My Favorite Male Supporting Performances of 2012
Now for the male supporting parts. There were a lot this year.
It’s not really that hard to have a great supporting performance, especially for men (and that’s only because they get more roles. It’s a percentage thing). So this is gonna have 25 people on it instead of the 15 I did for the lead categories. There were a lot of great supporting turns by actors this year, some of whom turned in multiple great performances.
So here are my favorite male supporting performances of 2012:
1. Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained
It’s no surprise I consider this the best supporting performance of the year. And there are a lot of factors that go into this decision. First — when I read the script, I didn’t immediately care for the Candie character. Not like you immediately care for Landa. With Landa, you go, “Holy shit, this motherfucker is amazing!” With Candie, he’s not a very developed character at all. You don’t really get the sense of what the deal is with him. And then when Leo took the part, I thought, “Why? The other parts are more interesting.” Of course, half the big parts in the script were written for specific people (Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson. And it’s not like he was gonna play Django), but it’s just — I didn’t think Candie was a character he’d be interested in, because he just wasn’t that interesting a character. But seeing what Leo did with it — he made that shit work. I don’t even think they tinkered with the part all that much. I think it was almost all there. But seeing it come to life on screen was what really wowed me. It’s one of those parts that completely takes over its section of the film. And the moment at the dinner table where he completely takes over the scene — I believed that shit. I said, he scared me more than Landa scared me, which is weird, since Landa was scarier in terms of what he could do. (Though, in a way, in that specific case, Candie is much scarier than Landa.) I just loved this performance through and through. My favorite supporting performance of the year, hands down.
2. Christopher Walken in A Late Quartet
First let’s get it out of the way by shouting out his performance in Seven Psychopaths. That performance is basically the antithesis of what I’m going to be praising him for with this one. That performance was perfectly tailored to all his “Walken”-ness. Those line deliveries of his — that performance exploited that aspect of him. This one — this one was one of those performances he gives occasionally where you don’t see any Walken in it. There’s none of his usual quirks in this performance. It’s fucking breathtaking. His final monologue — I’d have given him the Oscar right there. No joke. I can’t believe no one saw this performance. It’s kind of a shame, because this is the best performance I’ve seen Walken give in a while.
3. Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln
It was ind of a foregone conclusion. This is Tommy Lee Jones used to perfection. You hear about him before he’s introduced, and you’re already afraid of him. Then you get him on screen, and he’s a boisterous, cantankerous guy with extremely liberal morals and a tendency to use big words. And then he just proceeds to steal every scene he’s in. Like the one where he explains to the other guy what he’s gonna do and the other guy never utters a word. He’s so fucking good here. We all know it. I know it’s not like he acted his ass off or anything, but sometimes a perfect fit is all it takes. Look at #4.
4. Samuel L. Jackson in Django Unchained
The role was written for him, so we knew what we were getting. When his character came into the script, it was like a stick of dynamite was added to the proceedings. Stephen is such a great character. (P.S. I love how Tarantino describes him in the script: he’s “the Basil Rathbone of house niggers.” Which is just so perfectly exact of a description.) And Jackson is always great in stuff. So it was a match made in heaven. How could you not love this performance?
5. James Gandolfini in Not Fade Away and Killing Them Softly
For every other actor, I mention one performance and shout out the other. For Gandolfini — it’s both. He’s been turning in great character work ever since The Sopranos ended. In the Loop, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Where the Wild Things Are (I know it’s only a voice role, but you can hear the performance he gave) — he’s one of my favorite actors working today. He always brings the goods and I love seeing him. I can’t wait to see whatever he does. And this year, he had two great performances. Both of which were horribly underseen, one more so than the others. Killing Them Softly was such a great film, and he has a great part in it. Pitt hires him to help kill a guy, thinking he’s gonna be the guy he remembers from ten years earlier, and finds he’s now a drunk, who spends his days hiring hookers and drinking before noon. He’s so good. That scene with him at the bar — and then him arguing with the hooker. Definitely the performance of that film for me. And the other — nobody saw Not Fade Away. And Gandolfini has a part in it that, if the film caught on, he might have been in conversation for Best Supporting Actor. If this were the 70s, without a doubt he’d get on there. It’s that kind of part. He’s the kid’s father who espouses all those 1950s values and thinks it’s disgusting that his son has long hair and wants to play music instead of working hard and earning his keep. And then he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer in the middle of the film, and the way he handles it is just so great. He’s just like, “I’m dying. Couple months, maybe I don’t know.” And then he just sort of goes on like normal. And the way he interacts with his son is just so great. That final scene at the very end, what he does — oh, man. I’d have him right on my ballot if I were in the Academy. I’m gonna be pushing this performance for a long time. I thought he was so great in this movie.
