Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2010: The Best Performances of the Year: Supporting Actor

Normally one of the strongest categories, this year Best Supporting Actor was undeniably the weakest of the four acting categories. All you have to do to see that is that my number 1 performance here was no better than the other two main performances from that movie, and they both ranked lower on their respective lists. However, there was still strong work done here. In addition to the top 10, the following performances deserve recognition as well: Pierce Brosnan in The Ghost Writer, Andrew Garfield in Never Let Me Go, Ben Kingsley in Shutter Island, Armie Hamer in The Social Network, Djimon Hounsou in The Tempest, Bill Murray in Get Low, Edward Norton in Stone, Jeremy Renner in The Town, Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right, Ben Whishaw in The Tempest.

10. Vincent Cassel in Black Swan
Vincent Cassel oozes a smart sexuality in his performance in this film. He reminds me kind of Roy Scheider in All That Jazz – a dance director who uses his gaggle of beautiful young dancers as a kind of personal harum. And yet, his sexuality is also a driving force behind the movie – he pushes Portman’s Nina Sayers further and further in her exploration of her sexuality, not only because he wants to sleep with her (although he does), but to try and open up her dancing. Of course, he doesn’t realize that in doing so, he essentially sets off her implosion. Cassel disappears for much of Black Swan’s later stages, but in those opening scenes, he pushes the movie on course, and his presence hangs over the film. A great performance by one of my favorite actors.

9. Richard Jenkins in Let Me In
Richard Jenkins is one of those character actors who does everything so well that he makes it look effortless. His performance in Let Me In has been completely ignored this awards season, but it is one of his best. A subtle, controller performance he plays the vampire’s “dad” in the film – a murderer in his own right. It is one of the creepiest performances of the year – not just the way he slouches and shuffles, but in the way he kills and most brilliantly, the slightly sexual way he looks at his “daughter”. He is the real evil guy in this film, but what makes the performance so memorable is how believably pathetic Jenkins makes him. One of the most underrated performances of the year.

8. Michael Fassbender in Fish Tank
Michael Fassbender has quickly become one of the more interesting actors around. His brilliant performances in Hunger, Eden Lake, Inglorious Basterds and this film show that he has more talent than most other actors around. Here, he takes on the difficult role of a man in his 30s, and his flirtation with the teenage daughter of his latest girlfriend. He seems like such a nice guy at first – but then we catch him looking at the teenager a little too long, a little too intently. What happens next is lowkey, prolonged seduction – and makes this seemingly nice guy turn into an asshole. But Fassbender’s work here is great because he refuses to make it into a cliché – even if we end up hating him, he remains a real performance for the entire movie. This is a performance that makes me want to see even more Fassbender in the future.

7. John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone
John Hawkes is one of those actors that you see pop up just about everywhere, but you hardly seem to notice. He is a character actor in the best sense of the word. Here, as Uncle Tear Drop, Hawkes delivers a performance of a man with barely suppressed violence in him – a gruff exterior covering up a man who really does care deeply about his niece. It is precisely the type of unshowy supporting work that Hawkes does best – precisely the kind that makes him fly under the radar – but also the type that makes him one of the most reliable character actors around.

6. Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech
As the Australian speech therapist, which helps the King in a tough time, Geoffrey Rush does what he does best – hams it up brilliantly. Yes, it is an over the top performance in some ways, but isn’t that why you cast Rush in the first place? Besides, his performance never goes so far as to make his character unbelievable – and there are some very nice, subtle moments that underline the class distinction present, yet mostly unspoken of, during the course of the movie. Rush is another in a long line of inspiring teachers – but this time, he only has one pupil. Watching Rush in this film is a reminder of just how good he can be – and is enough to make you wish we saw him more often.

5. Justin Timberlake in The Social Network
Justin Timberlake struts into The Social Network just like you would expect him to – like the personification of cool. As the founder of Napster, who became a celebrity, and can now walk into any restaurant or party he wants to, and has girls throwing themselves at him, he is everything that Zuckerberg wants to be. Timberlake handles the complex, rapid fire dialogue that is Aaron Sorkin’s forte effortlessly – which is hard to do (just ask the cast of his short lived TV show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, as half of them looked lost). But for me, the moment when Timberlake earned this spot on this list was late in the movie, when he’s arrested, and the cops go through his pockets and he has to explain that that is an epi pen, and that is his inhaler, and all that strut and cool drain away from him, and he is once again that nerd that was picked on in high school.

4. Andrew Garfield in The Social Network
Andrew Garfield’s character in The Social Network is the only one we can truly feel sympathy for from the first frame to the last. He is a nerd, but he embraces that, and is a charming nerd – a nerd that others like. When his friend Mark Zuckerberg comes to him for financial help, he gives it to him, and then works diligently to try and help Facebook grow – only to get royally screwed over. Garfield had a breakout year this year- with wonderful performances here and in Never Let Me Go and Red Riding: 1974, all of which were enough to get him cast as Spider-Man. And he deserves that recognition, because his performance here is subtle, self assured and likable. This kid has a real career in front of him – and this was a glorious first step.

3. Christian Bale in The Fighter
Christian Bale has always been a very dedicated actor - basically becoming a skeleton for his role in The Machinist, delivering one of the most disturbing performances I’ve ever seen in American Psycho and going slightly crazy in Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn. His performance in The Fighter is one of his best - as a crack addict who is also the main character trainer; he is a fast talking, larger than life character - a selfish man who finally realizes what his actions are doing to his family. He really does command the screen in his every scene - you cannot take your eyes off of him. For those who only know Bale from the Batman movies, The Fighter shows his great range, and how good he can actually be. A truly great performance.

2. Ben Mendohlson in Animal Kingdom
Jacki Weaver has been justly praised for her brilliant performance as the matriarch of this crime family, but for whatever reason, Ben Mendohlson who is equally good, and perhaps even more chilling, has been overlooked all awards season long. Mendohlson’s performance in Animal Kingdom is perhaps the most memorable villain role of the year. There is something not quite right about his eyes – they exude a violent coldness at times, and yet when his mother touches his face and suggest he go back on his medication, he looks like an embarrassed child. His scenes when he kills his nephew’s girlfriend, and then when he tries to sooth that same nephew are brilliant. Mendohlson’s work in Animal Kingdom deserved a whole lot more praise than it received.

1. Matt Damon in True Grit
There is no better performance this year that has all but been completely ignored during awards season than Matt Damon’s turn in True Grit – and unlike some of the other great performances being ignored, I have no idea why Damon isn’t getting the recognition he deserves, as he is just as good as Bridges and Steinfeld in this film. Damon turns LaBeouf from a comic foil in the earlier movie, into Cogburn’s equal in this one. He represents the other side of the same coin – he wants the same thing as Cogburn does, but unlike Cogburn he cares about the morality behind what he is doing – he wants to do the “right thing”. Ross is caught in between these two men, switching allegiances throughout the movie, never quite sure which one she should go with – and that’s a testament to Damon’s performance, because in the old movie, there was never any doubt – you stick with John Wayne. Damon’s performance is a wonder here – and it makes me wonder why I seem to be the only one who noticed.

1 comment:

  1. Great pick putting Ben Mendohlson so high, he made that film a pleasant surprise for me. #1 Matt Damon? I'll give you top 5 on his performance and agree that it has been slighted, but I liked 2 through 6 better than him. I haven't had Fish Tank on my to watch radar, but I'll check it out since you seem to like it so much.