Friday, March 11, 2016

Top 10 Favorite Supporting Actress Performance

Here's my list, and don't forget to check out Clint's Supporting Actress list too. Next week, into my all-time top 10 we go!

1. Margaret Hamilton - The Wizard of Oz

The greatest villain in movies is also my pick for the best supporting actress performance. While not a performance of great depth or development of character, Margaret Hamilton's turn as the Wicked Witch of the West is one of the most deservedly iconic and memorable performances in the history of cinema. Essentially her entire performance has been absorbed into the cultural lexicon, yet I feel like the work of the actress gets overshadowed. Maybe it's being behind the green makeup and the black robes and hat, but whatever the reason, I'm here to give Hamilton the due she deserves as the best supporting actress performance ever.

2. Michelle Williams - Brokeback Mountain

Michelle Williams has gone from teen soap opera Dawson's Creek, to being one of the handful of best actors working today. To me her work in Brokeback Mountain is the epitome of her career (though her continued collaborations with writer/director Kelly Reichardt show her as one of the best lead actresses as well). As Alma, a woman who loses her husband Ennis to another man, Williams is devastating. I've always felt that Ennis really did love her, and it wasn't a marriage to hide his homosexual relationship, making the emotions much more complex. Williams shows us her love for Heath Ledger's Ennis, while also not quite fully understanding him, but knowing more about the inner Ennis than maybe even he does. It's terrific work that probably should've netted her an Oscar, but didn't.

3. Meiko Harada - Ran

Although Kurosawa's Ran is his adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear, Meiko Harada's Lady Kaede is much closer to a psychopathic take on Lady MacBeth. Her cold blooded behind the scenes scheming is one of the most memorable aspects of this masterpiece of a movie. Her death scene (I just told you it's essentially based on 2 Shakespearean tragedies, it's not spoilers to say that she dies) in the movie is one of the most shocking and expertly choreographed scenes I've ever witnessed. One of the great underrated villains in the movie, if you've seen it, you know how she could be so high on my list.

4. Kelly Macdonald - No Country for Old Men

I know I'd seen the great Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald in other movies before, but the time she really ingrained herself in my memory is as the East Texas housewife Carla Jean Moss. Her accent is flawless, her chemistry with husband Llewellyn (Josh Brolin) is funny and occasionally touching, and the wordless scene of her pulling up to the motel and seeing Tommy Lee Jones's Sheriff Bell is astounding. That scene alone should've won her a host of awards, but I think the movie as a whole, as well as Javier Bardem's villainous turn, stole her thunder. Hopefully here's some of it back.

5. Samantha Morton - Sweet and Lowdown

The first time I, and most folks, saw the great Samantha Morton was in her mute performance as Hattie in Woody Allen's underseen Sweet and Lowdown. She's innocent and completely in love with Sean Penn's Emmet, who treats her terribly. Emmet goes through multiple women in the movie, but it's not hard to see at the end that he should've gone with Hattie. Her wordless devotion to him, and being able to feel her love radiating off of her, is really how Morton elevates the role. She's gone on to do great work in movies like Minority Report, In America, Synecdoche, New York and others, but her defining performance, to me, is still Hattie.

6. Julia Stiles - Hamlet

Probably the least seen performance on my list, Julia Stiles blew me away in her take on Ophelia in this modern set version of Hamlet. She and her Hamlet (Ethan Hawke) have great chemistry, and you can feel a past connection between them. But what puts this performance over the top into true greatness is the demise of Ophelia. Most actresses tend to play the role as kind of having a psychotic break, becoming just a "crazy Ophelia" once she is betrayed by Hamlet. Stiles, on the other hand, plays her as heartbroken beyond repair. Ophelia falls into a deep, dark, depression from which she won't be able to recover. That part of Ophelia was one that never quite connected to me (despite the play being possibly my favorite piece of art) until I saw Stiles perform it. She added a new and emotionally believable take to the character.

7. Penelope Cruz - Vicky Christina Barcelona

A performance that didn't quite live up to the hype the first time I watched the movie. Cruz had already gone along and won a slew of awards before I caught up to this movie. I thought she was fine, but not the great performance people were touting it as. I went back later and watched the movie a few times (not to revisit Cruz, but simply because I loved the movie) and it was on these subsequent viewings that Cruz's fiery work really resonated with me. The way she and Javier Bardem fought and talked and just were together through multiple languages (English, Spanish, body) really got me. I'm glad I revisited it, and looking now I realize that she's the only one on my list to have won the Oscar for her great work. Wholly deserved.

8. Elizabeth Pena - Lone Star

Sadly, we just lost Pena about a year and a half ago. She was always one of those actresses that would inject so much life and depth to any project she worked on, no matter the quality of the rest of the movie. So when a project like John Sayles's novelic Lone Star came along, she helped elevate a great movie into all-time great status. The chemistry she has with co-star Chris Cooper is one of those that feels so layered you forget that they're not real people. There's history and so many things said and unsaid, love and passion and everything else, and you root for and love these people. Makes you wish that actresses of Pena's caliber got more and better work, work deserving of their talents. I guess instead we just have to keep championing the times that all the universal forces align to give us things like Lone Star.

9. Frances McDormand - Almost Famous

Though co-star Kate Hudson got most of the awards love, I think Frances McDormand gave the best performance in Almost Famous, one of my very favorite movies. As the caring, bohemian-ish, but strict mother to two kids who rebel in their own ways, McDormand radiates equal parts love and worry. Whether we see her starting to break down while she's teaching her college classes, or when she gets the rowdy rock star Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) to revert to saying "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am" when she has him on the phone, McDormand commands every scene. So Kate Hudson has the charming role and performance, it's McDormand that has the greater depth and the better performance.

10. Robin Wright - Nine Lives

Only one scene, only one shot, and Robin Wright went from "that lady that was Princess Buttercup and Forrest Gump's Jenny" to "she's one of our best actresses" in my mind. Though she wouldn't really start getting her due until House of Cards, it was all here that Wright really got me. Nine Lives is a movie made up of 9 shorts, all a single take. It's a great movie, but the early section with Robin Wright and Jason Isaacs as two former lovers is the highlight. They run into each other in a grocery store after many years since they were together. Both married, she's pregnant. They make small talk and go their separate ways, but he comes back to tell her he still thinks about her. The two actors are astounding in the piece, trying to put on their happy faces so that the other doesn't see how much they still care. Both of them unsure whether they want to say what they're feeling, or just leave it at the pleasantries. They love their spouses, but hint at things that happened in the past, old connections and old wounds that they'd both love to tend to. "We're still 'Damian and Diana'. And we always will be." he says. Wright is amazing in the piece, both with the dialog and in communicating wordlessly. The best work from one of our best actresses.

Honorable mentions for:

Laura Linney - Kinsey

Angela Lansbury - The Manchurian Candidate

Jean Hagen - Singin' in the Rain

Janet Leigh - Psycho

Marisa Tomei - Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

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