6. Ewan McGregor in The Impossible
I’ve been openly not a fan of Ewan McGregor’s performances over the years. I don’t know what it is — I just never enjoyed seeing him on screen. But I think he’s great otherwise. Which is the opposite of some other actors, who I want no part of off the screen, but on the screen, they’re terrific. But this — this made me go, “Holy shit, Ewan’s killing this!” Because he’s fucking spectacular here. He really is. I’ll give credit where credit is due. This performance actually made me a fan of Ewan McGregor. He’s that good. That scene where he’s on the phone with his parents (or his wife’s parents. I forget which) — oh my god. This is another performance that deserved to be nominated and wasn’t. I can’t say enough good things about this movie and this performance. It’s a damn shame it got almost entirely overlooked by people.
7. Sam Rockwell in Seven Psychopaths
There’s nothing I need to say about this one. If you’ve seen the film, you already know. This movie doesn’t work without Rockwell. He is, 100%, why this movie works. The performance is absolutely spectacular, and is basically what we’ve come to expect out of Rockwell. He’s a man who delivers a great performance, every time. But man — there’s nothing I can say about this performance that can compare to actually seeing it in action. In a just world, he’d have gotten nominated for this.
8. Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises
Because that’s not Tom Hardy. It’s not as special as Heath’s Joker, and that’s because Bane isn’t the architect of destruction and doesn’t really get much complexity as a character. He’s just an agent of destruction who does his thing and does it well. But even so — the transformation is just as incredible. You’re not watching an actor up there. You’re watching the character. It’s a spectacular performance that is just perfect within the film. It’s kind of a shame how he had to go out, because he was killing it for that entire movie.
9. John Goodman in Flight
And shout out to him in Argo as well. Goodman’s just one of those guys who can’t not give a good performance. And for the most part, these two roles aren’t that spectacular. The role in Argo is just a regular role made more special by the fact that he’s John Goodman. And the one in Flight — almost the same thing, but it does have some flavor to it. He gets that added element of charisma to it that makes it work. Plus there’s that scene near the end where they need to get Denzel ready for the hearing, and he’s like, “I got this.” That’s so fucking entertaining. Only Goodman could have pulled that off in exactly that way that he does. I love seeing him on screen. It’s a damn shame he was never nominated for an Oscar (that Barton Fink snub is still ridiculous to me to this day).
10. Andy Serkis in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
This was Andy Serkis’s best performance as Gollum. The CG improvement over the past decade helped, but man — he was so fucking good here. He really only had the one scene, but the range of emotions he shows — and the fact that the writing was tailoring it specifically to show off his skills — I couldn’t not put this here. I’ve been very critical of people’s decries of motion capture performances not getting nominated for Oscars, but this is one of the cases where I could actually go, “Yeah, I get it.” This performance I actually saw. Serkis was terrific here.
11. Bruce Willis in Looper
This might be one of Bruce’s best dramatic performances. It might be the best. How many times has he done something dramatic like this? And the great thing about it is — you understand it. Most of the stuff he does is horrible, but you understand why he’s doing it. From every angle. From the Joseph Gordon-Levitt side and the “my wife” side. And that moment after — well, not to spoil it — but he makes a very important and tragic decision in the middle of this movie, and his reaction afterward is so fucking good. I’ve never seen Bruce do that on film before. It was incredible. Also, major shoutout to his Moonrise Kingdom performance. He was fucking incredible there too. (Oh, and you know — he was really good in Lay the Favorite as well. Man’s been turning in good perofrmances all year. Good on ya, Bruce. Here’s hoping for more of this in the future.)
12. James Spader in Lincoln
Tommy Lee Jones gets all the props — which — I’m guilty of that too. But James Spader — man, was he not fucking terrific in that movie? The eating, being out of shape, running across the White House lawn, carving the wood and it being all over him, using all those methods to get people’s votes — him and Tommy Lee Jones stole all the scenes that Daniel Day-Lewis wasn’t in. This is probably the second most underrated performance of the year (next to James Gandolfini). I loved every second James Spader was in this movie.
