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!: “Moonlight”

Set in a Miami of demanding exclamation points, Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight presents identity as a question mark. Not only is self-actualization the victim of social norms and expectations, but one’s identity is often out of reach thanks to that very circumstance. As if that weren’t insurmountable enough, there is also trauma grabbing us by the neck to define us. And is our chosen persona something we chase or run from? In Jenkins’s hand, identity is tough to define as we’re always in a state of transition as well.

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Let’s not be so tacky as to call Moonlight universal. The story of young African American Chiron’s developing awareness of his homosexuality within the drug-riddled Miami inner-city may have various points of entry over its triptych for all audiences to relate, but Jenkins never chases anything but the hyper specific. His open-hearted (or bursting hearted) approach to a very exact story is certainly for everybody, but it is not of everybody. The magic of the film’s glorious specificity is how much room it allows for those profound questions of identity politics. How much of who we are is decided for us and what do we get to decide for ourselves?

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