The Oscar Quest: Worst Best Supporting Actor Choices

We all know what #1 is going to be before I even start. It’s not even a competition, really.

This category is rife with terrible decisions. Most of the time it’s because they choose a veteran over a better performance. Or, in cases that will be documented here — they choose non-actors. I feel like this category might be the one where there are the most bad decisions that people get angry over. Of the acting categories. Maybe not. I don’t know.

Either way — here are the worst Best Supporting Actor choices. They’re all horrible (to me). I’ll do my best to explain why I don’t like them.

10. 1984, Haing S. Ngor, The Killing Fields

Beat: Adolph Caesar, A Soldier’s Story, Pat Morita, The Karate Kid, John Malkovich, Places in the Heart, Ralph Richardson, Greystroke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.

To me, they voted for the man and the situation and not the performance. He did okay in the film, but I don’t think he needed to win. Did you see what Adolph Caesar did in A Soldier’s Story? It’s because they won’t vote for villains (most of the time. They’re doing better recently). They like uplifting bullshit. Also — Mr. Miyagi — tell me we all wouldn’t vote for him over Ngor in a heartbeat.

9. 1942, Van Heflin, Johnny Eager

Beat: Walter Huston, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Frank Morgan, Tortilla Flat, Henry Travers, Mrs. Miniver, William Bendix, Wake Island.

Admittedly, this is a terrible category (5th worst, I believe, according to my records). But that’s who you choose? Not Walter Huston, who already should have won Best Actor, Frank Morgan, who’d been giving solid supporting turns for years, William Bendix or Henry Travers, who both give poignant performances? This makes no sense at all.

8. 1949, Dean Jagger, Twelve O’Clock High

Beat: Ralph Richardson, The  Heiress, James Whitmore, Battleground, John Ireland, All the King’s Men, Arthur Kennedy, Champion.

It’s because he doesn’t really do anything in the movie, and Ralph Richardson was so terrific this year. He should have won just for The Heiress. But once you factor in the fact that he was in The Fallen Idol (technically 1948, but it counted for this Oscar season) — this becomes a really terrible decision.

7. 1962, Ed Begley, Sweet Bird of Youth

Beat: Omar Sharif, Lawrence of Arabia, Telly Savalas, Birdman of Alcatraz, Terence Stamp, Billy Budd, Victor Buono, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?.

Which performance do you remember — Boss Finley or Sheriff Ali? Who do people remember for their career more? Terence Stamp and Telly Savalas, or Ed Begley? I rest my case.

6. 1946, Harold Russell, The Best Years of Our Lives

Beat: Claude Rains, Notorious, Charles Coburn, The Green Years, Clifton Webb, The Razor’s Edge, William Demarest, The Jolson Story.

He won an Oscar for losing his hands in the war. Two Oscars, even. I understand why he won, but objectively — that is, looking solely at performance — this was a terrible decision. You know what this category did? It kept Claude Rains, William Demarest and Clifton Webb, three masterful character actors (more so the first two), from having an Oscar. I’m surprised it didn’t go top five based on that alone.

5. 1970, John Mills, Ryan’s Daughter

Beat: Chief Dan George, Little Big Man, John Marley, Love Story, Richard S. Castellano, Lovers and Other Strangers, Gene Hackman, I Never Sang for My Father.

Oh yeah. Watch the performance. Go ahead. Watch all five performances and tell me John Mills was better than fourth — at best. Tell me John Marley or Chief Dan George shouldn’t have won here. Go ahead.

4. 1957, Red Buttons, Sayonara

Beat: Sessue Hayakawa, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Arthur Kennedy, Peyton Place, Russ Tamblyn, Peyton Place, Vittorio de Sica, A Farewell to Arms.

Buttons did fine, but watch him against Hayakawa and Kennedy. You’ll see why this is here.

3. 2001, Jim Broadbent, Iris

Beat: Ben Kingsley, Sexy Beast, Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Ethan Hawke, Training Day, Jon Voight, Ali.

It’s not so much that Broadbent wasn’t good, it’s just — have you seen Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast? I don’t care if this makes sense logistically — some performances just need to win.

2. 1972, Joel Grey, Cabaret

Beat: James Caan, The Godfather, Al Pacino, The Godfather, Robert Duvall, The Godfather, Eddie Albert, The Heartbreak Kid.

There are many reasons I don’t like this. One — Grey doesn’t really do anything. Two — every other actor in this category has had a more distinguished career than he did. Three — all of them gave better performances. (Maybe not Albert, but, his career tips the scales in his favor.) Four — James Caan, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall. The Godfather. Seriously? You’re telling me you wouldn’t put this on this list?

1. 1979, Melvyn Douglas, Being There

Beat: Robert Duvall, Apocalypse Now, Frederic Forest, The Rose, Justin Henry, Kramer vs. Kramer, Mickey Rooney, The Black Stallion.

Of course. Of course, of course. Watch both movies. Which performance do you remember?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

11. 1973, John Houseman, The Paper Chase

Beat: Jason Miller, The Exorcist, Vincent Gardenia, Bang the Drum Slowly,

12. 1971, Ben Johnson, The Last Picture Show

Beat: Roy Scheider, The French Connection, Jeff Bridges, The Last Picture Show,

All he really did was give one speech and then die. And he beat Jeff Bridges and Roy Scheider. I call bullshit.

13. 1991, Jack Palance, City Slickers

Beat: Michael Lerner, Barton Fink, Harvey Keitel & Ben Kingsley, Bugsy, Tommy Lee Jones, JFK

Love Jack Palance, but he didn’t do anything here. Lerner was so much better.

14. 1986, Michael Caine, Hannah and Her Sisters & 1999, Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules

The first time was because he beat someone who should have won (be it Tom Berenger or Dennis Hopper, take your pick), and the second time was just because the performance wasn’t very good (especially compared to Tom Cruise’s). He deserves both Oscars, it’s just — based on the categories, they were weak choices, these wins.

15. 2004, Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby

Beat: Clive Owen, Closer, Jamie Foxx, Collateral, Thomas Hayden Church, Sideways, Alan Alda, The Aviator

Veteran win. Man deserved it — but weak performance. Just a weak choice.

4 responses

  1. Michael

    I disagree a few places, but the only one I really care anything about is 1984. I don’t know what you didn’t see in Ngor’s performance, but I felt it was an absolutely magnificent performance and still stands with me as maybe one of the top 10 decisions in the category. If not for him, though, Caesar would definitely be my choice as he was quite good in a great movie.

    February 8, 2012 at 5:10 pm

  2. kaejae

    I don’t think having a better career is worthy of winning over some-one who only did a few films. It was the comment that you said “every other actor in this category has had a more distinguished career than he did” – that should have nothing to do with choosing a winner. This is for Best Performance of that year for that role.

    February 14, 2013 at 6:04 pm

  3. bren

    I will agree that was a pretty ignorant statement and should have no bearing on who won. Especially when we complain about career wins when they are given out over more deserving performances. Joel Grey was fantastic – yes it went up against The Godfather performances but it’s still a great one itself. And Grey had a solid career as well, just in on stage instead of on film.

    February 22, 2014 at 10:18 pm

  4. Jared P

    Mark Rylance didn’t make the list? Just a blah performance in a blah role in a blah movie.

    April 5, 2017 at 10:03 pm

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