The Best Supporting Performances of 2016 You May Have Overlooked
2016 was a pretty whirlwind year, both in and out of the theater, for a lot of reasons. So, anyone could be forgiven for not paying some of this year's better supporting performances in film their proper due. This list (which is not a ranking—I don’t really go for that) serves as a reminder, or a chance to revisit supporting actors' uniformly great work that may have been outshone by current events or any other distractions, like awards talk. If you haven’t checked out the performances on this list, do yourself a favor and seek them out. Even if you don’t like the films mentioned, the performances provide plenty to chew on, cinematically speaking.
Patrick Stewart, Green Room
Sir Patrick Stewart's informal, quiet menace as the lead villain Darcy has to be seen to truly be believed. Here, Stewart employs some of the traits Star Trek: The Next Generation fans may be familiar with, but in service of a much more sinister aim—his commanding and authoritative voice ease the main characters into a false sense of security. While outside of their earshot, he turns gruff and mean as he plots their gruesome murders at the hands of his neo-Nazi lackeys. That stark duality Stewart is able to manage—sometimes within the same scene—is what really drives the threat home, even more so than weapons or attack animals, which is what earns him a spot on this list.
John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane
You simply do not have a film even a quarter as successful as 10 Cloverfield Lane without John Goodman as Howard. Goodman, much like Stewart’s performance in Green Room, threads the needle between paternalistic and full-on unhinged menace. His performance keeps to a throughline of a man with great pain at his core, coping in destructive and terrifying ways. Every moment he is on screen, Goodman reminds the viewer that any benefit Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) receives from Howard’s apocalypse-prepper lifestyle is purely incidental. The ending feels very tacked-on, but don’t let that stop you.
Kate Dickie, The Witch
In 17th century New England, disillusioned by their Puritan plantation's lack of discipline, William (Ralph Ineson) moves his family into the wilderness to further strengthen their values. William's wife Katherine, played by Kate Dickie, represents the connection to the disciplines they're trying to embrace. Her connection to their old life, in conflict with her devotion to William, is at play in most of her scenes. You can easily see her struggle when disciplining their children—as a Puritan wife she wants to do all she can to make William’s endeavor successful. She very nearly loses that thread when her prized toasting cup goes missing and she begins pointing fingers. Dickie has the most chilling moment in the film, when the traumas visited upon the family, which may or may not include a witch, finally become too much for her to soldier through.
Janelle Monae, Moonlight
Like Mahershala Ali’s Juan, Monae’s Teresa provides the space in Moonlight where Little/Chiron (Alex Hibbert/Ashton Sanders) can feel not just physically safe, but emotionally comfortable to be himself. Without Monae to play off of, Ali’s performance would be diminished. The work between Ali, Monae and Hibbert/Sanders represents the facets of our lead’s personality; he’s not any one of them in isolation, but all three at once, in conflict and sometimes in harmony. The softness, the warmth and the openness to be vulnerable are what make Little/Chiron and eventually Black (Trevante Rhodes) a whole person. Monae’s believability in the role and naturalistic feel to welcoming this boy off the street into her home is the foundation that makes Black’s final moments in the film truly cathartic.
Angourie Rice, The Nice Guys
Nobody saw this damn film and it’s a shame. Not only did people sleep on fantastic comic turns from Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, they also missed out on one of the most convincing and endearing performances from a young actress I’ve seen in a long time. Both Crowe’s Jackson Healy and Gosling’s Holland March have a personal drive to solve their case, but they also feel, on differing levels, a commitment to Rice’s Holly. Without Rice in the role, those relationships wouldn’t land, because as self-reliant and precocious as her character is—even breaking a decent chunk of the case for our leads—the actress herself has to be just as smart to make that work, and stuff.
Jena Malone, The Neon Demon
Jena Malone's Ruby, at first, presents herself to Jesse (Elle Fanning) as a friend and advisor—pointing out who Jesse can trust, reach out to, or avoid entirely in Los Angeles. From the moment Ruby lays eyes on Jesse, there’s an air of attraction, even if Jesse herself doesn’t realize or capitalizes on it, leaving it up to the viewer to ultimately decide. That attraction progresses to obsession and wrong-headed ownership, on Ruby’s part. Then it turns violent. Malone is so fully fearless in the role; her character is put into scenes that might turn off most of the audience, let alone any actor (my showing had two walks-outs during a certain scene). The confidence Malone tempers here, with desperate vulnerability and obsession, left me awestruck by the finale. This film itself is quite divisive, but it's worth a watch.
Kate McKinnon, Ghostbusters
Forget the YouTube comments, look past some shaky plotting and overdone cameos, Kate McKinnon is a Ghostbuster and nothing will change that. She’s also the single best part of this film, by leaps and bounds. While not being given a whole lot to work with, McKinnon makes Holtzmann a scene-stealer in line delivery, scene blocking and physical work that lands far better than a “strapping Melissa McCarthy to a runaway fire hose” gag. Holtzmann, or “Holtz” as her obviously-coded crush, Erin Gilbert, played by Kristen Wiig, calls her, is a scientist and engineer who takes only the tech seriously—interviewing their potential office assistant as a reporter from “Radio Times” and performing what I can only refer to as “The Dance of the Seven Acetylene Torches.” Ignore her performance under peril of not smiling ever again.
Chris Redd, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Designed by the needs of the script to overshadow the star power of Andy Samberg's Conner4Real on his own world tour, Chris Redd as Hunter the Hungry manages to steal scenes in a meta-textual fashion. Starting out simply as an up-and-coming rapper who draws attention to Conner’s lagging concert series, Hunter quickly begins to outshine Conner and even plans to embarrass him with literally the whole world watching (or DOES he?). Redd weaves his comedic performance with a mix of ambition, mischief and menace towards Conner, so much so that even the audience isn’t sure how it’ll all play out. It’s rare that a film introduces such an obvious “wildcard” character and has that character land so successfully, and much of that credit goes to Redd himself [or DOES it? (It does)].