Top 5 Supporting Actresses:
#5: Taraji P. Henson – Queenie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Oh, Ben Button, you hapless, eponymous bastard, what a curse you have, to be constantly surrounded by more interesting and better-acted characters than you. Your adoptive mother is among the best of these, providing a secondary emotional center for your otherwise cold and lifeless biography.
#4: Mila Kunis – Rachel Jansen, Forgetting Sarah Marshall
I’m surprised to be putting Mila Kunis on a best actress list, being that I only knew her previously as “that hot, dumb girl from That ’70s Show“. Jason Segel’s script casts Rachel as his version of the perfect rebound girl. The wrong spin on this character could have turned Rachel into the random front-desk hottie (a role that anyone could’ve believed Mila Kunis in), but her performance completely elevates this character. She is likeable, down-to-earth, far from perfect (she nearly provokes a fistfight with her ex), but completely sympathetic. It is Kunis’ performance that sells this relationship, and the strained emotional bond that develops between her and Segel’s character is what elevates this film from merely one of the best comedies of the year to also one of the best romances of the year.
#3: Marisa Tomei – Cassidy, The Wrestler
Could Cassidy be called a “stripper with a heart of gold”? Not exactly… But she does make a fascinating counterpoint to Mickey Rourke’s aging pro wrestler. Much as Randy “The Ram” Robinson pretends to put on a show of violence, Cassidy pretends to put on a show of sex. They made their living in the pretense of our most primal interests, and now they’re getting too old… It’s no surprise that they seem to forge a bond. But how much of this bond is just Cassidy’s smile and work ethic? Hard to say, but the ambiguity is there, and Tomei completely sells it. As Randy wonders if there’s anything real in his life, Tomei does a fine job of never definitively answering that question.
#2: Viola Davis – Mrs. Miller, Doubt
I almost didn’t include Davis in my list, because she only appears in one 10-minute scene of the film. But in those 10 minutes talking with Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) about her son, she manages to make you believe something truly shocking. Her reaction to the Sister’s suspicions is so far removed from what you would expect, your jaw will hit the floor. And the scene gets even more unnerving as she starts to convince you that she might just have a point. All of the subtext of the film’s central conflict comes out in this brilliantly written scene, and it owes entirely to Davis’ performance.
#1: Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Like I said, there’s something incredible about a well-written and well-acted psychopath. No description that I give can do this performance justice. Just see the film, and do your best to take nothing seriously. It’s laughable and fun and you’ll be unsure by the end whether it was comedy or tragedy.
Tilda Swinton – Elizabeth Abbott, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Amy Adams – Sister James, Doubt
Gwyneth Paltrow – Pepper Potts, Iron Man