We’ve talked about the men, now let’s switch over to the women. Here are my 5 favorite female supporting performances for 2011. It was hard to narrow it down to 5 but I don’t see how any of my choices could be frowned upon. It was a strong year for women and two of the ladies on the list could have qualified for two different performances. But for sake of variety, I’ll just stick to 5 different but wonderful actresses.

#5 – Charlotte Gainsbourg (Melancholia)

While I wasn’t as thrilled with the overall product that was “Melancholia”, the performances were superb especially from Gainsbourg. We see a metamorphosis of sorts with her character and the range of emotion and distress that Gainsbourg conveys is nothing short of brilliant. Kirsten Dunst has gotten most of the press for the film but for my money it’s Gainsbourg that steals the show.

#4 – Octavia Spencer (The Help)

Spencer is sweeping this category at every movie award ceremony and with good reason. Her performance in “The Help” is a wonderful mixture of heart and humor. While the material sometimes leads her close to caricature, she maintains a steady appeal throughout the picture. “The Help” isn’t a perfect movie by any means, but Spencer’s performance is one of the best things about it.

#3 – Chloe Grace Moretz (Hugo)

One of the most charming performances of 2011 was from Chloe Grace Moretz in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”. Moretz’s performance is gentle and spirited and I was completely drawn to her character. Her lovely and adventurous Isabelle is one of the main ingredients in bringing the two stories of “Hugo” together and you can’t help but to love her. It’s easy to overlook her performance in the midst of such acting heavyweights, but for me Moretz helped make “Hugo” one of my favorite films of 2011.

#2 – Marion Cotillard (Midnight in Paris)

It was a nice year for Marion Cotillard. She starred in two of my favorite movies of 2011, “Contagion” and “Midnight in Paris”. While I liked them both, it’s her work in “Midnight in Paris” that I keep coming back to. She’s beautiful, elegant, fun, yet mysterious and she turns out to be one of the key characters in Woody Allen’s wonderfully crafted picture. She develops and sells a character that looks right at home in 1920’s Paris and her charm is magnetic. It’s just impossible not to love her.

#1 – Jessica Chastain (Take Shelter)

Jessica Chastain is getting plenty of love for the amazing 2011 she had. Unfortunately most people are overlooking her strongest, most memorable work. I loved her in “A Tree of Life” but her performance in “Take Shelter” is the best of the year. Everything in her performance is perfect from her tone to her subtlety. She’s so genuine and authentic and I never found a scene where she didn’t draw out everything from her character. She’s perfectly cast and an amazing compliment to Michael Shannon. You may agree that Chastain is a good actress, but you won’t know how good until you see her in “Take Shelter”.

Agree or disagree? Leave your comments and share your top 5.

REVIEW: “Melancholia” (2011)


“Melancholia” is a solemn and unsettling examination of depression wrapped up in an end-of-the-world, sci-fi drama. It’s written and directed by the sometimes controversial Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, and it’s been said that the picture was inspired by some of his own experiences with depression. In many ways it does feel deeply personal to the filmmaker and his treatment of the material is painfully real. But there are also a few instances where he forces his penchant for stylization and uniqueness onto the script. But even with the occasional lapse into self-indulgence, “Melancholia” is a lighter von Trier which for the most part really works. 

“Melancholia” has a very interesting structure. It starts with a brief prelude set to the beautifully haunting music of Richard Wagner. The prelude features a synoptic montage of stylistic imagery that we later find out is directly tied to events in the film. It’s a pretty no-nonsense, straight-forward approach by von Trier and it seems like an attempt to put the audience’s focus in the right place. On the other hand, it wasn’t until after I had finished the film that I really appreciated the prelude. It was then that I saw the brilliance of this clever device. 

The main story is broken into two parts and focuses on two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The first half of the film is simply entitled “Justine”. It follows Justine and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) and their lavish, high-priced wedding party thrown by Claire and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) at their luxurious home. Things start poorly when they arrive two hours late which clearly frustrates the cost-sensitive John. We’re then introduced to the sister’s immature and irresponsible father Dexter (John Hurt), their angry and cynical mother Gaby (Charlotte Rampling), and Justine’s self-absorbed boss Jack (Stellan Skarsgard). While at first everything seems perfect for her, we slowly see Justine swallowed up by her genuine inner struggles with frustration, uncertainty, and depression. We watch as her happy bride facade crumbles, and she becomes more and more detached. It’s painful and heart-breaking yet exquisite and utterly mesmerizing. 

The second half of the film, titled “Claire”,  jumps ahead in time and takes a drastic change of direction. Justine is brought back to live with Claire and John after succumbing to severe depression.  But we begin to see that Claire has struggles of her own. She is battling fear and anxiety brought on by the possible destruction of the earth by an approaching rogue planet called “Melancholia”. It’s hinted at in the first half of the film, but we learn that most scientists believe the planet will pass by earth. John, who is enthralled with the astrological phenomenon, tries to ease Claire’s mind, but differing internet theories fuel her despair. It’s sad to watch both sister’s fall victim to their own mental frailties and the planetary threat, while real, is a subtle but agonizing metaphor. 

“Melancholia” is a gripping, meditative film that’s delivered like an operatic mood piece. While sometimes slow and deliberate, the film moves at a measured pace that’s fairly effective even though the second half of the film does require some patience. The movie occasionally flirts with being ostentatious but von Trier manages to keep things reined in. But there are some exceptions. There are a few scenes that seemed forced upon the story and served no other purpose than to be provocative or erotic. These speed bumps pulled me out of the movie which hurts a picture that depends on our deep involvement in the story.  

Despite the movie’s few flaws, there is no denying the strength of Kirsten Dunst’s performance. You almost feel yourself being pulled into her collapsing world as she delivers what may be one of the most authentic portrayals of depression and it’s devastating effects. But to be honest, there isn’t a bad performance. Gainsbourg is fantastic as the complex Claire. Early in the film I was disgusted by her only to be completely sympathetic towards the character later. And it’s great to see Kiefer Sutherland once again in a role of substance. He nails ever scene he’s in and never sells his character short. 

“Melancholia” is sure to be heralded by many to be a great film and in many ways it is. For my money a more tempered Lars von Trier is better, and that’s what we get for most of the movie. He maintains a steady and solemn tone which doesn’t always make for happy viewing, but it works considering the subject matter. He also steps back and lets his really talented actors go. He uses some striking visuals but never overdoes them. They move poetically and almost hypnotically throughout the picture, and I couldn’t take my eyes off each strategically placed sequence.  But he did yank me out of his picture with a few self-indulgent scenes that should have been left on the cutting room floor. It’s here where von Trier seems to be putting style over substance, and the story suffers for it. But the movie is carried by the performances. I never doubted any of the characters or their individual plights.