Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Widescreen Awards: Supporting Actress

Although her performance skirts a little too close to the precipice that is the cliched monster mom, Melissa Leo strikes the right balance for The Fighter. It helps that you can see where Christian Bale's Dicky Eklund gets his dysfunction from. And, by the end of the movie, you're left convinced of Alice Ward's (often misplaced) love for her sons. She'd do anything for them, true, but it's seldom the right thing.

Perhaps best known as Clive Owen's Appletini-loving mark in "Duplicity," Carrie Preston turns in a quiet but captivating performance in That Evening Sun. Pushed aside in her alcoholic husband's escalating dispute with an elderly man, Ludie Choate's pain and uncertainty shines through in momentary glances. But there's still enough chemistry between her and the drunken lout Lonzo to understand why she stays.

In just two scenes, Charlotte Rampling paints a nuanced picture of an aging barfly. The smell of thick perfume seems to waft off screen in Life During Wartime, in addition to the foul odor of desperation and self-pity. She's aggressive in the pursuit of her conquests, but at Jacqueline's core is a deeply insecure woman. "I'm a monster," she says, with no expectation to hear differently. It's as brutally honest and heartbreakingly funny as any film last year got.

It's true that Hailee Steinfeld's Mattie Ross is closer to a lead than a supporting player in True Grit, but as Scott Rudin, the film's producer, pointed out, she doesn't exactly have an arc. Nor does she need one. Steinfeld nails this single-minded character, never seeming too precocious even while sparring with impetuous adults. It's a testament to Steinfeld that, even once we meet the woman (played by Elizabeth Marvel) she becomes, she's instantly recognizable. Aside from a lost limb, she hasn't changed a bit.

When we finally catch a glimpse of the facade that is Jacki Weaver's crime family matriarch Smurf Cody in Animal Kingdom, it's a revelatory moment. She's easily one of the best villains of the year, with her maternal hugs and broad smiles. At the same time she's scheming against her grandson, she's doing her damndest to protect her own troubled brood against the corrupt police. Can you blame her? (Well, yes, but still...)

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