Holiday movies quiz: Parenthetical asides about supporting roles; who wrote what?

Take This (Reliably Engaging) Holiday Movies Quiz

Take This (Reliably Engaging) Holiday Movies Quiz

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Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 27 2012 4:16 PM

A (Reliably Engaging) Holiday Movies Quiz

Can you describe Ian McKellen's performance in The Hobbitin a pithy parenthetical aside?

James Fisher – © 2012 Warner Bros. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

It’s that wonderful time of year when the Hollywood studios flood the market with prestige films, the ones they hope will win greenbacks from vacationing moviegoers and gold from the Academy. These films tend to tackle complicated issues—slavery, the abolition of slavery, “enhanced interrogation”—and boast strong performances from their leading men and women. With all this ground to cover, even the most breviloquent of film critics can find herself forced to squeeze the assessment of a supporting actor’s performance into a mere parenthetical.

Luckily, our best critics have elevated such pithy appraisals to an art form. Consider, for example, the following sentence, from Manohla Dargis’s New York Times review of Flight, in which she lists the characters circling Denzel Washington’s troubled pilot: “a drug addict (the lyrically melancholic Kelly Reilly); his son (a fine Justin Martin); a friend (a blustery John Goodman); and a lawyer (Don Cheadle, doing a lot with little).” In just thirty words, Dargis has captured the essence of four supporting performances.


In celebration of such feats of concision—and as a test of your holiday movie knowledge—I’ve created a short quiz. I only included remarks that were 1) made of actors in supporting roles, and 2) squeezed between parentheses. Match each actor below with his or her corresponding critical aside. Then scroll down to see how many you got right. (Good luck!)

1. Olivia Williams, Hyde Park on Hudson
2. Edgar Ramirez, Zero Dark Thirty
3. Ian McKellen, The Hobbit
4. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lincoln
5. Ben Whishaw, Skyfall
6. Irrfan Khan, Life of Pi
7. Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
8. Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

a. (impressively sombre); David Denby, The New Yorker
b. (reliably engaging); A.O. Scott, The New York Times
c. (much less hammy than usual); Lou Lumenick, New York Post
d. (unconvincingly dowdied); Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
e. (very droll); Glenn Kenny, MSN
f. (jovially stealing every scene he’s in); Dana Stevens, Slate
g. (without much to do); Ty Burr, Boston Globe
h. (always a treat); Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

1. d; 2. a; 3. h; 4. g; 5. e; 6. b; 7. c; 8. f

John Swansburg is a senior editor at the Atlantic.