Oscars 2015 Category Breakdown: Best Supporting Actor

Every year before the Oscars I break down each of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with the category, how it works, what its history is, how it usually turns out, and also as a precursor to my picks article, allowing me to get most of the heavy lifting out of the way beforehand.

How these work is — I go over each category’s history, give you all the previous winners and nominees, then list the current year’s nominees. And then I’ll go over how each of the guilds (if there is a corresponding guild) have went, and how that corresponds to the Oscars (some guilds mean a lot to how a category will play out. Others mean nothing). It’s basically everything you need to know in order to make an informed decision when you make your picks on Oscar night. And then I also rank the nominees at the end in terms of where I see them in terms of their likelihood to win.

Today is Best Supporting Actor, which is perhaps the most interesting category of the year, simply because of how crazy the precursors all were.

Year Best Supporting Actor Winners Other Nominees
1936 Walter Brennan, Come and Get It Mischa Auer, My Man GodfreyStuart Erwin, Pigskin Parade

Basil Rathbone, Romeo and Juliet

Akim Tamiroff, The General Died at Dawn

1937 Joseph Schildkraut, The Life of Emile Zola Ralph Bellamy, The Awful TruthThomas Mitchell, The Hurricane

H.B. Warner, Lost Horizon

Roland Young, Topper

1938 Walter Brennan, Kentucky John Garfield, Four DaughtersGene Lockhart, Algiers

Robert Morely, Marie Antoinette

Basil Rathbone, If I Were King

1939 Thomas Mitchell, Stagecoach Brian Aherne, JuarezHarry Carey, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Brian Donlevy, Beau Geste

Claude Rains, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

1940 Walter Brennan, The Westerner Albert Basserman, Foreign CorrespondentWilliam Gargan, They Knew What They Wanted

Jack Oakie, The Great Dictator

James Stephenson, The Letter

1941 Donald Crisp, How Green Was My Valley Walter Brennan, Sergeant YorkCharles Coburn, The Devil and Miss Jones

James Gleason, Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Sydney Greenstreet, The Maltese Falcon

1942 Van Heflin, Johnny Eager William Bendix, Wake IslandWalter Huston, Yankee Doodle Dandy

Frank Morgan, Tortilla Flat

Henry Travers, Mrs. Miniver

1943 Charles Coburn, The More the Merrier Charles Bickford, The Song of BernadetteJ. Carrol Naish, Sahara

Claude Rains, Casablanca

Akim Tamiroff, For Whom the Bell Tolls

1944 Barry Fitzgerald, Going My Way Hume Cronyn, The Seventh CrossClaude Rains, Mr. Skeffington

Clifton Webb, Laura

Monty Woolley, Since You Went Away

1945 James Dunn, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Michael Chekhov, SpellboundJohn Dall, The Corn is Green

