Thursday, January 28, 2010

Low Res 2009 Movie Awards: Part 3, The Supporting Actors

My look back at the best of 2009 (and my semi-sad fantasia of If I Had an Oscar Ballot) continues with a look at the ensemble and supporting acting categories.

Previously: 25 Best Moments; Worst Movies/Performances; Best Trailers

In the Loop
The Hurt Locker
Up in the Air

This seemed like the one place where I could appropriately acknowledge what I did like about Up in the Air, an overrated movie that I sometimes forget I enjoyed pretty well while it was playing. The credit for that goes almost entirely to the actors, from George Clooney channeling his own star persona, to Vera Farmiga (more on her in a bit), to Anna Kendrick's hyper-articulated sense of self (and later, lack thereof), to Amy Morton's weary kindness (she always seems disappointed that she's not angrier about things), to Danny McBride surprising competence -- it's a strong ensemble that takes great advantage of the moments the movie lets them bounce off each other.

Adventureland is a movie where the sum of its ensemble is so much greater than any component part. Jesse Eisenberg is doing his thing, as is Kristen Stewart, and while I think Eisenberg did better work emerging from his cocoon in Zombieland, I think he and Stewart both make great use of what we already know about them (he's nervous! she's sullen!) to immediately jump into more complicated interactions. Add to them the overtly comic Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, and Matt Bush, the appropriately aloof Ryan Reynolds, the heartbrokenly familiar Martin Starr, and the secret weapon that was Margarita Levieva (I'll shut up about Lisa P. right about never), and I'm sold.

In the Loop makes such brilliant use of its huge ensemble that it might be wiser to just list them. I'll get to Peter Capaldi, Anna Chlumsky, and Zach Woods in a moment. The other characters fall somewhere along the spectrum of overwhelmed (Tom Hollander and Chris Addison), bemused (Gina McKee), beleagured (Mimi Kennedy), self-satisfied (David Rache), persistent (Steve Coogan), predatory (Paul Higgins), and James Gandolfini doing a riff on his usual swiftly-boiling-teakettle thing. They play off each other in distinct ways (watching the power dynamics in flux is a treat) and all have their moments of high comedy.

The Hurt Locker and Precious have both received piles of industry love this awards season, including in the acting categories, but I can't help but think they deserve more love in that regard. Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie, both stunning, will be covered in other categories, but Brian Geraghty is no weak link in their triad; it's been nice to see the three of them stick together on the red carpet circuit this season. As for Precious, count me among those who really enjoyed Mariah Carey's glammed-down, mustachioed performance as a social worker, Paula Patton as an angelic (too much so?) do-gooder, and especially the fluorescent beige classmates, who brought a much needed diagonal slash of vibrance into the middle sections of the movie.

Adam Brody - Jennifer's Body
Peter Capaldi - In the Loop
Anthony Mackie - The Hurt Locker
Zach Woods - In the Loop
Christoph Waltz - Inglorious Basterds

I suppose I should start by defending my most controversial choice: you guys, Christoph Waltz is REALLY pretty awesome. Okay, okay, fine. I know that's not what you meant. First of all, have you seen Jennifer's Body? Did you actually watch it or did you spend the whole time tweeting about how much you hate Diablo Cody and Megan Fox? Because seriously, Adam Brody gives a performance of (quite literally) ungodly charisma and guile and banality. It would have been so easy to play him with the same disdain that Cody wrote him (I like her much more than you do, but lady was working out some issues with boys in bands in this script), but Brody plays to the audience exactly the way he plays to Megan Fox's Jennifer: he's the worst, and you know it, and so does he, but damned if you're not into him just the same.

The fact that Anthony Mackie has been virtually ignored this awards season is both hugely disheartening and yet also kind of fitting, for his character. Sanborn is a good soldier, steadily carrying out his orders, trying to keep everybody safe, trying to keep everybody alive until it's his turn to go home. He's not trying to win any wars like Jeremy Renner's character. Weirdly, perversely, all the risks Renner takes put weight on Mackie, like a high-risk Dorian Gray arrangement. The farther Renner walks into a minefield, the tighter Mackie gets and the more responsibility gets heaped on his shoulders. It's a superb give-and-take.

