2007 Calvin Awards: Best Supporting Actress

February 12, 2007

I think we made someone's day!

2006 is yet another year that exemplifies how difficult it is for actresses to find roles in which they can truly shine. If our list of top performers this year is any indication, the best hope for women to find quality roles is to seek out the smaller budgeted films that are then in turn less likely to be seen by a larger audience.

As an example, our winner, Abigail Breslin, had an amazing breakthrough performance in a movie budgeted at only $8 million and picked up as a potential winner by Fox Searchlight at last year's Sundance festival. If someone had told you in January of 2006 that Little Miss Sunshine would wind up making almost $60 million at the domestic box office, you would have laughed, right? And yet, on the strength of many winning performances, most particularly Breslin's, the film struck a chord and stayed with audiences. Breslin is a mere ten-years-old, but that didn't stop her from totally immersing herself in a role that had her playing a somewhat plain little girl with great aspirations. It's impossible not to love her and appreciate her genuine pleasure and enjoyment for what she is doing onscreen.

Our runner-up is an actress who previously got positive raves for her outstanding performance in the tiny indie film My Summer of Love. That was more than enough to get Emily Blunt enough attention to leverage her talent for a big-budget film featuring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway in the lead roles. Blunt plays the detail-oriented, neurotic and competitive Emily, who is one of the two assistants to the ghastly magazine editor Miranda Priestley (Streep). Despite her determination to get ahead in the job at all costs, she's not simply a one-dimensional character who the audience grows to hate. In Blunt's skilled hands, Emily becomes a vulnerable, insecure young woman who is aware that she is only moments from a fall from grace in the eyes of her boss that could end her budding career.

In a movie full of testosterone and violence, Vera Farmiga stands out as the lone female voice in The Departed. Her role is crucial, too, because it is through her character, the police psychologist Madolyn, that we are truly able to see the human sides of her patient Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and her boyfriend Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). Farmiga has previously received attention for a strong performance in Down to the Bone, and the hope would be that her ability to hold her own against huge name performers in The Departed will open some doors.

Four place belongs to newcomer Rinko Kikuchi, who was up to the challenge of playing a deaf Japanese girl who still suffers over the death of her mother in the not-too-distant past. She does a fine job of shifting from petulant to miserable in a flash, and adeptly proves how her character views physical contact and intimacy as a way to recover. It's a brave performance in that bleak, depressing film known as Babel.

How impressive is Claire-Hope Ashitey, the young woman who played a critical member of society in Children of Men? Consider for a moment that this was only her second film, and she was able to impress us as she performed alongside the likes of Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Ashitey had a centeredness and focus that helped to drive the film to its never-predictable conclusion.

Sixth and seventh spots go to women who offered up key supporting roles in quintessentially British dramas. Sylvia Syms hasn't received much awards attention this year for her performance as the Queen Mum, but she was simply marvelous as a bound-by-tradition woman with definite ideas about the proper place of royalty. Our next favorite was Cate Blanchett, who is as consistent and reliable a performer as any working today. While her character's actions in Notes on a Scandal are less than savory, she is nonetheless able to make Sheba a sympathetic human being who compares favorably to her counterpart, Judi Dench.

It's not very often that we give actors and actresses attention for their work in horror films, but The Descent is certainly a deserved exception. Natalie Mendoza's Juno is an adventure-seeking woman with an upbeat attitude, but we see the depth of her character as things begin to go wrong in the cave she has selected for exploration. Tied with Mendoza is Maribel Verdu, who first caught our attention as "the woman" in Y Tu Mama Tambien. This time around, she plays a revolutionary who must play both sides as she is servant to a sadistic general for the fascist side in 1944 Spain. Where the film blends fantasy and reality, Verdu's character is grounded in the all-too-real, and she is able to be both terrified and tough in the face of mortal danger.

Our list is rounded out by Helen McCrory, who manages to make the wife of the British Prime Minister seem both ordinary (she's a normal wife with a home that anyone might live in) and extraordinary (she is highly intelligent with well-formed opinions and ideas about the usefulness of the royal family). Maria Bello is tied with McCrory for our final spot, and is memorable in her World Trade Center role as a woman whose dysfunctional relationship seems to be falling apart, but comes to realize what is truly important when she believes her husband is lost.

Just missing our top ten are Meryl Streep in A Prairie Home Companion and Babel's Adrianna Barazza. (Kim Hollis/BOP)

Top 10
Position Actress Film Total Points
1 Abigail Breslin Little Miss Sunshine 57
2 Emily Blunt The Devil Wears Prada 43
3 Vera Farmiga The Departed 37
4 Rinko Kikuchi Babel 26
5 Claire-Hope Ashitey Children of Men 25
6 Sylvia Syms The Queen 23
7 Cate Blanchett Notes on a Scandal 20
8(tie) Natalie Mendoza The Descent 17
8(tie) Maribel Verdu Pan's Labyrinth 17
10(tie) Helen McCrory The Queen 16
10(tie) Maria Bello World Trade Center 16

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