Wednesday, January 27, 2010

2009 Year In Review: Supporting Actor

As is often the case, I found the performances in this category to be among the most interesting. The number one performance here gets my vote for the best performance of the year. And I had to leave off some very strong performances by Richard Kind in A Serious Man, Stephen Lang in Avatar and Public Enemies, Alfred Molina in An Education, Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker and Paul Schneider in Bright Star. Lots of great work this year.

10. Michael Fassbender in Inglorious Basterds
I saw Michael Fassbender deliver four great performances in 2009 - two holdovers from 2008, the great Irish prison drama Hunger, and the disturbing horror film Eden Lake and an early screening of the upcoming film Fish Tank but for most viewers, his performance in Inglorious Basterds is most likely the first time they saw him, and he made quite an impression. His first scene is an hilarious send up of old Hollywood movies, being given a mission in front of a huge map of the world. But his great work is in the extended barroom seen, speaking in German. Fassbender is quick witted and smart, charming right up until the bullets start flying. A star is born.

9. Peter Sarsgaard in An Education
Sarsgaard has been one of the most interesting actors around for the last few years, and you are never quite sure what he is going to do next. In An Education, he plays the older man suitor to Carey Mulligan’s Jenny, quickly winning him over with his charm and his money. But underneath his cool exterior, he really is just a child with a very na├»ve outlook on life and sex. Sarsgaard has a dreamy look in his eyes for much of the movie, and whenever he is confronted by reality, he runs away. Sarsgaard does an expert British accent in the film, but his performance goes beyond that. Normally Sarsgaard plays lowlifes, and while to a certain extent his David is a lowlife as well, his performance gets under his characters skin, and as result gets under ours as well.

8. Burghart Klausner in The White Ribbon
As the authoritative pastor in The White Ribbon, Klausner delivers the performance that sticks out in my mind more than any other in Haneke’s brilliant film. He is a man who demands absolute obedience from his children, and punishes them severely when they do not live up to his expectations. The abuse is not only physical, but also psychological (witness the scene where he humiliates his daughter in front of her class). The movie, which is about the dangers of inflicting rigid, unyielding morality and religion onto your children relies of Klausner to be at the heart of the hypocrisy in the town. A great performance in a great movie.

7. Vlad Ivanov in Police, Adjective
Ivanov’s one scene performance in Police Adjective is utterly brilliant - as great as his one scene role as the abortionist in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. As the main character’s supervisor, he dismisses his claims of conscience, and then coldly, calculatingly gets him to the read the definitions of conscience, law, morals and police from the dictionary, gradually breaking down his resistance. You would not think that a scene that contains reading aloud from the dictionary would be thrilling - but it is. Ivanov is the ultimate unfeeling, uncaring government bureaucrat out there. Ivanov has become one of the best actors in the world.

6. Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones
I’m not sure if Tucci or the makeup department should get the credit for his incredibly creepy performance in The Lovely Bones. This is a performance all about stillness, as Tucci is often motionless behind his big glasses and his pathetic looking come over. But when Tucci does speak, we hear that he has changed his normally sunny voice, into a low, guttural one at times barely above a mumble. We are creped out by him right away, but there is something about Tucci that makes this character – a child murderer – seem almost harmless at times. Stanley Tucci seems to be finally getting the appreciate he deserves.

5. Christian McKay in Me & Orson Welles
There can only ever be one Orson Welles. Despite how many great actors have played Welles over the years, there always seemed to be something missing in their performances. Whatever that something was, McKay completely nails it in this movie. His Welles is larger than life, a boisterous, egomaniacal tyrant who is still somehow capable of making everyone love him. His supreme confidence shines through in every scene. McKay gets the exact cadence of Welles’ voice down cold, and he looks uncannily like the real Welles, but his performance his more than just mere impersonation – he inhabits Welles from the inside out.

4. Woody Harrelson in The Messenger
Woody Harrelson plays a soldier who has been working for years in the causality notification unit, and has seen it all. He advises his new underling to stick to the script and not get involved. He talks constantly, trying to cover up his own insecurities with his constant barrage of words. Harrelson is an actor of tremendous gifts, and he hasn’t used them as often as I would have liked over the last decade. In The Messenger he gives a performance of tremendous emotional depth and wait. He feels guilty for not fighting himself - his age has kept him out of the real fighting - and that is why he tries to keep his distance. The dead soldiers got to make the sacrifice her never got to make. Harrelson is a great actor, and this is one of his best performances.

3. Fred Melamed in A Serious Man
I’m not sure that there is more imitatable performance this year than Fred Melamed’s brilliant turn as Sy Abelman in this Coen’s brother masterpiece. He plays the heroes’ friend, whose has stolen his wife away from him. He wants to get together and have a good talk about what is happening, and what the most rational course of action will be. He is so supremely calm that you want to punch him in the face. Melamed is just one of the many great actors that the Coens chose to round out the cast, but none were more memorable then him. A great performance by an actor I didn’t know before, but who I will now never forget.

2. Peter Capaldi in In the Loop
Peter Capaldi is unforgettable as the profane spin doctor in this brilliant political satire. Every other word out of his mouth is fuck. He uses it as punctuation, dressing down his underlings, and ripping to shreds everyone around him. He is not concerned about being right about the case for war in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, but rather he wants to spin it so that everyone will support the war. Whether he is dealing with bumbling MPs, political rivals, American Generals, or American politicians who do not like to hear swearwords (Best line in the movie - “You F * * Cunt”). Capaldi rips into the role with gusto, and makes one of the unforgettable characters of the year.

1. Christophe Waltz in Inglorious Basterds
If I had to pick one performance as the best of the year, then it would easily be Waltz’s brilliant turn as Colonel Hans Landa, the Nazi Jew hunter. His first scene is perhaps the best of any this year - as he comes to a remote farmhouse and questions a French farmer about the whereabouts of a Jewish family. Switching back and forth between German, French and English, Waltz strips the farmer down to the bone. As the movie goes along, Waltz continues with his brilliant performance, continually outsmarting, and out talking, everyone else in the movie. Waltz is perhaps the most memorable Nazi in cinema history - pure undiluted evil, always trying to make the best deal for himself. A brilliant turn.

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