As I’m recovering from Oscar season, I finally have some time to look back at the many movies I saw last year and choose my favorites. I’ll start today with the Supporting Actresses and Actors.
Amy Adams, The Master
A shining example of the depth an actor can bring to a small role. As Peggy Dodd, Adams plays a wife fiercely committed to her husband, the cult-leader Lancaster Dodd, and his ambition. As the movie progresses, she becomes a sort of Lady MacBeth character, and it works even better with an actor as likable as Adams on the surface. Adams has been doing stellar support work for years (see Junebug-NOW-if you never have), and one of these years Oscar will reward her.
Emily Blunt, Looper
One of the coolest things about Looper was how it shifted from a busy urban sci-fi movie into a smaller, tighter, and character-driven movie in its second half. As Sara, a single mom with a very special son, Emily Blunt is a key part of making the second half of Looper so terrific. A survivor in a dystopian world, a protective mother, and a partner to our hero Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Blunt is simply terrific.
Jennifer Ehle, Zero Dark Thirty
As well-researched, smart, and suspenseful as Zero Dark Thirty is, there were certainly times when I think the audience could have used more of a human connection. The spots where the humanity comes through most are in the scenes of Ehle playing Jessica, an outgoing intrepid CIA agent who is the counterpart to Jessica Chastain’s reserve. You miss her character deeply when she is no longer on screen.
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
There’s simply no denying the power of Anne’s performance in Les Miserables. While I was mixed on the movie as a whole, I was completely enthralled when Anne was on screen for her too-brief role. Hathaway’s getting a lot of (mostly) undeserved derision on the internet, but she’s a true talent.
Alicia Vikander, Anna Karenina
Vikander, a Swedish actress who played the small role of Kitty, is probably my favorite discovery of the year. She was also terrific in the foreign language nominated “A Royal Affair.” In Anna Karenina, she plays a great character arc in just a handful of scenes, moving from naivete into a great lifelong partnership that contrasts with Anna’s doomed fate. A real talent to watch.
My Pick: Amy Adams (The Master)
#2 Pick: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
Runners-Up: Judi Dench (Skyfall), Sally Field (Lincoln), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Isabelle Huppert (Amour), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)
Matches with Oscar: Both Adams and Hathaway (the winner) are on my list, while Field, Hunt, and Weaver are all on my runners-up list. That said, this was easily the weakest of the four acting categories this year.
Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained
Since Pulp Fiction, Tarantino and Jackson have been a perfect blend of director and muse. As Stephen, a collaborationist slave in the plantation of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), Jackson plays the most fascinating, and at least ONE of the most despicable characters, in Tarantino’s epic revenge fantasy. He’s a little funny and a lot terrifying.
Jude Law, Anna Karenina
15 years ago, Law was a suave leading man. In Anna Karenina, he plays the older, severe Karenin, cuckolded husband. He plays it beautifully and brings a large amount of sympathy to what could be a thankless role. I think Law is an underrated actor who doesn’t work enough, so I hope he gets more great supporting roles like this.
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Jones is so good as the fierce abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, and it’s such a scene-stealing role, that I’m still absolutely shocked he didn’t win Best Supporting Actor this year. The bombastic Stevens is a perfect counterpoint to Lincoln’s wry humor, and he has many of the best scenes in the movie.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
With very heavy screen time, he's not really a supporting player, but I’ll follow the Academy’s lead. Hoffman had quite big shoes to fill in his performance as Lancaster Dodd, obviously inspired by the Scientologist leader L. Ron Hubbard. Much of the movie is an amazing duet between the calculated pomposity and charisma of Hoffman and the disruptive animal instincts of Phoenix. Two exquisite and fascinating performances.
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Another pseudo-supporting actor, but he’s great! Just three years after playing the evil Hans Landa in Inglorious Bastards, Watlz almost matches that indelible performance as Dr. King Schultz, a german bounty hunter who teams up with the slave Django on a mission. In Waltz, Tarantino has found another actor who acts as a perfect conduit for witty dialogue.
My Pick: Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
#2 Pick: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
Runners Up: Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained), Michael Fassbender (Prometheus) , Robert de Niro (Silver LInings Playbook) , Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables) , Dwight Henry (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Matches with Oscar: Jones, Hoffman, and Waltz are all on Oscar’s list as well. De Niro was on my runners-up. Alan Arkin (Argo) is nowhere near the list. He was fine, but he’s been playing that character for years.