My Favorite Female Supporting Performances of 2017
Every January, I make myself pick out specific performances I loved from the previous year. I spend so much time talking about movies, but I don’t actually give credit to specific performances. The only time I’ll talk about them is when I’m going over the Oscars. Which isn’t the same thing.
The great thing about lists like this is that it forces you to consider everything. You immediately start thinking of the performances that are nominated for the awards. But if you consider each and every movie you saw from the year (and I did. All 400 of them), and think about how you really felt about all the specific performances, you’re gonna be surprised which ones you actually liked best. (Especially if you can be honest about it and don’t think about what’s already out there, which few people are willing to be.)
Today I’ll be covering all the female supporting performances I loved. They’re in order, but they’re not really in any order. The numbers don’t matter. These are just the ones I enjoyed the most. We’re not talking about awards-worthy or whatever.
So here are my favorite female supporting performances of 2017:
1. Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
The most complete supporting performance of the year. I love what she accomplishes in this movie, with all the subtle glances and facial expressions. Everything about her relationship to Saoirse Ronan’s character felt spot on and perfect. You get to see every facet of this woman, too. How she’s good at her job, personable, very helpful and discreet (like when she helps the priest from her daughter’s school), tries to be a good mother, be the breadwinner of her family, deal with her family’s financial state and all of that, and yet — her daughter. It’s one of the most nuanced characters I saw this year. And Metcalf completely knocks it out of the park. I’d give her that Oscar ten times out of ten. (Also, you guys know that she was also the voice of Andy’s mom in Toy Story, right?)
2. Allison Janey, I, Tonya
The scene-stealing performance of 2017. Her, sitting on that couch, with that bird. The entire performance was designed as a showcase for her, and it works. It might feel a bit too harsh at times, but I’m all on board with everything that happens. The whole thing is meant to be unreliable and slightly exaggerated, because the story is being told by the people involved, not an objective narrator. So of course she’s gonna be this monster who hits her kid and does horrible shit. And how great is it when she has that fourth wall break toward the end of the movie to be like, “Wait, how come my storyline is being marginalized right now?” It’s perfect for that character. She really knocks it out of the part and will win an Oscar for the role. It’s definitely deserved for all the hard work she’s put in over the years (I might have given her one straight up for American Beauty).
3. Julianne Nicholson, Novitiate
I feel like, every year, there’s one performance in my top five that no one else has anywhere on their lists and is one that either they don’t know about or wouldn’t look to talk about at all. But that’s why I’m me. I have my own opinions, based on actually watching things. Julianne Nicholson has been one of the more underrated character actors of the past decade. She had three quite good performances this year, one seen but not particularly noticed, one possibly seen and overlooked, and the third completely unseen. The unseen is a leading role, actually, in a movie called Who We Are Now, which is a rare chance for her to show her acting chops in a major role. She’s quite good in it. Then the one where she was definitely seen, if not particularly noticed, is I, Tonya. She plays the skating coach at the beginning and very end of the film. And this is the middle one. Maybe some people saw it, but if they did, then all the notice went on Melissa Leo and not her. While I think she’s the best thing about the movie. After seeing her in this and I, Tonya, I’m convinced that she’s the Shirley MacLaine of 2017. She just has that air about her while watching her. I love it. Here, she plays a mother who is very open with her feelings and actions, and she doesn’t understand why her daughter wants to join the church. Nevertheless, she lets her, and the rest of the movie is about her wanting to see how her daughter is doing and reconnect with her. There are scenes in the latter stages of the movie where she just breaks your heart. The one where she confronts Melissa Leo is just great. She is the backbone of this movie, and gives a performance that I think is worthy of awards. And if I can get just one person to see this movie and like her performance because of it, then I’ve done my job. Because she’s so underrated as an actor and really should be in so much more stuff and be put on these types of lists every year, by everyone and not just me.
4. Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
She is quiet but deadly in this movie. This line alone: “Don’t pick a fight with me, you certainly won’t come out alive. I’ll go right through you and it’ll be you who ends up on the floor. Understood?” She says that to Daniel Day-Lewis, and you believe it entirely. You know this woman could fuck him up so smoothly, you wouldn’t even see the wound until minutes later. There’s a calm precision about her character, and I love how she conveys it with the subtlest of looks and glances. I also like how, even though she might seem to be one way, she also throws an odd line here or there that shows she’s not just how she seems. At one point she says, about Alma, “I like her.” You can tell that while her priorities are keeping her brother on an even keel and producing dresses to keep the company afloat, she also wants him to be happy and care for himself. And, throughout the course of the film, in this case, it means being happy with a woman. It’s wonderful work by Manville, who before this hasn’t really been seen in much that most people would have known, unless it’s a Mike Leigh film, Maleficent or British TV. And now she’s rightly been nominated for an Oscar for the work, which is top notch. Very happy for the recognition, because I thought this performance was quite terrific.
5. Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Holly Hunter is just the best, isn’t she? Sad she wasn’t nominated in the end, but still, she delivers another piece of work that reminds us of how good she is. Having just gone through a hospital situation, sitting in waiting rooms, listening to doctors tell you a bunch of stuff, I’m becoming more and more enamored with this performance as time goes on. She’s so good here. I love the scene where she loses it on the guy in the audience and comes to Kumail’s defense out of nowhere, despite showing him nothing but contempt prior to that. More Holly Hunter in things, please.