Robert Mitchum, The Story of G.I. Joe

J. Carrol Naish, A Medal for Benny

1946 Harold Russell, The Best Years of Our Lives Charles Coburn, The Green YearsWilliam Demarest, The Jolson Story

Claude Rains, Notorious

Clifton Webb, The Razor’s Edge

1947 Edmund Gwenn, Miracle on 34th Street Charles Bickford, The Farmer’s DaughterThomas Gomez, Ride the Pink Horse

Robert Ryan, Crossfire

Richard Widmark, Kiss of Death

1948 Walter Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Charles Bickford, Johnny BelindaJosé Ferrer, Joan of Arc

Oskar Homolka, I Remember Mama

Cecil Kellaway, The Luck of the Irish

1949 Dean Jagger, Twelve O’Clock High John Ireland, All the King’s MenArthur Kennedy, Champion

Ralph Richardson, The Heiress

James Whitmore, Battleground

1950 George Sanders, All About Eve Jeff Chandler, Broken ArrowEdmund Gwenn, Mister 880

Sam Jaffe, The Asphalt Jungle

Erich von Stroheim, Sunset Boulevard

1951 Karl Malden, A Streetcar Named Desire Leo Genn, Quo VadisKevin McCarthy, Death of a Salesman

Peter Ustinov, Quo Vadis

Gig Young, Come Fill the Gap

1952 Anthony Quinn, Viva Zapata! Richard Burton, My Cousin RachelArthur Hunnicutt, The Big Sky

Victor McLaglen, The Quiet Man

Jack Palance, Sudden Fear

1953 Frank Sinatra, From Here to Eternity Eddie Albert, Roman HolidayBrandon de Wilde, Shane

Jack Palance, Shane

Robert Strauss, Stalag 17

1954 Edmund O’Brien, The Barefoot Contessa Lee J. Cobb, On the WaterfrontKarl Malden, On the Waterfront

Rod Steiger, On the Waterfront

Tom Tully, The Caine Mutiny

1955 Jack Lemmon, Mister Roberts Arthur Kennedy, TrialJoe Mantell, Marty

Sal Mineo, Rebel Without a Cause

Arthur O’Connell, Picnic

1956 Anthony Quinn, Lust for Life Don Murray, Bus StopAnthony Perkins, Friendly Persuasion

Mickey Rooney, The Bold and the Brave

Robert Stack, Written on the Wind

1957 Red Buttons, Sayonara Vittorio de Sica, A Farewell to ArmsSessue Hayakawa, The Bridge on the River Kwai

Arthur Kennedy, Peyton Place

Russ Tamblyn, Peyton Place

1958 Burl Ives, The Big Country Theodore Bikel, The Defiant OnesLee J. Cobb, The Brothers Karamozov

Arthur Kennedy, Some Came Running

Gig Young, Teacher’s Pet

1959 Hugh Griffith, Ben-Hur Arthur O’Connell, Anatomy of a MurderGeorge C. Scott, Anatomy of a Murder

Robert Vaughn, The Young Philadelphians

Ed Wynn, The Diary of Anne Frank

1960 Peter Ustinov, Spartacus Peter Falk, Murder, Inc.Jack Kruschen, The Apartment

Sal Mineo, Exodus

Chill Wills, The Alamo

1961 George Chakiris, West Side Story Montgomery Clift, Judgment at NurembergPeter Falk, Pocketful of Miracles

Jackie Gleason, The Hustler

George C. Scott, The Hustler

1962 Ed Begley, Sweet Bird of Youth Victor Buono, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?Telly Savalas, Birdman of Alcatraz

Omar Sharif, Lawrence of Arabia

Terence Stamp, Billy Budd

1963 Melvyn Douglas, Hud Nick Adams, Twilight of HorrorBobby Darin, Captain Newman, M.D.

Hugh Griffith, Tom Jones

John Huston, The Cardinal

1964 Peter Ustinov, Topkapi John Gielgud, BecketStanley Holloway, My Fair Lady

Edmond O’Brien, Seven Days in May

Lee Tracy, The Best Man

1965 Martin Balsam, A Thousand Clowns Ian Bannen, Flight of the PhoenixTom Courtenay, Doctor Zhivago

Michael Dunn, Ship of Fools

Frank Finlay, Othello

1966 Walter Matthau, The Fortune Cookie Mako, The Sand PebblesJames Mason, Georgy Girl

George Segal, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Robert Shaw, A Man for All Seasons

1967 George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke John Cassavetes, The Dirty DozenGene Hackman, Bonnie and Clyde

Cecil Kellaway, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Michael J. Pollard, Bonnie and Clyde

1968 Jack Albertson, The Subject Was Roses Seymour Cassel, FacesDaniel Massey, Star!

Jack Wild, Oliver!

