The Oscar Quest: The Weakest Best Supporting Actor Nominees
Again I’ll stress that I’m talking about all-time.
I’ll also stress that half this list could easily have been swapped out for other nominees that aren’t on here. Mostly I’m just talking about really weak nominees that you just look at now and go, “Really?” Most people haven’t even heard of half of these movies. Or you just look at the films and the performances and go, “Wow, that hasn’t held up at all,” or, “That was really a popularity nomination.” Or some of them — some of them nobody can figure out. There’s one on this list that you look at and go, “Where the fuck did that come from?”
So that’s mostly what this is. People always talk about what the weakest winners were, but no one ever really talks about the weak nominees. Because there’s some weak ass shit populating a lot of these Oscar categories. We tend to forget about them, because in a given Oscar year there are at least 30 (this year there are 34) new nominees in the six major categories, but there’s a lot of shit out there that nobody mentions.
So, today, I’m gonna talk about what I think (some of) the weakest Best Supporting Actor nominees are.
Oh, and before I get started, another thing I like to do for these categories is list which winners I think also qualify as weak nominees as well. I can’t in good conscience rank the winners among the ones that didn’t win, because it’s just different once they have that distinction of having won. So I looked at just the winners on their own and picked which ones I thought were ten really weak nominees. Which ones, had they not won, would probably fit my list of weak nominees. (Also, this is only in relation to the winners. Some of these are only here because I consider most of the winners as decently strong nominees. Also, give me a leeway of like, two, for personal dislikes and such.)
Here’s my list of weak winners:
- Joseph Schildkraut, The Life of Emile Zola
- Van Heflin, Johnny Eager
- Martin Balsam, A Thousand Clowns
- John Mills, Ryan’s Daughter
- Ben Johnson, The Last Picture Show
- Jason Robards, Julia
- Don Ameche, Cocoon
- Jack Palance, City Slickers
- Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive
- Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules
Okay, now here is my list of the weakest Best Supporting Actor nominees of all time:
1. Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
- He’s the lead of the film. All of these recent Plummer nominations are basically “let’s reward the man” over “let’s reward the performance.” I almost put his Beginners win on the list up there as well (since I don’t really see what was so amazing about that performance), but that category was pretty weak, and I had other ones that stood out more. But yeah — he’s the lead of the film, basically.
2. Matt Damon, Invictus
- He doesn’t have anything to do. He’s just sort of there. Of all the Matt Damon performances he’s given, this and Good Will Hunting are his only two Oscar nominations. The first one I get, but this one — what the fuck? He’s just a rugby player who gives like one speech at the end. He has no arc and has nothing to do. Weak nomination.
3. Jamie Foxx, Collateral
- He’s the lead of the film, and Tom Cruise was just as awesome, and actually supporting. I get the nomination, and I love the film, but he’s the lead, and this is one of the most blatant instances of category fraud ever.
4. Jon Voight, Ali
- What does he actually do in this movie? This is a Jon Voight nomination, plain and simple. (He didn’t even get any precursors, either. This is like the Alan Alda nomination in 2004. Came out of nowhere, and is clearly more about the actor than the performance.)
5. Paul Scofield, Quiz Show
- It’s a joke that he got nominated over John Turturro for this movie.
6. John Malkovich, In the Line of Fire
- In what may be the strongest Best Supporting Actor category of all time (it’s not), Malkovich really sticks out. Since he doesn’t really do all that much. For most of the film, he’s just on the phone with Eastwood and is menacing and creepy. It’s your typical villain role. It’s weird that they singled him out for this and not some of his other work (like, I don’t know, in, say, Being John Malkovich).
7. David Paymer, Mr. Saturday Night
- Love Paymer, but I don’t see it. It’s not that good a film, the role is okay, and there’s not too much going for him there. I’m cool with it, but it’s just a weak nomination. People forget about it.
8. Al Pacino, Glengarry Glen Ross
- You could have nominated Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Jack Lemmon, or Alan Arkin here… and you go with Pacino? In a year where you give him Best Actor on top of it? Them not going with Baldwin or Lemmon is one of the worst decisions they’ve ever made.
9. Al Pacino, Dick Tracy
- Another one. Pacino basically disappeared from movies for most of the 80s, going on the stage, and when he came back, they just started throwing nominations at him, like, “No, no, don’t go away again!” He doesn’t really do anything in this movie. It’s nice and all, but let’s not pretend like this is a strong nomination by any stretch.
10. River Phoenix, Running on Empty
- He’s the lead of the film. This is horrible category fraud.
11. Alec Guinness, Little Dorrit
- This is a 6-hour BBC miniseries that somehow got nominated for an Oscar. I know it’s Alec Guinness and all, but nobody should be subjected to having to watch this. It’s not a movie. This thing is brutal to watch.
