Best of 2011: 20 Supporting Actresses

4 Feb

A whole month after 2011 ended I have wrapped up my yearly rankings, having seen 256 films released in 2011, granting 13 perfect A+ scores and a really superb 76 scores in the A range. To remember the year that was I thought I should start a feature that will hopefully become a yearly thing for me and do a few Best of 2011 posts, choosing my Top 20 films, directing efforts, screenplays, and performances (separated by lead male, lead female, supporting male and supporting female) and doing a post honoring them with a brief paragraph explaining what made each of those 20 options so remarkable and memorable and thus made 2011 a great year for films. For the fourth entry in the series of posts we have my Top 20 Performances by Supporting Actresses of 2011:

20. MICHELLE MONAGHAN as Christina Warren in Source Code

I’m giving this slot to Michelle Monaghan mostly because she’s just drop-dead gorgeous. Now, I don’t mean that in a superficial kind of way that would mean I would given an Oscar to an actress just cause she’s beautiful (though the Academy itself has used that as tie-breaker once or twice, I suspect), but in this particular performance, the fact that Michelle Monaghan is so beautiful and charming and likable adds a lot to her role. That’s because the film happens in the same spurt of 8 minutes, that happen over and over again, and she’s so great that we believe one could fall in love with her in eight minutes, and she enables us to fall in love with her warmth really easily, just a job well done.

19. JESSICA CHASTAIN as Celia Foote in The Help

Jessica Chastain used 2011 as one big coming out party for her talents, appearing in five films and having a great presence in them all, showing us why she’s one of the most in-demand actresses around. Now, people are saying that the fact that she got her Oscar nomination (probably her first of many to come) for her role in The Help was wrong since she had better performances for which to get the nod, and I would agree with that opinion, but that doesn’t mean that her work in Tate Taylor’s film isn’t great. She stars as this white-trash blonde housewife, a role that’s meant to provide some funny moments and that a lesser actress would have made seem clichéd. Ms. Chastain, on the other hand, gives an infectious kind of performance, and embeds Celia with a warmth that makes the role seem quite fresh.

18. JANET McTEER as Hubert Page in Albert Nobbs

Janet McTeer, a great actress by all means, got an Oscar nod for her role in this film. I obviously wouldn’t have actually given her one of the five nominations, but that doesn’t mean her performance isn’t great; in fact, I think hers is actually better than the one given by Glenn Close, which also got nominated in the Lead category. She gives this exuberant kind of performance as the woman posing as man who has really grown into her new identity, it’s the scenes between her and Close that are by far the best parts of an otherwise not-that-great movie.

17. JODIE WHITTAKER as Sam in Attack the Block

I think Attack the Block was one of the coolest, most pleasantly surprising films of all 2011 and I’m making it a personal mission of mine to try and get more people turned on to it so that they can experience all that the Joe Cornish film has to offer. One of those things is the lovely Jodie Whittaker, who stars as Sam, the young nurse who was being mugged by a group of teenagers while returning home after the night shift just as an alien invasion falls on the block, and she decides to stay with the group of thieves while it happens. I really want great things to happen to her in the future, she deserves the exposure.

16. ELLEN PAGE as Libby/Boltie in Super

Look, I’m a huge, huge fan of Ellen Page no matter the circumstances, so she was pretty much making this ranking no matter what. Here she plays this super crazy girl who works at a comic book shop and then becomes the sexually intimidating sidekick to a local vigilante. The performance is tremendous because she never holds back, and it’s not like she’s being her usual super hip and super cool self, but instead just goes all-out with a performance all over the place and that works for that exact reason, just being super physical and playing seriously well off Rainn Wilson.

15. MÉLANIE LAURENT as Anna in Beginners

Already having named this as my 5th favorite screenplay of the year, we now get a performance out of it making a ranking of mine. And it comes from Mélanie Laurent, the exceedingly adorable French actress who rose to prominence a couple years ago thanks to Inglourious Basterds. Her performance, like all of the ones in this film, feels just super organic and natural, and she conveys so much so well, her scenes with Ewan McGregor are amazing, their chemistry being one of the best ones seen on screen all year.

14. CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG as Claire in Melancholia

My 16th favorite film of 2011, my 12th favorite directorial effort, my 13th favorite performance by any supporting actress in the year. Charlotte Gainsbourg turns in a fantastic performance as Claire, the woman after whom the second half of the film is named, a woman getting incredibly paranoiac about the planet that seems to be heading crashing straight to Earth, bringing forth the apocalypse. This film has a lot of really sensational performances, and they’re all there to service Lars von Trier’s unique and intimate vision about the end of the world, both literally and internally thanks to a severe case of depression, and Ms. Gainsbourg is terrific.

