This rundown of the best scene-stealing supporting actor performances at TIFF 2021 is part of our ongoing press coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival. From reviews to interviews to recap lists, follow along for all things TIFF 2021.
The Toronto International Film Festival has become (in)famous as a showcase of future Academy Awards favorites. These include lead performances that make a splash before launching Oscar campaigns. But there are other performances that may be too weird or too brief to take home gold yet deserve love.
As we reflect on TIFF 2021, we’re leaving the Oscar predictions to the experts. Our concerns lie elsewhere. Namely, in the capable hands of actors who steal scenes and win a far greater prize: our hearts. TIFF may be over, but our celebration of the captivating smaller performances of the festival has just begun.
Below we’ve assembled our picks for the best supporting actors from TIFF 2021. You know what they say: there are no small parts, only small players. In that spirit here are six enormous thespians who made the most out of their teeny tiny parts:
Vincent Lindon in Titane
Who they play: A tortured fire captain with a drug habit spurred by the disappearance and presumed death of his son many years ago. Oh, he can also dance.
Why they’re a scene-snatcher: With an electric performance that is feverishly alive and palpably melancholic, Vincent Lindon is toeing many lines. The bulk of the discussion around Titane has (pretty rightfully) centered on Agathe Rousselle’s fearless whirlwind of a performance. But when all the dust and blood has settled, it’s Lindon’s take on a man broken by life and willing to look anywhere for salvation that ends up being unforgettable.
Cherry Jones in The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Who they play: Tammy Faye’s tight-lipped Midwestern mother, a woman (based on a real person) who believes in living within her means and who frowns on her daughter’s gauche extravagance, while still, deep down, loving her.
Why they’re a scene-snatcher: Cherry Jones is a consistent highlight of anything she’s in, but her incredible screen presence and timid but feisty disposition is especially well-suited to a film that wears its camp sensibilities on its sleeve. In The Eyes of Tammy Faye, she has a no-frills nature that demonstrates what Tammy is so intent on resisting. But she brings the slightest hint of warmth that refutes any attempt to put her character in a box.
Steven Yuen in The Humans
Who they play: Stephen Karam’s directorial debut, The Humans, sees Steven Yuen as Richard, Brigid’s debilitatingly supportive and polite partner. The couple has just moved into a rundown duplex in Manhattan’s Chinatown and Brigid’s family has come over for Thanksgiving. Richard is hellbent on making himself useful and moving things along as smoothly as possible. He flits between the kitchen and consoling Brigid in the wake of her family’s acidic volleys.
Why they’re a scene-snatcher: Who among us, dear reader, has not gazed into the artificial flames of a digital fireplace and thought to themselves, “Yes, this will surely improve literally everything about the current situation that I am in”? Richard, bless him, is just dumb enough to not be traumatized by the night’s proceedings. He provides a small glimmer of civility to the rapidly unfurling night. It is impossible not to root for this very good boy. He is the lavender and smelling salts of screen presences.
Mia Wasikowska in Bergman Island
Who they play: A character within the film being brainstormed by Chris (Vicky Krieps), Mia Wasikowska‘s Amy still feels vibrantly alive as she navigates the whirlwind of emotions conjured by reuniting with her first love.
Why they’re a scene-snatcher: While Bergman Island navigates some meta-narratives, it’s easy to forget about the layers of the story with Wasikowska’s seemingly effortless and wondrously charming performance. We know she’s being conjured out of the imagination of another character. But she’s such an enrapturing screen presence that any concerns about keeping track of story layers disappear. With Mia Hansen-Løve’s brilliantly human screenplay guiding her, Wasikowska steals the show with captivating vitality and her heart on her sleeve.
Terence Stamp in Last Night in Soho
Who they play: We aren’t going to be able to explain this one without careening directly into Spoilersville. So suffice it to say that Terence Stamp plays a present-day Soho barfly who frequently bumps into our wide-eyed heroine.
Why they’re a scene-snatcher: It’s pretty impressive that all the sets in Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho were edible so that Terrence Stamp could chew the scenery every time the cameras rolled. The way you can tell that Stamp is a professional is he knows what kind of movie he is in. And he is clearly taking the opportunity to have an absolute blast. He leers, sneers, and leans into being the creepiest creep that ever creeped. He monologues at the drop of a hat with the subtlety of an over-confident Bond villain. He’s an absolute ham and a delight to watch, delivering each line like it’s a cheap and delicious three-cheese pizza. He doesn’t just put paprika on every line, he dips those lines into the paprika like it’s Fun Dip.
Javier Bardem in Dune
Who they play: Javier Bardem appears in Denis Villeneuve’s space epic Dune as the Freman leader Stilgar. Gruff, competent, and no-nonsense about all matters involving the moisture-conserving traditions of his people, Stilgar appears in a handful of tense diplomatic scenes that prove vital to House Atreides’ long-term relationship with the native people of the desert planet Arrakis.
Why they’re a scene-snatcher: If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Frank Herbert’s novels, you might assume that Dune is a very drab, serious place. But all of Villeneuve’s brutalism and arms-length camerawork has misled you! Dune is, when it wants to be, an extremely fun-loving time. And one of the characters in Herbert’s text that is (for the most part) having an absolute blast is Stilgar. He laughs in the face of danger and barrels forward with a noticeable pep in his step.
There are precisely two characters allowed to have “fun” in Villeneuve’s Dune. One is Jason Mamoa, who is playing himself as Duncan Idaho. And the other is (you guessed it) Bardem, who absolutely nails Stilgar’s charm and confidence in the very few scenes that Dune‘s rapid pace allows. Whether it’s spitting on Duke Leto’s desk as a sign of respect (just go with it) or casually allowing [redacted] to duel to the death because that’s how the Freman roll, Bardem’s Stilgar is a persistent sparkle in a sea of grey.