12. Martin Landau, Tucker: The Man and His Dream
- He doesn’t have anything to do in this. It’s not like Crimes and Misdemeanors. It’s basically a glorified cameo. But I guess this was their way of getting him into the awards picture. Either way — it’s a weak nomination. He doesn’t do anything here.
13. Dean Stockwell, Married to the Mob
- It’s too cartoonish to take seriously.
14. Robert Loggia, Jagged Edge
- He’s barely in the movie. Trust me. It’s Robert Loggia. I was looking for him. He doesn’t have anything to work with. I was excited at the chance to vote for him. But he’s barely in the movie. It’s weird to me seeing people like him who I like get these Oscar nominations, and they’re the only ones of their careers, and then they’re not even that great.
15. Ralph Richardson, Greystroke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes
- Veteran nomination, and he died. He does nothing in this movie. It’s a nice gesture, but it’s a weak nomination.
16. Rip Torn, Cross Creek
- This is the one performance Rip Torn was nominated for. What the fuck?
17. Mickey Rooney, The Black Stallion
- It’s a Mickey Rooney nomination. One of the weakest of all time. Saccharine crap.
18. Richard Farnsworth, Comes a Horseman
- He’s only in two scenes. Two scenes. That’s it. It’s like Ben Johnson in Last Picture Show. Two scenes, one short monologue, Oscar nomination. What the hell?
19. Burgess Meredith, The Day of the Locust
- I just remember not really liking this movie as much as I enjoyed the book and thinking Burgess Meredith didn’t do as good a job as I remembered the character being in the book. I probably should have replaced it with someone else, but it’s here. Just consider this a placeholder for someone else. Not that anyone’s actually seen this performance or enough others to actually argue. Nobody knows what this is.
20. Fred Astaire, The Towering Inferno
- Love Fred, but, watch the movie. He’s barely in it. This is a veteran nomination all the way. We all understand that.
21. Richard Jaeckel, Sometimes a Great Notion
- Kind of arbitrary, honestly. He’s fine, but it’s just weird that this performance in this movie got nominated. And no one’s even seen this (even though I liked the movie quite a bit). It’s just weak by virtue that it hasn’t held up.
22. Gene Hackman, I Never Sang for My Father
- He’s the lead. Put him lead and Melvyn Douglas here and maybe I’ll reconsider. Til then — they stay.
23. Rupert Crosse, The Reivers
- I hate to say it about a black actor nomination, but — I don’t get it. It’s just a comical movie and he’s one of the guys in it. I support it, but in terms of performance — I don’t see it.
24. Mako, The Sand Pebbles
- Not Richard Attenborough? I kind of get it, but it still feels weak to me.
25. James Mason, Georgy Girl
- Ehh. He’s not really there. This is more of a James Mason nomination than anything. Which — he’s done better work. The same could be said for his Verdict performance as well. This film feels like it would have been better served with just the Redgrave nomination.
26. Frank Finlay, Othello
- I don’t support strict stage performances post-1950. Even if it is Iago.
27. Michael Dunn, Ship of Fools
- Pros: He’s a midget. Cons: Everything else. It makes no sense. I can sort of support one supporting nomination from this film, but along with everything else it got — it’s just weak. This film isn’t very good, nobody really stands out, and I’m gonna keep it on all these lists to point that out.
28. Ian Bannen, The Flight of the Phoenix
- I was watching this film for about a good 80 minutes before I went, “Oh, right — which one is Bannen?” And then I was like, “He must be this guy, or this guy,” and then when I found out who he was, I went, “Who the fuck is that?” Because he’s actually barely in the movie. He’s just sort of there in all the scenes, but only has about six lines total. It’s a completely arbitrary nomination, especially since there were more noticeable performances in the same film! It’s like if they nominated Hugo Weaving for Return of the King. You’d go, “Sure, he’s Hugo Weaving, but why him over everyone else?” It’s the exact same thing with this.
29. Peter Falk, Pocketful of Miracles
- This hurts. So does the next one.
30. Peter Falk, Murder, Inc.
- But I’m telling you — Peter Falk gave some brilliant performances over his career. The other one is just a comic sidekick performance in a weak Frank Capra movie, and this one — well, this one isn’t so bad, and I probably should take it off for something else. But I didn’t put more than one pass into this, and it’s here. Mostly I just want to say that these two nominations are weak because Falk put in such better work over his career, and it’s weird that this is all he got. But this one’s not so bad and probably shouldn’t be here. The other one, though — oh yeah. Weak as hell.
31. Chill Wills, The Alamo
- Completely arbitrary. Even John Wayne was like, “They should have went for someone else.” They just had to give it to someone, which is the definition of a weak nomination.
32. Robert Vaughn, The Young Philadelphians
- This is Robert Vaughn’s only nomination. And it’s so melodramatic. It’s kind of a joke when you know all the stuff Robert Vaughn did over his career.