6. Dafne Keen, Logan
I think all the performances in this movie are hovering around #6 on my lists. That’s how well-acted the film is, all around. This is the trickiest part in the film, because 1) it doesn’t have 17 years of history behind it, 2) it’s mostly silent for the majority of the film, and 3) like most crucial kids roles, if it’s not cast well, it hinders the rest of the film. But man, did they hit a grand slam with this one. From the minute she comes out of that door with the dude’s severed head in her hand, you’re completely on board with the character. And she manages to convey so much with just looks and actions. And then when she starts talking… wow. You know this movie and the performances work when that final scene between her and Jackman makes you cry. And then when the following scene, where all she does is quote Shane, completely works and doesn’t sound hokey at all. It’s really impressive that they found an actress of this caliber to pull off such an integral role to the film. After 17 years of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, we were all gonna be very picky and negative about whoever they pick to inhabit the role next, no matter what age they cast. But if it’s gonna be her, and she’s gonna be the ‘Wolverine’ character going forward, I think we’d all be very happy to see that happen. And that’s the highest compliment I can pay her and this performance.
7. Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip
The one performance that most people talked about all the way through the year. A movie that came out of nowhere to become a huge hit, and she steals every scene she’s in. She was the ‘Melissa McCarthy’ of the movie, the outlandish one who says crazy stuff and makes you laugh your ass off. She’s amazing in this movie. Completely elevates the movie from a decently funny movie to a very funny movie. Complete starmaking turn, and one of the most memorable performances of the year.
8. Bridget Everett, Patti Cake$
A lot of the latter half of this list is going to be me listing the performances of the people who made me go, “Who is that?” Because that’s what a good supporting performance is supposed to do. Make you wonder who that person is and start following their work more. In this case, I did know who Bridget Everett was before I saw Patti Cake$, but it’s not something I can say for almost anyone else. She was in Trainwreck, but I don’t remember that movie at all, let alone her in it. Otherwise, the first thing I saw her in was Fun Mom Dinner, which was a not-great VOD movie, where she basically plays the Melissa McCarthy character. And while, for Tiffany Haddish, that meant ‘scene stealer’, here, it basically means the exact same thing. Outside of that, she was in the Netflix movie Little Evil. But none of these were things where you really noticed her. But here, you watch her and you wonder who this woman is, because she’s so authentic. She feels like a real person and immediately like a three-dimensional character. And she sings! That’s what impressed me. The character is a former singer who released a forgotten album that’s now only locally known in the 80s and basically gets drunk and sings at bars in an attempt to relive her former glory. But the songs she sings (mostly just the one), she does herself. This movie is basically musical Lady Bird. It’s the same mother/daughter dynamic, if a bit more rocky than in that film, but it’s essentially the same deal. And in both films, both performances are terrific. Only here, the performance deserves more love, because not only is the movie criminally underseen, but the actress really deserves to get more work, because she’s great.
9. Bria Vinaite, The Florida Project
Sean Baker is incredible at taking non-actors and getting them to give fantastic performances. She brings such authenticity to the role that you never once question that this is an actress delivering a performance. This, to me, is a real person, which is the highest compliment I can pay the performance.
10. Hong Chau, Downsizing
I saw Hong Chau in Inherent Vice and said, “Whoa, who is that?” I had her in my top five on this list in 2014. That’s how much I liked her performance in that movie. And here, she actually got the acclaim she should have gotten that first time. She absolutely steals the movie and is the most (possibly only) interesting thing in it. She’s finally gotten her just recognition and I’m happy to see the kind of roles she gets from here.
11. Melissa Leo, Novitiate
Nurse Ratched of the nunnery. That’s who she’s playing. But there’s more to it than that. Whereas Nurse Ratched was just horrible because she liked to control her own little corner of the universe, Leo in this movie — you understand why she is the way she is. She likes the tradition, and she wants the church to adhere to the tradition. The tradition is all she knows, and now that the church is becoming more lax, she’s trying to hold onto all that she’s known. It’s a really well-rounded performance. Though, because of the Nurse Ratched thing, we have seen it before, which is why I was much more impressed by Julianne Nicholson more than her. But still, Melissa Leo is one of our best character actors, and it’s great when she gets a role befitting of her talents.
12. Sylvia Hoeks, Blade Runner 2049
This was the one performance in the movie where I said, “Who is this?” I had no idea who Sylvia Hoeks was before this movie, and I was really intrigued to see what she’d done previously and what she had coming up. There’s something relentless about her character. I love precision and ruthlessness, and she handled her role brilliantly.
13. Elizabeth Marvel, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
The secret weapon of that movie. Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman and Ben Stiller got all the notice, Emma Thompson secretly did really great work. But it’s Elizabeth Marvel who made me turn my head. The mousy little sister who deliberately recedes into the background, she has some of the film’s funniest moments. She’s also consistently the one person who gets the most recognition when I talk to people about this movie. (Also, shout out to Grace Van Patten, who is good here and very good in Tramps, a supremely underrated movie.)
14. Sophia Lillis, It
Definitely the breakout of this movie, unless we’re counting clown gifs.
She makes the biggest impression of any of the child actors. There’s something about her that seems wise beyond her years, and her performance definitely felt like that of an adult. I don’t think anyone who saw this movie wasn’t impressed with what she did. And it’s probably for the best that the scene that was in the book wasn’t in the movie.
15. Rooney Mara, A Ghost Story
Takes a lot of dedication for eight straight minutes of this:
(And also because I had no one else.)
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