(Pictures lead to reviews.)
Sareh Bayet in A Separation as Razieh
Bayet and her sad eyes bring this devout, but sad woman, to life in such a beautiful way and making the audience feel moved before we even know why. It is Razieh’s actions which are responsible for the story’s crux and in keeping with the narrative’s insistence on neither indicting nor applauding any character explicitly Bayet moves us even as we think her actions dubious.
(Key Moment: I knew that this was a performance to behold when Bayet to deftly handles the apprehension of her character as she makes that call, “If I change him, is it a sin?”)
Jessica Chastain in The Help as Celia Foote
This was my first introduction to the lovely redhead – and what a delight it was. Her Celia Foote leaps out onscreen with so much aplomb the narrative doesn’t seem quite sure what to do with her. She’s an adept scene partner bringing out beautiful moments in Spencer and Howard and traverses through the bullet-points of happiness, devastation, hurt and pride acting from the edges (as he’d say) and doing it excellently.
(Key Moment: It’s a performance so consistently delightful that each time she appears the films seems to get a bit better. But, her silent walk away from the Leefolt’s house after being snubbed is a standout.)
Jessica Chastain in Take Shelter as Samantha LaForche
Shannon’s performance is one which, in theory, threatens to overpower everything it comes into contact with. It is that much more significant, then, that Chastain turns a potential solo arc into a visceral duet between the two – husband and wife. She plays Samantha’s burgeoning awareness of the fact that the things she loves may be keeping her back and effectively convinces the audience that her inclinations are the right ones.
(Key Moment: Two bits, but essentially the same actions; the first as Samantha urges Curtis that she’ll stand by him no matter how lost he gets, and then urging him that he, and only, he must open the door from the shelter.)
Carey Mulligan in Shame as Sissy
Shame, for all the attempts it makes, comes off very little like the avant-garde offering it wants to be and the creation of Mulligan’s waifish sister is evocative of hundreds of such types before. Thus, it’s even more credit to her for cutting through all the potential generic peripherals to deliver this visceral performance of a girlish-woman on the edge of existence and sanity. Also, extra credit for bringing out the best in Fassbender.
(Key Moment: Her first appearance is a beauty, as is that morning after – a sweet show of filial knowingness. But that final argument between her and Brandon is a standout.)
Vanessa Redgrave in Coriolanus as Volumnia
What I’ve always loved about her is the way she manages to make the most grandiose of characters into basic “everyday” persons and it’s that same power she uses so well here. For as good as Coriolanus and all the performers in it are, she is the only one who manages to make the Shakespearean language feel like something she was born spouting (and given her pedigree, it’s probably not unlikely). Her potentially macabre mother isn’t “performed” it just is…and splendidly.
(Key Moment: I love how her “anger is my meat” bit isn’t delivered overplaying Shakespeare’s rhythmic beats, and she takes the film to stratospheric heights in that plea for Coriolanus to return home.)
FINALISTS: Mary Page Keller in Beginners for a brief but still, nonetheless, profound turn giving us a brief glimpse into this woman who smiles through her sadness; Melanie Laurent in Beginners for another sadly happy woman and a beautifully specific take on the wandering actor; Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids who’s beautiful performance is the single thing in the film which gets exponentially better on re-watch, watch her make this rather broad character into something beautifully specifically and real; Amy Ryan in Win Win (my #6), I had to put that aside because it pains me to leave this performance off, Ryan is so charming as she plays this mother who is not flawed and real, even as she opens her house to a stranger as if it’s simply an extension of her realness; Marisa Tomei in The Ides of March for her original, yet familiar, take on the know-it-all reporter excellently realised; Evan Rachel Wood in The Ides of March for making her affable intern so ostensibly important that we’re unable to accept that she’s merely a plot device
Honourable Mentions: Sandra Bullock in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; Jessica Chastain in The Tree of Life; Keira Knightley in London Boulevard; Brie Larson in Rampart; Sarah Paulson in Martha Marcy May Marlene; Robin Wright in Rampart
So, my final acting category. Just three more to go and I bid 2011 farewell. Which supporting women had you in a tizzy this year?