The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered – The Best Supporting Actor Categories

We’ve gone through all the categories again and now it’s wrap-up time. I’ve decided that the proper way to wrap things up is to look at each of the six (original) Oscar Quest categories and compare how I voted the first time versus how I voted this time. The idea being to gauge where my tastes have changed over the past five years, as that was the purpose of going through and doing it again anyway.

Today is Best Supporting Actor. I’ve included a table of how I voted both times and color-coded the ones that are different so you can skim through easily. Then I’ll work my way through each of the categories where I changed votes, figure out why they changed and try to predict how it’s gonna go in another five years. 

Year The 2011/2012 Vote The 2016/2017 Vote
1936 Walter Brennan, Come and Get It Walter Brennan, Come and Get It
1937 Ralph Bellamy, The Awful Truth Joseph Schildkraut, The Life of Emile Zola
1938 Basil Rathbone, If I Were King Basil Rathbone, If I Were King
1939 Thomas Mitchell, Stagecoach Thomas Mitchell, Stagecoach
1940 Walter Brennan, The Westerner Walter Brennan, The Westerner
1941 Sydney Greenstreet, The Maltese Falcon Donald Crisp, How Green Was My Valley
1942 Frank Morgan, Tortilla Flat Van Heflin, Johnny Eager
1943 Claude Rains, Casablanca Claude Rains, Casablanca
1944 Barry Fitzgerald, Going My Way Barry Fitzgerald, Going My Way
1945 James Dunn, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn James Dunn, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
1946 Claude Rains, Notorious Charles Coburn, The Green Years
1947 Richard Widmark, Kiss of Death Richard Widmark, Kiss of Death
1948 Walter Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Walter Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
1949 Ralph Richardson, The Heiress Ralph Richardson, The Heiress
1950 George Sanders, All About Eve George Sanders, All About Eve
1951 Karl Malden, A Streetcar Named Desire Karl Malden, A Streetcar Named Desire
1952 Victor McLaglen, The Quiet Man Anthony Quinn, Lust for Life
1953 Robert Strauss, Stalag 17 Frank Sinatra, From Here to Eternity
1954 Rod Steiger, On the Waterfront Karl Malden, On the Waterfront
1955 Jack Lemmon, Mister Roberts Jack Lemmon, Mister Roberts
1956 Robert Stack, Written on the Wind Anthony Quinn, Lust for Life
1957 Sessue Hayakawa, The Bridge on the River Kwai Sessue Hayakawa, The Bridge on the River Kwai
1958 Burl Ives, The Big Country Burl Ives, The Big Country
1959 Arthur O’Connell, Anatomy of a Murder George C. Scott, Anatomy of a Murder
1960 Peter Ustinov, Spartacus Peter Falk, Murder, Inc.
1961 Jackie Gleason, The Hustler Jackie Gleason, The Hustler
1962 Omar Sharif, Lawrence of Arabia Omar Sharif, Lawrence of Arabia
1963 Melvyn Douglas, Hud Melvyn Douglas, Hud
1964 Peter Ustinov, Topkapi Lee Tracy, The Best Man
1965 Martin Balsam, A Thousand Clowns Tom Courtenay, Doctor Zhivago
1966 Walter Matthau, The Fortune Cookie Walter Matthau, The Fortune Cookie
1967 George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke
1968 Gene Wilder, The Producers Gene Wilder, The Producers
1969 Gig Young, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Gig Young, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
1970 Chief Dan George, Little Big Man Chief Dan George, Little Big Man
1971 Roy Scheider, The French Connection Ben Johnson, The Last Picture Show
1972 James Caan, The Godfather Al Pacino, The Godfather
1973 Jason Miller, The Exorcist Jason Miller, The Exorcist
1974 Robert De Niro, The Godfather Part II Robert De Niro, The Godfather Part II
1975 George Burns, The Sunshine Boys George Burns, The Sunshine Boys
1976 Jason Robards, All the President’s Men Jason Robards, All the President’s Men
1977 Alec Guinness, Star Wars Alec Guinness, Star Wars
1978 Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter
1979 Robert Duvall, Apocalypse Now Robert Duvall, Apocalypse Now
1980 Timothy Hutton, Ordinary People Timothy Hutton, Ordinary People
1981 John Gielgud, Arthur John Gielgud, Arthur
1982 James Mason, The Verdict Lou Gossett Jr., An Officer and a Gentleman
1983 Sam Shepard, The Right Stuff Sam Shepard, The Right Stuff
1984 Adolph Caesar, A Soldier’s Story Haing S. Ngor, The Killing Fields
1985 Eric Roberts, Runaway Train Klaus Maria Brandauer, Out of Africa
1986 Tom Berenger, Platoon Tom Berenger, Platoon
1987 Sean Connery, The Untouchables Sean Connery, The Untouchables
1988 Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda
1989 Danny Aiello, Do the Right Thing Danny Aiello, Do the Right Thing
1990 Joe Pesci, Goodfellas Joe Pesci, Goodfellas
1991 Michael Lerner, Barton Fink Michael Lerner, Barton Fink
1992 Gene Hackman, Unforgiven Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men
1993 Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List
1994 Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction Martin Landau, Ed Wood
1995 Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects
1996 William H. Macy, Fargo Edward Norton, Primal Fear
1997 Robert Forster, Jackie Brown Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting
1998 Billy Bob Thornton, A Simple Plan Billy Bob Thornton, A Simple Plan
1999 Tom Cruise, Magnolia Tom Cruise, Magnolia
2000 Willem Dafoe, Shadow of the Vampire Benicio Del Toro, Traffic
2001 Ben Kingsley, Sexy Beast Ben Kingsley, Sexy Beast
2002 Chris Cooper, Adaptation Christopher Walken, Catch Me If You Can
2003 Alec Baldwin, The Cooler Alec Baldwin, The Cooler
2004 Clive Owen, Closer Clive Owen, Closer
2005 William Hurt, A History of Violence William Hurt, A History of Violence
2006 Mark Wahlberg, The Departed Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
2007 Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
2008 Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
2009 Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
2010 N/A Christian Bale, The Fighter
2011 N/A Nick Nolte, Warrior
2012 N/A Christophe Waltz, Django Unchained
2013 N/A Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
2014 N/A J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
2015 N/A Sylvester Stallone, Creed
2016 N/A Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Of 81 categories I’ve changed my opinion on 24 of them. Just about 30%. Or 32% if we’re only counting the categories I actually cast votes for twice. Since technically the original Quest ended at 2009.

