This is the final post today, and I thought it was quite fitting that it ended with the first of the acting categories, which, as my favourite categories, are the real meat of these awards (along with the top ten, naturally). For the four acting categories I will, as with my top ten, be providing a short commentary as to why the particular choice has been made.
So, here are the Gold Stars for Best Supporting Actor.
The cast of The History Boys, taken wholesale from the ensemble that performed Alan Bennett's hit play on-stage, are overall rather dampened on the screen, it seems, with about half of the eight titular boys having virtually nothing to do as the others dominate the rather iffy plot strands which entwine with their teachers. Cooper is, indeed, one of these dominators, and he's so good at dominating that he just about eclipses the rest of the cast into nothingness. Magnetic, cocksure and irrepressibly arrogant, Cooper's Dakin is perfectly wise to the effect he has on fellow student Posner (Samuel Barnett) and his new teacher (Stephen Campbell Moore), and Cooper is superb at carrying off his character's freewheeling attitude towards them. Cooper is given an alarmingly direct speech towards the end of the film, which nevertheless fits congruously within the smooth limits Cooper has given to his character. Dakin evidently undergoes a large mental shift through the film, but Cooper is smart enough to almost ignore this- Dakin could be dying inside, but you'd never know it for all his smarts. Cooper is one The History Boys' few actors whose presence is still felt with the move to film, and I can't wait to see his next move.
[Warning: spoilers] Dano may be young like Cooper, but his character is markedly different- Dwayne is a self-imposed mute for much of the movie, and though that's certainly a hook we've seen before, Dano has fun with his sullen facial expressions and manages the clever balance between amusement and exasperation as his family exude their unique craziness around him. However, it's in the second half of the film that the film allows Dano to truly make an impact. When Dwayne's dreams come crashing unexpectedly down around his head, Dano turns a rather stodgy moment in the script into a truly devastating emotional head- at first, his silence so normal to him now, he wordlessly freaks out in the back of the minivan, face bleeding with upset, body jangling like nobody's business. The impact Dano manages to inject into his profane breaking of his silence is not simply loud, but hurtful: this is a boy so undone he can't will himself to exist anymore; he needs to break himself apart. As the movie makes its way to an ending, the focus moves to Dwayne's little sister Olive (Abigail Breslin), but Dano does superb stuff in the background too: quietly healing his new wounds, Dano shows how Dwayne finds solace in the people he had previously been spurning: his family.
12 and Holding was a truly surprising movie to me when I finally saw it just a few weeks ago: intelligent, mature, unpredictable, truthful. And this is a movie that's primarily concerned with children. After the opening tragedy the film pretty much divides itself between the three closest children to the boy who died: his brother, and two friends, one a portly male whose loss of smell leads to surprising events, and the other a young pre-teen girl (Zoe Weizenbaum) with a psychiatrist mother. It is in this latter thread that Jeremy Renner comes into play. As the troubled patient of Weizenbaum's mother, Renner's character could easily be played using the usual dolorous expressions and mumbling speech patterns, but, to his immense credit, Renner eschews that. His physicality is perfectly normal, yet underlined by a weighty sadness- you constantly get the sense that Renner is a man on a precipe, ready and even willing to fall. The plot entails Weizenbaum getting a crush on Renner and enters some potentially creepy territory, but director Michael Cuesta, while making it clear that Weizenbaum is not really understanding the world around her, doesn't give in to anything predictable. And neither does Renner: it would be easy to give his character extreme reactions to the situations he's in, but Renner is superb at underplaying his character while slowly chipping away his depression. Gus Maitland is a man lost; Jeremy Renner is a man to be found.
The Departed's cast is so rich that there's quality to see everywhere you look, and yet, every time I've seen it, it's the dynamic combination of Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg's unexpected partnership that stands out to me. These two actors are remarkably different in acting style and indeed character, and yet, as is surely intended, they compliment each other strikingly well. Wahlberg has a ball with his character's angry, foul-mouthed and arrogant attitude, yet ultimately embues it with real damaged and committed depth; Sheen, meanwhile, patiently sighs at Wahlberg's profane rants and then gets on with his job. He reluctantly yet welcomingly becomes a helping hand to Leonardo DiCaprio's Billy Costigan (which he'll live- or not- to regret), and Sheen plays the experienced boss with an unexpected warmth and alertness. The Departed's unravelling plot ensures that this team don't actually spend much screentime together, but both are a treat whether together or apart, and I think that's the mark of a great actor.
Apologies to: Rob Brydon, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story; Danny Glover, Manderlay; Chazz Palminteri, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints