I originally was going to write a piece about my favorite movies of the year, but it ended up just turning into a simple list on Letterboxd. However, after looking through the films I loved in 2017, I realized that many of my favorite performances of the year, did not in fact exist in my favorite films. Thus, I was inspired to write an article that showcased these actors and actresses who I was completely enamored by last year. The below list is my top 10 supporting performances of 2017, with my favorite lead performances coming later.
10. Tatiana Maslany- Stronger
With Orphan Black coming to an end last year, Tatiana Maslany’s schedule will be wide open for a wide variety of films. Her work is simply outstanding on the show, as is her range, and I hope that there is a strong demand for her. With Stronger, one of her first wide-released film roles, Maslany proves again how incredible she can be. In the film she plays the off-and-on again girlfriend to a man who loses his legs at the Boston Marathon Bombing, who must rise to the occasion to take care of him. Maslany is nurturing, loving, and patient, only to eventually have the stress of such a huge responsibility placed upon her. Stronger showcases the struggle after tragedy, especially focusing on those surrounding the victim and the consequences they must suffer through as well.
Best Scene: Emotional fight in the car
09. Michael Shannon- The Shape of Water
There is perhaps no other actor working today who can be as terrifying as Michael Shannon. When he is angry, there are very few people more frightening and intense. In The Shape of Water, Shannon continues to scare as the brooding, candy-eating Richard Strickland, a military man in charge of the research of the aquatic humanoid at the center of the film. Shannon is all-out creepy and inhabits the identity of a man so committed, yet so evil, who will go whatever length he can to not only get what he wants, but to continue his duty as a solider and a man.
Best Scene: A man and his bathroom habits
08. Romain Duris- All the Money in the World
I should first mention that I did not love All the Money in the World. It is a film whose great parts do not equate to a great film and instead showcases a wide cast of veteran actors showing off their talents. Yet, in a film dominated by the headlines and worthy performances from Michelle Williams and Christopher Plummer, the standout is Romain Duris, who plays one of the kidnappers at the center of the film. As Cinquanta, Duris brings a bit of humanity to the usual ransom-demanding bad guy, showing the audience that he is simply a struggling family man trying to do whatever it takes to provide. Duris has a kind and gentle face, perhaps similar to that of a street peddler or struggling musician. He is not threatening. He is a product of his environment and Duris pulls off the incredibly hard job of creating a villain we can sympathize with.
Best Scene: The Good Doctor, in the kitchen, with a scalpel
07. Sebastian Stan- I, Tonya
Most people recognize Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s long-time sidekick turned villain, turned fugitive, turned hero. While he is great in the role, it does not leave a lot of room for Stan to show off his range of talents, as the stoic Winter Soldier does not allow much laughing or physical comedy. In I, Tonya, Stan is finally given this opportunity and has a blast. Stan plays Jeff Gillooly, Tonya Harding’s abusive husband and perpetrator of the attack that dominated the headlines. In a the vein of the Coen Brothers, Stan plays the regular joe who gets far too in to a mess he is nowhere near capable of handling and his spiraling out of control proves to be more entertaining than heartbreaking. On the other end, however, Stan proves to be also terrifying in his moments of abusing Tonya, and the emotional switch that flicks on and off is visible on Stan’s aloof doofus face.
Best Scene: Pulling a gun on his wife
06. Laurie Metcalf- Lady Bird
Lady Bird is one of the best films of 2017. It is the passion project of Greta Gerwig, who wrote and directed the somewhat auto-biographical tale of her adolescence. The focus of the film is that of Lady Bird herself, played wonderfully by Saoirse Ronan, yet the emotional anchor is Laurie Metcalf, who plays Lady Bird’s mother, Marion. Metcalf’s Marion is a tough mom, who struggles to help her family pay the bills and hold the household together, as her oldest son is a dropout and her husband is depressed. She is constantly attacked from all angles, yet tries her hardest to still be a loving and caring mother, as much as Lady Bird may not believe it so. Metcalf is genuine, heartbreaking. and high-strung, carrying the familiar struggles many of us can relate to. She accepts her role as her daughter’s villain, but aches to show her how much she truly loves her and appreciates her.
Best Scene: Refusing to say goodbye
05. Willem Dafoe- The Florida Project
As this past year as proved, there were far more amazing performances than amazing movies, which really is, not that bad of a problem to have. A good example is The Florida Project, a film I just could not fall in love with it as so many others have (weird ending, unlikable characters). But the shining light and patriarchal compass throughout is Willem Dafoe. Dafoe plays Bobby, a manager of a motel in Orlando that caters to the poor and the less ‘desireables’ of society. He is essentially in charge of the housing of those at the bottom of the welfare totem. Through all of the shit and headaches Bobby manages, he is still able to survive while maintaining an evident need to help, care for, and protect. He brings levity to a film desperately grasping at straws to find decency amid the color and injects an endearing aura that is much needed to not only tell the story, but to also ground the rather over-the-top characters that inhabit The Magic Castle. What’s more refreshing is that we are able to take a glimpse at a positive and charming Dafoe, far from his usual aggressive and villainous roles.
