Bill Hader, “The Skeleton Twins” » We already knew, from “Bridesmaids,” that Kristen Wiig could handle pathos alongside comedy. In director Craig Johnson’s dramedy, Hader plays a struggling actor who attempts suicide, which leads to an uncomfortable reunion with his twin sister (played by Wiig). The old “Saturday Night Live” chemistry is intact in the comic segments, but Hader surprises with a tender performance in the serious passages.
J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash” » Simmons’ early prominent roles, such as a white supremacist inmate in “Oz,” were loaded with menace, but lately he’s become cuddly and comical (as in his upcoming sitcom “Growing Up Fisher” or his Farmers Insurance commercials). In “Whiplash,” he plays a hard-ass jazz band conductor who drives an ambitious drummer (Miles Teller) to the breaking point. Simmons’ fulminating tirades and quiet manipulations are spine-chilling.
Melanie Lynskey, “Happy Christmas” » The New Zealand-born actress gets to use her own accent for a change in Joe Swanberg’s largely improvised comedy, playing a novelist feeling creatively stifled as a stay-at-home mom. Lynskey has done comedy (a recurring role on “Two and a Half Men”) and drama (notably in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”), and “Happy Christmas” lets her show many facets as a woman both delighted and frustrated by motherhood.
Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.« Previous Page