Those screen sensations are the bit actors. Their parts range from a few minutes to mere seconds, but the performances often warrant a reward in their own right. (Yes, we're talking about you, creepy old 'Shutter Island' woman.)
Without further ado, we present the Bitties, honoring the best bit parts of Oscars season.
Best Creepy Old Woman: Jill Larson as Manacled Woman in 'Shutter Island'
Leonardo DiCaprio arrives at Ashcliffe Hospital. He sees a grinning mental patient raking the grass. OK, unstable, but not really threatening. Then a senior mindlessly pruning in the garden. Seems harmless enough. Then a semi-comatose young woman wandering by. Nothing too disturbing there. Ah, hold up -- who's the deranged old woman with the spooky vacant eyes, almost no hair and a ragged scar across her neck?! If you were wondering where Scorsese unearthed the frightening loony-bird that you can't forget from the trailer ... the answer is Pine Valley. Yep, that's Opal. Relive the super-creepy moment 36 seconds into the trailer:
Best Actor Playing Younger Version of the Lead:
Enver Gjokaj as Young Jack in 'Stone'
The least meaty role in a movie? It has to be the young version of the protagonist -- as in Kiddie Bruce Wayne or Eighth-Grade Olive. So credit Enver Gjokaj, known, if at all, as Victor in Joss Whedon's now-departed 'Dollhouse.' In 2010, his chilling flashback performance opened the Edward Norton/Robert De Niro psychological thriller 'Stone.'
In the scene, Gjokaj plays parole officer De Niro as a young man threatening to harm his daughter to keep his wife a literal prisoner in their unhappy marriage. It's a tiny but terrific piece of work in which Gjokaj seems to be channeling the De Niro of 'Mean Streets,' 'The Godfather: Part II' and 'The Deer Hunter,' where his savage intensity is matched by his unaffected, easy manner.
Best Normal Person Playing Himself:
Sgt. Russell Schalk as Army Recruiter in 'Winter's Bone'
Oscar voters love to give out statues for playing a real person, from Helen Keller to Sgt. Alvin York to Erin Brockovich to Queen Elizabeth, and this year, all signs point to Colin Firth winning for King George VI. Well, we here at the Bitties especially appreciate a Regular Joe/Josephine portraying his- or herself.
The most believable bit performance here is that of real-life Army Sgt. Russell Schalk, who plays himself in Debra Granik's excellent Ozark drama 'Winter's Bone.' In the most quietly poignant scene of the year, he dashes the hopes of desperate teen Ree Dolly, an Oscar-nominated Jennifer Lawrence, who believes enlisting in the Army will solve her dire money woes. Granik explained in an interview that it was Schalk's idea to be more empathetic. His straightforward yet sensitive speech to the troubled girl -- and her terrifically authentic reaction -- is unbeatable.
Best Actress in a Bit Comeback Role:
Winona Ryder as Beth in 'Black Swan'
Natalie Portman's descent into bats**t-crazy will likely win her a gold statue, but we would like to recognize Winona Ryder for bringing her A-game to the smaller-yet-no-less-bats**t-crazy role of an aging ballerina pushed out of the spotlight.
To paraphrase Ethan Hawke in 'Reality Bites': "That girl sure knows how to act cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs." Watch a clip on YouTube >>
Best Actor in a Bit Comeback Role: Robert Romanus as Music Teacher in 'The Runaways'
Stoner Jeff Spicoli goes on to win an Oscar while smooth-talking player Mike Damone vanishes into obscurity. We think Robert Romanus, the actor who portrayed the sleazy but weirdly charming hustler in the 1982 teen comedy classic 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High,' deserved a better fate. Which is why it put a smile on our face to see Romanus pop up in an early scene of the rock biopic 'The Runaways,' playing a corny, middle-aged guitar teacher who tells Kristen Stewart's Joan Jett that girls don't play electric guitar. Romanus is great, a dead-on drip, with all of Damone's cock-sure hustler charm evaporated. What's left is resignation, repression and, dear god, Barry Manilow's wardrobe. And that's what makes Romanus' brief turn strangely moving and sad -- this the same guy who once advised us: "When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of 'Led Zeppelin IV.'" See him teach K-Stew some licks:
Best Reaction Shot by a Bit Actor: Unknown Actor as Valet Attendant in 'MacGruber'
Classic MacGruber. He "inconspicuously" pulls up to the front of a nightclub in a red sports club, wearing a white tux and aviator shades. The valet approaches to take his keys, and MacGruber walks right past him. The expression on the valet attendant's face is priceless. Sells the bit. That's what bit actors do. They make the moment work. They do the dirty, unnoticed work that gets the star the laugh. Classic Bitties. Check it out:
Best Nonagenarian Cameo Performance:
Eli Wallach as Old Man in 'The Ghost Writer'
The best cameos are the ones that don't feel like cameos. Rather, a well-known actor slips into a film's landscape, almost unnoticed. That's certainly the case when 96-year-old Eli Wallach appears on screen as the town's gimlet-eyed hermit in this film.
Wallach's oldster tells Ewan McGregor's ghostwriter of the weird going-ons down by the beach. The scene is vintage Hitchcock, no small thanks to Wallach, who epitomizes the bravery to speak of the unspoken that comes from knowing your years on this earth are dwindling.
