Here is my much delayed (quite honestly, I forgot) follow-up to my Best Leading Performances of the 2010’s. It’s one thing to be the lead in a film, get a full story arc and plenty of opportunities to make your mark- having a lasting impact as a supporting player is in my view, just as difficult and just as critical. The 2000’s were extremely rich in terms of supporting performances, so let’s see how the 2010’s match up:
Jacki Weaver – Animal Kingdom – 2010
Animal Kingdom was something of a sensation when it came around 7 years ago. Australian productions have hit big in America before, but rarely do they receive critical praise on this level. With a relatively early US release date, the film had lost most traction by the time awards season rolled around. But Weaver, as the matriarch of a Melburnian crime family, kept on going right through, garnering truckloads of nominations and wins and likely only just missing out on the Oscar. Actively working in Australian films since the early 70’s, it was great to see Weaver’s terrifying performance thrust her into the worldwide spotlight.
Christian Bale – The Fighter – 2010
As former professional boxer cum crack addict Dickie Eklund, Bale was handed a golden opportunity to get what many felt was long overdue awards recognition. But so often these so-called “sure things” are complete swings and misses. Not here. Bale went through his customary physical transformation to become Dickie. He didn’t just lose weight- the hair, the teeth, the mouth, the movements- he embodied the man in a way far beyond impersonation. He also provides the emotional punch in the film’s third act, with Dickie’s own version of redemption allowing his brother to continue pursuing his dream.
Andrew Garfield – The Social Network – 2010
Bale was the winner a long way out, but Garfield should’ve been there making a fight of it on Oscar night. He too is the emotional driver in his film, filling the void left by the almost sociopathic Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) as his best friend and financier Eduardo Saverin. It’s a good role for Garfield, the genuine nice guy in a sea of snakes, but he perfectly sells it with the authenticity and honesty his acting has come to be known for.
Lesley Manville – Another Year – 2010
Mike Leigh has created innumerable great characters throughout his career, but due to his stark realism, the actors don’t often get a chance to stand out amongst the flashier roles. But Manville, as the depressive alcoholic divorcee friend of Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent’s happily married couple, sweeps through the film like an unwanted breeze, knocking things around and trying to bring everyone down with her. Her desperation and sadness strangely illuminate the film, and the performances power is helped by the fact that being in a Leigh film, there is a strong element of reality to her.
Brad Pitt – The Tree of Life
Say what you will about the film (or just say it’s a masterpiece), there’s no denying the quality of the acting in The Tree of Life. The kids, especially Hunter McCracken, do an excellent job and Jessica Chastain is terrific, but I didn’t think it was her best performance of the year (more on that in a minute). Pitt on the other hand, delivers what I consider the best work of his entire career. His disciplinarian father, trying his best to parent his children as he, a product of the 30s and 40s, knows best, is at first a unlikeable character. But following the death of his son during Vietnam he is racked with guilt and despair. It’s the kind of emotion Pitt rarely gets to display, and having lived quite a life by 2011, the role came at the perfect point in his career.
Jessica Chastain – The Help – 2011
Octavia Spencer won all the awards, which I’m not too upset about, but in my view, Chastain’s is the best performance in this terrific ensemble cast. It seems a bit wrong to single out one of the white characters in a film like this, but Chastain’s Celia is almost the most sympathetic person in The Help. Out of place amongst the other wives and dealing with numerous miscarriages, her friendship with maid Minny (Spencer) provides the film with some of its funnier moments as well as some poignancy and ultimately, satisfaction. In a breakout year where she had 5 other credits to her name, this stands out to me as the role that made her a star.
Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master – 2012
For all he achieved in a titanic career, this is the role for which I will always remember PSH. I’ve said a little about the performance and character in my post on The Master last year (https://deadlymoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/my-favourite-films-of-all-time-2/) so I will keep it short. This is one of the very best performances in all of film and I am certain time will only serve to cement this, Joaquin Phoenix and the film in general, as the brilliance they are.
Jake Gyllenhaal – Prisoners – 2013
I’m not usually a fan of this type of mannered performance, but Gyllenhaal manages to imbue his Detective Loki with subtlety that not only tones down his quirks, but makes him far more interesting and mysterious. Right in the middle of a rich vein of form for Gyllenhaal, his performance here works well with his lead role in Nightcrawler to illustrate just how capable an actor he is.
