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The 411 Movies Top 5 12.30.11: Week 302 – Best Supporting Performances of 2011

December 30, 2011 | Posted by Trevor Snyder



5. Jonah Hill, Moneyball

If you had told me a couple years ago that I would be including Hill on a list like this, well, I wouldn’t have thought you were crazy (because crazier things have happened), but I definitely would have questioned it. I mean, I have nothing against Hill, and have enjoyed his presence in films in the past. But he’s been more or less playing “the Jonah Hill character” his entire career up to this point. Here, finally, we see there is more to the guy. More than holding his own alongside Brad Pitt, Hill never allows himself to slip into his more familiar mannerisms, instead delivering an actual performance as baseball statistics prodigy Peter Brand, whose unique talents suddenly see him dropping into a position of more power than he ever imagined. Hey, Jonah, more of this and less of The Sitter, please.

4. Ellen Page, Super

Page’s work in this film, like the movie in general, unfortunately flew a little under the radar this year. Like Hill in Moneyball, Page delivers a performance unlike anything she has done yet – a foul-mouthed, oversexed comic book nerd who is more than happy to accept (or force her way into) the sidekick role for Rainn Wilson’s vigilante/superhero, The Bolt. Dubbing herself “Boltie,” Page is a manic ball of amped-up energy. It’s a real shame this character didn’t get as much attention as Kick-Ass‘s Hit-Girl did the year before.

3. Nick Nolte, Warrior

Alright, let’s get all the jokes about Nolte playing a recovering alcoholic out of the way right now, and instead concentrate on his powerhouse work in this film. Whether born or own experiences or not, Nolte creates one of the most humanizing, uncomfortably real portraits of an alcoholic that I have ever seen. His character knows full well that he screwed up, and is not actively seeking forgiveness for his past from his two sons. But he is trying his absolute hardest to just get by every day, and would like nothing more than for his sons to accept this and give him another shot in their lives. It’s a heartbreaking performance, and almost certainly the best work of Nolte’s career.

2. Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

While it is technically a supporting performance, and thus acceptable for this list, I actually thought Woodley’s work in The Descendants was the best female performance I saw all year, period. Believe it or not, I’ve never seen a single episode of the Secret Life of the American Teenager, so this was actually the first time I had ever seen Woodley in anything, and I’m definitely hoping it’s not the last. As a burn-out daughter wrestling with her anger at her dying, comatose mother, Woodley is noticeably excellent in how much she actually feels like a real teenager. That might not sound like the highest compliment at first, but think of how often you see movies get teenagers wrong, and simply reduce them to either overly sarcastic or overly emotional stereotypes. Woodley’s emotional ups and downs ring true. And, as is the case with the best supporting performances, she elevates the work of the film’s lead actor, George Clooney. We should all probably keep an eye on Woodley.

1. Albert Brooks, Drive

Casting Albert Brooks as a homicidal gangster is sort of a no-brainer, right? Well, no, of course I’m joking, which is why this performance is even more notable. The only thing more surprising than director Nicholas Winding Refn choosing Brooks the lead villain role in his film is how amazingly Brooks pulls it off. The character of Bernie Rose is a scary guy mostly because we know what he is capable of. Brooks doesn’t go over the top with the part, as would have been the temptation for a lot of other actors. Instead, he plays it just as subtly as he has his other more comedic roles over the years. Heck, even when he kills one of the film’s lead characters, he does so in an understated manner. All of this makes Rose into a much more fascinating character than he probably would be in most other films of this kind. I’m not sure this is the start of a new direction for Brooks, but I’m glad we got to see him be this bad at least once.


