Mike’s Favorite Female Supporting Performances of the Decade (40-31)

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:

41. Julia Butters, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

She stole every scene she was in. That first scene with her and Leo is among the best in the film. Quentin has never really written children before. If I’m thinking back… are there any children with real speaking lines in his films? Kill Bill has a child, but she doesn’t have real dialogue. That’s kind of it. Of course, the only way he could write a child is to make the child an actor, which allows him to play with the child actor stereotype, which he does wonderfully. Because rather than playing up how ‘professional’ they all are at a young age and how seriously some of them take it, he makes her be the adult in the situation and makes Leo the buffoon. And it works to perfection. Butters is just a pure scene stealer in this movie and it’s hard not to love her, even if you hate precocious child characters.

39. Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Another actress I never quite took seriously for her dramatic abilities. But this performance is pretty undeniable. She feels like a reporter, even as much as it’s hard not to see Rachel McAdams there. But she does a great job, and conveys some really nice little truths about the stress and loneliness of the job, particularly in the stuff with her grandmother, and how she knows that by finding the truth, it’s going to devastate this woman. Everyone in this movie is really great, but she is among the best of them all.

38. Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women

So one thing I’ve discovered about Greta Gerwig as an actress that I guess I intrinsically knew but didn’t empirically know until this moment — I really like seeing her on screen. Because I thought, “How much has she worked as a pure actress this decade in stuff people have seen?” And… it’s not often. Frances Ha was the turning point of her career. Since then, seven screen performances. I’d say people will have seen maybe three of them, by and large. Two of them are on my lists of favorite performances of the decade. That’s interesting to me.

Anyway, her in this movie — she’s basically just the cool older girl that you wish was your sister but who isn’t, so you just want to hang out with her and learn everything you can from her (and also kind of have a crush on her, even though you pretty much know there’s no shot, because she’s like, 24 and you’re 11). It felt like she had a character that broke away from the one she’d been playing in most of the other stuff she did. She gets the whole thing about her maybe having cancer, which helps her open up to the boy, and she has some nice butting heads/ideological difference arguments with Annette Bening as well. It’s just one of those characters I really gravitated to, which dovetailed well with my liking Greta Gerwig.

37. Zoe Saldana, Out of the Furnace

I’ll say it every time this film comes up — that bridge scene was the best acted scene of 2013. And because Zoe Saldana is in it, she gets prominent placement on this list. Her character is kind of underutilized in the film, largely because the film is more about Bale and Affleck and Harrelson, but she has her moments. If we’re empirically going by the best performances based on all sorts of screen time and what not, sure, she probably doesn’t go this high. But this isn’t that. These are my favorite performances. And I sure did love this performance, largely because of that one scene. The two of them just imbibe the whole thing with all this subtext and stuff that’s left unsaid, and you just get it all in that moment. It’s really terrific.

36. Natalie Portman, Vox Lux

Yes, she’s supporting. Raffey Cassidy plays young her for the first half of the film and then plays her daughter in the second half. She only shows up in the second half of the film. Her character is the lead, but she as an actress is supporting. I don’t know. That’s what I’m going with. That’s what makes sense to me. Anyway, she’s really good here. You understand everything about her immediately from when she shows up onscreen. That accent, the behavior — you get that she’s cultivated this pop star personality and has basically let that become her existence. And now she’s so far down the rabbit hole that this persona is just her, and she’s just a walking shit show, between the booze and the drugs and the burden of fame. It honestly might be a top five piece of work of her career. Shame not enough people saw it/cared when it came out.

35. Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

Is it Jennifer Lawrence basically doing the same thing she did in Silver Linings? Absolutely. Do we care? I’m not sure we do. It’s a great bit. It would have gotten played out after this, but there’s no denying that she lights up the screen when she’s on it, and she’s got some of the more memorable moments in the film. I think the knock on the performance — that it’s the ‘same’ thing — is also a bit cheapening to the work, since I think she is doing some legitimate work here in terms of conveying her character’s feelings about her husband and that whole situation. I mean, the film is all about excess, and her character, while showy, does get the emotional short shrift, but the fact that it feels like she’s right there with Bale and Adams and Cooper shows you how great she is.

34. Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

There’s less of the character than you think, but that’s the same thing as Mahershala Ali in Moonlight. He’s not there as much as you think, but the weight and shadow that’s cast over the rest of the film because of it is immense. That’s Regina King in this film. It’s really like three big scenes — the Cuba trip, the living room scene, and the birthing scene. Those are really the moments. But they’re really strong moments. Kinda hard to argue against this being an incredible piece of work. Maybe you rank it lower, but it’s gotta be somewhere on the list.

33. Cho Yeo-jeong, Parasite

Oh, she’s so good in this movie. I got really upset when they didn’t nominate her. Because how memorable is this woman? As the rich wife who is detached from reality and so… dumb isn’t the right word, but she’s very trusting because she lives in the bubble of wealth. So when something real pierces the bubble — “oh my god, I think the maid has a tuberculosis!” You learn pretty much everything you need about her from that first moment where she’s just outside, asleep at the table and has to be woken up. That’s her life. She doesn’t have to do a thing, and she clearly has no real skills or abilities, and her entire existence was to get married and be a trophy wife. So she’s just sort of going along with what people tell her that sounds good. It’s an incredible performance. Honestly now that I talk about it, I almost think it should go higher.

32. Amy Adams, The Fighter

This was the performance that really broke Amy Adams out. She’d been playing those nice/naive, likable women until this point. Even in Doubt, which was a heavyweight piece of acting, but she was the young, nice, innocent nun who got caught up in all the other shit. This was the first time she played tough. Her character literally beats the shit out of Mark Walhberg’s sisters. And it’s a great piece of work. Of course, as always seems the case with her, she gets overshadowed by other supporting performances in the film, but her work is really good. And that’s, what, like the third or fourth time I’ve said it on this specific list? That’s insane. But the fact that she’s on the list as much as she is shows you how she’s one of the best actors we have working.

31. Florence Pugh, Little Women

Oh, Florence. Since Lady Macbeth, which was her breakout performance (and only her second film!), she was in six total films. Two of them made my lists, meaning almost half her performances since making a name for herself are ones I consider the absolute best of the decade. She’s a powerhouse, and it’s gonna be awesome seeing her and Saoirse going forward getting all these great parts.

Anyway, as Amy — this is a performance that I feel can only rise in my estimation over time, the more I revisit it. I’ve already seen it three times now, and the film’s only been out four months. Not even. Her Amy is so good, and you understand her perfectly, from the burning of the book pages, to the scene where she’s crying outside Laurie’s house, to that incredible monologue about marriage being an economic proposition — she’s openly one of the best things about this movie (which has a lot of amazing things in it). It’s really a great piece of work that not enough people are truly acknowledging for what it is.

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