Supporting Actress Smackdown - 2009

The Year is...

And the Smackdowners for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards are...
of Alex in Movieland/My Latest Oscar Film
ANDREW of Encore Entertainment
BRAD of Criticlasm
SAM of Brooks For Media
WALTER of The Silver Screening Room
NATHANIEL of The Film Experience
yours truly, STINKYLULU.

2009's Supporting Actresses are...
(Each Smackdowner's comments are arranged according to ascending levels of love. Click on the nominee's name/film to see StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Sunday review.)

Penélope Cruz in Nine
STINKYLULUA staggering blast of clarity in a hopelessly muddled movie. Cruz is sexy, raw and tragic (while also delivering the only genuine laughs in entire the movie). A pungent reminder of just how much potential greatness Nine squandered.
This schtick probably would have gone over better with me if she hadn’t just done it (and better) in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I also think she blew “Call From the Vatican,” which is a shame.
Let’s face it, she was almost counting her dance steps, but it still was a sexy moment. Penélope does something with Carla that you don’t notice at first: with a surprising sensibility, she beautifully shapes the real victim of the story!
All traces of the bad actress we once knew are gone. Arrivederci! Now she can even sell deadpan comedy and heartbreaking lusty emptiness at the same time! What can't she do? Both those things while singing in her second tongue, unfortunately.
I did love her in this, and I wish she had more. Sadly, it was like she kept lobbing great serves that weren't hit back. She's really become a great, assured screen presence. Not sure I'd nominate it, but love her.
Manages to be sexy, funny, and tragic. She’s like the girl who just lost her virginity to the football hero, always needing to be reminded of her desirability, demanding a commitment while avoiding her own. Cruz gets the balance between child and vixen.
Cruz is the fireblood in this often pallid film, she grounds her outrageous and somewhat stereotypical character in a dark sadness that her film desperately needs. And an able dancer and belter to boot.
Her Carla is a tentative and petulant woman below the initial hilarity she precipitates: not the confident Marie Elena from last year. Her reaction at the hotel is priceless and that dejected walk down the lane changes the tone of the performance for the better.
TOTAL: 25s

Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air
KEVINTo date, this performance still grates on me. It seemed to be a giant cliché of what a “mysterious” woman should be like. It all seemed too perfect, and not in a good way.
To her credit, she makes it look so easy. Simple is not for me and as much as I respect her presence in the film, the sudden change in the storyline affects my perspective on the performance. She did ok, but the screenplay not enough.
She is the anomaly of the nominees; not consistently bad or consistently excellent. She tries hard to make some scenes work, yet sometimes it’s just too glib to be authentic. Oftentimes, though, she succeeds in turning a hollow thing into a real person.
Wins and breaks your heart without ever once coming off as phony or contrived. She sells that sexy confidence, and the one time it’s shaken is truly a thing to behold: her eyes tell it all, even as she maintains her poise.
To match Clooney's charm is no easy feat, and they had great chemistry. She managed the end twist well, illuminating her earlier choices when it could have been tacked on. She's a joy to watch, and that's the best part.
Alex is a cad – gorgeous and glib, gliding though her myriad deceptions and casual betrayals with blithe effervescence. Yet, Farmiga’s deceptive simplicity neither judges nor punishes Alex for playing the same games that the boys play and thus permits the character’s flawed humanness to show too.
So self-assured, adult and funny she seems every bit Clooney's kindred charmer..."only with a vagina." But it's her addition of a slyly masked coldness (open with body, not heart) that makes this a compelling turn, and one untarnished but completed by the "twist".
In a film that actively seems to be working against her by the third act, Farmiga delivers a smart and sharp performance that hovers lightly over a sadness without beating the audience over the head with it.
TOTAL: 27s

Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart
ALEXI love surprise nominees, but only when they’re good. Truth be told, Maggie does too little for Crazy Heart; her overplayed modesty just adds to the boringness of the film, creating a flat interpretation of a dull character.
Woefully miscast. Unable to find the balance between the characters she’s used to playing and the illogic of this character, Maggie herself looks uncertain as to why she’s here. That last scene is awful, too, but that’s not really her fault.
Even as Gyllenhaal’s distinctive charisma imbues this performance, her actual work in the role lacks a necessary touch. (Clarifying wit perhaps? Or maybe idiosyncratic insight?) The result is a generic stock performance that goes down easy – and is easily forgotten.
Her best work is often electrified by highly specific eroticism and intelligence. This role requires neither, or at best, a barely functioning bit of the former. Robbed of her best assets, she bores...and forgets to sell the backstory.
Her early ambivalence toward him was great. Gyllenhaal's intelligence and caginess worked well. Not sure of nom-worthy, certainly strong, but the least interesting in this field. But in true supporting tradition, made better than what she was given.
This usually inspired actress turns in a nothing of a performance. She’s never bad in the role, but even worse than that, she’s never interesting. And when playing off such a talented co-star, this performance really should have been better.
For an actress who’s usually so charismatic this performance was bland and artificial. Certainly the script doesn’t give her much help, but it could have worked. She goes through it all on autopilot and I couldn’t care less about the character.
This wasn’t a supporting role. Maggie did well with it: even if she was overacting at times, the mall security scene was a great one for her. But it’s a lead role.
TOTAL: 13s

Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air
ANDREWAt first I think perhaps she has the look of the character down, because as superficial as it feels – perhaps that’s the point. However her poor line delivery and cringe worthy line readings give me nothing to applaud despite the ostensible attempts at character development.
Her true gift is comedy, not drama. Chunks of this performance work (the uptight gait, the shaky superiority complex) and while you can excuse how hard she's pushing (so does her character) she often misses the dramedic tone in this uneven breakthrough.
She shines in some moments, like her chats with Clooney, or when she actually has to use her own system to fire somebody. But I can’t quite make out the savvy Cornell grad Craig Gregory hired.
Hated it at first, then I learned to appreciate the small elements of generosity! Noticed when she tones it down and lets us see the real good nature of Natalie? It’s a sweet breakthrough performance, but I see why many find it annoying.
She held her own with Clooney, and was great at being a girl who thought she was much stronger in some ways than she actually was. It's a bravado debut. Great, emotionally rich work.
Acquitting herself well to a pretty staid role, Kendrick proves herself to be a talented comic actress. Sadly, she’s not doing anything new here and she definitely seems out of depth with her more experienced co-stars.
Steady verve and ready wit anchor Kendrick’s work here, but it’s her handling of Natalie’s nascent empathy that keeps this character from thinning to become Tracy Glick 2.0. A memorable breakthrough performance.
We’ll look back in five years and realize how great Anna made this movie. She was perfect as the corporate chipmunk, upstaging her veteran co-stars. Her charm and wit were flawlessly engrossing.
TOTAL: 20s

Mo'Nique in Precious
ANDREWShe is loud and uncouth, garish and scary as demanded. The thing is that sometimes the script seems to be working against her as she tries to make Mary real but she comes out on top in the end – for the most part.
Not since Carrie has a mother's "love" been so voracious, so vicious, so contradictory, so monstrous – yet, somehow, so real. Might not be the most artfully executed performance (the seams really do show, especially early on) but there’s something extraordinary – even iconic – about Mo’nique’s Mary.
It’s incredible how effortless it looks. We see she knows what kindness looks like, but despises it as a weakness. And that last scene, of course, where she tries every tactic she knows to turn the situation in her favor, is sad and scary.
I don't know how to speak of this without cliched superlatives. I don't know that I'll ever forget the horror of that last speech - and her discovering her own terror of who she is while it's happening is masterful. She's riveting.
The comic does more than offer up the demon the film seems to want, she embodies more difficult and complex character: A pathetic being who skates across the title of monster to embody a truly human darkness.
Mary's confession is one of the greatest acting monologues ever recorded. But that same slipperiness of persona and its attendant (and frankly amazing) vocal dexterity are present from the first scene. Her multiple selves just haven't been piggybacked quite so rapidly before.
Not just the best supporting actress of the year, the best film performance outright in YEARS. Mo’Nique stares you in the face and spits at you, then dares you to fight back. She’s a titan onscreen.
ALEXThis is how you do it, BABY! (read it Mo’Nique style) The math of it: fabulously written character + solid direction + a touch of brilliance = one of the best Oscar’s ever seen! Who-who-who is gonna love you, Mo’Nique? I will!
TOTAL: 39s

We'll have to wait one week
to find out who Oscar chooses...

just can't wait &
is compelled to announce that

MO'NIQUE is our
Best Supporting Actress of 2009!
But no need to look so glum, Mo'nique...
you don't have to show up to accept this one.
We'll celebrate on your behalf!