33. Lee J. Cobb, The Brothers Karamazov
- Mostly because no one even remembers this movie or this performance. If it wasn’t here, no one would miss it.
34. Gig Young, Teacher’s Pet
- This is just a weird choice. It’s a romantic comedy, and he plays an uptight psychiatrist who may or may not be gay who is clearly not the right man for Doris Day because he’s not Clark Gable. It’s just a weird choice, because no one would think to nominate it if it wasn’t.
35. Don Murray, Bus Stop
- He’s the lead of the movie. And his character is annoying as fuck.
36. Mickey Rooney, The Bold and the Brave
- This movie is impossible to find now. And while he’s good in it, a lot of that is just the natural abilities of Mickey Rourke. No one would even notice if someone else was here and this wasn’t.
37. Tom Tully, The Caine Mutiny
- He’s not in the film. He’s in the very beginning, is removed from his post, leaves, then Bogart comes in for 90% of the film, and then he comes back for the last five minutes. I was shocked when I found out what role he played. He’s not in the film at all. Weak choice. It makes no sense at all. Same deal as Ian Bannen in Flight of the Phoenix. You had better choices IN THE MOVIE!
38. Arthur Hunnicutt, The Big Sky
- This is just bizarre, this one. I know no one has seen this, so I won’t go into detail, but — I just do not understand this one at all. Weak movie, not a particularly memorable performance — and it’s a Howard Hawks movie, too. Why is this here?
39. Richard Burton, My Cousin Rachel
- He’s the lead of the movie and went here because no one knew who he was. Olivia de Havilland was billed as lead, therefore he could go here. It’s ridiculous. The performance isn’t outstanding either (not as much as later Burton performances are). But he’s clearly the lead, and I cannot support blatant category fraud.
40. José Ferrer, Joan of Arc
- He doesn’t really have much to do. This movie would have been better served with just the Bergman nomination. No one ever remembers anyone but Joan in a Joan of Arc movie.
41. Tomas Gomez, Ride the Pink Horse
- What the fuck is this? Watch the movie. You’ll see what I’m talking about. One of the ten weakest ever. (Also, he wasn’t nominated for Force of Evil the year after this, if you want a punchline to this nomination.)
42. Michael Chekhov, Spellbound
- One scene is all he has. He was only nominated because of who he was. That’s it. Don’t let the “but it’s Hitchcock” thing cloud you — this shouldn’t be nominated.
43. Claude Rains, Mr. Skeffington
- He’s not really in the film, and he also doesn’t have much to do. This is the Bette Davis show, this movie. (Not even a particularly good show, either.) This feels like one of those consolation nominations because he got fucked for Casablanca.
44. J. Carrol Naish, Sahara
- He’s the Italian prisoner. He doesn’t really have all that much to do in the movie. They only nominated him because of the whole international cooperation thing. A guy who should be the enemy redeems himself by giving up his life to help the American cause. Plus they liked Naish and his accents. It’s a weak nomination, though.
45. Charles Coburn, The Devil and Miss Jones
- He is unabashedly the lead of the movie. I’ll give him The More the Merrier, because he’s so charming, but this one is him doing his usual schtick. He’s so obviously the lead it’s ridiculous, and he’s played this role a bunch of times (like in The More the Merrier). I can’t support a second case of category fraud.
46. William Gargan, They Knew What They Wanted
- I so disliked this movie. And this performance — really? One of the weakest ever. Watch the movie and you’ll see. Just — no.
47. Albert Basserman, Foreign Correspondent
- He doesn’t have much to do here. He’s there, he makes a speech, he gets “assassinated,” and then he disappears. Then they find him, he’s hostage, he’s drugged, then they get him out of there and he’s along for the ride. He has no dramatic moments here. The nomination makes no sense. It’s a great film, but the nomination makes no sense at all.
48. Thomas Mitchell, The Hurricane
- Weak. It feels like he’s only in the beginning of the film and the end of the film. Just one of the weakest nominees ever. I know they were just getting the category up and running, but this is Thomas Mitchell. The man has given over a dozen nomination-worthy performances.
49. Mischa Auer, My Man Godfrey
- They had no idea what constituted a supporting performance, apparently. I suspect a lot of you have seen this movie. He plays the moocher who is the pet project of the mother, who just sort of sits around, doing nothing. He’s barely in the movie. I’m telling you, they had no idea what constituted a supporting performance. This is ridiculous.
50. Stuart Erwin, Pigskin Parade
- Same as the one up there. They didn’t know yet. But also — this movie is so weak, and this performance is so — basically it’s about a couple who ends up on two sides of a football game or something, and this guy is a big country bumpkin who is brought on as a ringer. He doesn’t have much to do at all. I can see why they’d think this should be nominated in 1936, but this has held up horribly over time and belongs on a list of the worst nominees of all time.