Historically, the category of Best Supporting Actress has caused chaos for BOP’s staff. We oftentimes disagree about whether a role is primary or secondary in nature, and Hollywood has an unfortunate tendency to underwrite women’s parts, magnifying the issue. This past year was a pleasant change in this regard.
2017 Calvin Awards: Best Supporting Actress
By David Mumpower
February 23, 2017
A clear division existed in the lead acting category as opposed to complementary work, and that’s a credit to the industry we take to task when they’re lazy. Hollywood was better, and they deserve acknowledgement for (finally) showing some improvement. For that reason, our voters had an easier time choosing the best of the best in the female acting categories, although the results were still extremely close due to four exceptional performances this year. Any of them could have won the category and stood as a fitting champion.
The most thankless of roles on our list is also our favorite for the year. BOP’s loved Naomie Harris going all the way back to 28 Days Later, and we’ve celebrated several of her performances since then. She’d never won prior to this year, though. That changed when she took on the role of Paula in Moonlight. Frankly, she’s a difficult character to like.
When we first meet Paula, she’s a drug addict who cares more about her next high than the health and safety of her son, Chiron. She calls him Little, presumably due to his combination of size and sweetness. The mother already knows that her son is gay, and she seems to think less of a small child for something so trivial and completely beyond his control. Her actions are so deplorable that even her drug dealer finds her loathsome.
Since the story of Moonlight spans roughly 20 years, Paula does change or at least acts like she does. Her bond with her son is long since broken, however, assuming that it ever truly existed in the first place. What’s impressive about Harris in this role is how fearless she is. Many thespians would feel the need to add some semblance of heart to Paula. Harris goes the other way entirely, relishing in her horrible parenting choices and callous inhumanity. She makes her character utterly lacking in empathy, and that causes the audience to feel all the more protective of Chiron, the most important character in Moonlight. It’s a refreshingly ignoble take on parenting and the breathing definition of supportive acting. While the results were close, our staff gives the nod to Harris as the Best Supporting Actress of the year.
Finishing in a very close second, about half a ballot behind the winner, is Octavia Spencer for her work in Hidden Figures. BOP has already established that we’re huge fans of Spencer’s comfort food style of acting, as she won this category five years ago for her work in The Help. Whereas she played a generally helpful but infrequently vindictive character in her most famous role to date, Spencer elevates Hidden Figures with a more measured performance.
As Dorothy, the self-taught FORTRAN expert, she’s first denied a promotion that she deserves before forcing her superiors to acknowledge that the entire division would be lost without her. While several other actors have showier roles, Spencer’s work as Dorothy embodies the underlying struggle African-Americans faced every day while they worked for NASA. Her ability to drown out the noise and decipher new ways to improve the company didn’t just aid her own career by those of the other women working under her in the office. In a country founded on the belief that hard work leads to opportunities, the character of Dorothy underscores a hidden class struggle. As the real Dorothy Vaughan once said, “I changed what I could, and what I couldn't, I endured.” Spencer’s elegant portrayal of this thankless job situation is one of the reasons why Hidden Figures became a box office blockbuster.
Performances from three different Academy Awards nominees for Best Picture complete our top five this year. Michelle Williams has spent recent years selecting some of the saddest roles imaginable, but she really upped her game with Manchester by the Sea. She portrayed Randi, a woman dealing with the fallout of a mistake her husband made that cost her the lives of her children. Her arc is critical to the resolution of the film, and she brings her expected decency to the part.
A second performance from Hidden Figures earns another spot in the top four. Janelle Monae plays Mary, a woman who has to petition the government of the city of Hampton, Virginia, to complete the schooling necessary to advance her career. Monae’s elegant transition from pop singer to actress included two amazing performances this year. Our staff preferred the strong-willed take on Mary Jackson, a true American hero whose research into heat shields greatly advanced American’s efforts at putting a man on the moon.
Our fifth entry comes from Fences. For her portrayal of Rose Lee Maxson, Viola Davis has torn up awards season and is currently the odds-on favorite to win an Academy Award at the time of publication. Our staff sympathized with her plight as the wife of a dangerous man who bears a child eerily similar in personal makeup. When father and son fight, something that happens often, it’s Rose left to pick up the pieces. Davis brings a no-nonsense nature and a stubborn belief in family to the portrayal, and she’s the soul of a great film, making her a worthy choice for our top five.
Comedic roles comprise our sixth and seventh place entrants. Kate McKinnon’s offbeat take on Dr. Holtzmann in the reboot of Ghostbusters amused her many fans at BOP. Her recent election season hot streak on Saturday Night Live also probably helped her voting total a bit. Meanwhile, Angourie Rice claims the title of youngest entrant this year, as the recently turned 16-year-old won our acclaim for her work as the remarkably self-reliant teen daughter of a misfit private detective. Rice’s deadpan delivery combined with her unmistakable love for her dad impressed us, although a teen girl showing fondness for Ryan Gosling isn’t necessarily great acting. We loved Rice’s tenderness and soft spot for the flawed man who dedicated his life to raising her and marveled at her ability to pull off a believable Veronica Mars Jr. impression. Rice is someone to watch.
A wizard, the mother of a child with special powers, someone with a truly unfortunate last name complete our top ten this year. Alison Sudol is the second musician to make a successful transition to actress in this year’s last. Our staff adored her turn as the prescient Queenie in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Kirsten Dunst’s latest marvelous performance came in Midnight Special, as the absentee parent of a kid with such staggering abilities that he’s treated as the chosen one of an entire religion. Dunst masterfully shows in brief interactions with the boy that moms will still act like moms, even when their child might be the second coming. Finally, Imogen Poots shows tremendous tenacity in gritting her way out of the titular Green Room, an impossible situation. Her determination is the only reason her friends have a chance at survival. Given that Poots might not weigh 100 pounds soaking weight, her fearlessness in the face of mountainous skinheads is impressive.
Several laudable performances didn’t quite earn a nomination this year. Katherine Waterston almost garnered a second nod for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Nicole Kidman returned to greatness in Lion, Zoey Deutch impressed in Everybody Wants Some!!, Tilda Swinton pulled off double duty as twins in Hail, Caesar!, and Greta Gerwig extended BOP’s collective crush on her in 20th Century Women.
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music