I keep reading that 2012 was a weak year for supporting actresses. This is based on the critics groups and precursors rallying around the same six or seven performances en masse. It's also a gross misrepresentation of the year in film. The way I came about these best of lists this year was to list every possible performance I thought could be worthy of an award for their work. Supporting Actress had over 30 performances listed before I had to start paring down the list to make a best of list seem doable. Then I saw another eight films that added an extra dozen potential nominees to the long list.
2012 was not weak for Supporting Actresses. 2012 was so full of excellent performances that people began rallying around the names they knew rather than dive into every possibility. That can happen when you're overwhelmed.
This is the category that made me create a big rule for all the 2012 lists. A single film or a single performer can only take up one of the Top 6 slots. Otherwise, I could have easily filled the entire list with, say, Cosmopolis to make a point. I didn't.
Here are the Best Supporting Actresses of 2012. Asterisk indicates VOD release.
- Samantha Barks, Les Miserables
- Ann Dowd, Compliance
- Salma Hayek, Savages
- Jessica Lowndes, The Devil's Carnival*
- Sarah Silverman, Wreck-It Ralph
- Rebel Wilson, Bachelorette*
6: Emilie Autumn, The Devil's Carnival*
The beauty of casting an actual theatrical or cabaret performer in a film musical is that they understand the form. They know how to perform a song and, more importantly, how to technically deliver it for maximum impact. Emilie Autumn is an accomplished musician and performer who cuts loose and embraces the insanity of The Devil's Carnival. She gives the best vocal in the film--"Prick Goes the Scorpion's Tail"--and steals the focus every single time she's onscreen. The kissing booth scene is one of the more disturbing images in recent memory and she's the one who sells it. The love triangle in the second story wouldn't work at all without Emilie Autumn's full-bodied performance.
5: Samantha Morton, Cosmopolis
Samantha Morton has the difficult task of turning a series of deeply philosophical monologues into powerful cinema. She delivers. There is literally a riot going on around her--people setting themselves on fire, cars being destroyed, and paint being hurled all over the limo she's riding in--yet you can't take your eyes off of her. Morton digs deep into the text and turns theories into highly emotive stories right before everything goes off the deep end in Cosmopolis.
4: Doona Bae, Cloud Atlas
Doona Bae gets to anchor the strangest of the six segments in Cloud Atlas. She plays a beautiful clone created just to work in the service industry for a few years before ascending to a religious order. She also plays a Mexican receptionist in a California sweatshop, a southern Belle in the 1800s, and various other clones and people. Sonmi-451 is her most substantial role and she's heartbreaking in the part. She is granted freedom by a revolutionary and uses it to learn everything she can about society and history. Bae's performance is subtle, relying on shifts in vocal tone and eye contact to tell us everything we need to know about the horrors of Neo Seoul.
3: Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect
Rebel Wilson is hilarious in Pitch Perfect. Fat Amy is a really over the top attention grabbing character and Wilson makes her feel real. For all the ridiculous mermaid dancing and inappropriate puns, the character feels like a fully bodied human being. This is because it is such a great physical performance. Rebel Wilson sells this role from the top of her head to the tip of her toes and refuses to break no matter how ridiculous the circumstances. Her tearful confession right before nationals is sad and hilarious at the same time because Wilson sells every single Fat Amy scene as something honest to this character.
2: Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Helen Hunt is the grounding force of The Sessions. Her character is a sex surrogate, but her performance gives a physical body to her patient who is incapable of moving his own body. She sets the emotional tone of every scene she's in without going maudlin or over the top. Hunt transforms into this lovable free spirit who is not allowed to fall in love with her new partner. She brings out every ounce of tension in the relationship and really elevates some over the top tearjerker material at the end.
1: Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games
It's all about the physicality. Elizabeth Banks transforms into the appearance-obsessed Effie Trinket with a hip jutted out to one side otherwise perfect posture. She introduces the audience to the cruelty and frivolity of The Capitol with one line, "That is mahogany!," and doesn't back down from being so unlikable. In another story, Banks would be playing the villain. Here, she is just the first obstacle in Katniss' quest for survival. She completely disregards the safety of her ward until Katniss proves that she just might have what it takes to win. Then Effie softens in a very believable way. The armor of perfect Capitol behavior falls apart when she might finally be able to help one of her tributes return home alive.
Those are my favorite Supporting Actress performances this year. What do you think? Who makes the cut on your list? Sound off below.