Gene Wilder, The Producers

1969 Gig Young, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Rupert Crosse, The ReiversElliott Gould, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

Jack Nicholson, Easy Rider

Anthony Quayle, Anne of the Thousand Days

1970 John Mills, Ryan’s Daughter Richard S. Castellano, Lovers and Other StrangersChief Dan George, Little Big Man

Gene Hackman, I Never Sang for My Father

John Marley, Love Story

1971 Ben Johnson, The Last Picture Show Jeff Bridges, The Last Picture ShowLeonard Frey, Fiddler on the Roof

Richard Jaeckel, Sometimes a Great Notion

Roy Scheider, The French Connection

1972 Joel Grey, Cabaret Eddie Albert, The Heartbreak KidJames Caan, The Godfather

Robert Duvall, The Godfather

Al Pacino, The Godfather

1973 John Houseman, The Paper Chase Vincent Gardenia, Bang the Drum SlowlyJack Gilford, Save the Tiger

Jason Miller, The Exorcist

Randy Quaid, The Last Detail

1974 Robert De Niro, The Godfather Part II Fred Astaire, The Towering InfernoJeff Bridges, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Michael V. Gazzo, The Godfather Part II

Lee Strasberg, The Godfather Part II

1975 George Burns, The Sunshine Boys Brad Dourif, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestBurgess Meredith, The Day of the Locust

Chris Sarandon, Dog Day Afternoon

Jack Warden, Shampoo

1976 Jason Robards, All the President’s Men Ned Beatty, NetworkBurgess Meredith, Rocky

Laurence Olivier, Marathon Man

Burt Young, Rocky

1977 Jason Robards, Julia Mikhail Baryshnikov, The Turning PointPeter Firth, Equus

Alec Guinness, Star Wars

Maximilian Schell, Julia

1978 Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter Bruce Dern, Coming HomeRichard Farnsworth, Comes a Horseman

John Hurt, Midnight Express

Jack Warden, Heaven Can Wait

1979 Melvyn Douglas, Being There Robert Duvall, Apocalypse NowJustin Henry, Kramer vs. Kramer

Frederic Forrest, The Rose

Mickey Rooney, The Black Stallion

1980 Timothy Hutton, Ordinary People Judd Hirsch, Ordinary PeopleMichael O’Keefe, The Great Santini

Joe Pesci, Raging Bull

Jason Robards, Melvin and Howard

1981 John Gielgud, Arthur James Coco, Only When I LaughIan Holm, Chariots of Fire

Jack Nicholson, Reds

Howard Rollincs, Ragtime

1982 Lou Gossett Jr., An Officer and a Gentleman Charles Durning, The Best Little Whorehouse in TexasJohn Lithgow, The World According to Garp

James Mason, The Verdict

Robert Preston, Victor Victoria

1983 Jack Nicholson, Terms of Endearment Charles Durning, To Be or Not to BeJohn Lithgow, Terms of Endearment

Sam Shepard, The Right Stuff

Rip Torn, Cross Creek

1984 Haing S. Ngor, The Killing Fields Adolph Ceasar, A Soldier’s StoryJohn Malkovich, Places in the Heart

Pat Morita, The Karate Kid

Ralph Richardson, Greystroke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes

1985 Don Ameche, Cocoon Klaus Maria Brandauer, Out of AfricaWilliam Hickey, Prizzi’s Honor

Robert Loggia, Jagged Edge

Eric Roberts, Runaway Train

1986 Michael Caine, Hannah and Her Sisters Tom Berenger, PlatoonWillem Dafoe, Platoon

Denholm Elliott, A Room with a View

Dennis Hopper, Hoosiers

1987 Sean Connery, The Untouchables Albert Brooks, Broadcast NewsMorgan Freeman, Street Smart

Vincent Gardenia, Moonstruck

Denzel Washington, Cry Freedom

1988 Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda Alec Guinness, Little DorritMartin Landau, Tucker: The Man and His Dream 

River Phoenix, Running on Empty

Dean Stockwell, Married to the Mob

1989 Denzel Washington, Glory Danny Aiello, Do the Right ThingDan Aykroyd, Driving Miss Daisy

Marlon Brando, A Dry White Season

Martin Landau, Crimes and Misdemeanors

1990 Joe Pesci, Goodfellas Bruce Davidson, Longtime CompanionAndy Garcia, The Godfather Part III

Graham Greene, Dances with Wolves

Al Pacino, Dick Tracy

1991 Jack Palance, City Slickers Tommy Lee Jones, JFKHarvey Keitel, Bugsy

Ben Kingsley, Bugsy

Michael Lerner, Barton Fink

1992 Gene Hackman, Unforgiven Jaye Davidson, The Crying GameJack Nicholson, A Few Good Men

Al Pacino, Glengarry Glen Ross

David Paymer, Mr. Saturday Night

1993 Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive Leonardo DiCaprio, What’s Eating Gilbert GrapeRalph Fiennes, Schindler’s List

