Mike’s Favorite Female Supporting Performances of the Decade (30-21)

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:

30. Janelle Monae, Moonlight

Her first screen performance. I’m gonna be honest, when I saw this film, I didn’t know who it was. I knew her by name (vaguely), but that’s about it. So I’m watching the film, and every time she’s on screen, I keep going, “Who is that?” Because she’s just so magnetic and the performance is really great. And then I saw the credits and was like, “Wait, really?” And then of course Hidden Figures was out like, right after that and we all realized how great she is. She’s the perfect counterpart to Mahershala’s character, and in a way, her presence as a human perfectly explains so much about him that the film never dives into. Because his character is openly a drug dealer. But having this woman as his wife tells you the kind of man he is (which you also kinda get from how he acts as a father figure to Chiron as well). She’s not in the film that much, but she does make a huge impression when she is. I think the fact that she really only has one scene after Mahershala is gone from the film is what kept people from fully realizing how good the work is. Since basically all her scenes are with or opposite him, and he’s just out of this world good. But focus on her next time. She more than holds her own in this film.

29. Carrie Coon, Gone Girl

Another performance where I had no idea who she was when I stared watching the film. And every time she showed up, she was the most lively person on the screen and stole all the scenes, and I kept going, “Who is this actress?” And it was her first film. Her first real anything, even. One episodes of TV shows, but the film and the show both happened at the same time. And I never saw the show, so all I had was this movie, and she immediately became someone I needed to see more of, because this performance is the definition of star-making. And interestingly enough, despite all that, she still hasn’t properly broken out as she deserves to.

28. Lizzy Caplan, 3,2,1… Frankie Go Boom

I think I rated this top two or three for the year it came out. I loved this performance. Admittedly I haven’t really seen it since, but I have fond memories of what I remember from it. She’s basically that flighty screwball character you used to see in the 30s. She shows up on screen drunk on a bike in edible underwear. And she’s hurt and pissed and ends up sleeping with the main character (which of course doesn’t go exactly as planned), and she just has some hilarious moments while that happens. And then she shows up again and just makes a huge impression every moment she’s on screen. She’s probably not in it nearly enough for most people to agree with me, but I really love this performance and also could probably share this space with her in Bachelorette, which also came out the same year, which she is also really amazing in and only now do I realize that I didn’t include it on this list. So fuck it, she’s on for both! Because I can do whatever the hell I want.

27. Holly Hunter, The Big Sick

Wasn’t it nice when this came along to remind us how great Holly Hunter is? It’s great watching her get a great character she can develop, and watching her character change over the course of the film. It’s just one of those performances that fits like a glove.

26. Bria Vinaite, The Florida Project

Sean Baker really gets the most out of his actors, especially since most of them are non-professional. And here, you completely buy Bria Vinaite in this in every way. It’s like that Barkhad Abdi performance. Sure, some of it is not knowing the person before which allows you to completely buy them in almost any situation, but there’s an added layer to this. There’s performance here too. And honestly, I don’t care how much of it is pure acting and is already there. A great performance is a great performance, no matter where it comes from.

25. Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech

Okay, top 25. And we have a nice, classically great performance to start with. I randomly watched most of this movie again a few weeks ago, and I was reminded of how great Carter is in this movie. Of course it’s largely a two-hander, with Rush and Firth, but she is pretty present throughout most of the film. And she nails the casualness of royalty without giving away any sort of likability or depth to her character. She has some wonderful moments that only she can pull off, specifically with little facial expressions and things that convey everything without words needing to be said. I know it’s not the flashiest of performances, but it definitely belongs in the top 25.

24. Margaret Bowman, Hell or High Water

It’s one scene, but she owns it, and honestly you can’t tell me this isn’t one of the most memorable scenes and characters of this decade. Immediately, you just get that this woman has been a waitress at this restaurant forever and basically owns the place. It’s her rules or get out. And I can tell you the entire backstory of this character from this one scene. Also, you wanna know how I know for sure that she belongs on this list? Because later on in the film, the two rangers are sitting outside, trying to figure out what the next move is, and she just randomly walks away in the background having left her shift. And I know I did, and I bet most people did too — you saw her walking away and were like, “Oh shit, it’s her!” Because you thought just maybe she might turn around and say something. That’s how much of an impression she makes.

23. Naomie Harris, Moonlight

It’s a really strong piece of work. Being someone who spends time looking at awards and being inundated with all that stuff, I sort of normalized this performance in my head because it was just automatically included on all those lists. So in my mind, “Yeah, sure, fine,” and I acknowledged it as good but sort of lost the luster for it because it was just commonplace good. You don’t get excited about something obvious as much as you get excited for some of those other performances that feel like discoveries. But having gone back to see this one in the past couple of years — it’s totally worth its spot on this list. It’s a hell of a piece of work. You really feel the level of abuse (some intentional, some not) that this woman inflicts on her child. And she has some really powerful scenes, most of which aren’t even the obvious one at the end of the film. It’s a work that deserves high placement on this list.

22. Taylor Russell, Waves

This is one of the most impressive performances I saw that year, and, as you can tell by its placement, of the decade. Russell hadn’t done much before this film — the Netflix remake of Lost in Space and then Escape Room are the two big ones. I recognized her a bit from that, but also from Hot Air, a movie no one saw that’s not worth getting into now. But here… my god. Everyone should recognize her going forward now. What a hell of a performance. She’s not really in the first half of the film. That belongs to Kelvin Harrison, and she’s more of a side character. It’s only in that centerpiece sequence where the camera starts to focus on her a bit. And then once that ends and we move into the second half, that’s when she becomes the focus. And man, does she just own it. Even when the film tries to get back into the parents a bit… it’s still her. You still feel it. And you can’t take your eyes off her. And she has some really intense and powerful moments that are just beautiful. One of the best breakout performances of this decade, for sure.

21. Tilda Swinton, Suspiria

She plays THREE characters! That’s a lot even for her. First there’s the ethereal, mysterious but somehow nurturing Madame Blanc, and then there’s the little secret cameo of her playing Helena Markos under all that makeup. But the real one, for me at least — SHE PLAYS A MAN. She plays the old psychiatrist character. So she’s under all that makeup and… okay, I guess to be fair, she’s playing a man who is playing the psychiatrist, but still. She’s just there as an old dude and some people just didn’t know. That’s insane to me. That’s all her range in a single film. And it’s just such incredible work. We don’t deserve Tilda Swinton.

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