Supporting actors can add so much to a film and even occasionally steal them out from under the leads. Here are the most memorable supporting performances I saw in 2010, along with some citations for ensemble casts:

Christian Bale
Both he and Mark Wahlberg seem to do better work in supporting roles than leads, so when he takes second billing to Wahlberg in The Fighter, I guess it’s no surprise that he comes off better. Bale’s skeletal appearance draws your eye, but it’s his broken-down theatrics and his devotion to his little brother (which helps him conquer his crack habit) that keep your attention fixed on him.



Anne-Marie Duff
In Nowhere Boy, she’s a woman perfectly suited to being a cool older sister to a teenage John Lennon. Too bad she’s his mother instead. She grasps her own inadequacy as a parent, but her sexual energy and creativity are irrepressible, and Duff makes her into a powerful life force. Seeing her, you can easily imagine how the real Lennon might have been haunted by the loss of this vibrant woman from his life.


Guillermo Francella
Revered as a TV comedian in his native Argentina, this actor acquitted himself well in a dramatic role in The Secret in Their Eyes that still nevertheless managed to use his comic skills. He plays a legal assistant whose social life seems to revolve around getting drunk with his buddies, and whose habits nevertheless prove to be a valuable asset in a rape-homicide case before becoming a casualty of it (and facing it down bravely). He makes hanging out in bars seem like the route to wisdom.


Jonah Hill
We got used to seeing him as the funny fat kid in Judd Apatow’s comedies, so who would have thought he had something in him like his performance in Cyrus? As a future failed musician who’s the love of his mother’s life and the biggest obstacle to her happiness, he’s bizarre, self-centered, pathologically needy, and more than a little bit scary. This low-key turn gives us a whole other side to this actor. Let’s see more.


Gemma Jones
If You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger had been one of Woody Allen’s stronger efforts, we might be hearing more right now about her turn as a jilted, suicidal wife who becomes obsessed with past lives and the occult. As it is, her sweaty nervous energy is evident from the very beginning, and by the end, when she’s a stone-cold believer in her psychic’s prophecies, she’s no less worrisome in her contentment. It took a while for this 70-year-old doyenne of British stage and television to find a great movie role, but here it is.


Mark Ruffalo and Mia Wasikowska
Ruffalo is oh so hot as an easygoing restaurateur and organic farmer in The Kids Are All Right, but then you see him in his last scene at the doorstep and you realize that this guy’s actions have wounded him in places he didn’t even know existed, and it’s so moving. In that same scene, Wasikowska as his biological daughter is heartbreaking as a girl struggling to comprehend how a guy she looked up to could have inflicted so much damage on her family. As the moral center of this movie, she cuts you deep.


Michael Shannon and Kristen Stewart
The reason The Runaways popped off the screen wasn’t the TV-movie-of-the-week quality of the drug addiction-centered main storyline. It was the contributions of these two, Shannon hamming it up to massively entertaining effect as the savvy, self-aggrandizing pop music mogul and Stewart knocking out songs and bedding girls left and right as Joan Jett. They may have deserved a better movie, but they made this one enjoyable on its own.


Birol Ünel
As the flamboyant, knife-throwing chef in Soul Kitchen, he drops into a Greek-German restaurateur’s life and proceeds to pitch hissyfits, make haute cuisine out of French fries and lettuce, spike a party dessert with an aphrodisiac Honduran tree bark, come into the restaurant when he damn well pleases, and spend the rest of the time off somewhere living a much cooler life than anybody else. It’s a plum supporting role, and the Turkish-born Ünel makes him seedy, glamorous, and a lot of fun.


Supporting cast, Black Swan
Nice job by Darren Aronofsky and company just to find three actresses who look like Natalie Portman. Mila Kunis’ role is much tougher than it looks — in some scenes she’s supposed to be a tormenting succubus, in others a friendly dancer with some regrettable personal habits, and in still others, well, we’re supposed to be unsure as to which one she is. She pitches it all perfectly. Elsewhere, Barbara Hershey makes a memorable mother from hell, and Winona Ryder is booze-soaked and bitchy as the dancer being pushed out. And just for the hell of it, Vincent Cassel takes a potentially cardboard villain role and makes him magnetic and sexual.

Supporting cast, The Ghost Writer
Real shame about Kim Cattrall and her woeful attempt at a posh British accent. Everybody else in Roman Polanski’s thriller is really good, starting with Pierce Brosnan as the disgraced former British P.M. who comes off as an empty suit but turns out to be a true believer in the war on terror. Eli Wallach and Tom Wilkinson both make forceful impressions as reclusive types shedding light on the politician’s doings, but the most indelible of all is Olivia Williams as the ex-prime minister’s wife, brilliant, frustrated, defensive, embittered, and knowing more lethal secrets than anyone else.

Supporting cast, Please Give
Nicole Holofcener’s comedy has one of those ensembles that produces finely tuned interplay rather than star turns. It makes every scene a small joy, from an unexpected bonding session over dog-walking between a 15-year-old girl (Sarah Steele) and her radiology tech next-door neighbor (Rebecca Hall) or a country drive where the tech’s difficult grandmother (Ann Guilbert) is softened up by a patient’s grandmother who’s the same age (Lois Smith). Oliver Platt and Amanda Peet brighten this comedy further.

Supporting cast, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
It wasn’t just the visual effects and director Edgar Wright’s bells and whistles that gave you so much to watch here. It was this ridiculously cool young cast, whether it was Alison Pill and Aubrey Plaza demonstrating two different types of deadpan sarcasm, Mark Webber as a nervous Nellie of a lead singer, Ellen Wong as a toad-to-tiger of an ex-girlfriend, Johnny Simmons as a dim roadie, or Anna Kendrick as Scott’s gossip-girl sister. Special mention goes to Chris Evans parodying himself as a douchebag alpha-male movie star and Kieran Culkin playing the gay best friend role as if he was the first actor who got there. Specialer mention to Webber, Pill, Satya Bhabha, and Brie Larson for contributing to this movie’s kick-ass soundtrack as well.