John Malkovich, In the Line of Fire

Pete Postlethwaite, In the Name of the Father

1994 Martin Landau, Ed Wood Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp FictionChazz Palminteri, Bullets Over Broadway

Paul Scofield, Quiz Show

Gary Sinise, Forrest Gump

1995 Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects James Cromwell, BabeEd Harris, Apollo 13

Brad Pitt, Twelve Monkeys

Tim Roth, Rob Roy

1996 Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire William H. Macy, FargoArmin Mueller-Stahl, Shine

Edward Norton, Primal Fear

James Woods, Ghosts of Mississippi

1997 Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting Robert Forster, Jackie BrownAnthony Hopkins, Amistad

Greg Kinnear, As Good as It Gets

Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights

1998 James Coburn, Affliction Robert Duvall, A Civil ActionEd Harris, The Truman Show

Geoffrey Rush, Shakespeare in Love

Billy Bob Thornton, A Simple Plan

1999 Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules Tom Cruise, MagnoliaMichael Clarke Duncan, The Green Mile

Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley

Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense

2000 Benicio del Toro, Traffic Jeff Bridges, The ContenderWillem Dafoe, Shadow of the Vampire

Albert Finney, Erin Brockovich

Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator

2001 Jim Broadbent Iris Ethan Hawke, Training DayBen Kingsley, Sexy Beast

Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Jon Voight, Ali

2002 Chris Cooper, Adaptation. Ed Harris, The HoursPaul Newman, Road to Perdition

John C. Reilly, Chicago

Christopher Walken, Catch Me if You Can

2003 Tim Robbins, Mystic River Alec Baldwin, The CoolerBenicio del Toro, 21 Grams

Djimon Hounsou, In America

Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai

2004 Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby Alan Alda, The AviatorThomas Haden Church, Sideways

Jamie Foxx, Collateral

Clive Owen, Closer

2005 George Clooney, Syriana Matt Dillon, CrashPaul Giamatti, Cinderella Man

Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain

William Hurt, A History of Violence 

2006 Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine Jackie Earle Haley, Little ChildrenDjimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond

Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls

Mark Wahlberg, The Departed

2007 Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert FordPhilip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War

Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild

Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

2008 Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight Josh Brolin, MilkRobert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt

Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

2009 Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds Matt Damon, InvictusWoody Harrelson, The Messenger

Christopher Plummer, The Last Station

Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones

2010 Christian Bale, The Fighter John Hawkes, Winter’s BoneJeremy Renner, The Town

Mark Ruffalo, The Kids are All Right

Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

2011 Christopher Plummer, Beginners Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

2012 Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained Alan Arkin, Argo

Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

2013 Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper, American Hustle

Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave

Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street

2014 J.K. Simmons, Whiplash Robert Duvall, The Judge

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Edward Norton, Birdman

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

A lot to talk about with this one. Specifically with what we have here.

First, let’s get the precursors out of the way. Specifically SAG.

SAG is actually not that accurate in this category above all others. Only 13/21 times have they matched.

Their misses:

  • Tommy Lee Jones in 2012. Christoph Waltz won the Oscar.
  • Eddie Murphy in 2006. Alan Arkin won the Oscar.
  • Paul Giamatti in 2005. George Clooney won the Oscar.
  • Christopher Walken in 2002. Chris Cooper won the Oscar.
  • Ian McKellen in 2001. Jim Broadbent won the Oscar.
  • Albert Finney in 2000. Benicio Del Toro won the Oscar. (He won Best Actor for SAG that year.)
  • Robert Duvall in 1998. James Coburn won the Oscar.
  • Ed Harris in 1995. Kevin Spacey won the Oscar.

So 13/20. If we’re taking off 2000. Still worse than Supporting Actress.

