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My Favorite Male Supporting Performances of 2016

Every January, I make myself pick out specific performances I loved from the previous year. I spend so much time talking about movies, but I don’t actually give credit to specific performances. The only time I’ll talk about them is when I’m going over the Oscars. Which isn’t the same thing.

The great thing about lists like this is that it forces you to consider everything. You immediately start thinking of the performances that are nominated for the awards. But if you consider each and every movie you saw from the year (and I did. All 350 of them), and think about how you really felt about all the specific performances, you’re gonna be surprised which ones you actually liked best. (Especially if you can be honest about it and don’t think about what’s already out there, which few people are willing to be.)

Today I’ll be covering all the male supporting performances I loved. They’re in order, but they’re not really in any order. The numbers don’t matter. These are just the ones I enjoyed the most. We’re not talking about awards-worthy or whatever.

So here are my favorite male supporting performances of 2016:

1. Ralph Fiennes, Hail Caesar! & A Bigger Splash

More so A Bigger Splash than Hail, Caesar! but both deserve to be mentioned. The minute I started thinking about names to put in this article, I said, “Oh, I gotta put Ralph Fiennes in the top five.” Little did I know there’d be so few supporting performances that I loved that he’d end up #1. But so be it. Fiennes is so fucking good in these movies. To start — A Bigger Splash. He steals the movie. That dance scene to ‘Emotional Rescue’ is a thing of beauty. And Hail Caesar — the “Would that it were so simple” scene is the funniest scene of 2016, and probably the best scene of 2016. Fiennes is so fucking funny in that movie. Why is this man so continually underrated?

2. Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Sure, this is probably the best supporting performance of 2016. Hedges is so goddamn good in this movie. I didn’t think this was the kind of role that would be able to rival Casey Affleck, but Hedges does it. He really impressed me, especially since he hasn’t really done much before this. So he bursts onto the scene in a huge way.

3. Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!

He’s the other half of the “Would that it were so simple” scene. He’s absolutely hilarious. He shows that charm and ability that got him cast as Han Solo. I remember first seeing him — well, in Tetro for one, but in Beautiful Creatures, of all movies, and thinking, “Man, this kid is good.” He was way better than that movie deserved. Watching him casually play with a lasso is one of the funniest things I saw this year. Absolutely brilliant performance.

4. Woody Harrelson, The Edge of Seventeen

The role was written to be exactly this. But Woody plays is so well. Just watch the trailer and you can see that this is one of those great supporting performances you’re always gonna call out. Like Stanley Tucci in Easy A. This is the same thing. Utterly sarcastic and wonderful, constantly delivering hilarious lines in the way only a great character actor can. I’d be lying if I didn’t say this was one of my favorite performances of the year.

5. Craig Robinson, Morris from America

This might be the single most underrated performance of 2016. This should be nominated for an Oscar, this performance. He’s so touching in this role. He’s perfect as the father who is both single father and friend to a boy trying to find his way in a difficult situation. He never reacts the way you’re going to expect, and it just feels like a perfectly realized portrait of an individual. I love, love, love this performance.

6. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

What a perfect performance. My one knock? Not enough of it! I get it in the context of the film, but man, could I have used a lot more of him in this movie. He’s so good in it. Captivating, complex, and just beautifully rendered. He’s been a TV actor for years. You know him from House of Cards as Remy. Otherwise maybe you remember him as the African from Benjamin Button. Otherwise you probably haven’t seen him before. But he’s coming on strong now, and I love that he’s about to get his due. This performance is so good.

7. Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

It’s modern day Rooster Cogburn. It’s not anything we haven’t seen Jeff Bridges do before, but goddamnit if he doesn’t do it really well. Nothing to say about the performance really except that I liked it a lot. It’s Jeff Bridges doing his Jeff Bridges thing. As long as the material’s good (and it’s not The Giver), then he’ll shine.

8. Dev Patel, Lion

This is the best performance he’s given on screen. He’s really terrific here. He nails every emotional beat for this character, and he’s really affecting. He makes the final scene of the movie work as well as it does. He’ll get nominated for this and rightly so. It’s an incredible piece of work. I’m glad he’s moved on from just being “the kid from Slumdog.”

9. Patrick Stewart, Green Room

Patrick Stewart plays a Neo-Nazi. Done.

10. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals

I had a hard time deciding between the two performances from this movie. I sided with Aaron Taylor-Johnson, because I like a character who feels free from the constraints of the screen. You know what I mean? Very rarely does a character feel so unpredictable that he could do just about anything. Think Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. That motherfucker could have done anything. Look at the scene where he was taking the people’s photos in the store. He was just walking around all over the place. Taylor-Johnson has a lot of that going on here. Or there’s the scene where they come to his house and he’s taking a shit on the porch. You watch a scene like that — it’s like watching a scene of an actress naked in a bath or under the covers — you’re waiting for their self-consciousness to kick in. Where they go, “I need to make sure I don’t move a certain way otherwise my bits are gonna come out on camera.” Here, he’s got none of that. He’s just moving. If his dick ends up in the shot, it’s in the shot. And I loved that about that character. Plus he’s just a sadistic son of a bitch, and I loved that. Really great performance that looks like it might end up nominated.

11. Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Michael Shannon is the man, and he’s the performance everyone’s been singling out from this movie. They’re not wrong. He’s awesome. And he’s always awesome. He made both of my lists, I like him so much. I love what he did with this character, and it’s just a really solid job. I just, liked the Taylor-Johnson performance more. That’s all.

12. Tracy Letts, Christine & Indignation

Tracy Letts is emerging as one of my favorite character actors. He’s a Pulitzer-winning playwright (August: Osage County) and a respected stage actor who only recently started acting in films. And by recently, I mean — 2013. He was on Homeland for two seasons, and then was in The Big Short, as Christian Bale’s boss (“I want my fucking money back”), and then had four films come out this year, where I somehow recognized him in all of them. He just stands out. He’s in Weiner-Dog, in the opening segment, as the father/Julie Delpy’s husband. He’s in Imperium as the Don Imus kind of character. And then there’s these two performances.

In Christine, he plays the head of the station, with whom Christine is always clashing. The two of them have an amazing scene where she flips out about the flowers and yells at him about “the entire operation!” And he, like Kevin Spacey in Glengarry Glen Ross, tells her to go the fuck home and stop arguing. As I was watching that movie I said, “This is gonna be one of those performances that no one talks about at the end of the year.” Because he’s really good, but he’s so supporting that he’s literally there to prop up the lead performance and draws zero attention on himself. Yet he deserves that attention! He’s really fucking good.

And then Indignation — if you’ve seen it, you know who he was without even having to think about it. He’s the dean of the college the main character goes to. And the scene where the two of them are philosophically arguing in his office is one of the best scenes I’ve seen this year. No one will bring that up, but that’s a terrific moment with great dueling performances. I guarantee you if you saw any of those movies, you said, “Who’s this guy?” That’s who he’s becoming. And I bet before long he’ll have a string of these and everyone will recognize him as another one of those “that guy’s.”

13. J.J. Totah, Other People

This kid was so good. He showed up on screen and my eyes lit up. Here’s the set up — Jesse Plemons plays a gay comedy writer back home in Sacramento to care for his dying mother. Not a lot of gay people there. He goes to meet his friend, and when he goes to his house, his friend’s younger brother answers the door. And he steals every second he is on screen from there. Think the stereotypical “gay child” character, and then turn that character up to about 16 on a 10 scale. This kid is so fucking wonderful, I could not stop laughing every time he spoke. He legitimately stole this movie out from everyone around him. And the movie’s really good. Trust me on this kid. He might be the best thing in this movie, which has a lot of really good things in it.

14. John Leguizamo, The Infiltrator

Leguizamo is so undervalued all the time. He’s always a sturdy presence who only enhances the performances around him. Cranston is the one with the showy role, but Leguizamo is the presence you want to see more of. I like that his character is one that you’re not quite sure if you can trust him for much of the movie, but then he becomes the rocky steady presence of stability. He’s so fucking good here. Watch this movie again — or for the first time, since I’m sure not many people actually even watched this — and pay attention to Leguizamo. He’s terrific. I wish someone wrote him a part to get him an award one of these days. He really deserves one.

15. Ciaran Hinds, Bleed for This

I really liked this performance. It goes in the file of “completely underrated and undervalued performances.” Aaron Eckhart was the supporting performance that was designed to get all the notices — he shaved his hairline, gained weight, played a drunk. It’s the Oscar bait trifecta. But Ciaran Hinds — I believed his character. That’s an Italian father. I understood that man, and everything he did felt authentic. The way he reacted — never too over the top and always in line with who he was playing. Major respect there.

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Also, major shout out to Sharlto Copley, and all his many different performances in Hardcore Henry. I didn’t have enough room to include him, but I wanted to mention that I loved what he did there.

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