13. Alan Arkin in Argo
He said the words “Ar-go fuck yourself.” I mean, really.
14. Javier Bardem in Skyfall
I don’t have to say anything about this. Of course he’s one of the best Bond villains out there. Because they gave him a complete backstory and motivation and some really badass monologues. There was really no way he wasn’t gonna be on this list. Still think people overrated the performance, but that’s people. It’s not like I bother with what people think anyway.
15. Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook
It was so refreshing seeing De Niro in a role where he didn’t have to go back to his well of ticks and mannerisms that he’s been going to for the past — fifteen years. Ever since Cape Fear in 1991, he hasn’t really stretched himself as an actor all that much. Look at Casino — he knows what he’s doing. But I’ll give him the 90s, since at least he had good films there. Since 2001 and The Score, it’s been all downhill. His best performance was in Stardust, for christ’s sake. So it was really nice to not see recent De Niro in the performance. That alone is worth this ranking.
16. Woody Harrelson in Seven Psychopaths
Oh, he’s so good here. He’s great in everything. Woody Harrelson is consistently one of the most interesting actors working, because you always love to see him when he’s on screen. And he turns in such diverse performances, too. Here he just plays a cold blooded psychopath who happens to have a soft spot for one thing — his Shih Tzu. Already this is a fun character. And then you see how he plays it — I’m so glad he took the part and not Mickey Rourke. Harrelson brings that added dimension of humor to the part that makes it work. I’ll watch anything he’s in.
17. Hal Holbrook in Promised Land
I’ve been talking about this performance since I saw it. He’s only really in about two or three scenes — it’s really only two big ones, anyway — but it’s like when he was in Into the Wild; everything he says is just dripping with emotion and really adds an extra dimension to the performance. Huge fan of his work in this and everywhere else. I love that he keeps making movies. Still kind of hoping someone will give him another part like this soon that he might be able to win for. You know they’d do it. He just has to have something that’ll get him there. I thought this could have been it, but it seems like this film was universally ignored before it even came out.
18. Billy Connolly in Quartet
It’s basically Billy Connolly doing Billy Connolly, but since when is that a bad thing? He’s so fucking entertaining here. He just gets to be the wild card, who gets to go anywhere, say anything, and also gets to have some serious moments within the film, too. He’s the guy you can’t wait to show up on screen in the movie. That’s always a performance that stands out.
19. Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike
Shout out to him in Killer Joe and the other movies he did this year. McConaughey is really starting to turn in some career best performances these past few years. I’m excited to see what he does next year. But — everyone talked about how good he was in Magic Mike. I don’t need to add to that conversation. I was on that bandwagon from June. I’m just restating how much I liked his performance and how I think it’s one of his best he’s ever given.
20. Russell Crowe in Les Misérables
A lot of people be hatin’ on this one. I don’t get it. I think it’s admirable that he sang. You don’t exactly know him as someone who can sing. And he did it live! That’s actually being dropped into the deep end. And I think he acquits himself very admirably here. I’ve always admired him as an actor, and I think this was a brave choice and one that he didn’t fuck up. What more could you want?
21. Jason Clarke in Zero Dark Thirty
I was really impressed with Edgerton in this movie. I thought he did a really good job with the role. That’s all I got, really. I just liked his performance.
22. Mark Duplass in Safety Not Guaranteed
He’s the star of the film, even though he is (rightfully) a supporting character. He’s so good here. I love these kinds of roles. I knew where they were going with this role when the film started, and I loved it. How can you not love this guy? It’s almost suspended childhood in a person. It’s great.
23. Dwight Henry in Beasts of the Southern Wild
Because you totally believe him. He’s not an actor. He was a baker before he was cast in the film, and you believe every second he’s on screen. Terrific performance. It’s actually one of those performances I could have seen being nominated in a weaker year. Kind of like John Hawkes two years ago. He’s that good in this.
24. William H. Macy in The Sessions
I just love William H. Macy. And he gets to play the priest role in the best way. He’s just a cool priest. He drinks beer and is basically a regular guy who just happens to be a priest. And he’s cool about shit — this is the kind of priest that gives the church a good name. And he gets his share of comic moments in the film — it’s hard not to love a William H. Macy performance.
25. Eddie Redmayne, in Les Misérables
His performance of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” ranks right up there with the other great performances in the film. Great stuff.