However, as you can see, the past decade, 8/10.

Oh, and I guess I should also mention, they’re going to get it wrong again this year, because Idris Elba won SAG and wasn’t nominated, which has never happened before in the history of SAG.

Christian Bale or Mark Rylance could have won, but didn’t. Which, to me, spells out the way this category is ultimately going to go.

Now, quickly, in the nominations stage — it was all over the place this year. A lot of people hit precursors who weren’t nominated.

Ultimately Rylance went all the way through and hit everything. So he was a lock.

The Big Short was going to get an acting nomination, and once Bale hit SAG, that was a done deal.

Spotlight also was going to get at least one, and Ruffalo made a lot of sense. They love him, too. Plus he got nominated for Foxcatcher last year. Not a total lock, but he wasn’t a surprise either.

Stallone, after that Golden Globe win, pretty much came on like a hurricane. I don’t think anyone saw him as being left off by a long shot.

Which leaves Tom Hardy, who made sense to me, owing to that piece of trivia I uncovered just before nominations morning, where Leo has taken a Supporting Actor with him every single time he’s been nominated for Best Actor (even Jonah Hill, who like Tom Hardy hit almost no precursors).

Almost completely different from SAG — no Michael Shannon, no Idris Elba, no Jacob Tremblay — but the year was really stacked all around. So we’re left with a great category even though it could have been totally different and still been great.

Now, as for the win — once nominations happened, and especially now after SAG, it started to look a lot like Supporting Actress last year, where as soon as the category became locked after nominations, there was no clear upset person to take out the frontrunner. And that’s what I’m seeing here.

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Mark Rylance, Brige of Spies

Sylvester Stallone, Creed


5. Christian Bale — They love Bale, but I can’t see them voting for him. They’d really have to love the film to give him another Oscar, and I just don’t see it happening. He had a chance to win SAG and they still didn’t vote for him. No precursors, and looking like he got on there because of that weird thing where a major contender has to have an acting nomination… I’m not liking his chances here.

4. Tom Hardy — Simply because Leo is going to win and Leo is campaigning for himself and the film. He’ll get some people to vote for Hardy too. I don’t think he has any sort of a chance at winning, and he may ultimately end up as #5, but for now, I think he goes fourth just because some people will want to reward him for the year he had and the last few years’ worth of performances he’s had. Not going to make much of a play here though, ultimately.

3. Mark Rylance — He is stellar in the film, and being nominated at every precursor award speaks volumes in a year like this. But after the nomination happened, didn’t it feel like he sort of fell to the middle of the pack? I thought he’d win SAG for sure with the absence of the next two nominees. And yet, no. SAG would have made it interesting. Now, it seems like the nomination is his reward and he stands no chance. He’s the kind of performance that will get votes, and maybe, if the voting is tight enough, he can sneak out a win. But voting would have to be real tight. I could see an upset happening here, so I won’t rule out anything happening. But to me, he’s looking like a solid third choice here.

2. Mark Ruffalo — It’s the film more so than the performance. He’s never won, which works in his favor. He’s respected, and he’s really solid in the film, which may get rewarded by people, especially if the film isn’t winning Best Picture. That aside, if anyone has a real chance to upset, I’m thinking it might be him. Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe it’s Rylance, but at this point, with someone who seems so far ahead of everyone else, I’m thinking Ruffalo is the one who can garner the most votes to overtake him, even if it is him being the proxy for an entire ensemble.

1. Sylvester Stallone — Does anyone not think Stallone is the frontrunner? Sure, he only really has the Globe and wasn’t even nominated for BAFTA, but does it not seem like he’s taking that Globe win all the way to the stage? Now, he could lose and we could look back on this and wonder what the hell we were thinking, but Oscar loves a veteran, especially one going back to a character they made famous. Plus, without a clear competitor to take the majority of votes, how could he not end up with a win here? At the very least, he’s got to be considered the frontrunner.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow is Best Actress, which is pretty locked.


One response

  1. I like not only your prediction, but your insight as to why. Great post

    February 21, 2016 at 1:38 pm

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