One thing you’re gonna notice here is that I’ve switched my vote over to the actual winner in a lot of cases. Half of them, to be exact. And five of them I went off the actual winner to someone else. And then three times I did the thing where I voted for another nominee from the same film as the person I originally voted for.

  • 1937, Joseph Schildkraut in The Life of Emile Zola over Ralph Bellamy in The Awful Truth

Yeah, this one was bound to change. I knew I only voted for Ralph Bellamy because I like Ralph Bellamy. It’s not a great category. Roland Young is a lead, I don’t love The Hurricane even though I like Thomas Mitchell. Bellamy isn’t really good enough to take. H.B. Warner remains a possibility and could be a contender in the future. And Schildkraut I deliberately didn’t take because I felt the film sidelines him for too much of it to really matter. But the role is the thing, and his role is the one that looks the best on paper. I can’t really parse performance between any of these, and since it’s the second category ever, I can see why Schildkraut is the choice. No idea where I go in five years, but I get the change now.

  • 1941, Donald Crisp in How Green Was My Valley over Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon

Another one that’s clear all around. Donald Crisp is the proper choice, but I love Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon. So I took my favorite the first time and the second time I went with the best performance (as was my edict for myself for the second go around). It’ll always be one or the other for me, and depending on how I’m feeling, I could see the vote going either way in the future.

  • 1942, Van Heflin in Johnny Eager over Frank Morgan in Tortilla Flat

This one is interesting to me. I really don’t like this category, even though I think all the performances are pretty good and I like all the actors a lot. I know I took Frank Morgan the first time because I love Frank Morgan. I disliked his film most of all of them, so it was an actor choice over a performance choice. I earmarked this as one I had to watch all five again closely because I knew I didn’t make a choice that would necessarily work for me this time around. I ended up going with Van Heflin because his performance is one that’s totally on a different wavelength from his film. His film wants to be a moving gangster picture with definitive beats, and he’s just sort of laid back, doing his own thing. And I liked that. I could see myself potentially going wildly different next time, as Walter Huston is always a contender when nominated and I’ve always really liked the Bendix performance. This one will never be cut and dry ever