13. EVAN RACHEL WOOD as Molly Stearns in The Ides of March

The first film to have figured in all four of my rankings so far (18th Film, 18th Screenplay, 13th Director, now this). And I’ve actually heard more than a few people say that they didn’t like this role, that they didn’t like this performance, when to me it was just phenomenal. Granted, I’m a big, big fan of Evan Rachel Wood, I think she’s one of the best under-thirty actresses around, and her performance as Molly, a young intern at a political campaign, I thought was great. I thought she went head-to-head with Ryan Gosling really nicely, and that she showed a lot of depth in the role, getting a lot of emotion into a role that probably didn’t demand it all that much in the script, adding her own stuff into the already great material she had to work with.

12. JUDY GREER as Julie Speer in The Descendants

Another film with mentions in all four of my rankings thus far (5th Film, 7th Screenplay, 6th Director). Now, Judy Greer is an actress I absolutely adore and who I really do believe should be a bigger name by now. But still, she’s always doing solid work in a wide array of projects, and such is the case in The Descendants as well, even though she doesn’t get a lot of screen time as the wife of the man George Clooney’s character’s comatosed wife was having an affair with (that sounded soap opera-ish, I know). But in the time she does get, she just totally owns the screen in such a way that was just phenomenal to witness to me.

11. CHLOË GRACE MORETZ as Isabelle in Hugo

Yet another film that’s now been in all four of my rankings thus far (1st Film, 11th Screenplay, 1st Director). Chloë Moretz is one of those young actresses that you just know is headed for greatness because of how terrific she already is, and in Hugo she only continues to show that, working under the direction of the all-time greatest. The childish curiosity Moretz brings to Isabelle is fantastic to watch, and just how she plays off the young Asa Butterfield is tremendous, creating a mischievous chemistry that’s just so believable and that drives the first half of Hugo so terribly well, just coasting on the talents of its young stars.

10. ANNA KENDRICK as Katherine in 50/50

While it’s the chemistry between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen that drives 50/50, the scenes that really elevated this film for me were the ones between Ms. Kendrick and Mr. Gordon-Levitt. She plays Katherine, the therapist to Mr. Gordon-Levitt’s Adam, who was just diagnosed with cancer, and it’s great how she plays the inexperienced therapist, and how she’s not able to just look from a distance but instead gets involved with her patient. She’s perfect here, just wonderful, and the complicated feeling that develops between her and Adam are portrayed so well by Ms. Kendrick.

9. MARION COTILLARD as Adriana in Midnight in Paris

Yes, I’ll say it again, another film that’s made it in all four of my rankings (14th Film, 1st Screenplay, 8th Director). And to be honest I was having a hard time choosing between Cotillard or Alison Pill for the ninth slot, I didn’t want to put both in the list because I honestly felt that it wasn’t the performance itself that I was honoring, but instead the overall effect that the supporting female characters of Midnight in Paris had in me. I chose Ms. Cotillard’s Adriana because she’s the main one, and because it’s through Gil’s love for her that the film becomes just so endlessly and effortlessly charming, and it’s a great performance by a great actress, but yeah, this is kind of a nod to all the ladies (Cotillard, Pill, Bates, McAdams, Bruni and the rest).

8. JESSICA CHASTAIN as Samantha in Take Shelter

This film has already been on other rankings (20th Screenplay, 17th Director) and the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain is a double mention in this ranking herself now. And, boy, she’s unbelievable here, going head-to-head against the great Michael Shannon who turns in a beast of a performance himself. The film is all about Shannon and his character’s turmoil and his performance, that’s true, but he needs an actress like Chastain to ground him, to make him better, to feed off of, and she’s all that and more, perfect as the loyal wife watching her husband lose his mind.

7. ELLE FANNING as Alice Dainard in Super 8

If I’m to be perfectly honest, when I made the first draft of this ranking I didn’t include Elle Fanning because she didn’t pop in my mind. And I guess you can say that if a performance isn’t memorable it isn’t all that great, but I’m blaming this on a moment of sheer stupidity from me, because the performance the young Fanning turns in this film is absolutely marvelous. There are some scenes in this film carried by the younger actors that are really emotional and can really get you misty-eyed, and some others that are just ridiculously well acted; just you take a look again at the scene in which Elle Fanning does her audition for the film the boys are shooting and imagine making this ranking without her name on it. Exactly.

