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The Oscar Quest: Weakest Best Supporting Actor Categories

I automatically know what’s gonna be #1 here. It’s so clear.

Anyway — we took care of the strongest Best Supporting Actor categories — now it’s time to do the weakest.

I think we’ll all be able to agree that these pretty much suck.

Here they are:

10. 1940

  • Albert Basserman, Foreign Correspondent
  • Walter Brennan, The Westerner
  • William Gargan, They Knew What They Wanted
  • Jack Oakie, The Great Dictator
  • James Stephenson, The Letter

When giving someone a third Oscar is the best decision — you’re category is weak. Oakie is great and so is Brennan, but outside of that, none of the other nominees really needed to be there. Basserman works in a stronger category. Here he goes along with the weak ones.

9. 1990

  • Bruce Davison, Longtime Companion
  • Andy Garcia, The Godfather Part III
  • Grahame Greene, Dances with Wolves
  • Al Pacino, Dick Tracy
  • Joe Pesci, Goodfellas

Joe Pesci aside — this sucks. Garcia is fine, but I think no one would blink an eye if he weren’t here. Davison is part of an ensemble. It’s not like he did anything spectacular. Al Pacino is a fun nomination, but even in a stronger category, we’d still be like, “Really? You nominated him for that?” And I hate Dances with Wolves. I’ve seen me a lot of westerns — Greene doesn’t do anything special here.

8. 1951

  • Leo Genn, Quo Vadis
  • Karl Malden, A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Kevin McCarthy, Death of a Salesman
  • Peter Ustinov, Quo Vadis
  • Gig Young, Come Fill the Cup

Awful category. Take off Malden — what happens? Ustinov is the only performance here of note, and even he might be considered over the top by some people. The other three should not even be here. You can make the case for McCarthy being here based on the role, but he wasn’t that good in it. This is a terrible category.

7. 1969

  • Rupert Crosse, The Reivers
  • Elliott Gould, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
  • Jack Nicholson, Easy Rider
  • Anthony Quayle, Anne of the Thousand Days
  • Gig Young, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

I still don’t really see a performance worth voting for. Nicholson is good, but he shouldn’t have won. Quayle didn’t do all that much. Crosse — I don’t know what that’s about. Young is fine. And Gould is fine too. But they don’t really amount to much in terms of a category. It’s just — weak.

6. 1937

  • Ralph Bellamy, The Awful Truth
  • Thomas Mitchell, The Hurricane
  • Joseph Schildkraut, The Life of Emile Zola
  • H.B. Warner, Lost Horizon
  • Roland Young, Topper

Oh, this one was awful. Mitchell is barely in the film. Ditto Bellamy. Warner is fine, Young is the lead, and Schildkraut also is barely in the film. I’m guessing they weren’t quite sure what counted as a supporting performance, because they either went with essential cameos or lead roles that were billed as supporting. Either way — this is terrible.

5. 1942

  • William Bendix, Wake Island
  • Van Heflin, Johnny Eager
  • Walter Huston, Yankee Doodle Dandy
  • Frank Morgan, Tortilla Flat
  • Henry Travers, Mrs. Miniver

Oh, wow. I thought this was gonna be #1. Interesting… what did I do here? What’s 4-1? I guess we’re gonna find out together. Let’s see why I didn’t put this at #1. There’s clearly no #1 performance here. Huston is fine, Morgan is good, Travers is okay, Bendix is fine, and Heflin — meh. Oh, I get it. This is a case of — decent performances, weak category. The other ones must be much, much weaker in terms of performance. This category does suck though.

4. 1936

  • Mischa Auer, My Man Godfrey
  • Walter Brennan, Come and Get It
  • Stuart Erwin, Pigskin Parade
  • Basil Rathbone, Romeo and Juliet
  • Akim Tamiroff, The General Died at Dawn

Oh yeah. This is much worse than 1942. Rathbone is fine. Brennan too. But his performance isn’t something that should ever win. The only reason he should have won was because this is the first of the Supporting Actor categories and he’s the quintessential supporting actor. Auer is good in the film, but really didn’t need to be nominated. The Erwin nomination is a joke, and Tamiroff — weak. Wow, this category sucked. That means 5 out of the first 7 years of Best Supporting Actor were some of the weakest in that category’s history. That says something.

