Out of all of the Top 5 lists I have compiled this year, female supporting artists was definitely the most difficult one to master. With most of the other categories, they filled up early and it was a case of reviewing each new potential entry and deciding if they deserved to knock anyone off of the already established list. But with female performances (the lead actors was easier to collate, but definitely harder than both male actor lists), I really struggled with a lack of entries. I began looking at performances that weren’t really good enough, but simply defaulting onto the list. In the end, I had to take to the internet, soaking in any feminist movie that had great women performances within (thank you Adam Mulgrew for giving me a concise breakdown via Twitter), binging so many movies in the space of the week. Exhausted, but finally clutching at a list of five, I was ready to give out my Top 5 Supporting Actresses of 2017. But the moral of the story: Hollywood needs to start writing better female parts. Frankly, I got a little embarrassed.
5 – TESSA THOMPSON – THOR: RAGNAROK
A lot of praise has gone on Gal Gadot’s feminist superhero movie, Wonder Woman, this year for bringing the superhero film back to the girls. But, coasting under the female empowerment radar, in my books, was Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie. Yeah, sure, a good supporting female role in a superhero movie isn’t unheard of. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique are superb characters in their own right. The issue here is that Wonder Woman sees the first time a woman has stepped into her own movie. But that doesn’t mean that the supporting roles should be dropped in quality from here on out.
There was a lot I didn’t like about Thor: Ragnarok, an amusing, but inherently silly romp through a Marvel blockbuster, yet Tessa Thompson could be defined as the saving grace. A more subtle form of humour, mainly because her character’s funny side wasn’t being as forced as everyone else’s. She had a deep character arc, paired with her funny habit of essentially being the stereotypical male loner warrior. Drinking from a bottle, taking on hordes of enemies drunk, Tessa Thompson handled the role of Valkyrie so smoothly that there was very little comment on how she took the trademarks out from under the male character’s feet and scored a point for the girls. A subtly powerful performance from Tessa Thompson, which hopefully doesn’t get lost in the upcoming Marvel movies.
4 – SOPHIA LILLIS – IT
The surprising thing about It was that, while it was easily the scariest film of the year, frights weren’t all it had going for it. Andy Maschietti never forgot that It wasn’t just a movie about a killer clown scaring children, but a thoroughly complex novel written by the horror maestro Stephen King. A large part of Maschietti making his horror so much more than a Friday Night spooky story were the incredibly deep performances from the child actors. The best of the bunch was clearly Sophia Lillis as the sole girl in the group, Beverley Marsh.
It’s a tough role to fill, a girl on the edge of her sexuality and being treated like a common slut because of it. She was going through puberty and being objectified for it, a terrifying personal sense of fears that nicely paired with the supernatural villain creeping into her life. Lillis makes sure her performance is even better when paired with the young boys, each one reacting differently to her. Her relationships with the two male leads are mesmerising to watch. It is nice to see a horror movie pay more than lip service to the character and that is partially down to Sophia Lillis going above and beyond in the child actor category.
3 – KIM MIN-HEE – THE HANDMAIDEN
Kim Min-hee’s supporting part in the Handmaiden nearly passed me by this year. Perhaps that is part of the beauty of the performance that it is so naturally subtle, you miss how strong Min-hee truly is. She is helped by Park Chan-wook who is famous for being able to extract amazing performances from his actors. But also, the performance is subtly wonderful, because you need to get to the second half of the movie to realise just how strong the first half is. Kim Min-hee truly works the multi-layered side of the character. She is both child-like and uncomfortably mature. She is horribly dependent on others, but also able to break away from her elders. Most people go to Korean cinema for the action, but here we find a Korean film that you come to in order to witness some powerfully shocking performances. Kim Min-hee’s Sook-hee is part of that equation.
2 – HOLLY HUNTER – THE BIG SICK
Holly Hunter doesn’t truly show up until halfway through The Big Sick, but when she does, the movie improves tenfold. It is simply a case of a veteran actress, who has been strong for so many years, walking into a superbly written supporting part and owning it. Hunter, knowing her character is a real-life person, made the decision to not meet the true counterpart and take her grieving mother figure in her own direction. The end result is a wonderfully shifting role that is unpredictably complex. Hunter takes every character beat and knocks them out of the park. It’s the stubborn hostility, the explosive anger, the wallowing sadness… The Big Sick might be a comedy, but Hunter’s acting is so incredible that for a long time, the script stops trying to be funny, knowing that its audience are going to appreciate a great actress being amazing on-screen.
1 – KELLY MACDONALD – GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN
But the female supporting role that truly blew me away this year was Kelly MacDonald in Goodbye Christopher Robin. Perhaps some of the reason was that there were several performances that rang hollow in that film. Domhnall Gleeson rarely wavered by that stoic British father stereotype reserved for films of this period. Margot Robbie disguised a one-note performance with comedy, albeit funny. And the child actors, while strong, needed an adult to bring power to their scenes. It meant that Kelly MacDonald remained free to seize the MVP of the movie.
You constantly feel sorry for this brave nanny. As the parents of Christopher Robin become more and more estranged, she becomes the true maternal figure to the young boy. It is beautiful watching this relationship grow over time, through the ups and downs of Christopher Robin’s life. MacDonald’s character is clearly suffering at being unable to actually control the direction Christopher Robin’s life takes, but remains there to support him anyway. By the time, the film gets to its end, it will be MacDonald stealing the most emotional scenes.