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My Favorite Female Supporting Performances of 2018

So here are (finally) my favorite performances of the year. We have our Oscar nominations already, so this will either be exactly in line with those or very much opposed to them. I generally figure this stuff out as I go, since it’s all about what I personally feel to be my favorite. That’s the point of the article (look at the title).

The point of these lists is the same as when I post the Underrated and Underseen films of the year — I just want people to discover cool stuff. I mean, sure, a lot of the time we’re all in agreement on what the best stuff is, but you might look at my list and see something you wouldn’t anywhere else. And then you seek that out and think, “That was really great. I gotta tell people about that.” That’s the goal. It’s all about seeing cool things and sharing cool things.

As I say, they’re in order, but they’re not really in order. The numbers don’t matter. I liked these efforts the most. And it’s just about what I liked, not about awards or anything else.

Here are my favorite female supporting performances of 2018:

1. Tilda Swinton, Suspiria

I’m gonna get into this more in the next entry, but I had so little to choose from this year that I’m basically just left picking what I thought was cool or well done. Not what I thought was great. Because no one got enough to be great. Tilda — she played three characters, one of which was a man. The Madame Blanc performance is fine. The Lutz Ebersdorf performance is good. The third performance (which I will stay quiet on for those who haven’t seen the movie) is perfect. I didn’t even need that to be there, and the fact that it is made me so happy. I figured they’d do it, but the fact that they did is amazing. I’m not particularly in love with the actual performances so much as I love the fact that she played all three of them. But in a year like this, that’s enough to make her #1. So there we are.

2. Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

This is the one area I had the hardest time deciding between performances. Because so many of the things deemed supporting by awards groups are really lead performances. So once you have to remove Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz and Thomasin McKenzie from this, it pretty much guts the whole field. It’s kind of disgusting how many truly strong female characters there are this year, especially when they aren’t lead. It’s almost like, if they aren’t the main characters of their movies, they’re basically afterthoughts. (Which, I guess is what we’re pretty much used to throughout history. But still, that’s not okay.) I’m left with putting Regina King second on this list, knowing that in just about any other year, she’d be no higher than like, ninth or eighth. Because while I think she’s terrific in this film, there’s not nearly enough screen time to consider her truly has having given an amazing, transcendent performance. My mother, who wasn’t even looking at anything in particular when she saw the movie, and has no designs on awards or anything like that, said, “It’s pretty much just the trip to Puerto Rico and nothing else.” Because she saw her win the Globe and figured it was gonna be this big performance. But it’s not. So, she’s great, but having her second is really only speaking to how disturbingly weak this year is for female supporting performances. I tried so hard to get 15 I liked, and while I like them, I’m left with, “Man, these wouldn’t even make the list in most other years.” But this is where we are.

3. Natalie Portman, Vox Lux

She’s top billed in the movie but doesn’t show up until the halfway point. Plus, the actress who plays her as a kid then goes on to play her daughter, so that by default makes her the lead actress and Natalie supporting. But it’s that Shine debate. Was Geoffrey Rush a lead in that movie? Kind of, because his character was the main one and he got screen time for like, half the movie. But Noah Taylor as younger him was on screen longer and it sure felt like he was the lead. But that’s the game we play at the end of the year and awards time. Still, I think Natalie was supporting, which makes her an easy add in this category. I really like what she did with this performance and I think that, while the film kind of lets her down, her read on this character and the way she plays it is really good. This is someone who, as we’ve seen, has been through a lot, and has now lost herself in this public persona that she’s created. It’s great work. Black Swan and Jackie are, to me, the best performances of her career (Closer is great too, and The Professional, of course), but if you’re making a top ten of Natalie Portman performances (which I’m sure is something I will one day venture into, but not yet), this is easily in that top ten. Some may consider it top five. I don’t, but you could.

4. Bel Powley, White Boy Rick

I’ve become a huge fan of Bel Powley since 2015 when I saw her in both Diary of a Teenage Girl and that other one about the Queen and her sister going out on VE Day. Since then, I’ve made it a point to see everything she does and am always impressed by her. Here, this is the kind of performance that, were the film to catch on, she’d have been touted as being really terrific. And instead, it’s just another solid performance of hers that people aren’t properly recognizing. I also think the fact that the film doesn’t play up the obvious angles of the storyline that she doesn’t have that “Oscar arc” that people want. She’s a drug-addicted daughter of a gun-selling dad and the sister of a drug-dealing son. There’s everything you want to see there, and she never once resorts to making the character look glamorous or likable — she’s just this person. And that’s what you need to do when you play that. I think she is one of our most underrated actresses who is still up-and-coming even though she should “be” here already.

5. Zoe Kazan, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

She has the most emotional role in the film. And I really liked what she did with it. She’s another actress who doesn’t get nearly enough due as she deserves. Her performances in Ruby Sparks and The Monster in the past few years are truly exemplary. Here, what I liked most about her performance were the wide-eyed expressions in those awkward “courting” scenes. Playing up the manners of the era vs. the true inner feelings. It’s a perfect use of innocence vs. subtext without ever winking at the audience. I think the ending doesn’t work as well as it should, either because it was meant to be a miniseries first and then became a movie or because the Coens didn’t want to wring emotion out of it. Either way, I’m more impressed with all the stuff before the angle that’s written into the story that’s meant to be the reason you feel for the character. She, to me, is the best part of this movie.

6. Elizabeth Debicki, Widows

I’ve been on the Elizabeth Debicki train for five years now. Ever since Gatsby. And then she solidified it when she was in The Night Manager. Here, though, this should have been the performance that got everyone totally on her side. The role is the one that’s meant to be the breakout of the film. But it’s the way she plays it that’s so amazing. You have one minor scene that immediately tells you who she is and what her relationship with her husband is like. Then you see her in the midst of all that despair, while also seeing how fucked up her upbringing was, with the mother and what she leads her into. Then you get her starting to become happy with herself and own her own sexuality. It’s a really wonderful performance and character transformation, and she gives what I think is the best performance in the film. It’s just a damn shame no one else seems to want to appreciate it as much as I do.

7. Aunjanue Ellis, If Beale Street Could Talk

She plays Fonny’s mother. That’s about all you need me to say. Because if you saw the movie, you know who she is. That is such a perfectly drawn character. She only shows up in the one scene in the living room, but it is so great that you don’t need her for more than that. You know everything you need to now about this woman just from that scene alone. It’s a perfect piece of acting.

8. Mackenzie Davis, Tully

This isn’t so much about the performance so much as it’s your near-annual reminder of how good Mackenzie Davis is and how underrated she has been for the past five or six years. I’m reminding you of this now, so when all those articles come out in eleven months, “Mackenzie Davis Is the Breakout Star From Terminator — Who Is She And Where Did She Come From” you can know — I had this shit… for years. (And also that it’s disgustingly lazy journalism, because did you motherfuckers not see Blade Runner?) Also, Mackenzie Davis has a nice performance in Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town this year, but it’s a lead so I can’t properly put it here. Still, she’s great and not enough people seem to have realized that yet.

9. Andrea Risebeorough, The Death of Stalin

She’s another actress who seems to not be properly recognized for being really good. I first truly noticed her in that Madonna movie. But then she was in Oblivion, and Birdman, where she’s really good but overshadowed by all the big names. She’s really good in Battle of the Sexes opposite Emma Stone. She seems to have settled into “unheralded supporting actress” territory, where all her costars think she’s amazing, but no one watching the movies really appreciates what she’s doing to make it all work. She was in Mandy this year, and Nancy, which is a lead role and also another terrific performance by her, but this is the performance I thought was amazing. The character isn’t hugely a part of the script, but the way she plays it and the little things she sprinkles in throughout really make her seem more rounded than she ought to, given what she has to work with. She’s also hilarious in this movie. I think she’s the one that made me laugh most of anyone else. Which is saying something, since the movie is basically all men.

10. Letitia Wright, Black Panther

The fun point to make about Black Panther is that every single supporting character is infinitely more interesting than the lead. And nothing against Chadwick Boseman, but come on. They’re all way more fun, way more engaging… they just are. And none more so than Letitia Wright, who steals every scene she’s in. From flipping the king off in front of the queen, to pretending to challenge him on the falls, to “Don’t scare me like that, colonizer.” She’s easily the most entertaining part of this movie.

11. Danai Gurira, Black Panther

And she’s the most badass part of the movie. Danai Gurira is legitimately awesome in that movie. I can have problems with a lot of things about Black Panther, but the casting and the performances (for the most part. Still not crazy about the Michael B. Jordan of it all) are all great. You know I liked Gurira’s performance too, because I had an excuse to put Lupita Nyong’o on this list and I didn’t take it.

12. Claire Foy, First Man

She does good work here. But truly, the role is so thankless it’s almost a referendum on how dedicated she was to it than anything, because the movie feels like it’s going through motions when they cut back to her while he’s off doing stuff. She has a couple of terrific moments with Gosling, but mostly they’re few and far between. I really wish this role were as good as the performance she gave to it. But, that’s what we have in 2018. When yet another thankless “wife” role gets on this list because there’s nothing else to choose that I liked enough.

13. Cynthia Erivo, WidowsBad Times at the El Royale

I only have two double-ups in my performances this year, and I feel like it’s the two that are worth mentioning. Cynthia Erivo had a coming out party this year, with two really terrific performances. More people saw her in Bad Times at the El Royale, where she’s fine (mostly I liked the singing more than anything), but Widows is the performance I really liked. She’s terrific there, and really doesn’t have a whole lot to do until the last half of the film. Still, she does a fantastic job here, and I can’t wait until everyone really starts to take notice of her. (Note: She’s playing Harriet Tubman this year, so it may come sooner than you think.)

14. Katherine Waterston, Mid90s

She has even less to do in this movie than Lucas Hedges, but it’s enough. You get who this woman is through the glimpses you get. And it’s a great job. She’s usually really good, but I liked what she gave to this, even though she could have just showed up as a glorified cameo. Here, you get a glimpse into a much more interesting life that she’s living off-screen. And I appreciated that. Also another reminder that Katherine Waterston is great and needs to be in more things.

15. Kayli Carter, Private Life

She steals almost every scene she’s in. She has one of the funniest moments of the year for me, where Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn are arguing and suddenly they/we realize that Carter was in the room the entire time and heard all of it. It’s great. And she’s great. This is only her second screen role, and it bodes well for her future. Because she’s fantastic in this.

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