I ended up with a shortlist of fourteen contenders, ten of them women and ranked them like so –
Kathy Burke in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (as Connie)
“I don’t know about you, but I feel significantly underfucked.” One of the best line readings of the year? Possibly. Information, information, exposition, dialogue and more information. It’s what Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is all about and the actors have to appear and deliver their bit immediately and effectively if the film is to work. Her role is something of a blank slate, weirdly gregarious, and a mystery although not particularly mysterious but she’s so incredibly affable taking all the exposition out of her revelations making them seem like general bits of catching up, as they should be. (Highlight: Her off-screen, “If it’s bad, don’t come back. I want to remember you as you were.” Splendid.)
Audra McDonald in Rampart (as Sarah)
Woody and his women, is how Nick Davis offhandedly but accurately referred to Rampart. Amidst the deluge of women he manoeuvres through Audra has it rough, she’s in for two consecutive scenes then immediately gone – but what a great two scenes they are. The awkwardness of that dinner meeting is potent, her giggles both a sign of nervousness, doubt and palpable excitement. It’s all about the little things – her almost imperceptible shock at the moniker “Date Rape”, the intrigue when it’s explained. Then, the bedroom scene – it’s a showcase for Woody, but it’s important watching how she responds to his detachment. (Highlight: That laugh – at herself and the situation – when Dave turns away and covers his face with the pillow.)
Max Minghella in The Ides of March (as Ben Harpen)
For the second year in a row Minghella makes my list of nominees in this category, and once again I hope that a bit role is a chance for him to get better recognised. It’s so bizarre that The Ides of March couldn’t get some love from the SAG - the movie is essentially a writing/acting showcase, in the best of ways. And even though some of Clooney’s dramatic beats are suspect in the way they unfold he’s good with his actors and Minghella is such an eager performer. He has more than a single scene so in that way it would seem that I'm trying to shoehorn him in. But, it's sort of a trick because he's always there, but he never has anything to do really. He’s almost never at the forefront but always doing odd things on the side-lines continuously. (Highlight: Watch him reacting to the moment where Steven is let go.)
Katy Mixon in Take Shelter (as Nat)
Even as it is a specific type of psychological drama unfolding with airtight focus on the machinations of its protagonist, Take Shelter still offers some significant insight into the lives of the American small-town. Mixon with her pretty (but not in a sophisticated way) vaguely trashy ways is such an excellent contrast to the lithe ways of Jessica. Take her first scene – we burst into the conversation midway and we don’t even have any idea what this “funny” anecdote is about, it’s clearly some inane gossip and she sells that cadence so well, her very nature screams gossipy but she toes the line between a catty and just being loquacious. (Highlight: That fake smile when Samantha tells her Curtis is fine. Priceless.)
Alison Pill in Midnight in Paris (as Zelda Fitzgerald)I find it so odd that amidst the onslaught of support for Corey Stoll, there hardly seemed to be any time to remember the other bit players doing fine work. I was going back and forth on where to put Pill, and I realise that she doesn’t have much to work with (which is Woody’s point of course). She pops in gloriously, pops out, and then appears again even more briefly and she is fantastic. I’ve always appreciated Pill (she made my shortlist of Forgotten Characters last year for her work in Scott Pilgrim vs the World) but in a matter of mere minutes she’s absolutely enchanting. I won’t be forgetting her bit turn any time soon. (Highlight: That final moment of hers on the bridge.)
FINALISTS: I’m sort of bleh on Super 8 as a whole, even Elle Fanning, but Gabriel Basso’s pathetic leading man in the film within the film is the only part that sings with the childish charm I think Abrams is trying to establish; perhaps a bit larger a role than the typical limited performer, but I had to fit her in somewhere and Anna Friel is so on-point in London Boulevard establishing the Pixie character Zooey Deschanel, for example, is noted for but with more precision; Tom Hiddleston in Midnight in Paris forges a fine alliance with Pill cited above adding buoyancy to the supporting tableau; Mindy Kaling in No Strings Attached is way too honestly funny for a movie that seems to have no legitimate interest in characters; and poor Penelope Anne Miller isn’t appreciated by the world she inhabits in The Artist; Sissy Spaceck pops into The Help at key points but she’s so charming I wish she’d stay forever.
SEMI-FINALISTS: Bronagh Gallagher for being constantly on the sidelines, in what seems to be a bizarre marriage but always earnest in Albert Nobbs; David Kross for being the best of the supporting players, other than Emily, to work as a person to honestly feel for in War Horse; Kelly MacDonald for being mysterious, beautiful, and haunting as a ghost can be in a few moments of exposition in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two
So, I haven't forgotten these bit players. Have you? Which forgotten characters of 2011 do you think a case needs to be made in remembrance of?