5. Patton Oswalt, Young Adult

I absolutely hated Charlize Theron’s character in Young Adult. Apparently, that is because I am a guy. I see her as being a sociopath and completely amoral. However, my wife calmly explained to me that there are A LOT of girls like this, most either in college or just out of college, who still live in their make believe fairy tale world, reliving their past. She also pointed out a lot of the real idiosyncrasies about her character to me. However, the one person I did care about in the movie was Patton Oswalt’s character. The problem is, he is also someone who lives in the past, a man who lives with bitterness and hatred in his heart. However, despite that, I thought he delivered the performance in a way that was likeable. It was a surprising performance by Oswalt and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

4. Bronson Pinchot, Virgin Alexander

I will always hold a place in my heart for Bronson Pinchot. From his days as Balky on Perfect Strangers to his great roles in Beverly Hills Cop and True Romance, he is just a really funny guy with great comedic timing. He appeared in a new movie in 2011 called Virgin Alexander, an independent film about a scrap hauler who decides to turn his home into a brothel to save it from being foreclosed. Pinchot plays a bar owner, who also runs a prostitution ring, that our hero runs afoul of. Pinchot is allowed to deliver some great comedic lines and has one of the best gags of the entire movie. It is proof that he is as great a comic actor today as he was 20 years ago.

3. Jessica Chastain, Everything

I am going to list Jessica Chastain here for just about everything she did in 2011. Her most mainstream role was in The Help, as a slightly crazy newlywed who desperately needs a maid but is almost too much for any sane woman to work for. She co-starred as the wife of a man who believes he has foreseen the apocalypse in Take Shelter. She was Brad Pitt’s wife in the magnificent Tree of Life, a movie reflecting on the meaning of life. She was the wife of Coriolanus in the movie of the same name. Finally, she was the young version of Judy Dench in the espionage movie The Debt. It was a great year for Chastain.

2. Tom Hiddleston, Thor

Thor was a great movie, probably the best of the five pre-Avengers movies since the first Iron Man. However, what made the movie great wasn’t the earth sequences where Thor had to learn to be a man and hung out with Natalie Portman. No, the best parts were in Asgard and the Shakespearian story of two sons of a great king, both wanting their father’s acceptance. And, it was not Thor who made this story great but his half-brother Loki, the son who was never good enough. Tom Hiddleston made this character tremendous thanks to allowing Loki to be tragic, as well as evil. His performance made Thor as great as it was.

1. Alan Rickman, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

Alan Rickman has been gold his entire career. He already has characters like Hans Gruber, the Sheriff of Nottingham and Metatron under his belt. However, outside of Hans Gruber, his greatest role is that of Severus Snape. I couldn’t read the final few “Harry Potter” books without picturing Rickman in the role. And, finally, when the series came to an end with the final movie, he finally got his moment. No more standing around sneering and making snide comments at Potter. In the last movie, he got his big moment and he shined like no other. I still believe Rickman is the best thing about the Harry Potter movies.


5. Margo Martindale, Justified

She’s long been one of those “hey, it’s that lady” actresses, popping up in various TV series and movies with brief roles. But at long last, the veteran got a chance to shine on FX’s drama. As the head of a clan of hillbilly crooks, she was amazing, cold yet drawling, willing to kill not only her husband but even her own kids if it means getting what she wants. Even better is that it’s not all greed, she truly believes (and may even be right) that it’s best for her town. If she gets rich too, hey, all the better. Martindale was chilling yet also made you laugh with her handling her dim-witted sons messing things up. As the announcer put it when her name was called for the Best Supporting Actress Drama Emmy, the win truly was justified for an amazing role only she could pull off.

4. Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Given how utterly ridiculous her ABC Family series Secret Life of the American Teenager is, I wasn’t expecting much from the actress in this film. Instead, she took what could have been the cliché of an angry teen and made her truly relatable, understanding her anger toward her parents and her own insecurities while trying to grow up. The scene of her crying while underwater was amazing for anyone, let alone someone her age and has proven a new star is about to shine.

3. Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones

For years, fans of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic (and for that matter, Martin himself) have declared that Dinklage was born to play the role of Tyrion Lannister. Finally given the chance, he more than lived up to all those expectations, imbuing a drinking, womanizing dwarf with surprising heart and humor. He made you laugh, such as when he basically pulled a filibuster for his own execution but also made you realize how smart he was and relying on wits to survive a world of strength. Better yet was that for all his talk of being a bastard, he was clearly the one noble figure in his ugly family. Tyrion was already the most popular character of the series; Dinklage (in a performance that deservedly won an Emmy) made the character come alive and provided the irony that the smallest actor of stature would be the show’s biggest star.

2. Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids

I had been a fan of McCarthy’s for quite a while, ever since Gilmore Girls so I knew how funny she could be. But I was still unprepared for the sheer volume of laughter she produced in the year’s best comedy. Brazenly funny, throwing herself totally into ridiculous situations, hitting on guys and producing a wild bathroom sequence, she was the highlight of an already hysterical movie. For sheer gumption, it’s hard to beat it and wonderful seeing her talents recognized at last.

1. Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad

You might as well call the Supporting Actor Drama race over right now. It’s simply impossible to believe anyone will be able to top the stunning work Espositio did as Gus Fring, the single more ruthless man prime time television has seen in years. This is a man who coldly murders an entire villa of drug lords simply because one crossed him years before. A guy who calmly folds his clothes and puts on a hazmat suit so he won’t get too bloody when he slices an underling’s throat. Most chilling of all is the calm Esposito has, never howling or screaming unless it’s extreme, always cool under pressure and driving every episode of the series’ best season to new heights. It’s a glorious turn for one of the greatest bad guys imaginable and more than worthy of every accolade it receives.


5. Sid Haig- Creature

In the unjustly maligned Creature, the great Sid Haig played Chopper, a foul mouthed, disgusting backwoods hick that runs the local general store. He’s also the man in charge of making sure that local legend Lockjaw’s story gets told, and that the real Lockjaw gets what he needs (people to eat and whatnot). Haig has played similar characters in the recent past, so his performance as Chopper isn’t exactly “original,” but he’s so much fun to watch that you don’t care that he’s doing the hick thing again; you’re just happy to see our old pal the Sid Haig back in action. The dirty wife beater T-shirt he wears throughout the movie helps complete the performance (and his big teeth, too. Watching the guy smile, with flecks of food stuck to his front teeth, creepy as hell). When Creature hits DVD ( claims it’s coming out March 20th) be sure to check it out. It’s definitely worth a look.

4. Ray Stevenson- Thor

Stevenson, who kicked ass as Frank Castle the Punisher in 2008’s Punisher: War Zone (easily one of the top five movies of the 2000-2010 period), donned a fat suit, a wicked wig and beard, and a ton of make-up to play one of Thor’s good buddies Volstagg. And instead of just being a juggernaut of ass kicking destruction, Stevenson showed that he could expertly play a goofball. And that’s what Volstagg is in the movie, a complete and total goofball. Hopefully he gets to return in the sequel because I want to see more of Volstagg in action (it’ll have to do since we’re apparently not going to see a sequel to Punisher: War Zone, which is a goddamn shame).

3. Jon Bernthal- The Walking Dead

In the first half of the second season of AMC’s zombie show The Walking Dead, Jon Bernthal’s Shane went from a slightly underhanded but well meaning best pal to Andrew Lincoln’s Rick to a cold blooded thug with a psychotic survival mindset. Everything changed for Shane when he left Otis for dead at the school and decided to shave his head. From that moment on he became a hard ass monster that was all about shutting down his emotions and killing everything in sight. It’ll be interesting to see where Shane ends up by the second season finale. Will he be the group’s new leader, replacing Rick somehow, or will he actually leave the group and set off on his own? I can’t wait to find out.

2. Jackie Earle Haley- Human Target

Jackie Earle Haley’s Guerrero, on the unjustly cancelled Fox show Human Target, isn’t exactly what you would call a “good guy.” He works with a good guy, but you get the sense early on that he’s only working with Mark Valley’s Christopher Chance out of loyalty, not so much out of a need to right past wrongs and become a “better” person. Normally that kind of thing would be off putting. If you’re a bad guy, be a bad guy. But because Guerrero is so damn charismatic you overlook all that stuff and you kind of root for him. It was also kind of neat to see him, in the second and final season, take Ames under his wing, to show her the ropes of being a bad ass just like him. Guerrero really does have a soft side.

1. Melissa McCarthy- Bridesmaids

Melissa McCarthy’s performance as Megan in Bridesmaids is nothing short of a tour de force. From the second you see Megan you know that, regardless of the situation, she isn’t going to hold back and she isn’t going to stop being herself. She just doesn’t give a flip. Watch her on the plane trying to seduce the air marshal. Watch her offer up “fighting” as a bachelorette party idea even though you know that absolutely no one is going to agree to it. And watch her take a dump in a sink because the toilet is occupied and she really, really, really needs to go. Her performance is easily the highlight of a very funny movie.


