I'm not the first to mention the fact that there were a bunch of unusual, yet special, performances in supporting roles in 2011 as there are prominent Facebook and Twitter "consider" campaigns up and running for two of these actors. Human performers are used to getting their due when award season comes around, but more attention needs to go to non-human actors such as Cosmo and Uggie, two canine who were instrumental in the success of two of 2011's best films: Beginners and The Artist. I'm narrowing it down to two dogs, but could have added "Maximillion" in Hugo, "Dolce" from Young Adult, "Willie Nelson" from Our Idiot Brother or "Skeletor" in 50/50!
That's a lot of quality performances by canine actors in 2011. Anyone who has seen those two movies will remember Cosmo and Uggie as much as they will recall the other performers they shared screen time with. So, let's praise them both, but I'm going to pick a winner in the best supporting animal actor category for 2011's best in this post as I have a clear favorite. Here's a video of the pair of them [Cosmo is the larger dog] at a photo recent photo shoot if you want to see them "cuting" it up for the paparazzi.
I saw the performance of Cosmo first in Beginners. In the movie he plays a grieving pet who is forced to change residences after his caretaker dies. It's an emotional struggle for Cosmo on multiple levels. He has to express grief, the confusion of a new home and the struggle to communicate with his new roommate. Cosmo actually understands 150 words in the film and has the rare treat for an animal actor: subtitles! Usually, a canine performer gets the usual sort of screen time doing the double-take or the placing of paws over the face when they witness humans doing something stupid or dangerous. What makes Cosmo and Uggie's performances so groundbreaking is they both smash through the usual sort of canine cliche acting and take it to a higher level. Here's a short featurette where Cosmo gets praised by co-stars and director with plenty of examples of his work in Beginners.
While Cosmo delivers a sometimes sad, yet whimsical performance in Beginners, I have to go with Uggie in The Artist. Uggie has the more challenging role in two areas: he's making a silent movie and he plays multiple roles. There's no help of sound [it's odd that the dog starring in an actual silent movie is the one who doesn't get the subtitles; Cosmo gets them, not Uggie] for Uggie. He depends strictly on the physicality of his body and expressiveness of his face. There's no barking, even during the heroic scenes where Uggie is called on to summon the courage to risk his life to save another. Uggie must not only convey these emotions to the audience, he has to believibly make co-actors on-screen feel that too. Then there's the fact that Uggie plays multiple roles in movies within The Artist. When all is said in done, he's acted in at least four different roles by the end of the film. That's impressive range for any actor and combined with the silent nature of Uggie's performance [toss in the fact Uggie had another key role in 2011 in Water for Elephants], I've chosen Uggie as best supporting actor in 2011. If you don't think Uggie took his role in The Artist seriously, listen to lead-actor Jean Dujardin talk about the preparation the pair made before filming began in the video below.
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