6. CAREY MULLIGAN as Irene in Drive

If you’ve been reading thus far, you know what I’m going to say: another film that’s made it into all four of my rankings so far (4th Film, 2nd Director, 16th Screenplay). And if you’re a regular reader of mine you know just how much I love Carey Mulligan, she’s one of my ten favorite actresses right now, and the stuff she does in Drive is just really great. What’s great is that the film is quite quiet, relying a lot on the faces of its actors than on actual dialogue, mostly in the performance by Ryan Gosling, but also in the one by Ms. Mulligan who’s just so, so good at exuding this kind of vulnerability that adds a lot to the Irene character.

5. OCTAVIA SPENCER as Minny Jackson in The Help

Now, the Oscar statuette probably already has Spencer’s name engraved on it; she’s won every award she’s been up for pretty much, and while I wouldn’t choose her as my winner, she really does give a formidable performance as Minny in The Help, a film with two performances in this ranking. What’s so good about her performance here is that she can do all of the dramatic stuff, just really go at it and get to you in a really great way, but at the same time she has this terrific comedic touch that brought a lot to the role and the overall effect of the film.

4. MELISSA McCARTHY as Megan in Bridesmaids

From the film with my 2nd favorite screenplay and 19th favorite direction, comes my fourth favorite supporting actress performance. Melissa McCarthy is an Oscar nominee for a role that demanded her to shit on a sink; oh the times they are a-changin’. No, but seriously, McCarthy is an infinitely likable actress, she won a bloody Emmy for her work in a decidedly mediocre show probably just because she’s do damn likable. And that’s good, because when you put her charms and talents to use on a good material, you get stuff like Megan in Bridesmaids, wanting to apologize for not knowing which end her gasses came out of, asking her real-life husband if he can feel that steam heat. It’s the most raucously hilarious performance of the year, and I really liked that it was honored.

3. SHAILENE WOODLEY as Alexandra King in The Descendants

Much like The Help, The Descendants also has two entries in this ranking for me, and the fact that Shailene Woodley was snubbed from an Oscar nomination is kind of scandalous to me, especially when it went to McTeer whose performance is nowhere near as good. She plays Alexandra, the daughter of George Clooney’s Matt King, who’s mother just got into a coma, and this is just a seriously stunning breakthrough performance from her, a wonderful performance in which she really does go toe-to-toe with George Clooney in the scenes they share together. She’s the same age as me and I’m just in awe of the fireworks that went off on screen with the brilliance of her performance.

2. JESSICA CHASTAIN as Mrs. O’Brien in The Tree of Life

Yes, that’s three appearances from Jessica Chastain in this ranking, this time for The Tree of Life (which I ranked as my 6th Film, 3rd Director and 19th Screenplay), and if justice was exacted, this would have been the role that had gotten her the Oscar nomination and not the one in The Help. That way, I think she might have actually had a shot to win, especially considering how much the Academy apparently loved the Terrence Malick film, and since she wouldn’t have to lose votes to her cast-mate Spencer. But anyways, this is the definitive Jessica Chastain role in a year that saw her give a number of great ones, she brings such emotion to the role that it really helped this film be as affecting as it ultimately was.

1. CAREY MULLIGAN as Sissy Sullivan in Shame

That’s right, another appearance by my adored Carey Mulligan, this time atop of the rankings, for a performance that was inexcusably snubbed by the Academy. Shame has appeared a lot in my rankings so far (2nd Film, 4th Director, 14th Screenplay) and now here, as Ms. Mulligan plays Sissy, the needy sister of Michael Fassbender’s Brandon, with whom its hinted at that she shares this dark and complex connection with from years past, a true damaged soul. Like I said talking about her role in Drive above, Ms. Mulligan is infinitely good at showing vulnerability, and how she exposes her emotions at such a raw level is just impeccable in this film, just showing a relentless need to feel rescued, to have some sort of intimacy with someone.

Those are my Top 20 performances by actresses in a supporting roles. You may realize that only 4 of the Oscar nominees are in this ranking, and that’s not because I didn’t like Bérénice Bejo’s performance in The Artist, because I did, but rather because I think of that performance as a leading one, so look for her in a coming ranking. Were I to ran the Oscars, only McCarthy, Chastain and Spencer would remain nominees, and Chastain would be one for an entirely different film.


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