My Favorite Female Supporting Performances of 2019
I’m doing these way early this year, because of the truncated Oscar schedule. A lot of the time the nominations have already happened by the time these lists go out. Usually I’m using them to fill time between nominations and the second half of the Release Calendar, or before it’s time to start category breakdowns. But we’re in a weird year, so here we are. I barely got to watch a lot of the films more than once before these lists go up. But it’s also not like they really matter all that much outside of some more content.
I will specify what I always need to specify — these are my lists. These are the performances that I personally preferred the best. They do not always line up with what the awards groups and the herd believes. They are literally me going through the list of every film I saw this year and jotting down the performances from each film that I thought were noteworthy and then paring the article down to a list of 15 and then creating some sort of ranking of those 15. So any problems — keep ’em to yourself. I’m only here to talk up the things I liked the best, not to create any sort of objective list. So if you’re butt hurt that this doesn’t match up with the slideshows on the other websites, then stick to the slideshows.
Today we’re talking about the female supporting performances of the year. And if you thought the lead actress category was weak, whoo boy, just you wait. I’m slightly less ‘off the board’ in terms of other awards shows with this category than I was in Actress, but not by much. I really disagree with a lot of the choices they’ve made thus far in those categories and am very much about to do my own thing in this one. To the point where I had to dig really deep at the end just to find someone to put over one of the most ‘obvious’ choices that everyone else will have that I just did not really agree with all that much. I don’t like sticking with ‘just fine’ just because it’s what everyone else will have. I want someone that actually made me go, “Oh, that’s a really good performance.
So, here are my favorite female supporting performances of 2019:
1. Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell
I said it when I saw the film — this was my favorite supporting performance of the year to that point and she should be nominated for an Oscar for it. And I wasn’t sure if it would stand, but as it turns out, in a year like this… it does. I love what she brought to that film. The early Oscars are filled with performances from actresses playing ‘Ma’. Anne Revere has like three of those nominations in her time. She just played the virtuous mother. There’s dozens of those roles. So to me, there’s nothing wrong with a performance like this being nominated. Some will say that she’s not having to do any strenuous ‘acting’. There’s no big emotional scene and she’s not performing the ‘Out, Damn Spot’ scene. But that doesn’t matter to me. To me, a great performance is one that moves me and makes me feel like it accomplished something wonderful. And here’s a movie that’s 90% in Mandarin, takes place largely in China and couldn’t be further from my own personal experiences as a human to this point. But I saw this movie, and Zhao Shuzhen felt like she was my grandmother. She should have felt like she was all of our grandmothers. That’s how it feels. And to me, you can’t discount whatever it is that she brings to the performance that allows that feeling to happen. So to me, she’s my #1 performance of the year. I’m not gonna question it. It is what it is.
2. Cho Yeo-jeong, Parasite
This film is full of great performances. But none stood out to me more than hers. She’s the mother of the rich family and is perfectly captured by both the script and Cho Yeo-jeong’s performance. She’s so good in this movie. It’s not that different from Marina de Tavira’s performance in Roma last year except it doesn’t have the husband leaving her angle. And admittedly it’s more comic than that performance was (though that performance was pretty comic in a lot of ways). It’s just a wonderful piece of work. That wide shot of the housekeeper waking her up when she falls asleep outside… oh my god. You just understand everything about this woman from that performance. I hope both of these top two women get nominated (even though I’ll never hold my breath for either).
3. Taylor Russell, Waves
Another performance that feels destined to be overlooked. A lot of years, I’ll go my own way when it comes to my favorite performances, but generally I’ll be mostly in agreement with what they pick. This year, particularly in this category, I couldn’t disagree with everything I’ve seen more. And maybe some of that could be salvaged in the end. But this one won’t. Waves has been universally ignored on a disgusting level ever since it came out. And it features three or four of the absolute best performances of the year. Full stop. The film is largely a bit of a coin, with Kelvin Harrison Jr. having one half of it to himself, and Taylor Russell having the other. And each is absolutely tremendous in the film. I’d consider her a lead, but apparently they’re pushing her as supporting, and honestly this category was so bad I wasn’t really rushing to try to argue otherwise. But still, she is fucking tremendous in this movie. I couldn’t believe how good she was. Turns out, too, she’s relatively new to stuff. She’s a lead in the Lost in Space reboot on Netflix, but otherwise all her major performances have come this year. She’s in Hot Air (which no one saw), which was completed earlier but came out this year, and is the lead in Escape Room, which maybe you’d recognize her from. And this is really her breakout performance. She should have work in perpetuity for what she brings to this movie. Oh my god. It’s hard to get really into specifics without getting too far into the movie than I’d want to, but her section of the movie is just so wonderful, and it’s so strong that it really allows her to own it and keeps you focused on her and her story rather than dwelling on… other stuff, I’ll just say. But yeah, she’s absolutely wonderful here and is the most overlooked performance in this entire article.
