Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 in Review - The Supporting Performances of the Year

Best Supporting Actor

10 – Yayan Ruhian (The Raid)

As Iko Uwais fights his way to the top of a tower block in The Raid, few of the henchman he defeats make a last impression, but Yayan Ruhian's Mad Dog is a formidable foe. A man who lives for hand-to-hand combat and doesn't like guns because they're too quick and easy, Mad Dog is at the centre of the film's most spectacular sequences and Ruhian brings an intensity and relish to the role that steals the movie.

9 –Christopher Walken (Seven Psychopaths)

I'm not a fan of Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths but the writer/director did at least create a role perfectly tailored to Christopher Walken's unique gifts. As one of the film's psychopathic characters, Walken provides a stillness that contrasts refreshingly with the more manic turns around him, while his distinctive cadence makes the most of McDonagh's dialogue, and he even invests his role with an unexpected note of pathos. It often feels like Walken's Hans is the one element of the film that's grounded in reality.

8 – Paul Giamatti (Cosmopolis)

Diary extracts from a character called Benno are scattered throughout Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis, but in his film adaptation David Cronenberg saves the character for the end. As played by Paul Giamatti, he's a pathetic, sweaty, shambling figure desperate to do something to make his life count. In so many ways he's the antithesis of Robert Pattinson's protagonist, which is part of what makes their climactic face-off so compelling to watch.

7 – Thomas Haden Church (Killer Joe)

Ansel Smith is a guy who just wants to sit back, drink beers and have a quiet life. He's a slow-witted character, always a step behind the action, and Thomas Haden Church's hilarious line readings are perfect for this role. His increasing bewilderment at the craziness that surrounds him is a pleasure to watch, and he manages to eke out a laugh from the smallest gestures – notably his look of dismay as his one decent suit starts to fall apart at a critical moment.

6 – Jean-Pierre Darroussin (Le Havre)

It makes me very happy that Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Aki Kaurismäki have finally found each other. Surely this actor was always destined to be part of the Finnish director's world? In Le Havre, he plays Inspector Monet, a detective looking for an African boy who has entered the country illegally. But this being an Aki Kaurismäki film, he isn't searching for the child with any great sense of urgency, and Darroussin's performance indicates the depths of humanity and kindness that lurk beneath the detective's severe demeanour.

5 – Jeremy Irons (Margin Call)

"There are three ways to make a living in this business: be first, be smarter, or cheat." John Tuld is the CEO of a Manhattan investment firm on the verge of collapse and he's determined to do whatever it takes to get out clean before the roof falls in on him. He hires underlings to make him money through means he doesn't understand, but he'll cut them off at the knees if it suits him to. Tuld's dog-eat-dog philosophy of survival is at the heart of JC Chandor's smart drama, and Irons' sly, cynical, aloof performance constitutes his best screen acting in years.

4 – James Gandolfini (Killing Them Softly)

As one of the many unpleasant lowlifes who we find in Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly, James Gandolfini gives perhaps the seediest performance of the lot. He's a past-it hitman whose indulgence in booze and prostitutes have dulled his edges, but he still talks a good game and reacts angrily to any suggestion that he can't do his job. He's a despicable figure, but his fixation on a hooker he knew for a couple of weeks – a fixation he thinks is love – gives his character some texture, and his scene with Pitt in a hotel room is one of the film's highlights.

3 – Aris Servetalis (Alps)

Aris Servetalis plays the leader of the group mysteriously known as Alps. He calls himself Mont Blanc – the biggest mountain in the range – and he maintains strict control over his colleagues, with his initially meek manner hiding darker sadistic tendencies. Servetalis can cut a ridiculous figure at times, notably when he very seriously attempts to impersonate Bruce Lee, but there's an undercurrent of threat in his performance that imbues the film with an unsettling sense of tension.

2 – Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike)

Dallas in Magic Mike is surely the role that Matthew McConaughey was born to play. As the leader of a group of male strippers, McConaughey willingly spoofs his own bare-chested, bongo-playing image but he also inhabits the character to a degree that we haven't seen before. His full-bodied physical performance and drawling vocal patterns make Dallas into a distinctive, fascinating character; part impressive, part sad, part creepy, often hilarious.

1 – Mihály Kormos (The Turin Horse)

"The heavens are already theirs, and theirs are all our dreams. Theirs is the moment, nature, infinite silence. Even immortality is theirs, you understand? Everything, everything is lost forever!"

There isn't a lot of dialogue in The Turin Horse so perhaps it's unsurprising that its most verbose character has such a scene-stealing effect. Kormos turns up after just over an hour of Béla Tarr's final film, a neighbour seeking a bottle of palinka, and he informs the inhabitants of the house that the town has blown away. He then sits down and delivers a riveting monologue that prophesises an impending apocalypse, the camera slowly moving in on his stern face and piercing eyes as he does so. When the man he's talking to dismisses his statement he simply shrugs, picks up his bottle and walks away, but having been on screen for less than ten minutes, Mihály Kormos has made an indelible impact on the film.