  • 1946, Charles Coburn in The Green Years over Claude Rains in Notorious

Twice now I haven’t taken Harold Russell. I get the importance of the role, but I just can’t ever bring myself to take it. I distinctly took Claude Rains the first time because in 1943, Claude Rains should have won for Casablanca and Charles Coburn won for The More the Merrier. Which I’m fine with, but Rains should have won. So this time (meaning 1946), despite liking the Coburn performance better, I took Rains because he should have had an Oscar. Now, this time (meaning the Quest, version 2), I was all about the best performance, and I’ve always felt Coburn gave the best performance, so that was who I voted for. Maybe my priorities next time out shift and I go back to Rains, but I never much cared for that performance as a winner. Maybe I will next time. Maybe I’ll shift over to Russell. No idea. Coburn’s been my preferred performance two times out now, so that’s probably what’ll stick next time.

  • 1952, Anthony Quinn in Viva Zapata! over Victor McLaglen in The Quiet Man

Weak category. I took McLaglen last time because I like him, I love The Quiet Man, I thought he was great in it, and because why not. My love for Anthony Quinn (which was always there) has grown exponentially in the past five years, and while I liked his performance last time, I really liked it this time. So he was the obvious choice. I get why he won, and it was the choice I probably should have made the first time. Given the rest of the category — Burton’s a lead, Hunnicutt is just fine, and Jack Palance… ehh — I’ll probably continue taking Quinn in the future, with a possible occasional slip back to McLaglen.

  • 1953, Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity over Robert Strauss in Stalag 17

I made a “choice” the first time. I felt like I should deliberately vote against the big classy film. Plus I think it was a mix of not wanting to take Sinatra twice? I forget. But Strauss was my favorite performance in the sense that I love his character. He absolutely did not need to win at all. This is a strong category in terms of memorable performances. But Sinatra does it all for me. It might be a bit on the nose, but I think he’s worthy of the vote in this one. I doubt I’d ever take Eddie Albert (but given my love for Roman Holiday, don’t rule it out), and would never take either of the Shane nominees. I suspect it’ll be mostly Sinatra from here on out, with occasional, “Fuck it, I love the Strauss performance too much” votes here or there. This is that classic deliberation where you have the solid, steady performance that has the arc of a winner versus the complete scene stealer who just lights up their movie. Those will always be a discussion.

  • 1954, Karl Malden in On the Waterfront over Rod Steiger in On the Waterfront

Ah, the Waterfront year. I love Edmond O’Brien, but no matter how much I love him, I could never take him over Waterfront. And between the three Waterfront nominees, Steiger I took for two reasons the first time: he’s half of one of the greatest acted scenes of all time, and I knew I wasn’t gonna take him in Best Actor 1967, and I was focused on logistics that first time way more than I should have been. This time, it was all about the performance. I thought I was gonna go to Lee J. Cobb, to be honest. But I felt him a bit too one-note thuggish for my taste and surprisingly found myself way more drawn to Karl Malden. I always like Karl Malden, even though I think some people can see him as a bit too overbearing at times and prone to overacting. But I was quite taken with the performance, and he felt like the proper vote this time out. Theoretically I could switch to any of the three Waterfront nominees at any given time, though I suspect I’ll always be taking one of those three each time I go back to this one.

  • 1956, Anthony Quinn in Lust for Life over Robert Stack in Written on the Wind

The Stack vote was a clear vote for the film and not much else. Plus Anthony Quinn is notably the shortest performance to win a Supporting Actor Oscar, so I bet that weighed in as well. This time out, I made sure to rewatch Quinn, and also looked over some of the other performances. Don Murray is a lead and I found him too annoying to take. Perkins I never much cared for as an actor and didn’t do much for me. Mickey Rooney is nice, and maybe there’s a scenario where he becomes the vote. But Anthony Quinn is the kind of guy who is very electric but for a limited amount of time. Sure, I wish there were more, but the best performance is the best performance. Don’t know if he sticks, but he feels like the right choice.