4. Thomasin McKenzie, Jojo Rabbit
Scarlett is getting all the praise, and I get it. But Thomasin McKenzie was the more impressive of the two performances. Because while Scarlett gets the ‘juicy’ scenes, McKenzie just owns her scenes in a way Scarlett just doesn’t. I can’t explain it in a way I’d like to, so I’m just gonna say… I preferred McKenzie’s performance more. I love how she never played it as a victim, and how she’s the bully for a lot of her scenes. Some might say she never gets the full dramatic stuff to work with to really call this a top supporting performance. But you know what? This is my list, and I thought she deserved it. And hey, if you’re one of those weirdos who needs hardcore proof of stuff… consider it a makeup for that terrible snub in Leave No Trace two years ago. I still think she gave one of the best performances I saw this year.
5. Julia Butters, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
It’s basically an extended cameo of sorts, but man, does she knock it out of the park. She’s got the one long scene with Leo, which, at that point, is the best scene in the movie. It comes right after, I think, Pitt and Bruce Lee, which most people are talking about, and it is a very good scene. But to me, the scene with her and Leo is just absolutely perfect. She nails the ‘precocious child actor’ thing perfectly. And she’s just hilarious. And then she gets to show up later in the ‘show’ itself and give you a bit more of her. It’s not a character I’d necessarily vote for Supporting Actress, but it is a top five favorite performance of the year. It’s like the waitress in Hell or High Water. We understand we wouldn’t vote for it, but man, wasn’t it great?
6. Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
While I preferred McKenzie to Johansson, I never said I didn’t also think Scarlett was great. Because she is. She had to be. For that moment near the end of the movie to work and hit as hard as it does, she has to have delivered a great performance. I think the movie sort of short-shrifts her a bit just before that moment and I think that some of her big ‘scenes’ are a bit forced. Namely that one of her doing the ‘father’ bit. I get the scene and emotionally I like what was going on there. Just, something about the scene fell a bit flat for me. But I think her performance as a whole really holds together and is something I can get behind as an Oscar nominee. Put it this way, I greatly prefer this performance to the other one she gave this year that’s in awards contention. I think it’s a very lovely role and also goes back a bit to what I said earlier about the ‘Ma’ role in old movies. I’ve got no problem with a nomination for her for this.
7. Florence Pugh, Little Women
She’s so good in this movie, and I suspect that, were I able to see the movie a second time like I was for everything above it, I might put her higher up and may even consider her someone I’d nominate (and possibly even vote for) in this category. I think she did a tremendous job in this movie. I think it’s easy to discount the performance because she spends some of it being overemotional and crying, but to me that’s the stuff that helped her perfectly nail the character. The scene where they open the window after seeing her crying and she’s explaining why she can never go back home ever again is amazing. And of course, the big ‘Oscar clip’ moment is when she’s explaining how marriage is basically a business transaction with Laurie. I think she’s tremendous in this movie. And in fact, I think I’m now talking myself into ranking her higher. But I’ll leave it because the rankings don’t matter. But she’s definitely someone I consider to have given one of the best performances of the year in this category… which is funny, because she’s on my lead list for Midsommar. So clearly I love her and her work. (Oh, and Fighting with My Family? This is the Year of Florence. Or Year of Pugh? Happy Pugh Year?)
8. Laura Dern, Marriage Story (and Little Women)
I enjoy the Little Women performance more, just because… again… ‘Ma’… but it’s clear that she does a better job with Marriage Story, even if it’s just a completely unlikable character. Not that she’s unlikable in it, but the movie is basically espousing that lawyers are evil. Which most of us can get behind anyway. And her character in the movie is kind of cold-blooded and goes to extreme lengths to do the best for Scarlett’s character as she can. Which is also admittedly what you want in a lawyer. So I’ve got no problem with that. I just, like most people, I imagine, would have preferred more Driver/Johansson stuff rather than lawyer stuff. But also, everything I’m saying against the character is also why the performance is so good. She’s great here. And I can’t say anything otherwise. She’s gonna win the Oscar for this performance, and I’m totally cool with that.
9. Lee Jeong-eun, Parasite
She played the housekeeper, and man, is she great. You don’t necessarily see how great she is in the first half of the movie, but man, once it takes that turn… you get it. She’s wonderful in this movie. I thought Park So-dam was great too, in terms of supporting performances, but Lee Jeong-eun’s was the one that I thought, next to Cho Yeo-jeong’s, was the most noteworthy. She’s terrific here.
10. Emma Thompson, Last Christmas
That’s what makes my lists different from all the others — not a single person with a ‘best performances of the year’ list is gonna shout out the movie Last Christmas. And if Emma Thompson is gonna be on their list, it won’t be for this film. And that is not a typo. I didn’t even think she was all that great in Late Night past the usual ‘she’s Emma Thompson and she’s always great’. But here… she’s wonderful. She’s a Yugoslavian immigrant and is in full-on accent mode for the entire performance, and even sings a dirty, Eastern European song at one point. It’s absolutely wonderful. And it’s one of those things where a lot of cynical people are gonna close their minds to the movie on principle and refuse to acknowledge that any part of it is worthwhile. But man, Emma Thompson is so funny in this movie. And honestly, in a year like this, hearing Emma Thompson in a Yugoslavian accent say the words ‘I will nail you to my dick’ is worth at least tenth place on this list.
