Best Supporting Actor Nominees (90th Academy Awards)
This is a category in which the Academy often finds a way to reward a veteran actor who has had a career of substance, but without this particular moment in the sun (Think John Gielgud in Arthur, Martin Landau in Ed Wood, James Coburn in Affliction, and Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine). And I must admit that in part because of this habit, the handing out of the Best Supporting Actor trophy is one of my favorite moments of most Oscars ceremonies. I palpably look forward to the day that someone like John Turturro or Mark Ruffalo or Stanley Tucci takes the walk up to the podium and gets to grasp that little golden man. It really can be very satisfying to see, and this year we have four different nominees who could fulfill that moment pretty darn effectively…and one who already has, but has a compelling angle of his own to consider.
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Experts’ Rank: 2
My Rank: 3
As I hope I made clear in my review of it last week, that The Florida Project is so far one of my favorite movies of 2017, and obviously the movie might not have gotten made or maybe might not have gotten as wide a release as it did without the involvement of Willem Dafoe. Director Sean Baker is known for eccentric casting, but hey, when you’ve got the Green Goblin’s name to put on your poster it’s not a small thing. Dafoe is one of those actors who is so unique and unlike anyone else, that he holds space in the pop culture landscape that is only perhaps shared by someone like Christopher Walken and maybe Michael Shannon. Despite his reputation as an edgy antagonist, if you take a look at his resume, you see some amazing variety, including notably prestige pictures, genre pieces, popcorn trash, hard-edged action, and eccentric arthouse films. I’m not ranking him highly here despite my love for The Florida Project, but you can bet if he does win I’ll be on my feet.
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Experts’ Rank: 5
My Rank: 2
No matter what Woody Harrelson does, I still think of him as that goofy country kid from Cheers. Obviously that’s not particularly fair of me. After all, this isn’t Woody’s first Oscar nomination, and any actor who has appeared in films like The People Vs Larry Flynt, No Country For Old Men, and Zombieland, and the amazing True Detective on HBO, he deserves a legacy more complicated than a one-joke supporting part from a (great) sitcom. As if to emphasize this, Harrelson absolutely nails his scenes in Martin McDonagh’s twisty dramedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It’s a subtle and heartfelt performance that impacts all of the main players on the screen throughout. It’s exactly the kind of role Harrelson was made to play, and the ease with which he accomplishes it might actually be part of what has led to him repeatedly being asked to step aside for his co-star this awards season. It’s not a showy role, but the strength and sensitivity Harrelson brings to it are things the movie absolutely could not do without.
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
Experts’ Rank: 4
My Rank: 1
Richard Jenkins is one of those actors I’d always seen around and never thought much about until his lead turn and Oscar nomination for 2007’s The Visitor. All of a sudden I looked at the guy and said, “oh yeah, I know him! I guess we’ve been taking him for granted.” In fact, likely the first time I ever saw Richard Jenkins on screen was in a small role in the 1985 western Silverado, which I did go to the theater for. I don’t remember noticing him then, but he kept on showing up in stuff like Hannah and Her Sisters, The Witches of Eastwick, and Sea of Love. The first time I really remember taking not of the guy was in David O. Russell’s 1996 comedy in which he plays a police detective in an unexpected relationship. This is a year in which I like many of the performances a little better than the films they’re in, and Jenkins’ turn in The Shape of Water is one performance this year that just kept on sticking with me. The way he skillfully weaves through the comedy and heartbreak of Giles with a vulnerable and light touch while doing some amazingly detailed work is really something to behold. This is a great supporting performance.
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Experts’ Rank: 3
My Rank: 5
Plummer is the one nominee here this year who actually already has an Oscar sitting on his mantle, from his wonderfully naturalistic and warm performance in 2011’s Beginners. At the time, he was that veteran actor being rewarded for a fantastic career that I mentioned above. It was an extra touch of special that the performance in question was truly something special and richly deserving. This time around, he’s got a very unique path to a nomination and potential win, as sordid allegations against Kevin Spacey forced the makers of All the Money in the World to completely re-shoot all of the scenes the disgraced star already had in the can (which was, in essence, the entire performance). The film had wrapped shooting in August, but had to spend millions to put on a rush of re-shoots placing Plummer, who director Ridley Scott now claimed had always been his first choice for the role, into the film. These re-shoots lasted a total of nine days and wrapped at the end of November, less than a month prior to its December release date and with a new trailer featuring Plummer going out the same day. Critical reaction to the film has been mildly positive, but has focused mostly on his performance. Just a professional doing his job well when he was needed. Of course he got the nomination.
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Experts’ Rank: 1
My Rank: 4
Let’s see a show of hands: who doesn’t like Sam Rockwell?…I’m guessing there’s not a single hand up. Anybody with a passing interest in film acting can’t help but notice the consistent excellence and interest he lends to every single role he plays. Although he’d been showing up in mostly small roles in small movies for the better part of a decade, he really made his first big impression for many of us in the Star Trek spoof Galaxy Quest as a crewman without a name who is convinced he’s destined for some sort of horrible fate. It could have been a thankless role, but my eyes just couldn’t leave him. Rockwell was always doing something interesting. A ping-pong trajectory to films like David Mamet’s Heist, the Chuck Barris bio pic Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and a role as President of the universe Zaphod Beeblebrox in the movie version of the Douglas Adams classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy showed off Rockwell’s willingness and ability to go in all different directions at once while maintaining the audience’s attention and belief. His role as Charley Ford in the amazingly underrated The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford then showed me the depth and subtlety of what Rockwell was playing with. His mix of showmanship and naturalness is a thing to be envied by just about every other actor around. So why the low ranking here even though he’s the odds-on favorite to win this year? It’s a little something I like to call category fraud.
Of course you don’t have to agree with me on that count. For that very purpose, we have both an opportunity for you to vote on your favorite in this year’s race and to express your feelings in prose below in the comments section. Please feel free to take full advantage of both!