodies Saints — Peter Sarsgaard, Blue Jasmine
James Franco, Spring Breakers — John Henshaw, The Angels' Share — Peter Kazungu, Paradise: Love — Yiftach Klein, Fill the Void — Ben Mendelsohn, The Place Beyond the Pines
JOE: Nick, I came sooooo close to putting Ben Mendelsohn on my own list. For a movie I had a decent number of issues with, the uniformly strong cast went a long way toward keeping things on the right track for me, while Cianfrance worked his themes out. Of course I was highly tempted to once again throw my beloved Dane DeHaan some recognition, but ultimately, my surprise at Cohen's layered surliness won the day. Such a recognizable character for someone so closed off, and the friendship/bully axis he works with DeHaan unlocked a good deal of that movie for me.
I ultimately—and perhaps unfairly—disqualified Franco from my field because I was so disillusioned at how Spring Breakers became so enamored of him and promptly ignored the women whose story I thought we were following. He's certainly the performance from the first half of the year that people are still talking about. Buzz justified, I guess you'd say?
NICK: Weirdly, I wouldn't say that. I actually don't like Franco's performance as used in the film. Where you see it as pulling focus from the girls (and I don't disagree), I hate how it locks down the preternaturally mobile and expressive camera into a series of Behold the Master close-ups and medium shots. As a formal element, Alien is my least favorite thing in Spring Breakers. But as much as I associate Franco with cockiness and am therefore tempted to blame him for showboating, I think the performance itself is a pretty sensational act of self-transformation and witty repackaging. He almost lost his slot to an opposite performance—Alec Baldwin's small and utterly unshowy part in Blue Jasmine, playing to me the most plausible human being in the film—and he'll probably fall out later.
Say more about why Cohen isn't "overdoing it," which is the same critique Franco's vulnerable to, and one I've heard lobbied against Pines in general and Cohen in particular. Then I promise I'll reply about Mendelsohn!
JOE: I figured I'd get dinged for Cohen, as I have been for most of the year. I feel like I've observed enough of That Kid to know he's not overdoing it. And I think the subtleties of how he reacts to his dad vs. how he reacts at the funeral vs. how he acts at school—and within that, how he reacts when he wants something from DeHaan and when he knows he isn't going to get it—generate a lot of story within his shifting tones. I think underplaying it would have been the wrong choice because we'd have missed a lot of this.
NICK: I'm totally open to a Cohen defense. He's not on my list but, as someone we both know said, "He was doing a weird thing, but the thing was so weird I eventually got into it." As for Mendelsohn, even if he's in danger of getting trapped in decrepit-wrongdoer parts, he's always fascinating in them, and I like his blend of compassion and self-interest in hiring Gosling, his oscillations between eagerness and conscience regarding their endeavors, and the sensitivity he shows around DeHaan despite his inveterate shiftiness. It's also nice to see such a dissipated, lower-class recluse show such tough, precise, no-guff mettle at pulling off an intricate task. Zero condescension in his work.
Tell me about Sarsgaard, with his light riff on Gavin Newsom (even the hair!), and then we'll swap stories about your three nominees from movies that haven't opened yet and my three nominees from movies that disappeared in the blink of an arthouse eye.
JOE: I will take that subtle shade at my questionable business practices and run with it!
So talk to me about your art house fellas. I take it Fill the Void is a keeper?
NICK: No shade. I mean, did someone else just nominate ScarJo based on a pre-release screening? It's all hugs here. I love thinking about Sarsgaard as something more complicated than a deus ex machina for Jasmine. You've made me want to watch him again.
Fill the Void is extremely well-acted. I found the atmosphere and story structure a bit oppressive, but reader, I cannot tell a lie: I was also fighting sleep and occasionally slipping into it. I can't file a full claim on the film until I take a second pass, but the actors are a good motivator to do so. Klein plays an Orthodox Jewish Israeli whose first wife dies. He is torn between marrying a new gal in Belgium (is her appeal about the opportunity to skip town and evade a suffocating culture?) or marrying his wife's younger sister (is he being creepy, practical, or earnest in considering this option?). Klein keeps all those plates spinning in a terse, compelling, even soft way, without quite befriending the audience. Kazungu, meanwhile, plays a Kenyan fellow who is clearly on the make in seducing an older Austrian tourist. Then again, even more than love or arousal, she craves the feeling of being loved and sexually stimulated, so Munga is not convinced he's doing anything wrong by acting the part, stoking those feelings, and expecting payment. Plus, he might even like her. Kazungu's arguably a lead, but I think he belongs in this category, and he deserves the plaudits that somehow got lost amid the fully warranted admiration for the film and the actress. More on her later.