Sam Rockwell – The Way Way Back – 2013
A bit of an outlier in this group of mostly quite dramatic roles, Rockwell’s work here is nonetheless every bit as impressive. His Owen, the manager of a local water park that protagonist Duncan (Liam James) visits on his summer holidays, Rockwell is hugely effective as both comic relief and the driver of a lot of Duncan’s development throughout the film. It’s the kind of thing Rockwell can do with his eyes clothes, but he’s never done it better than here.
J. K. Simmons – Whiplash – 2014
As with Bale, this is another example of a role and an actor that on paper, appear a match made in heaven. And here again, it is even better than we all could hope. A familiar face in TV and film since the mid 1990’s, in Terence Fletcher, the brutal, perfectionist jazz music instructor at a New York music school, Simmons found a role he could really sink his teeth into and stand out. He completely dominates the film and rightfully, did the same during awards season.
Edward Norton – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – 2014
Often seen as one of the more talented actors of his generation, Ed Norton probably has not had the career he deserved or appeared destined for when he first hit the scene. But regardless of the roles he gets, he is always reliable and often, as is the case here, far more than that. Like his character, pretentious actor Mike Shiner, Norton launches into the role and demands all his co-stars keep up. Michael Keaton is able to, but Emma Stone and Naomi Watts don’t fare as well, there decent work completely shown up by an in-form and firing Norton.
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher – 2014
I did seem to enjoy Foxcatcher more than most, and the same can probably be said for Ruffalo’s performance. Steve Carell and Channing Tatum get the plum roles, as millionaire John du Pont and Olympic wrestler Mark Shultz respectively, and they are both excellent. Ruffalo, as Mark’s elder brother and fellow gold medalist Dave, is a no flash no frills type perfectly suited to Ruffalo’s acting style. It may be that following all of Carell’s oddness, and the uncomfortable relationship he forms with Mark, Ruffalo’s presence in the film is heightened as being deeply human and genuine. Whatever the case, it works for me.
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina – 2014
Vikander puts herself in the company of Rutger Hauer and Haley Joel Osment as actors who have managed to successfully convey a wide range of depth and emotion whilst playing android or robotic characters. Vikander’s Ava, a creation of Oscar Isaac’s eccentric programmer Nathan Bateman, is a robot with a human face. But, befitting the god-like ability Nathan is depicted as possessing, Ava is far beyond a robot. In fact, she shows thought and consciousness, specifically in the form of manipulation and deceit, that even intelligent humans would struggle with. It took an actor like Vikander, heading into the prime of her career, to pull off something like this, and besides Isaac’s dance, her performance is why we will remember Ex Machina.
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood – 2014
From a robotic character acting remarkably human, to a remarkably human character that barely feels like acting at all. Arquette has been around for quite a while, establishing herself in film and TV and at the time filming began in 2002, had recently become a mother. Richard Linklater’s decision to film Boyhood over 12 years, with the actors growing at the same rate as the characters was a bold move that created a huge impact as we see the children in the film become young adults as the story progresses. But even more effectively, it allowed Arquette and her ex-husband in the film, Ethan Hawke, to really grow with the story and their characters. The overwhelming result of the film is a deeply personal and affecting depiction of motherhood. Perhaps not what Linklater intended, but a success nonetheless.
Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies – 2015
A noted stage performer, writer and director, Rylance was seen as an odd choice for the crucial role of accused spy Rudolf Abel in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. But his portrayal of this quiet, polite, mysterious man is so evidently spot on from the very first scene he is in. He uses his stage experience not to make himself noticed, but to perfectly identify how the audience will view this character and to play to that uncertainty. A deserved winner of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Rylance’s quiet stoicism was again but to great use in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, this time as a man quite clearly on the right side of morality.
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight – 2016
Barry Jenkin’s masterful depiction of identity and loneliness is split into three roughly equal sections. Ali’s Juan is only in the first section of the film, where, oddly as he is a drug dealer, he becomes a sort of role model and father figure for young and confused Chiron. Despite this, his impact is so great that his shadow hovers throughout the rest of the film. In one of the most uniformly best acted films I’ve seen, Ali’s is the performance that shines brightest.
Viola Davis – Fences – 2016
One of the best actors working today, and with a Tony Award under her belt for the very same role, it was no surprise to see Denzel Washington cast Davis in the role of Rose for his screen adaptation of Fences. It was even less of a surprise to see Davis completely dominate the role. The film is very wordy, and Denzel says a lot of words, but Davis’ ability to convey feelings with her face and body language is what makes her stand out. It’s a tough role in a demanding film, and if not for an actor of Davis’ calibre, I’m not sure I would’ve got all the way through.