Thursday, January 17, 2013

LeapBackBlog 2012 Film Awards – Part 2: Supporting Performances

Film in 2012 may not have been quite as strong overall as 2011, but right at the top there were a lot of good and very entertaining films. 2012 also featured many wonderful performances, particularly among men (many great performances that would have made my lists in past years were sadly left off). The LeapBackBlog Film Awards are comprised of what I think were the best and most interesting films, the strongest performances (taking into consideration who the actor is and what else they have done), the narrative style that drew me in (best directing), and exquisite craftsmanship (best technical achievements). But really, these are lists of my favorites from the year.

Playing Peggy, Amy Adams at first seems to be a quiet doting wife to Lancaster Dodd, kind and gentle, but as the film progresses it becomes clear that she is really the one with the control and power behind The Cause. Adams’s work in The Master is therefore sort of misleading. She does not seem to have much dramatic work, and yet is a commanding presence in many of the scenes (most of which she is just sitting and watching – it is only near the end of the film where is vocally asserts her true authority). And thus, her performance is a key component to the film. It is one of the year’s more difficult subtle performances (and best).

Villains seem to make up a lot of 2012’s best supporting work, and Javier Bardem’s Silva in Skyfall is maybe the best of the lot. James Bond villains have always been amplified and sort of comically evil (and we love them for that reason). Bardem captures the essence of the typical Bond villain but also does something new. Silva actually makes Bond uncomfortable (as well as the audience to some extent), because he is much more than Bond’s equal. He is a real threat to Bond, more so than any villain in the franchise’s history. The performance is completely magnetic – the scene in which Bond and Silva first meet is among the year’s best.

Alison Brie is hysterical in The Five-Year Engagement playing the sister (Suzie) of one of the film’s leads (Violet). Along with Chris Pratt (who is also killer in support), she delivers much of the film’s funniest moments (as the leads are given most of the drama). Brie is particularly fantastic giving a speech at her sister’s engagement part, on the verge of tears, and giving her sister a pep talk later in the film in an Elmo voice (maybe the film’s best scene). Comedy is always overlooked, but Brie just radiates too brightly to be ignored.

Django Unchained is full of great and fun performances. Jamie Foxx is at his best in the lead as Django and Christoph Waltz (who very easily could have made this list, and would have in most years) is top-notch in support. But, it is Leonardo DiCaprio who shines the brightest. He is thoroughly insane as Calvin Candie, a cruel plantation owner. While Waltz is funny and engaging, DiCaprio is forcibly dynamic as he seemingly by sheer will takes over every scene commanding the attention of the audience (and the other characters). He is the focus of all his scenes. Villains often have the latitude to go big with their performances, and DiCaprio goes huge. He is an absolute blast to watch.

Tom Hardy had the impossible task of following Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight playing Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. The role is also particularly challenging as Hardy’s face is almost altogether obstructed by a mask. Yet, he is brilliant. Using his body language and the way he moves, along with his menacing eyes, Hardy constructs Batman’s most brutal foe. Bane also very much lives in the gypsy voice that Hardy gives him – his line delivery (though, it does take some getting used to – but it does become easily understandable eventually) is playful and authoritative, an odd combination but it completely works. Every scene that Hardy is in is a pleasure to watch. He certainly lives up to Ledger’s Joker.

After seeing The Dark Knight Rises, Anne Hathaway seemed destined to make this list for her fantastic work as Selina Kyle (essentially giving the definitive performance as the character). However, her work in Les Miserables as Fantine is even better. She is heartbreaking, leaving every viewer emotionally touched. Her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream is magnificent, perfectly capturing the dismal low that Fantine finds herself in, having lost everything. The viewer forgets that they are watching an actress and a performance. It is probably the best performance of the year (at least in support).

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s work in The Master is among his best. As Lancaster Dodd, the man at the head of The Cause, he has a wonderful duality to his performance. He is completely infatuated with himself and utterly oozing with confidence, and yet he also seems completely lost and alone, shackled in solitude by the farce he has created around himself. Whenever Hoffman is on screen, he demands the attention of the audience, as the center of it all – and the audience completely obliges him as they cannot look away. His work is just too compelling. The scenes between Hoffman and lead Joaquin Phoenix are especially electric.

Following up on his brilliant work in We Need to Talk About Kevin, Ezra Miller turns in another phenomenal performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower as Patrick. Miller has so much energy and intensity in the film that he pulls the audience’s attention towards him in every scene (which is the mark of truly great work – the viewer cannot look away). Patrick burns almost too brightly, that when he gets low there almost seems to be a lull or void, and Miller is able to capture these darker emotions of sadness and loneness incredibly well. While 2012 was full of great supporting work by male actors, Miller might just turn in the year’s best performance in the category (a performance that has been shamefully overlooked).

Flight has a number of wonderful supporting performances in it – namely from John Goodman, James Badge Dale, and Kelly Reilly – however, it is Reilly that serves as the film’s heart playing Nicole, a vital role given Whip’s fall (the film’s lead character). Her work in the film needed to be strong, as she allows the audience to get behind Whip, even despite himself and his vices, because she believes in him and is behind him. Reilly is also a ray of hope in Whip’s life as she too is an addict, but a recovering one who is determined to start her life anew. As good as Denzel Washington is in Flight, the film would just not be the same emotionally without Reilly’s excellent supporting work.

Emma Watson grew up before the eyes of cinemagoers playing Hermione Granger for over a decade in the Harry Potter franchise. Starting as a newcomer to acting, she got better with each film devolving into one of Hollywood’s great young stars (her work in the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2 is especially strong). In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Watson has the difficult role of playing both the ‘dream girl’ and a well-drawn realistic character as Sam, and she pulls it off beautifully. She wins the audience and Charlie over with her charms, but is not without flaws and struggles – once again presenting young women with a female character they can relate to and care about (when Hollywood seldom offers good female characters).

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