As for the In the Loop gentlemen, Peter Capaldi is kind of a no-brainer here. He gets all the best lines of the movie and spews them from a seemingly bottomless pit of bile. Malcolm actually has the upper hand for far less of the movie than you'd think, given how intimidating he is. But it's when he's actually at a power disadvantage (with Gandolfini, or even with the teenaged White House staffer) that he's most ferocious. Zach Woods, meanwhile, plays Chad with the exact perfect mix of impossible awkwardness and extraordinary disdain and self-regard so far beyond what he's earned you either want to punch him or promote him.

Runners Up: Chris Messina (Away We Go); Stanley Tucci (Julie and Julia); Fred Melamed (A Serious Man); Liev Schrieber (Taking Woodstock); Peter Sarsgaard (An Education).

Anna Chlumsky - In the Loop
Vera Farmiga - Up in the Air
Melanie Laurent - Inglorious Basterds
Mo'nique - Precious
Rosamund Pike - An Education

I'm not sure if there's anything I can say about Mo'Nique's performance that hasn't been (or won't soon be) said better and by more fancily dressed people than me. I will say that beyond her big moments (screaming up the stairs at Precious; that shattering final scene), some of my favorite parts are the absurd commitment she gives to dancing in front of the TV; or the hauntinglook on her face in that photo from Before.

The moment I saw An Education, I knew Rosamund Pike would end up on my Supporting Actress list. It's everything I love in a performance of its type: complete, complex character building done almost entirely in sideways glances and things unsaid. We're constantly being reminded that Helen isn't as smart as Jenny -- hell, she's constantly being reminded. And yet, if we care to pry our eyes off the pretty young thing for a moment, we'll see Helen is quite aware of how little Jenny actually knows, fond of her though Helen may be. You'd almost kill to see Pike's character have a sit-down with Emma Thompson's headmistress.

Speaking of characters I'd love to meet on some mythical pan-cinematic plane, how about fixing up Vera Farmiga's formidable Alex with Anna Chlumsky's ambitious Liza? We already saw Up in the Air spring to momentary life when Alex shared a scene with Anna Kendrick's Natalie. Imagine what she would get up to with Chlumsky, an actress who projects intelligence amid deep stupidity. Farmiga's performance was more than simply that crackling chemistry with George Clooney -- though, holy shit on that one. She was also able to muscle out a relatable character who we would care about, even if the film ultimately (and to its detriment) does not. Meanwhile, I keep waiting for somebody to write about the great Anna Chlumsky comeback story, but no one's biting. I guess she'll have to take another role in a snappily brilliant comedy and deliver a performance as bright as the one she gives in In the Loop.

And then there's Melanie Laurent, whose steel-spined employer of cinematic resistance carved herself a place among Tarantino's best heroines, The Bride, Jackie Brown, and Zoe Bell on the hood of that car in Grindhouse.

Runners Up: Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air); Missi Pyle (Spring Breakdown); Julianne Moore (A Single Man); Marcia Gay Harden (Whip It!); Mimi Kennedy (In the Loop).


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Lovely list of nominees, though I'd have loved to see An Education up for ensemble, and Molina perhaps. Naturally, I'm rooting for Pike [what did you think of Kruger, btw]

and I would kill to see Helen and the Headmistress have a chat.

Scott said...

Love that you mentioned Zach Woods. So many of the people in In the Loop are great, but I don't think he gets enough credit.

And nice observation about the bizarre lack of attention re: Mackie being fitting considering his character.

Rinaldo said...

Nice lists, and thanks. As you mentioned Away We Go in passing, I'll add that for me its main stature was in the Ensemble department (even though the cast was mostly used in series, rather than an ensemble-y way).

Joe Reid said...

Really liked Diane Kruger, and certainly billions of times better than I ever have, but not quite up to award-worthy status.

Rinaldo, good point about the Away We Go ensemble. I think I have actors from that movie as runners-up in just about every caategory. (Uh. Incredibly inconsequential spoiler.)

DuchessKitty said...

A great list Joe. I too love that you've given Rosamund Pike so much love, both here and in your original review of the movie, I have adored her for years.

And thanks for mentioning Liev's Schreiber's performance from Taking Woodstock even if it was only in runner-up status. To me his portrayal of Vilma was one of the best of 2009.

Jen said...

Phew! Thanks for mentioning Zoe Bell. I was beginning to think I had imagined her; no one else knows what the hell I'm talking about when I would say she's my new favorite bad-ass. (Completely off-topic; my apologies.)