Best Supporting Actress of 2016

And now the best acting category, the one that is both the most fun and painful to assemble: Best Supporting Actress. Olivia Colman’s dryly hilarious world-building in The Lobster is the most painful omission, but others I almost included were Dakota Johnson’s lying sexpot in A Bigger Splash, Lily Gladstone’s open-hearted minimalism in Certain Women, and Janelle Monáe’s one-two punch of Moonlight and Hidden Figures. Don’t expect much overlap between my list and tomorrow’s Oscar nominated bunch.

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Kate Dickie – The Witch
Dickie makes the horrors of The Witch all the more impactful thanks to her layered portrayal of religious zealotry and immigrant yourning. In her hands, the film turns from psychological horror to American tragedy. Quick: name a recent horror performance with this much humanity.

Paulina Garcia – Little Men
Her Leonor is maybe the most guarded of Ira Sachs’s Little ensemble, but Garcia has her filled with secrets. At once too private to share with even the audience and yet has the most clearly drawn pain. She’s a mixture of stubbornness and futility, a woman of warmth stifled into the cold.

Greta Gerwig – 20th Century Women
At once a quintessential Gerwig performance, but she has never been so emotionally accessible. The most outspoken of 20th Century‘s women, Gerwig’s naturalism is well used for a character that could have been its most cartoonish. Her most physically expressive performance, with dance moves that rival Ralph Fiennes.

Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Moonlight is rightfully praised for building its central character’s lifetime of pain, but Harris is just as revelatory for connecting the threads of Paula’s transition with far less material. Harris’s restraint is crucial in allowing us to see how addiction alters Paula’s true personality. Her ultimate humility is heartbreaking before she even apologizes.

Riley Keough – American Honey
The embodiment of the unfeeling corporate machine event to this crew of damaged goods. What first plays as a hard line of trust and expectation is complicated by hidden understanding and disappointment. She stifles herself in the sing-along, maybe she’s a believer herself under all that armor.

And the Winner Is…

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In Review!: “The Witch”

Winner of Best Director at last year’s Sundance Film Festival for former production designer and debut wunderkind Robert Eggers, The Witch is a jaw-dropper about a pre-revolutionary colonial family’s implosion after banishment from their settlement for unspecified contrarian religious practices. The family quickly unravels once hunger, lack of resources, and claustrophobic isolation settles in. Oh and also those satanic forces lurking in the surrounding woods. A nightmare-inducing formalist stunner, Egger’s debut is robust with context and deep with emotion before the scares even take their ruthless hold.

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These sentiments are not to discount the chills generated by the film, for they are varied and relentless. The initial tone is like an apparition following you up a flight of stairs or entering an illogically frigid room; something unnatural is making its presence known before fully revealing itself. Once that presence does (and far sooner than expected), the scares run the gamut from moodily vicious to spiritually paralyzing, with a decent peppering of jump scares. The Witch terrifies so deeply by shocking you differently at each turn. Never have barn animals been so demonically unsettling.

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