Best Supporting Actress

10 – Alicia Vikander (Anna Karenina)

Although the central love story in Anna Karenina (between an overstretched Keira Knightly and a miscast Aaron Taylor-Johnson) didn't work for me, there was a very touching relationship developing in the background of the film that proved to be its saving grace. As Kitty, Alicia Vikander brings a vital emotional weight to the film and her developing relationship with Domhnall Gleeson's Levin resonates in a way that too much of the film doesn't.

9 – Megalyn Echikunwoke (Damsels in Distress)

I'll be honest. I can't recall that much about Megalyn Echikunwoke's overall performance in Damsels in Distress, and she's largely here on the strength of one line. Throughout Whit Stillman's film, her character haughtily defines most male behaviour she sees as being "a playboy or operator move." The measured tone of her delivery is perfectly pitched, and while some might think this gag suffered from the law of diminishing returns, it had me in hysterics every single time.

8 – Amy Adams (The Master)

The Master is a film about various forms of control, and in a couple of short but telling scenes we see how Lancaster Dodd's wife Peggy may be the true power behind the throne. Adams' trademark sweet wholesomeness is the perfect cover for this character, who reveals more of her domineering strength and determination in private moments. She's also responsible for one of the most startling scenes in the film, when we see her aggressively administering a handjob to keep her husband in check.

7 – Nicole Beharie (Shame)

Throughout much of Shame, we see Michael Fassbender's sex addict having encounters with women but not connecting, and then he meets Marianne, who seems to get under his skin in a way the others can't. Nicole Beharie's relaxed, subtly seductive performance warms up the character of Brandon and provides a small oasis of pleasure in a cold film. It's a shame that Beharie was excluded from Fox Searchlight's awards campaign last year, as she gives the most memorable performance in the film.

6 – Alice Barnole (House of Tolerance)

Alice Barnole's Madeleine is a prostitute working in the 19th century Parisian brothel L'Apollonide. After her face is mutilated by a client she fears her ability to earn money through sex has been cruelly curtailed, but soon her freakish appearance becomes a prized asset, with her being paraded for wealthy clients as The Woman Who Laughs. Barnole's mostly silent portrayal of this character makes her an enigmatic, intriguing, moving figure, and her eye-watering dream sequence is one of the most striking film images of the year.

5 – Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises)

The Dark Knight Rises was a bloated, lumbering film but in Anne Hathaway's Catwoman it had at least one element that felt alive. Hathaway gave the film a vital sense of wit and sensuality (two things Christopher Nolan seems chronically averse to) and created a character who was instantly more interesting and more engaging than any of the men tiresomely shouting around her. With this film and Les Misérables, it's just a shame that these fine Hathaway performances are being showcased in such terrible pictures.

4 – Sami Gayle (Detachment)

Tony Kaye's film about America's failing school system isn't subtle, but it has a fierce emotional punch and he draws knockout performances from his eclectic cast. The best of these might be from the one of the least-known actors, teenager Sami Gayle as a young prostitute who bonds with Adrien Brody's troubled teacher. Gayle's disarming turn makes us instantly care about her character's fate, making her a fully realised character beyond the cliché her role might have been, and her climactic scenes in the film are extraordinarily powerful.

3 – Sarah Gadon (Cosmopolis)

The language in Cosmopolis is strange, cryptic and it requires a particular method of delivery, and few of the cast adapted to this as well as Sarah Gadon. She plays Eric Packer's wife, although she still hasn't yet him have sex with her, and their meetings in the film result in some of the picture's finest scenes. The beautiful Gadon's distant and playful performance makes her a perfect partner for Robert Pattinson, and she also gets to deliver one of the year's most memorable lines, telling her husband, "You absolutely reek of sexual discharge."

2 – Juno Temple (Killer Joe)

Juno Temple has been turning in promising performances in films for a couple of years now, but this is her breakthrough. In Killer Joe she's the coquettish, childlike object of desire around whom the whole movie revolves, and Temple's knockout performance makes her delicate, damaged but dangerous too. The relationship between this unhinged character and Matthew McConaughey's sleazy, vicious killer is the twisted heart of this film, and together they make 2012's weirdest screen couple.

1 – Ariane Labed (Alps)

The gymnast played by Ariane Labed in Alps is the weakest member of the group and she isn't even referred to by name like the others (She is described as "The little one"), but Labed's extraordinary performance ensures she is never entirely pushed to the sidelines. As I've re-watched Alps I have become increasingly drawn to Labed's quiet yearning for acceptance and fear of failure, much of which she expresses through her eyes or twitchy body language, and the touching simplicity of her sole desire – to dance to a pop song. Her skill in making the gymnast an empathetic character is what makes the final shot of the film so perfect.