Film Feature: The Best Supporting Performances of 2010

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CHICAGO – It started with the best lead performances of 2010 yesterday and now we naturally move on to many of the stars who made those lead turns possible. For what is a great lead performance without the supporting ones that got it there? These were the MVPs of 2010 who may have allowed others to take the spotlight but also made it shine so much brighter.

The Best Supporting Actor Performances of 2010

Many of the great supporting performances of 2010 came from the same films as strong ensembles ruled the year. Whether it was the men of “The Social Network” (including runner-ups Armie Hammer and Justin Timberlake along with a man you’ll find in the “big five” further down the list), the supporting team of “Inception” (with underrated work from Joseph-Gordon Levitt and Tom Hardy), the spectacular ensemble of “True Grit” (Matt Damon, Barry Pepper, and Josh Brolin, who was also scene-stealing in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”), the true stars of “The Town” (Jeremy Renner & Jon Hamm), the only reasons to see “Eat Pray Love” (Javier Bardem & Richard Jenkins), the men of “The Kids Are All Right” (Mark Ruffalo & Josh Hutcherson), or the often one-scene stealers of “Shutter Island” (Jackie Earle Haley, Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow), many of 2010’s best films featured not one but two great supporting actor performances.

Of course, not all of the most notable supporting actor performances came in pairs or trios. Alexander Siddig (“Cairo Time”) could arguably be mentioned in lead but the film feels more completely like the story of Patricia Clarkson’s character and so we consider him supporting. Either way, he deserves recognition.

As do Geoffrey Rush (“The King’s Speech”), Jonah Hill (“Cyrus”), Michael Fassbender (“Fish Tank”), Niels Arestrup (“A Prophet”), Paul Reubens (“Life During Wartime”), and Richard Jenkins (“Let Me In”). All good. None quite as good as these five (four “other nominees” alphabetically followed by the winner):

Vincent Cassel as Thomas Leroy in “Black Swan”

Vincent Cassel
Vincent Cassel
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight

Vincent Cassel has been a well-respected actor for years, stealing scenes in movies like “Elizabeth” and “Eastern Promises” while also delivering riveting performances in his own native French language in a wide variety of films. One pair of films known as “Mesrine” came out in arthouses earlier this year and proved the actor’s devastating screen presence but it’s the way he balances “Black Swan” that truly stood out this year. Thomas Leroy serves so many thematic purposes in this highly-symbolic dream-like film that his character easily could have served only its cliched purposes — the representation of power, control, and sexuality in Nina’s world. Cassel fulfills all the thematic roles of Thomas without losing the realism of the character. It’s easy to play an over-the-top dream role but it’s very difficult to straddle that line between symbol and character. Cassel does it perfectly, proving to be the perfect instigator for the talented female cast of the film. This movie may belong to its female cast but they aren’t nearly as effective without the supporting work of Vincent Cassel.

Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Serra in “The Social Network”

Andrew Garfield
Andrew Garfield
Photo credit: Sony

Did any actor rise to the top more like he was strapped to a rocket this year than Andrew Garfield? He will likely become a household name after he portrays Peter Parker in the reboot of “Spider-Man” but he laid the critical foundation this year that will bring dozens of A-list directors and producers to his door in the next decade. Andrew Garfield is going to be a star and not just a box office one but a critical darling as well. For proof, look at the range shown in “The Red Riding Trilogy,” “Never Let Me Go,” and his best work of the year, “The Social Network.” If Jesse Eisenberg’s performance is the fascinating brains of the film, Andrew Garfield’s is the devastating heart.

John Hawkes as Teardrop Dolly in “Winter’s Bone”

John Hawkes
John Hawkes
Photo credit: Lionsgate

If we were ranking the four runner-ups, Hawkes would be a solid number two, just barely behind the top spot. His performance in “Winter’s Bone” is one of those rare turns that’s instantly riveting — like the first time you saw The Joker or Anton Chigurh. Sitting in a rundown kitchen and telling his niece that there’s no way she’ll ever find her father, Hawkes instantly imbues Teardrop with a devastating combination of danger, melancholy, and the kind of world-weariness that makes a man truly scary. When Teardrop says “I told you no once already with my mouth,” the statement doesn’t feel like a false threat crafted by a Hollywood writer but the creed of a dangerous man who only gives one warning. The genius of Hawkes’ performance is in how broad it could have been and how specifically Hawkes plays it. So many other actors would have played Teardrop like a villain looking for redemption. That’s easy. Hawkes realizes that this is a man not looking for anything but a way through another painful day. That’s tough.

Sam Rockwell as Kenny Waters in “Conviction”

Sam Rockwell
Sam Rockwell
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight

There are few actors working today that are more consistent than Sam Rockwell. After turning in the best performance of his career in “Moon” last year (and collecting a nice paycheck for “Iron Man 2”), he returned this year with one of 2010’s most memorable supporting turns. “Conviction” has some issues with melodrama overall but Rockwell grounds the piece in the realism necessary to make the emotion powerful. The movie is a total mess without him. If there was an MVP in acting, he would win. Why? Because every time the cliches of “Conviction” come to the surface, Rockwell pushes them away and makes the story real. Some critics lamented the relatively TV-movie direction of Tony Goldwyn (for mostly good reason) but that diminishes the amazing work done by Rockwell, who somehow pushes through to deliver another fully-rounded performance. He’s only getting better. It probably won’t happen this year but Oscar will eventually find Rockwell. Probably more than once.

The Best Supporting Actor Performance of 2010: Christian Bale as Dicky Eklund in “The Fighter”

Christian Bale
Christian Bale
Photo credit: Paramount

The trendy thing to do is to point how great Christian Bale is in “American Psycho” and “The Machinist,” as if the fact that he’s finally going to not only get his first Oscar nomination but actually win the prize (count on it) makes this performance lesser than the ones that were snubbed. It’s the same bullshit argument that leads people to proclaim the greatness of musicians before “they sold out,” which usually just means other people finally realized their greatness too. Guess what? Just because you’ve known that Christian Bale is one of our best living actors for decades doesn’t mean that this isn’t one of his best performances. It is. And in the most-crowded category of the year, one in which any of the runner-ups would be deserving, he takes the prize. Once again, he literally transforms himself into Dicky Eklund, but it’s not until his character goes through a redemptive arc of his own that the brilliance of Bale’s performance really shows. It’s not just “playing junkie” but playing brother, son, and former rising star and how fully Bale commits to all of it. He’s as much of a fighter as Mickey Ward and Christian Bale makes his fight feel real.

Move on to the second page for the best supporting actress performances of 2010.

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