Thursday, February 25, 2016

Top 10 Favorite Supporting Actor Performances

1. Ben Kingsley - Sexy Beast

Yes, the man who won an Oscar for playing Gandhi also played one of the scariest villains in movie history. Kingsley's Don Logan is such a ferocious performance that he makes former boxer and all around movie tough guy Ray Winstone (the lead of the movie) seem meek in comparison. Logan is a monster whose appearance is built up well, but then when Kingsley's on screen, he's like a tightly coiled snake that also loves to lash out with his fangs bared. It's an unhinged performance from one of the great actors, and although I don't think the movie is anywhere as good as Kingsley is, it's my pick as the best supporting performance I've seen.

2. Philip Seymour Hoffman - Almost Famous

For the last 10 years or so of his life, I think Philip Seymour Hoffman was the best actor working in movies, period. The problem then becomes "what was his best performance?" His work in Capote won him an Oscar, his role in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead was on my shortlist of best lead actor performances, but I think since I have to pick, I'm picking his turn in Almost Famous, playing legendary rock writer Lester Bangs. He's funny, slightly pathetic, weirdly cool, full of quotable lines and word has it that Hoffman filmed his role in just a few days, while he had the flu. Whatever the circumstances, this is a great piece of acting from an incredible talent.

3. Samuel L. Jackson - Pulp Fiction

A performance so good it has defined the career of the great Sam Jackson. Jackson's way with Quentin Tarantino's words has always been phenomenal. He's the one who makes those scripts truly sing like they can. Pulp Fiction just edges out Jackson equal work in the lesser movie of Django Unchained, which is admittedly a much more complex role. But his Jules Winfield is the performance that makes Pulp Fiction work, and is my choice as the best Jackson has been in a movie (though we should never forget about his extraordinary turn in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever either). He's cool, thoughtful, funny, sometimes frightening (my favorite line is when he tells Marvin "I don't remember asking you a god damn thing" and the searing look he gives after), and overall simply a tremendous performance.

4. Tony Shalhoub - Big Night

My favorite performance from my favorite movie, Shalhoub's role is arguably co-lead to Stanley Tucci, but I would still consider it a supporting turn. As the perfectionist chef Primo, who refuses to compromise his art to please the philistine masses, Shalhoub's Italian accent is perfect. The way he and Tucci swerve in and out of Italian and English makes their roles as immigrants feel more real, especially impressive because unlike Tucci, Shalhoub isn't even Italian (his heritage is Lebanese). The accent helps sell it, but his odd sense of humor, especially in his attempts to flirt with Allison Janney's flower lady, also helps round out the character and the performance.

5. John Goodman - The Big Lebowski

It seems criminal that John Goodman's iconic work in this movie is all the way down at #5 on this list, but this is not 'Nam, Smoky, there are rules and those other performances had to go where they went. My favorite thing about Goodman's work here is the way he sells Walter's blustery ego. Walter is often loud and attempting to be overpowering even if he doesn't know what he's going to say. The starts and stops in his speeches are endlessly hysterical "Huh? No, what the fuck are you... I'm not... We're talking about unchecked aggression here, dude!" "The chinaman is not the issue here, Dude. I'm talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude! ACROSS THIS LINE YOU DO NOT... Also, Dude, chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please." Goodman has said it's his favorite of his own movies and performances, and it's not hard to see why. Goodman was robbed of not only an Oscar nomination, but also an easy win, when he was overlooked for this performance.

6. JK Simmons - Whiplash

The newest addition to the list is JK Simmons as Terrence Fletcher, one of the angriest people in the world. He pushes and pushes and pushes, typically not getting pushed back (until he meets Miles Teller's Andrew). He's a drill sergeant of jazz, and could've been a caricature in the hands of a lesser actor. Thankfully, Simmons shows so many sides of Fletcher, some for real, some not, some we're not sure about. It's really extraordinary work, coming from a great script and even greater movie (which always helps lift a great performance even higher in my mind). Rightfully, Simmons took home innumerable awards for his work here.

7. Robert De Niro - The Godfather part II

The performance that announced to the world the talent of Robert De Niro. He'd been in Scorsese's landmark Mean Streets the year before, but The Godfather part II was a big commercial success and showed him off to a wide audience. He nabbed him his first Oscar as well, one of the few Oscars given to a foreign language performance (De Niro's role is entirely, outside of a single sentence, in Italian, which he didn't speak and learned for the role). To try and play the same character that was already a cultural landmark from the previous movie must've been difficult. The fact that the role was played by the towering figure of Marlon Brando would've made it that much tougher. But instead, De Niro rises to create something all his own, while showing the shades of the behavior that Brando had already made famous. We really can believe that this is Vito Corleone years earlier, and De Niro has the same gravitas and talent to pull it off as Brando had.

8. Martin Landau - Ed Wood

When Martin Landau won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood, I thought it was a travesty. Of course, I hadn't seen the performance, but beating out Sam Jackson in Pulp Fiction, Gary Sinise in Forrest Gump, and Chazz Palminteri in Bullets Over Broadway just seemed wrong. But then I saw the movie. What I wrote about it was: " Landau deservedly won. His performance is one of heartbreaking sadness, of a man near the end of his life, addicted to morphine and desperately hoping to get back to his previous stardom. Thankfully, since this movie is a comedy, Landau is also hysterical. When one of the crew members asks for his autograph, he happily accepts, but when the guy tells him his favorite movie was one in which he played Karloff's sidekick, Lugosi responds with "Karloff? Sidekick? FUCK YOU! Karloff did not deserve to smell my shit! That limey cocksucker can rot in Hell for all I care!" There's not a lot of language in the movie like that, but when there is it's usually coming from Lugosi." I was very happy to be wrong about this amazing performance.

9. Jack Lemmon - Glengarry Glen Ross

One of the saddest pieces of acting I've ever seen, Jack Lemmon's work in this movie is on another level. Lemmon's expressive face shows us the desperation, loneliness, and unspoken sadness at the heart of Shelley Levine. Of course, his fellow desperate salesmen are in the same boat, but Levine as the oldest of the bunch is in a slightly tougher position. It's a great piece of writing from David Mamet, but Lemmon really elevates it higher than that. Co-star Al Pacino is the one that got nominated for the awards that year, but it's Lemmon who is the heart and breaking soul of the movie.

10. Edmund Gwenn - Miracle on 34th Street

A performance so good it had child co-star Natalie Wood convinced that Edmund Gwenn WAS Santa Claus. Gwenn radiates positivity and intelligence, wrapped up in earnest good hearted joy. It's a big reason why the movie works, and why it's long been a favorite of mine. The scene that has always been my favorite, as it is for many, is when the sad little Dutch girl comes to see the Macy's Santa Claus, even after being told he won't be able to speak to her, only for our Kris Kringle to start jabbering away with the little girl. It's a scene and a performance that touches me to the bottom of my heart.

I had so many candidates for this list that I whittled it down and still had another 10, so I'll just do a top ten, not in any order, honorable mentions for:

Josh Brolin - No Country for Old Men

Ian McKellan - Fellowship of the Ring

Robin Williams - Good Will Hunting

Jude Law - A.I.

Billy Bob Thornton - A Simple Plan

Leonardo DiCaprio - What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

Ralph Fiennes - Schindler's List

Joe Pesci - Goodfellas

Chris Sarandon - Dog Day Afternoon

George C Scott - Dr. Strangelove
Some might be surprised to see me include Scott, a performance from a movie I hate (others will be surprised to see that I hate this agreed upon classic, but I do), but Scott is so extraordinary in the movie that I had to include him.

Don't forget to check out my list partner Clint's blog for his list.

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