Mike’s Favorite Female Supporting Performances of the Decade (80-71)
I make ‘favorite performance’ lists every year, and I get that these lists, more than the rest, are the most subjective one can make. Because it’s really about what you see in each performance and what you respond to; There’s no objective way to truly rate a performance as better than another. With whole films, it feels easier to make that distinction. So with these lists, I’m just gonna focus on some performances from the decade that I really, really enjoyed, and the goal here is just to shout them out and maybe get some people to watch the films if they hadn’t or reevaluate each of the performances the next time they watch the films.
These are my favorite female supporting performances of the decade:
80. Aunjanue Ellis, If Beale Street Could Talk
She’s only in one scene, but man, what a great scene that is. You understand everything about this woman from that one scene and how she plays it. That living room scene is so good that you could put everyone in it on a list of best performances (and pretty much I almost did). Ellis is so great as the overly pious mother, openly disdainful of everyone. We all know a person like that, and we all may even be related to a person like that. It’s an amazing piece of work.
79. Mackenzie Davis, Tully
I find myself, every time Mackenzie Davis is on screen, going, “She’s so awesome.” And she still hasn’t broken yet. I thought Terminator would do it for sure, but nope. She’s building up a series of performances though, so when it does happen, it’s gonna happen big. But here — the film is basically built around her character. Charlize, is of course, the star. But Davis is the life of the film. She’s the one who breathes life into Charlize’s character with her youth and vigor. And as such, she brings all that is great about her to the role, lighting up the screen in such a great way. If I had to pull a list of the actors I’m most happy to have discovered from this decade, she’d be on it and be near the top.
78. Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life
This was the big role for her. She had like four this year, all of which were standout. This one, though — she doesn’t have to say much, but she makes an impression just the same. She plays the main character’s mother, who basically represents beauty and grace. There’s a phrase in the film that says there are two ways of life: nature and grace. Brad Pitt’s character represents the former, and she represents the latter. As such, she sort of glides about scenes, on almost this ethereal plane, separated from everyone else, and becomes this sort of mythical memory of a mother that a lot of people have.
77. Letitia Wright, Black Panther
Scene stealer. Arguably every supporting character in this movie is a scene-stealer, but her more than the rest. She’s T’Challa’s sister, and literally every scene of hers is amazing. From sassing him and giving him the finger to that moment she puts her hand up as if to challenge him for the throne, just to be like, “Can we go home already?” to all the scenes in the lab, to “Don’t scare me like that colonizer” — it’s just a great performance that should make her a star.
76. Emily Blunt, Looper
I don’t often appreciate Emily Blunt as much as I should. She’s always really solid, but never solid enough for me to always put her on one of these lists. She’s great in A Quiet Place. She’s great in The Adjustment Bureau. Edge of Tomorrow. Sicario. Even Girl on the Train, which is a bad movie. Sometimes you forget how consistently good she is. But anyway, this performance — the first time you see her, I think, is that long take of her just chopping wood, which I loved. I felt like that told me everything about the character without them having to say anything. But it’s a good performance in the sense that the film is high concept and build around the male stars, yet she is the emotional spine of the film. Her as the kid’s mother is the performance that needs to work for you to most properly feel the stakes. Or rather, for the alternative to the stakes to matter, I guess is the better way to put it. She’s got some really nice moments here, too. But really, I felt like I ought to have shouted her out as someone who is always really good and rarely gets the proper shout outs from me in places like this
75. Mackenzie Davis, A Country Called Home
This was the performance that cemented Mackenzie Davis for me. I noticed her first in That Awkward Moment, because she’s the best thing about that otherwise uneven movie, but this was her first performance after that. And it’s the one where I went, “Wait, I know her,” and also went, “Oh wow, she’s really great. And I’ve watched every film she’s been in since then. The film is built around Imogen Poots (another favorite of mine, I’m sure these lists will show) as a woman returning home to her small town because a parent is dy… yeah, you know that one. But it’s Davis who steals the show, as a trans man who is not in the kind of town that looks well upon his kind. And of course he befriends Poots, so they get a bunch of scenes together. It’s very apparent while watching the performance that Davis is a great actress, and is someone you want to watch. She’s easily the best thing in the film, and again shows why she’s someone who really ought to be one of the biggest stars working.
74. Molly Shannon, Other People
The ‘dying mother’ trope sure has grown from the 40s. It is interesting seeing TV actresses generally known for comedy go dramatic and do these roles. There’s at least two of those on this list. This film in particular feels like it rings true if only because it’s so clearly based on the experiences of the writer-director. There’s a certain amount of authenticity that springs from it, and it’s anchored by a very scarily real performance from Molly Shannon, who could be any of our mothers who is dying of cancer.
73. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Part of what makes the performance great is that she gave it over the course of twelve years. But also, it’s strong work and it’s kinda consistent, which… that’s what (most) mothers are. She’s the steady presence throughout the film and does feel like a mother. It’s not the showiest work ever, but it’s really good stuff.
72. Sophia Lillis, It
It’s really one of those situations where you see someone and know they’re a star. It’s about as simple as that. The movie itself was a surprise (in that it was actually quite good), but there wasn’t a single person who came out of it, no matter how they felt about the film as a whole, who wasn’t impressed by Lillis and her performance. Sometimes you just can see it.
71. Tatiana Maslany, Stronger
She’s a hugely underracted actress who has gotten acclaim on TV, but hasn’t really broken out on film yet. This is arguably her biggest film role to date, and allows her some nice moments, even if, in the end, it’s ultimately a ‘girlfriend’ role. But the film has its uniqueness and surprises and isn’t the kind of film you’d expect given the subject matter. She gets to show a nice amount of range and really does elevate what could have otherwise been a thankless role.
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