From Billy Eichner to Florence Pugh, here are the top 11 scene-stealers of 2019
Hello? 911? I'd like to report a crime: A scene has been stolen, and I suspect Alan Alda is to blame.
What's that, you say? This is the 11th time I've reported such a happening this year? Golly, I suppose it is. It's just that 2019 has been filled with so many wonderful performances from supporting actors in film who, in key moments, sweep the audience's attention away from everyone else. Not like those fellows Al Pacino and Brad Pitt, of course, as they were practically handed the keys to their respective star-studded vehicles. We're talking the likes of Billie Lourd in "Booksmart," who derails the heroines' night in the best possible way, or Alda, playing the compassionate lawyer among a sea of sharks in "Marriage Story."
Here are 11 of the year's top scene-stealers.
--Alan Alda and Merritt Wever in "Marriage Story"
The moments of levity peppered throughout Noah Baumbach's "Marriage Story" are a welcome addition to the film, given its primary focus on the grueling dissolution of the relationship between Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson). A few such moments arrive with the introduction of divorce attorney Bert Spitz (Alan Alda), who upon meeting Charlie tells his new client, "Most people in my business, you're just transactions to them. I like to think of you as people."
Alda brings to his performance the warmth and charming sense of humor that contribute to his universal appeal in real life, positioning Bert as a foil to the hardball-playing lawyers (Ray Liotta, Laura Dern) Charlie and Nicole eventually hire. Among the great tragedies of "Marriage Story" is that Bert doesn't get to finish his joke about a chatty hairdresser, another attempt to quell Charlie's anxiety.
But the film's funniest moment arguably takes place pre-Bert. After Nicole decides to divorce Charlie, she asks her sister, Cassie (Merritt Wever), to serve him the papers. What could have just been a serviceable scene becomes a comedy of errors thanks to Wever's ability to play up Cassie's nervousness. Her stilted small talk about a pecan pie, delivered as if she were an alien mimicking human behavior, recalls her endearingly bizarre acceptance speech at the 2013 Emmys: "Thank you so much! I gotta go, bye."
--Julia Butters in "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood"
If you've seen even the teaser trailer for Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood," you're probably familiar with the scene in which a little girl named Trudi Fraser (Julia Butters) tells jaded TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) that what he just did was the best acting she's ever seen in her whole life. (He then clenches his hand into a fist, stifling a sob.) Given the meta quality of her words, it's amazing Butters is able to hold her own in the scenes she shares with DiCaprio, such as one where Trudi wisely tells Rick, her co-star, why she stays in character on set. The precocious tween is up there with Brooklynn Prince ("The Florida Project") as one of the most promising child actors to emerge in recent years.
--Cho Yeo Jeong in "Parasite"
Bong Joon-ho's "Parasite" is a darkly humorous drama about class division, which suggests it doesn't reflect too kindly upon the upper class. That's largely true, except perhaps when it comes to Park Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo Jeong), the kind matriarch of a wealthy household infiltrated by the central Kim family. The struggling Kims are able to take advantage of Yeon-kyo's naivete, which Cho plays as a sympathetic quality that eventually befalls her. The actress adds emotional depth and a lingering sense of loneliness to a character who could easily have been reduced to a rich businessman's air-headed wife.
--Adam Driver in "The Dead Don't Die"
It's been a most successful year for Leading Man Adam Driver, but we'd be remiss to skip over his role in Jim Jarmusch's "The Dead Don't Die," featuring one of the actor's finest line deliveries to date - or, well, the way he says "ghouls." From the act of stuffing his massive body into a tiny Smart car to his police officer character's deadpan (and correct) insistence that zombies are responsible for the topsy-turviness of their small town, it's hard to look away from the man who has been commanding the screen since "Girls."
--Billy Eichner in "The Lion King"
Most critics didn't have many positive things to say about Jon Favreau's practically shot-for-shot remake of "The Lion King," aside from commenting on the technological marvel of it all. Billy Eichner is the exception. As Timon, the comedian famous for frenetically yelling things at people on the street - "Ladies, I know the Kominsky Method and I'm not sharing it!" - lends that booming voice to a teeny meerkat who, along with his best mate Pumbaa (the warthog voiced by Seth Rogen), livens up the film. Whereas other characters are mere shadows of their 1994 counterparts, Eichner's Timon feels wholly original, in large part because of the lines he and Rogen improvised. (At one point, Timon displays his sardonic sense of humor by asking a morose Simba how he's feeling "in as few words as possible.")