Best Bit Role by a Rock Star/Musician:
Lars Ulrich as himself in 'Get Him To the Greek'
It's more terrifying than anything you'll see in 'Saw.' In 'Get Him To The Greek,' Russell Brand's has-been rocker Aldous Snow calls his hot wife and finds her in bed with another rock star -- Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. Seriously, mates, does it get any more grim than that? Lars frackin' Ulrich. Later in the movie, Aldous Snow delivers one of the funniest quotes of the year when he tells the stickman: "Why don't you go and sue Napster, you little Danish twat?" Good on Ulrich for being able to laugh at himself. Turns out that little Danish fellow does have a sense of humor. See the clip:
Best Old Fool: Dakin Matthews as Col. Stonehill in 'True Grit'
Hailee Steinfeld deserved her Best Supporting Actress nomination for her portrayal of 14-year-old Mattie Ross, but we shouldn't forget the little people who lent a hand. Besides Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, the biggest assist goes to Dakin Matthews, whose two scenes opposite Steinfeld crackle with wit and gentle charm. His character Col. Stonehill enters into a fast-paced negotiation with Mattie. Thanks to this young girl -- who should handle all of America's international trade agreements -- he ends up looking the fool. Thanks to Matthews, at least in small part, Steinfeld will end up walking the red carpet.
Best Over-Sized Baddie: Ronnie Hall as Thump Milton in 'Winter's Bone'
Not since Gregg Allman in 'Rush' have we seen as convincing a badass country drug-kingpin as Ronnie Hall. In the film, he's talked about more than he's actually seen, but when he does show up, you know our plucky teen hero is in deep Ozark manure. Sure enough, ol' Thump orders his wife and her sisters to take Jennifer Lawrence into the barn and beat the tar out of her. What Thump Milton provides is real menace -- not "movie" menace like Mark Strong, the baddie in 'Robin Hood' and 'Sherlock Holmes.' A guy like Thump Milton, that's the real deal. As Gregg Allman would say: "He's no angel, he's no stranger to the dark." Catch a glimpse of Thump at 2:04 in the trailer:
Best Villain Subordinate AKA Henchman #3 Award: Evan Jones as Martz in 'The Book of Eli'
"That was my cat," Evan Jones' dirtbag marauder tells Denzel's Bible-spouting nomad hero in the Hughes brothers' post-apocalyptic actioner. Denzel replies: "Fine specimen." Martz: "I saw you knock him off the bar." Denzel drops this bon mot: "No, I kind of shooed him. I didn't really knock him." We've just entered "shoe shine" territory, and it's only a matter of time that Denzel goes all Joe Pesci on his ass. Martz personifies the gnarly-toothed pest, hassling the minding-my-own-business hero until Denzel finally snaps, unleashing a world of pain on Martz and his fellow vermin. Turns out this isn't Jones' first memorable small role, either -- he played Eminem's buddy Cheddar Bob in '8 Mile.' Watch the clip on YouTube >>
The Coveted 'Couple Minutes of Screen Time Too Short for an Oscar Nom' [Male]:
►Jackie Earle Haley as George Noyce in 'Shutter Island': The disfigured, imprisoned Noyce character only appears in one scene. But being haunted by him long after you leave the theater speaks to Haley's eerie, spine-chilling performance.
►Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper in 'True Grit': One of the great things about the Coens' rousing western is that it overflows with great little performances. Pepper's volatile, not entirely amoral criminal Lucky Ned stands out as one of the best. 'True Grit' has its fair share of bad hombres, but Pepper's is the most electrifying, as well as the most complicated. His final showdown with Rooster is fantastic -- it's impossible not to sense the mutual respect behind the hardened glares.
►Pete Postlethwaite as 'Fergie' Colm in 'The Town': Has shaving rose stems ever been such a menacing act? Postlethwaite's role as the South Boston mobster boss disguised as a florist is comparatively small, but a fitting end to a career filled with several fascinating characters. See Pete pop up at 1:24 in the trailer:
The Coveted 'Couple Minutes of Screen Time Too Short for an Oscar Nom' [Female]:
►Anna Lise Phillips as Justine Hopper in 'Animal Kingdom': Considering she's only in one scene, it's astonishing how Anna Lise turns our stomach as a coldly efficient lawyer in the best thriller of 2010.
►Jennifer Jason Leigh as Beth in 'Greenberg': It's one of her smallest roles ever, but it reminded us of how darn good she can be when she doesn't over-emote.
►Lisa Kudrow as Mrs. Griffith in 'Easy A': The movie didn't get any love from Oscar voters. (Come on, people, how about a writing nod? Is 'Juno' really any better? And that won Best Screenplay!) Anyway, 'Easy A' was one of the year's best comedies, and one of the funniest lines in the movie was uttered by Lisa Kudrow's tart-tongued guidance counselor Mrs. Griffith. "I'm the guidance counselor. I should know all the students, especially the ones that dress like prostitutes." You may no longer have the Central Perk, Lisa, but now you will always have your Bittie Award! Let's close this thing out right -- with a clip of Kudrow cussin' up a storm [warning: offensive language, clearly]:
Article written by: Matthew Shepatin