11. Mackenzie Davis, Terminator: Dark Fate
How many years in a row is this where I’ve said Mackenzie Davis should be a huge movie star? Gotta be the fourth. She’s just great and is great in everything and this is the biggest role she’s really had that’s truly hers. Blade Runner isn’t really hers, though it’s probably the the thing, when someone sees this and goes, “Who is she?” that you can say, “Oh, she’s the human prostitute in Blade Runner” and people can make the connection. (Because apparently not enough people watched Halt and Catch Fire and I know nobody saw Tully.) But here, she finally gets a role as awesome as she is on the screen — a badass human/Terminator hybrid, getting to do both cool action shit and also have a real emotional story arc. Arnold was always good in the sequels because he had deadpan humor, but Mackenzie gets a real human story to go along with the Terminator stuff. And it’s great. She’s really standout in the movie, aside from Arnold, who of course is always good and gets some great stuff to work with here. But Davis really was poised to become the star she deserves from this… only no one bothered to go see it so again she has to wait for the next thing. Maybe Marvel should just go ahead and make her a superhero already so people can finally see how great she is.
12. Lauren ‘Lolo’ Spencer, Give Me Liberty
So Give Me Liberty is a movie I saw because she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for it and the film was nominated a couple of other times. I had no idea what it was, so I decided to give it a shot. And I loved it. At first I thought they nominated her because she’s an actress with ALS and it was a Harold Russell/Best Years of Our Lives situation. But honestly, when you watch the film, she’s really got a presence and is really charming. The ALS thing makes it even more impressive, because she’s been living with this for about 20 years and normally when you think about someone with ALS, it’s not how she comes across on screen. So you can watch her and just think she’s playing a part. I was impressed enough with the performance as-is, but it’s the fact that she can then alter someone’s perception about what it is to have the disease and live with it and not simply let it ruin your life that made her feel like a good inclusion for me. I didn’t love enough other performances to put anyone else here, and quite honestly, she was really charming in the movie in a way that I just was not expecting. This is one of those times when I saw them nominate something I’d never heard of and actually went, “Oh, no, I totally get it, and it is a very worthy nomination.”
13. Melissa Rauch, Ode to Joy
This is a movie I know nobody saw, and it’s a performance that stuck with me throughout the year. How I figure these articles out is, I go down the list of films I saw, keeping which particular category I’m looking to fill in mind, and see which films immediately jump out to me more broadly, and then go specifically, stopping on each one and shuffling through my mental rolodex to think of what performances from them impressed me. Both times, she jumped out to me. The film is a indie rom com, starring Martin Freeman as a dude who has a condition that causes him to pass out whenever he feels a rush of happiness. Any strong emotion, really, causes him to just pass out on the spot. (It’s based on an article or NPR podcast or something.) So of course, he gets tested when he meets a really fun and charming woman and starts to fall for her. But the happiness keeps causing him to pass out, which poses problems. Basically it’s keep seeing her and risk serious injury, or let her go. At one point he tries to set her up with his brother and date someone else, who happens to be Rauch, playing the most boring person in the world. She is so wonderfully deadpan in the movie she is absolutely hysterical. It’s hard to watch this movie and not laugh at what she’s doing. At one point she performs a cello (or upright bass… something like that) version of the Cranberries’ “Zombie” and it’s so goddamn funny. This is the kind of performance I love shouting out on these lists because it deserves more attention than it got. I know almost no one actually listens to me and goes out to see stuff (maybe you want to and think about it, but no one actually ever does. Hence why I just throw hundreds of movies out at any given time, because maybe if I give you enough of them, maybe a few might actually get watched, instead of you binging the same goddamn sitcom for the hundredth time), but hey, the movie’s actually pretty decent and she is just hilarious in it.
14. Purbi Joshi, Hala
She plays the mother in the film, and it’s a really quite, strong performance. The film is told from the perspective of the daughter, so at first the father seems like the understanding parent while the mother seems overly traditional and strict, and you slowly see that change over the course of the film, and it’s that transformation that occurs without Joshi’s performance really shifting that is quite impressive. I suspect that when I go back and rewatch this the performance will be even more impressive to me because I’ll see the first half of the performance with fresh eyes and fully understand the character even more. It’s a great piece of work.
15. Melanie Scrofano, Ready or Not
I struggled to find people to put on this list and had people in this final spot that I wasn’t necessarily happy with / were people that felt like compromise choices. Fortunately, I saw this movie again two days ago and saw Scrofano’s performance again, and holy shit, is she hilarious. She plays the coked-out sister of the family, and she spends half the movie just bombed out of her mind, simultaneously high as shit and crying because she fucked up yet again. It’s a hilarious performance and one that stands out in a movie full of fun performances.
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