2005: Best Supporting Actress

10. Amy Adams – JUNEBUG
I hated JUNEBUG with a deep passion, and never understood the film’s critical acclaim. However, I do get the attention brought to Amy Adams as the ridiculously cheerful, pregnant daughter. She brings life and energy to this otherwise deadly dull film with words that are filled with cheerleader-like optimism, even when addressing sore issues like her lazy brother or excruciating labor pains.

9. Ziyi Zhang – 2046
Zhang plays a mature, careful woman who slowly drops her guard and begins a relationship with the emotionally damaged Tony Leung. Her initial reluctance develops dangerously into a real love, something Leung has no interest in. Zhang perfectly captures the frustration of dating someone who could be great, if they could just get over their past, and it's full of all the emotion that was missing from her work in MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA.

8. Tyran Manning – HUSTLE & FLOW
There are a lot of great performances in HUSTLE & FLOW, but I was really taken aback by Manning. As the story develops her prostitue character finds herself to be the main confidant, and perhaps closest friend of her pimp boss. This creates conflict when she finds herself being shut out of his new life as a rap artist, and it comes to a head in a heart stopping sequence where he attempts to peddle her services in exchange for some equipment. Her ultimate salvation is so upbeat and believably right, it made me laugh with joy.

7. Michelle Williams – BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
There are a lot of romantic casualties in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Besides the two main guys, a lot of innocent women also suffer the pain of forbidden love. None receive as direct a blow to the heart as Michelle Williams’ character. She’s the first to learn of her husband’s painful secret, and it happens in a most shocking way. From there, Wiliams’ attempts to continue living a life of day to day normalcy, and you can see it eating her up inside. Even when confronting her husband abut their sham of a marriage, Williams’ smartly plays it as if still in shock. She would do anything for it to not be true.

6. Francis McDormand – NORTH COUNTRY
I love all the acting in NORTH COUNTRY, but McDormand’s is the most authentic. While everyone else grabs their big moments, McDormand scores by feeling like she’s lived in that town with those people all of her life. She slyly steals the movie, acting as the hand of righteous anger until Charlize’s Josie finds her own inner fire. When McDormand’s character is saddled with a physical ailment, that all-purpose Oscar bait actually works against her naturalism.

5. Faye Wong – 2046
Faye Wong excels in two great performances in 2046. In the story set in the 60’s, Wong is the optimistic lover of writer Tony Leung. She sizes up Leung as damaged goods, but believes that over time she can mend his heart. She also plays an android in the futuristic love story Leung is writing who starts to feel emotions. Her physical movements perfectly suggest her robotic nature, while subtle facial expressions suggest the ways that love can make you happy or sad. Wong creates two characters of small similarities, and both enchant equally.

4. Toni Collette – IN HER SHOES
Cameron Diaz is very good in this overlooked drama, but Toni Collette is even better. (She also has just as much screen time, but is listed as a “Supporting” Actress.) Collette plays the frumpy, more responsible sister to Diaz’s self-destructive leach. Extremely confident with her career, her personal life is racked by low self-esteem. The two clash mightily before events shatter their bond completely. Rather than simply wait for her sister to come around, Collette also grows up a little (and has a very sweet romance). Her journey is fresh and fascinating and Collette carries us with her through all the changes.

3. Michelle Monaghan – KISS KISS BANG BANG
KISS KISS will always be seen as a guy’s movie, but Michelle Monaghan steals the show as aspiring actress Harmony Faith Lane. The role is like an actor’s decathlon as Monaghan is called on to act charming, smart, funny, dramatic, tough, scared, sexy and she even gets a crying scene. Most of her scenes are with a top-form Robert Downey Jr., and she dominates him nearly every time.

I hate that work in films like this are never given any serious consideration because Monaghan shows here that she’s capable of anything a script, actor or director can throw at her. This is a star-making performance which suggests a bottomless pool of talent.

By the time we meet Laura Linney’s character, she has already cheated on her husband and given up on the marriage. She’s seen as the villain, even though the husband treats her cruelly. Linney absorbs all this backstory and presents the character as she is now, a woman who has all but given up on life until divorce unexpectedly offers her the release to live for the first time in decades. A lot of what Linney does isn’t in the script, most of her major events happen off screen. She’s so good, those scenes are unnecessary.

Of the four acting categories (lead and supporting, male and female) Rachel Weisz gives the single best performance of the year. I’ve always thought of Weisz as a solid supporting movie star who can hold her own against big actors or big effects. Playing Tessa, Weisz transforms herself completely. I’ve never seen anything before to suggest she could even play this type of character, let alone play it so beautifully. Like Jennifer Connelly in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, this changes Weisz from a solid actress into a major acting talent.
Tessa is an activist crusader, the kind who will crash a fancy dinner party to corner someone on poverty conditions in Africa. Normally, these characters are looked at as crazy and everyone at the party feels awkward. Weisz plays Tessa as smart, measured…someone whose stance you cannot easily dismiss. She knows what she’s talking about and knows how to argue her side.

Tessa’s deep love for her husband (who is rather clueless to her work) also comes through in delicate scenes of quiet reflection. There’s a moment where her work and her marriage meet at a moral crossroads and Weisz plays the full weight of her decision, choosing one side could possibly destroy all that is important about the other. And there isn’t one moment where this feels like the same actress from THE MUMMY, ABOUT A BOY or CONSTANTINE.


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