5. Alan Rickman – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

Severus Snape is the unsung hero of the Harry Potter franchise for much of the series, but Alan Rickman’s work has always been spot-on and recognized by fans as such. Most of the actors have been great in their work throughout the series but Rickman has been creepily awesome throughout and Deathly Hallows, Part II is his shining moment. He starts off seeming like the villain until he finally risks everything–and pays the price–for his allegiance to Harry and Dumbledore. And it’s his last moments on-screen, when Harry delves into his memories and sees the truth of it all, that you truly come to appreciate the character as never before. What was a touching moment in the book became much more in the film, and that’s due to Rickman’s work. Great, great stuff.

4. Jessica Lange – American Horror Story

American Horror Story is a very love/hate show. Pretty much everyone falls strongly on one side or the other. What’s undeniable though is Jessica Lange’s joyously scenery-chewing work as Constance, the Southern belle past her prime who’s forever tied to the haunted house next door. The character is often a villain but there are times that you actually come to sympathize with her. Still, the true joy is watching her at her wicked best, such as when she’s going face-to-face with Zachary Quinto’s gay ghost about his (un)lifestyle or subtly guiding the Harmon’s through the events that will lead to the finale, wherein she comes out ahead. It’s a great performance and even many who weren’t big on the show are giving Lange some well-deserved kudos for her performance.

3. Jennifer Lawrence – X-Men: First Class

Jennifer Lawrence is undoubtedly one of my favorite young actresses. She took the acting world by storm with her work last year in Winter’s Bone and she’s parlayed that into A-list success, with roles in The Beaver, the upcoming Hunger Games and here in First Class. Some people might dismiss her work in “a comic book movie” but it wasn’t an easy role. She had to make us believe that the character of Mystique could start off as a truly benevolent, warm woman and then watch as she begins her transition into a villain. Lawrence played the character as remarkably human and real, all things considering; it’s easy to play these roles as over-the-top but she made us believe in the character and she had great chemistry with her co-stars. You can see the character’s insecurities and attempts to overcome them and you honestly feel for her more than any other character in the film, making it a performance to marvel at. Pun intended.

2. Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones

Peter Dinklage is an actor I’ve admired for a while now, whether it was his work in the original Death at a Funeral or the surprisingly good Find Me Guilty with Vin Diesel. Thus, it was truly a pleasure to see him get his due reward with this role, which is easily the juiciest in Game of Thrones. By no means did he coast though; in an often somber atmosphere, Dinklage provided not only comic relief but some very serious dramatic work as well. In many ways, Dinklage is the eyes of the audience here, observing the insanity that went on in the various political struggles and backbiting deals made to get closer to the Iron Throne. Tyrion Lannister is the character who relies on his wit and intellect to get him through the various webs of deceit and intrigue and Dinklage made watching that maneuvering pure joy.

1. Ryan Hurst – Sons of Anarchy

I’ve been singing Ryan Hurst’s praises for the fourth season of Sons of Anarchy for a while now. To me, he is the unsung acting hero of 2011 and his work as Opie this season has been unmatched. Opie is the Job of the show, the guy who all the bad stuff happens to and he suffers but endures. This year between his quickly-disintegrating marriage to Lyla and of course the death of his father at the hands of Clay, the camel’s back broke and Opie finally cut loose. And oh my, was it in glorious fashion. Hurst has a great physicality to him; you never really noticed how enormous and imposing he was because Hurst ingeniously hid it. The second the knit cap came off and he went on his path for vengeance, I was thrown aback and mesmerized. He was the powder keg that needed one little strike to go off and watching him carry the dramatic weight of his scenes was incredible, enough to give him the top spot in my book.

Agree with our choices? Disagree? Be sure to share your thoughts and your own Top 5’s below. And don’t forget to include suggestions for future Top 5 columns…we’re always looking for the next great list.

Till then, for more of my movies views, check out Night of the Living Trev, my personal movie review page, as well as all the other great reviews and columns here at the Movies section of 411.

See you next week with a brand new topic.


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Trevor Snyder
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