--Billie Lourd in "Booksmart"
Given that Billie Lourd grew up with Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds as her mother and grandmother, respectively, it's fair to say showbiz is in her genes. But the young actress is also a talent in her own right, as evidenced by her portrayal of spacey teenager Gigi in Olivia Wilde's directorial debut, "Booksmart." The film is filled with sharply written takes on high school archetypes, and Gigi is no exception, as that magical unicorn of a party girl who seems to be everywhere, all the time. Playing opposite the comparatively strait-laced protagonists (Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever), Lourd is such a force of nature that screenwriter Katie Silberman actually wrote the character into more scenes.
--Florence Pugh in "Little Women"
This year has been the most successful (yet) of Florence Pugh's professional career. The English actress, who wowed critics with her performance in 2016′s "Lady Macbeth," officially broke out this summer as the lead in Ari Aster's "Midsommar," about American tourists terrorized by a pagan commune in Sweden. But most remarkable is how Pugh humanizes one of literature's most-hated characters, Amy March, in Greta Gerwig's adaptation of "Little Women." Bolstered by Gerwig's more sympathetic take on the character, Pugh approaches Amy with uncompromising honesty. She captures the brashness of a jealous younger sister in one scene and, in another, the practical wisdom of a long-overlooked young woman.
--Keanu Reeves in "Always Be My Maybe"
"Always Be My Maybe" stars and screenwriters Ali Wong and Randall Park probably knew Keanu Reeves would steal their thunder by popping up to play a parody of himself in their Netflix rom-com, but who could've resisted such a casting opportunity? The movie-Reeves is an obnoxious braggart dating celebrity chef Sasha Tran (Wong), who winds up making her childhood friend Marcus Kim (Park), who still has feelings for Sasha, incredibly jealous. The movie star character is quite a departure from the real Reeves's gracious self, perhaps adding to the enjoyment viewers get from seeing the "John Wick" actor declare that he "never cower[s] in the face of danger" before daring Marcus to "strike" him.
--Archie Yates in "Jojo Rabbit"
Regardless of how you feel toward Taika Waititi's satire "Jojo Rabbit," which centers on a Hitler youth (Roman Griffin Davis) who grapples with his blind nationalism after befriending the Jewish teenager his mother helps hide in their attic, it's hard to deny the perfect casting of Jojo Betzler's best friend, Yorki (Archie Yates). Yorki pops his head in every once in a while, but he is each time an adorable reminder of the innocence that makes children like Jojo and Yorki so impressionable (and that, by contrast, makes most of the adults in their lives so horrifying). Yates' performance, his acting debut, was memorable enough to land him the lead role in Disney Plus' "Home Alone" reboot.
--Zhao Shuzhen in "The Farewell"
In "The Farewell," a semi-autobiographical film from director Lulu Wang, an American woman named Billi (Awkwafina) and her family members travel to China to say goodbye to Billi's terminally ill grandmother, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), who remains in the dark about her cancer diagnosis. Awkwafina, whose comedic performance in "Crazy Rich Asians" landed her on last year's list of scene-stealers, strikes a more dramatic note here, allowing Zhao to more often lighten the mood. Given that she's been acting for more than 60 years, it's no wonder Zhao masterfully deploys the ever-so-slightly deprecating sense of humor typical of grandmothers. Viewers wind up loving Nai Nai almost as much as Billi does.
--Honorable mention, human: An absurd Robert Pattinson in the otherwise dull "The King;" a sobbing Tracy Letts in "Ford v Ferrari;" and [SPOILER ALERT] a dramatically revealed Ed Norton in "Alita: Battle Angel."
--Honorable mention, nonhuman: That rock the old people jump off in "Midsommar;" the space ape in "Ad Astra;" the lighthouse in "The Lighthouse;" the hairless cat in "Gloria Bell;" and the, uh, box in "High Life."