Tis the season for us film critics to start looking back over the movie year that was and compiling lists (it’s what we do). Before I get into my Top 10 movies of the year, I want to hone in on some of the 2021’s very best performances. Over the next few days I’ll be focusing on the very best work from each of the four major acting categories. So as I normally do, let’s start by with the Supporting Actress category.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Aunjanue Ellis (“King Richard”), Haley Bennett (“Cyrano”), Nina Arianda (“Being the Ricardos”), Marlee Matlin (“CODA”), Martha Plimpton (“Mass”), Rita Moreno (“West Side Story”), Alicia Vikander (“Blue Bayou”), Jayne Houdyshell (“The Humans”)
#5 – Emma Thompson (“Cruella”)
While I’m not seeing her name pop up on many (if any) ‘Best of’ lists, Emma Thompson’s hilariously venomous performance in “Cruella” has stuck with me all year. Sure, it’s not the kind of super-serious prestige role that grabs voters’ attention. But Thompson is an acid-spewing delight and she brings a villainous energy to the movie that I loved.
#4 – Jessie Buckley (“The Lost Daughter”)
In Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Lost Daughter” Jessie Buckley is given a tricky role to pull off. She’s asked to feed us fragments of a troubled woman’s past through a series of story-critical flashbacks. She’s up for the task in every respect. Buckley skillfully wrings out every layer of conflict in her rich but complicated character. It’s yet another great performance from an actress who never disappoints.
#3 – Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”)
I was overjoyed to see critics groups from around the country recognizing Ariana DeBose’s vibrant and layered performance in “West Side Story”. Whether she dancing, singing or shouldering one of the movie’s heaviest scenes, DeBose leaps off the screen and brings an energy that’s impossible to match. I love this performance and I left the theater immediately wanting to know more about her.
#2 – Cate Blanchett (“Nightmare Alley”)
Leave it to the effortlessly great Cate Blanchett to give us one of the best movie femme fatale’s since film noir was in its heyday. In “Nightmare Alley” she absolutely simmers with mystery and panache, mixing wicked elegance with lethal cunning. By now nothing Blanchett does is surprising. She’s always in top form and this performance is no different.
#1 – Caitríona Balfe (“Belfast”)
“Belfast” is Kenneth Branagh’s warm, tender and earnest reflection back to his childhood growing up in the tumultuous late 1960’s. It’s focus is firmly on family and what made the film work was the terrific cast that brought them to life. Caitríona Balfe’s heartfelt and textured performance really captures the movie’s range of emotions. Funny, frustrated, compassionate and courageous – Balfe conveys it all through her stellar work.
Check back tomorrow as I look at the Supporting Actor category