BUT, lovely reader, do tell US.
What do YOU think?

Please share your thoughts in comments.


Malcolm said...

This is so much fun! I've been waiting for weeks.

I never thought that Penelope would gets much love. And Vera and Maggie with less love.

But what's expected? Monique.

Anyway, great job!

Kevin said...

Well, I have to admit, this didn't go exactly as I thought it would, though I did see the overwhelming support of Vera Farmiga coming... I have to say, I think when remembering this film years down the line, we'll say "Vera who?" while remembering the charm, the wit, and the verve of Anna Kendrick's Natalie Keener.

Meanwhile, I'm a little stunned at how mine was the highest rating for Maggie Gyllenhaal. Sure, she wasn't that great in the role, but I enjoyed the performance. I even thought she and Jeff Bridges had an intriguing, unusual chemistry.

Also, I'm a little lost as to why Penelope Cruz got so much love, especially after most bloggers' predictions did not include her in their final tallies before nomination day. It was enjoyable, yes, but I agree wholeheartedly with Brad--I wouldn't have nominated her, even though I did include her in my final predictions.

And, of course, there's the magic of Mo'Nique. I am thrilled that Mo'Nique's performance never became the victim of Precious' backlash or Mo'Nique's own backlash, because as StinkyLulu, our gracious host, pointed out: this performance is iconic.

I want to thank StinkyLulu for letting me be a part, and thanks to all the other bloggers! This was really fun!

Gwen said...

No doubt, Monique is the standout performer for Best Supporting Actress for 2009. A chilling performance, one that is truly grounded in reality. As a born-and-bred New York girl, I can tell you, this interpretation is SPOT ON. I have known many women just like her and the brutality is truly heartbreaking. It makes you want to grow up and help effect change in the world.

Brook Brooks said...

I was expecting more of a dissent for Mo'Nique, but gosh knows why given the end result. Deservedly won, no matter how much I love Farmiga in her role.

What I didn't realise is how disliked Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance in Crazy Heart is. I didn't like it, and I thought two hearts was being a bit mean, but yikes!

Good to see the love for Cruz. It's not her best performance, but it's still a damn good one in a film that doesn't deserve it. And a few legions better than what the alternative (Ms. Zellweger) would've given us.

Alex in Movieland said...

Thank you Stinkylulu for another fabulous smackdown :D

I guess the result is no surprise to anyone! Mo'Nique has no competition from this list of nominees and she'll deservedly win the Oscar! (oh, Andrew, why didn't you go for a 5?) :P

None of the other nominees makes my Top 10 for this category. Samantha Morton, Marion, Melanie Laurent, Diane Kruger... these girls deserved much more to be talked about.

I suspect that in the future I'll find Anna Kendrick's performance to be better than most of us realize and I'm still a bit surprised by this much Penelope love.

PS: I know Maggie is the official runner-up (due to unexplainable Crazy Heart love and crazy campaigning), but I hope I won't be shocked on Oscar night (except for, hopefully, the Best Actress category)

StinkyLulu said...

For a while there, while the ballots were coming in, it seemed that the consensus was going to be even more uniform -- if you can believe it.

And while the scenario Alex implies is startling but plausible (can you imagine the headlines if Maggie's name is called instead of Mo'nique's?)... I do think the general strength of feeling about the performance itself might override the insider/outsider aspect of the voting. (And, remember, Vera's a favorite actress of every "serious/straight/smart" Scorsese-head out there...)

Ready For My Close-Up said...

What insightful commentary! I'm so pleased with the results, and will be thrilled to see Mo'Nique crowned on Oscar night. I've followed her career for years, and never would have expected this revelation of a performance from the former host of Charm School ;)

I am a bit bummed about her sad crew of fellow nominees. The criticsm of Gyllenhaal (Voters went out of their way to recognize her for THAT lazy performance?) and Kendrick is spot-on, and while I liked Cruz and Farmiga, neither would have been on my ballot.

