Each year I set aside time to examine and spotlight what I think are the best performances of the past movie year. In keeping with the upcoming Oscars I have adopted their format and for the next several days I’ll be highlighting the very best performances for each of the four acting categories. The ladies go first and we start by looking at Supporting Actresses. Last year was rich with quality supporting performances from so many talented actresses. It was tough to narrow down, but these were my standouts.
#5 – Lucy Boynton (“Sing Street”)
The more I watched her character in “Sing Street” the more I appreciated Lucy Boynton’s surprisingly nuanced performance. The role isn’t nearly as shallow as its first impression. Boynton deftly unwraps her character’s inner turmoil but she’s also a ton of fun playing within John Carney’s nostalgic, spirited 1980’s sandbox. As the film went on I loved the performance more and more.
#4 – Aïssa Maïga (“The African Doctor”)
There are a number of scenes that demonstrate why I appreciate Aïssa Maïga’s performance in “The African Doctor”. But I particularly appreciate how she balances the numerous things thrown at her. She has her broader comedy moments, but she also deals heavily with frustration and resentment. In many ways she is asked to be the film’s conscience. Maïga handles it all with ease.
#3 – Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures”)
There are few performers with more natural talent for acting than Octavia Spencer. You never doubt what she brings to the screen regardless of the size of her role. This was never more true than in “Hidden Figures”. Her performance is so grounded in truth that you never question her character’s feelings or motivations. Even when the script is bit on-the-nose Spencer has you buying every second of it.
#2 – Nicole Kidman (“Lion”)
I had lost sight of Nicole Kidman’s brilliance as an actress. Silly me. Her performance in “Lion” served as a wonderful and welcomed reminder. There isn’t an ounce of glamor or show in what she does. Through her every scene Kidman remains quiet and understated yet she steadily brings an emotional heft. It’s a tricky role that many actresses would have milked dry. Kidman knows exactly how to play it and the results are astounding.
#1 – Viola Davis (“Fences”)
For my money there was never a competition for first place. From the moment I left the theater after seeing “Fences” I knew I had seen my favorite female performance of the year. Simply put Viola Davis is electrifying in what is close to being a lead role. Sharing this much dialogue and screen time with Denzel Washington may seem a bit intimidating, but Davis matches him line for line. It’s an absolute master class and anything short of the Oscar would be an insult.
So there are my picks out of a really strong category. What do you think? Please share your thoughts on this list and on what would have made yours.