Favorite Scene: Bobby walking a “stranger” to get a soda
04. Sam Rockwell & Woody Harrelson- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Yes, I am cheating at including two performances in one, but in the case of Three Billboards, both Rockwell and Harrelson exist around each other and go hand in hand. Harrelson, surprisingly, is a much more sympathetic character than the trailers lead you to believe and it’s in this surprise that you will find a warmth and understanding from a man who is just simply trying to do his job as sheriff in small-town, Missouri. He is a casualty of the times, consequently unable to provide the demanded resources and information surrounding a young girl’s murder, while at the same time, struggling with his own issues at home. Harrelson is always a delight but Three Billboards manages to flip your expectations askew and find affection in an every-day-not-so-terrible-but-more-mislead character.
Rockwell on the other hand, plays a very obvious outta-the-bag bad guy, who essentially is a victim of his upbringing. As the story at the center of Three Billboards unfolds and particular events shatter the Ebbing police department, Rockwell’s Dixon suffers, and the unhinged and lost soul must change who he fundamentally is in order to survive. The character arc surrounding Dixon is one of my favorites of the year and it is in this transformation that Rockwell is able to deliver both the comedic head and tragic tail to this southern-fried coin.
Favorite Scenes: Tending the horses (Harrelson) and bathroom emotions (Rockwell)
03. Richard Jenkins- The Shape of Water
Richard Jenkins is one of my favorite character actors, delivering a wide range of performances that tend to pop up wherever you least expect it. Luckily, in The Shape of Water, Jenkins steps out of the shadows a bit further. He not only stars as the lead’s neighbor, confidant, and friend, but also lends his voice to her, the mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins). As Elisa is whisked away in her world of fantasy and romance, Jenkins’s Giles is the moral compass who continually attempts to bring her back down to earth, before eventually giving in, finding himself believing the unbelievable. Jenkins brings a lightness to his character. Although he may get distracted with grand ideas of unrequited love, his dying talents in an advancing field, and his passion for classic cinema, he is still able to focus on the reality of the situation and lend his experience as a rather battle-worn closeted gay man who has struggled to find his place in the world. His character is heart-breaking, but he saves it from complete devastation as he embarks on a quest to help his friend lead the life he was never able to lead himself.
Favorite Scene: Too much pie in a retro-diner
02. Noah Jupe- Wonder
Perhaps the most surprising entry on this list, Noah Jupe’s performance in Wonder is incredible. In a film advertised as a feel-good family dramedy with such stars as Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and the increasingly impressive (and seemingly beloved) Jacob Trembly, Wonder left little room for outsiders to shine. Yet, Jupe not only manages to keep up with the grade A talent, but even outshine them. The 11 year-old plays Jack, the first to befriend the malformed Auggie (Trembly) who is entering a real school for the first time in his life. Jupe is endearing and adorable as Jack, while doing what very few child actors are able to do– acting like a genuine kid, without the distraction or pressure of acting to do so. Alongside Auggie, Jupe’s Jack goes through the largest character arc and has plenty of struggles of his own. His performance is one of my all-time favorites of the year, reminding us what it really is like to be a kid and the struggles we all faced when we were younger, from absolute bewilderment at science to the revelation of our mistakes.
Favorite Scene: Realizing what he’s done after getting in a fight with a bully
01. Michael Stuhlbarg- The Shape of Water & Call Me By Your Name
Another character actor added to this list, Stuhlbarg was able to play a role in three award-buzzing films (The Post not included above- as I have not been able to see it yet), while delivering different performances in each of them. In The Shape of Water, Stuhlbarg is a scientist on the brink of discovering a fantastical new creature and the conflicts that come with its study. Yet, he is far more than just a man in a white coat as we discover a compassionate, confused, man, caught in between two worlds where all he wants to do is good.
His performance in Call Me By Your Name is even better. In this film, Stuhlbarg exists as a much more simple character at first glance, playing the father of the boy who falls in love for the first time (played by Timothee Chalamet). Throughout the film, he inhabits the background, focusing on his studies as a scholar and teacher, enjoying his summer in his estate in Italy. He walks around in casual clothes, drinks plenty of wine, and argues the origin of fancy words. But, it is in one of the final scenes of the movie that Stuhlbarg showcases his incredible ability. In an unexpected speech to his heartbroken son, Stuhlbarg explains how he is jealous of the friendship his son had with Oliver (Armie Hammer), the value of true love, and the impeccable feeling of being one with another. It is one of the best speeches I have ever seen in film and Stuhlbarg’s nuanced and subtle acting is perfection.
Favorite Scene: The emotional final speech in Call Me By Your Name
Honorable Mentions: Benny Safdie (Good Time), Harrison Ford (Blade Runner 2049), Patrick Stewart (Logan), Mark Hamill (Brigsby Bear), Jon Bernthal (Wind River), Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Ray Romano & Holly Hunter (The Big Sick), Elizabeth Olsen (Ingrid Goes West), Tracy Letts (Lady Bird), Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name), Vicky Kreips (Phantom Thread)