Anonymous said...

Awesome Collaboration! Even though I'm still new, it's nice to see something like this involving several bloggers. It's very different (in a good way :) ) and unique.


thanks for hosting this Stinky.

I enjoyed writing it up. I always find that writing about performances helps you clear the buzz and reviews and career hoopla and pr campaigns from your head (and those things always factor in so much to awards season) and gets right down to what did these people do with the roles they were given, what they needed to give the movie, and what the movie was giving back to them (or not)

i think it's so interesting. but i'm glad that the consensus choices this year are so worthy (Waltz, Bridges, Mo'Nique) since consensus doesn't always wrap itself so tightly around brilliant performances.

Alex in Movieland said...

Jeff Bridges worthy because of his career? Yes. Jeff Bridges worthy based on his performance? Not so much.

just my opinion.

Jude said...

Did Anna Kendrick really just come in 4TH PLACE? Whoa. She was my absolute favorite of all the nominees. Give it a few years, take another look at Up in the Air, and maybe you'll see what I see: A flawless (and I mean it) blend of comedy and drama. She nails every single second she appears on screen.

Ben said...

Very surpised at how much love Cruz got, how little Kendrick got, and the varying opinions on Farmiga. How can you not love Farmiga??

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Alex I do feel a little like a party crasher being the only one to give MoNique a four, still a stand by it. I'm surprised I wasn't the only one hating on Anna. It was loads of fun Stinky. Great job.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Whoa. Somehow, I felt someone, somewhere, would award a lower score to Mo'Nique's performance, but I am so excited to see that it was almost unanimous. When's the last time that happened? Has it ever?

I'm pretty happy to see that much love for Penelope. When I first saw those nominees, I thought, "Whaaaat?" But when I actually sat back and reflected on it, I remembered all the little things she does to make that character so relatable.

No surprise, though, that Maggie's performance was rated so low. Which is disappointing. One of my favorite actresses finally gets nominated, and this is the reason? *Sigh*

Also, I can't help but notice: Nathaniel and I have the exact same ratings. For everyone. I've never had that before, but it feels kind of nice.

Great show again, Lulu! Thanks for welcoming us into your home!

Criticlasm said...

A little late to the party here today, but I really enjoyed it.

I'm sad to see that Laurent wasn't nominated, as that performance really stuck with me, and I would have seen her as a runner-up to Mo'Nique. I can't even see Maggie as a runner-up. I do not get that. At all. Ever. Didn't hate the perf, and I like her, but don't really get that. Hope this isn't a year they, as a friend put it, "vote for the young tomato".

Suprised that people didn't like Kendrick more. I loved that scene when she fired the man in the other office - she was brilliant. I think it's hard to play someone who is so emotionally out of her depth without knowing that she is. It's a very smart performance, and I hope we see more of her.

Great job. If Mo'Nique doesn't win, there should be a riot. Srsly.

jakey said...

So bummed that I missed out this year -- "Nine" came and went in the local theaters as I should have seen it around Christmastime.

Entertainment Weekly did their annual Oscar issue where they interview anonymous voters (always an actor, producer, and director). One of them said he was voting for Anna Kendrick because everyone was gonna vote for Mo'Nique anyway. It's a rather scary thought that the majority could be voting this way.

ak said...

Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance in Crazy Heart was fine. Better than average actually. There were many actresses that were better than her, but oh well as far as Oscar fare goes, theyve made worse decisions in the past. I totally agree that the Bridges/Gyllenhaal romance was unbelievable. Separately, they were good actors but they had no chemistry together.

Elizabeth said...

I agree wholeheartedly. I think Maggie Gylennhall or however you spell her name has gotten way too much credit for way too long, playing a stock character that isn't even believable.

Sean said...

I was glad to see Anna Kendrick come in 4th; if I could change it to 5th I would. Like everything else in 'Up in the Air,' aside from the resplendent Vera Farmiga, I find Kendrick to be massively over-rated.

There could never be a winner besides Mo'Nique. What can one really say; her performance is just scene after scene of agonizing, well-earned brilliance.