Ben Foster has become a real pull for me, when I used to find him overbearing and out of his depth. The Messenger sold me big time, and I know we both liked Rampart. Tell me about him in Saints, which I'm really excited to see!
JOE: I was onboard even for the overbearing days (Alpha Dog and 3:10 to Yuma in particular), but the counter-programmings of quiet decency in movies like this one and The Messenger really hammer home what a capable and undervalued actor he is. He's an oasis of that very decency in Ain't Them Bodies Saints; in particular, he gets one monologue that makes sense of not only his motivations but his scene partner's as well. Granted, I could not have cared less about Casey Affleck's and Rooney Mara's characters, which probably left me grasping for someone in the movie to latch onto, so maybe I'm reaching a bit here, particularly where Keith Carradine is concerned. But I was riveted to whatever he was saying, even if it didn't matter a bit to me what that was. He gets just right the kind of dangerous/dad-like mixture in old dusty patriarchs, and his rare moments of action are genuinely surprising and visceral.
NICK: The Angels' Share was a not-entirely-welcome winner of the Cannes Jury Prize in 2012, deserving neither the prize nor the level of pushback it received. It was an afterthought by the time it opened a year later in the US, as Loach movies usually become here, but it's quietly lovely, balancing a grim opening with a whimsical caper-comedy resolution. Its anchor for me was Henshaw's turn as the supervisor of a bunch of Scottish youths sentenced for their misdemeanors to long bouts of community service. Simultaneously firm but rascally, he introduces the whole crew to the pleasures of whiskey-tasting—an idea that is great but also not great. Henshaw's performance is dramatic when necessary and lightly comedic, bringing paternal indulgence and bail-bondsman weariness to the part. He's also the center of the year's sweetest ending so far, even better than Sandy Bullock with her yearbook. He might be my winner at this point. Is Gallagher yours?
JOE: He's not at the moment, but a week ago, he was outside the top 5 so talk to me in a few days and see where I'm at. Initially, I was so bowled over by Short Term 12's lead performance that I don't think I gave consideration to much else. But a huge part of what makes that film so lovely is the unfussy central relationship between Mason and Grace, and Gallagher and Larson both play it perfectly. For a character who spends so much of his time reacting to Grace, supporting Grace, and circling Grace, Gallagher gives Mason so many small moments where an independent character can shine through.
NICK: These came pretty quickly to me. I keep reading that Blue Jasmine is chock-a-block with good performances from its men, but if you're itchy about overpraise for Andrew Dice Clay, I remain irritated by the credit Bobby Cannavale continues to reap for overplaying almost all of his roles. Besides Baldwin, the only other contender I really considered was Serge Kanyinda, who plays the heroine's antagonist and then her ally and, briefly, her beloved in War Witch. I'm not sure who most intrigues me in the fall when it comes to this category, but I expect it'll get shaken up a fair bit. You?
JOE: I've been down on Cannavale ever since he ham-sandwiched his way through the entire last season of Boardwalk Empire, though I have liked him previously. Besides Mendelsohn and DeHaan, it was tough to leave out The Bling Ring's Israel Broussard (is he a lead, though?) and Frances Ha's Michael Zegen. And at some point, I have to have a reckoning about Matthew Goode's performance in Stoker, which is so delicious up until a plot twist that I am pretty sure though not 100% he plays completely wrong.
NICK: Hanks is unbeatable casting as Disney, so from that standpoint I'm excited. I can't believe how much Cumberbatch we'll be expected to tolerate this season; I think he's supporting in pretty much everything. I'm not at all excited about The Wolf of Wall Street, but I'd like to see McConaughey continue his hot streak and to see, if possible, a new side of Jean Dujardin.
Also, I don't know why I said Henshaw was my winner, because it might just as well be Kazunga or Klein or Mendelsohn. They're all great, and Place Beyond the Pines and Paradise: Love both came out this month on DVD, so readers, you can help me decide!
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