3. 1952

  • Richard Burton, My Cousin Rachel
  • Arthur Hunnicutt, The Big Sky
  • Victor McLaglen, The Quiet Man
  • Jack Palance, Sudden Fear
  • Anthony Quinn, Viva Zapata!

McLaglen is the only person who really should be here. Maybe Quinn. Sure, Quinn too. But I didn’t really love that performance. I don’t get the Hunnicutt nomination at all. Burton is the lead of his film, and him being nominated is basically them building him up as a star. And Palance — he didn’t need to be nominated. Weak.

2. 1988

  • Alec Guinness, Little Dorrit
  • Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda
  • Martin Landau, Tucker: The Man and His Dream
  • River Phoenix, Running on Empty
  • Dean Stockwell, Married to the Mob

Oh yeah. In almost any other year, Kline would be a 3, maybe a 2, and you’d vote for him because he was awesome. Here, he is by far a #1. Phoenix is the lead of his movie, Stockwell — no, Landau doesn’t really do anything, and Guinness is in a mini-series that’s 7 hours long. The only reason this isn’t #1 is because there’s a clear winner here.

1. 1965

  • Martin Balsam, A Thousand Clowns
  • Ian Bannen, The Flight of the Phoenix
  • Tom Courtenay, Doctor Zhivago
  • Michael Dunn, Ship of Fools
  • Frank Finlay, Othello

I figured this out by #4. When I hadn’t seen it, I realized I put it #1. This should be here. No one in this category is worth voting for. Finlay is Iago, sure, but it’s so theatrical, that stuff doesn’t fly in 1965. Dunn shouldn’t be here, and is basically interchangeable with several other people from that film (none of whom should have been nominated anyway), Courtenay is fine, but a lot of people would say Rod Steiger was a better choice for this, Bannen is someone who is barely in his film (I seriously got 2/3 through the movie and said, “Wait, who is he playing?” And when I saw who it was, I was amazed. He has like three lines in the film!), and Balsam is a #4 at best most years. This is truly the worst category.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

11. 1945

  • Michael Chekhov, Spellbound
  • John Dall, The Corn is Green
  • Michael Dunn, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  • Robert Mitchum, The Story of G.I. Joe
  • J. Carrol Naish, A Medal for Benny

I hate this category. Outside of Dunn, not really anyone should be here, except maybe Mitchum. Naish is a good actor, and Chekhov was a famous acting teacher, so I can understand it, but still — weak.

12. 1956

  • Don Murray, Bus Stop
  • Anthony Perkins, Friendly Persuasion
  • Anthony Quinn, Lust for Life
  • Mickey Rooney, The Bold and the Brave
  • Robert Stack, Written on the Wind
Haven’t seen Rooney’s performance yet, but even if it is a strong one, this would still be here. Murray is the lead (and is very annoying in the film), Quinn is on screen for like 10 minutes, Perkins is fine, but this is more of a “Oh nice, Anthony Perkins is nominated,” sort of thing, Rooney is Ronney, and Stack is great. So, I count one really good performance (and even that is wildly over the top).

13. 1977

  • Mikhail Baryshnikov, The Turning Point
  • Peter Firth, Equus
  • Alec Guinness, Star Wars
  • Jason Robards, Julia
  • Maximilian Schell, Julia

Baryshnikov is there because he could dance. Firth is okay, but still, the film was very weird. Guinness is iconic, but it’s not like he did all that much in the film. And Robards and Schell — neither performance really sticks out as great.

14. 1938

  • Walter Brennan, Kentucky
  • John Garfield, Four Daughters
  • Gene Lockhart, Algiers
  • Robert Morley, Marie Antoinette
  • Basil Rathbone, If I Were King

Awful. Rathbone and Morely are the only ones who should be here. And Brennan works too. Still not a particularly strong category.

15. 2006

  • Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
  • Jackie Earl Haley, Little Children
  • Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
  • Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
  • Mark Wahlberg, The Departed

I just don’t like the category. One of those “whole being less than the sum of its parts” categories. I like individual performances, but not the category. Because it shouldn’t have come down to Murphy and Arkin. Neither performance is really that spectacular.

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