If I could change this shortlist to suit my unique preferences of the Supporting Actresses of this year, I'd keep Farmiga and Mo'Nique, and substitute the other three for Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), Susanne Lothar (The White Ribbon), and Samantha Morton (The Messenger)

Sean said...

I was glad to see Anna Kendrick come in 4th; if I could change it to 5th I would. Like everything else in 'Up in the Air,' aside from the resplendent Vera Farmiga, I find Kendrick to be massively over-rated.

There could never be a winner besides Mo'Nique. What can one really say; her performance is just scene after scene of agonizing, well-earned brilliance.

If I could change this shortlist to suit my unique preferences of the Supporting Actresses of this year, I'd keep Farmiga and Mo'Nique, and substitute the other three for Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), Susanne Lothar (The White Ribbon), and Samantha Morton (The Messenger)

StinkyLulu said...

re Kendrick/Farmiga: It's been my experience, after doing smackdowns for nearly 1/2 of all the Supporting Actress rosters, that "lighter" performances (performances in "comic" dramas) are consistently among the most polarizing. For every two people who adore such a performance, there's another who thinks it's terribly overrated. And I'm always fascinated to see the phenomenon repeat -- as it seems to be doing today.

Glenn said...

Considering I wrote about Mo'nique for the supporting actress blogathon, I am definitely down with this landslide of a victory.

joe burns said...

Monique is the best, of course, but, as you know, I really liked Anna Kendrick as well. I also enjoyed Farmiga too. I don't understand Maggie's nomination though. My ranking:
1. Monique
2. Anna Kendrick
3. Vera Farmiga
4. Penelope Cruz
5. Maggie Gyllenhaal

troyhopper said...

Great smackdown, as usual. I really appreciate and look forward to everyone's various perspectives.

Like most people I'm firmly planted in camp Mo'Nique, as her performance was completely revelatory. When I alerted my friend with whom I saw "Crazy Heart" that Maggie G. had been nominated, his response was that the kid was better than she was -- and that pretty much said it all.

As for the "Up in the Air" women, I think that Vera Farmiga had the harder job, which makes the fact that her performance looks so easy that much more impressive. Anna Kendrick certainly does have her moments, but I find mannered turns like hers to be exhausting, and often times lacking seamlessness. It's almost as if you can hear the actor thinking his/her next move.

The more I consider Kendrick's performance, however, the more I wonder what Reese Witherspoon would have been able to do with the role a decade or so ago. I feel like that would have been a great marriage of actress and part.

Matt said...

Glad to see Mo'Nique win the Smackdown. Powerful, mesmerizing, spectacular work.

Malcolm said...

Hi, Stinkylulu!

I'm Malcolm from The Final Oscar (mylastoscar.wordpress.com)

I've been reading through your blog for a long time. And I am always fascinated. So, I was inspired to do my own smackdown. It's about the nominees for 2008 Best Picture. I am inviting you to join, if you will. So, if you want to join, just email me in mylastoscar@gmail.com to confirm whether you'll join or not.

By the way, about the smackdown, here is my post:

I look forward in seeing you join in the smackdown.

Thanks and have a good day!

Meade Skelton Haufe said...

Well, I personally would have voted for Nicole Kidman. I don't know who half of those people on the list are. But Penelope Cruz is very nice to look at. I wonder how her husband Tom feels about it.

Nick Duval said...

I love the idea of the hearts and the voting system.

Douglas Reese said...

Please don't tell me the site is dead. :(

Nacho said...

1) Penelope Cruz, Nine ((WINNER))
2) Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy heart
3) Anna Kendrick, Up in the air
4) Vera Farmiga, Up in the air
5) Mo'nique, Precious

My personal nominees:
1) Anna Kendrick, Up in the air
2) Diane Kruger, Inglorious Basterds
3) Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy heart
4) Mélanie Laurent, Inglorious Basterds
5) Penelope Cruz, Nine

C.J. O'Dell said...

You guys got it right. Even though my reply is almost 4 years late.

C.J. O'Dell said...

This reply might be 4 years late but you guys got it right.

alice brown said...

Does anyone know if Madeline Kahn knew she had ovarian cancer when she made "Judy Berlin"? Also, did she have a romantic relationship with Burt Reynolds?

alice brown said...

How was "City Heat", also a movie that Madeline made with Burt Reynolds?