  • 1959, George C. Scott in Anatomy of a Murder over Arthur O’Connell in Anatomy of a Murder

Instance #2 of picking a winner from the same film. Hugh Griffith is always gonna be a no-go for me as a winner. He’s great and fun, but it’s basically a comic relief role. And a white guy playing Arab. That, plus Ben-Hur not really needing another Oscar doesn’t make me inclined to take him. Ed Wynn was not the best choice from his film (had Joseph Schildkraut been the nominee, that would have made this a really interesting discussion) and only ever gets a look because he’s Ed Wynn. Robert Vaughn is almost the same — only because he’s Robert Vaughn would I consider him. I took Arthur O’Connell the first time because I loved his character arc — old drunk who has to get his shit together and redeem himself in one last case. Going back and rewatching, I still really like his performance, but George C. Scott… holy shit. He’s so fucking good in this movie! He’s like that in everything. I could honestly vote for him in three of his four nominations. (The Hospital is the only one where I could honestly say, “Nah, wouldn’t take him.” The other three — he’s either a legitimate choice or the vote.) So that’s why the swap. Going forward, I imagine if I were to watch the performances again, Scott will continue to come out as the choice. But we’ll see. I’ll usually never definitively say anything in a category where I’m not taking the person who won.

  • 1960, Peter Falk in Murder, Inc. over Peter Ustinov in Spartacus

Sorry Ustinov. He’s awesome in Spartacus, and I took him last time because he’s Peter Ustinov, but through no fault of his, this time around I really fell in love with Peter Falk’s performance. That’s the reason for the swap. Ustinov was 1, then he fell to 2. No one else here will ever get my vote, so this will always be between those two. I’d love it if I consistently took Peter Falk in the future, because man, do I love me some Peter Falk.

  • 1964, Lee Tracy in The Best Man over Peter Ustinov in Topkapi

I switched into taking Anthony Quinn for both of his wins, and now I’ve switched away from Peter Ustinov in both of his wins. Go figure. This one, though, was five years in the making. Lee Tracy’s performance was my favorite even last time. I just took Ustinov because Tracy didn’t have much of a career that anyone remembers. He was in a bunch of early 30s movies, but that’s about it. So I took Ustinov because I was way more interested in getting people I liked awards than voting for what was the best. Making it all about the performance this time straightened me out. It cut the bullshit and made me vote for what I thought was best. It’s possible I go back to Ustinov, but I’ve always loved the Tracy performance in that film, so I suspect he’ll keep being the vote in future redo’s. (I’m also surprised I didn’t take John Gielgud last time. I remember really liking his performance, though it’s also very limited in screen time. That’s probably what’ll keep eliminating him in the future.)

  • 1965, Tom Courtenay in Doctor Zhivago over Martin Balsam in A Thousand Clowns

Yeah. This… I hated this category. There was no one to take, so I basically just said “I like A Thousand Clowns best, and Balsam won, so Balsam’s the vote.” There was no real conviction in that one at all. Even glancing at this category — I’d never take Dunn, that’s stunt casting. I’d never take Finlay because I refuse to take Shakespeare performances this deep into the Oscars. That’s a personal thing that would take something extraordinary to overcome. And Ian Bannen, I barely register in that movie among others. Balsam has two good scenes, but not overly memorable scenes. Courtenay almost wins by default. But he does have a good performance. A great arc. A revolutionary radical who ends up becoming the enemy. Which is great. He’ll likely continue being the vote just because he’s the best option in one of the weakest categories of all time.

  • 1971, Ben Johnson in The Last Picture Show over Roy Scheider in The French Connection

Yeah, this was a deliberate non-vote for the winner the first time. I just thought Ben Johnson had nothing to do in that movie and had way too little screen time to vote for. And since I love Roy Scheider, love The French Connection and knew I probably wasn’t gonna be able to take him for Best Actor in 1979, he became the vote. Going back this time, I put extra circles around this one and made sure to rewatch the Johnson performance specifically. Leonard Frey would never be the choice. I like Jeff Bridges, but wouldn’t take him. Richard Jaeckel… maybe he can jump up and be the vote? I suspect that I’ll either continue taking Johnson or go back to Roy Scheider because I love him. The important takeaway here is that I now fully appreciate the Ben Johnson performance, which I had not in years previous.

  • 1972, Al Pacino in The Godfather over James Caan in The Godfather

Not a whole lot to add to this one. I took Caan the first time because he was the true supporting performance from the film, but despite the category fraud (Pacino is clearly a lead), Pacino gives the best performance. Gotta take that. Joel Grey is also amazing, and I will always consider him as the choice, but something tells me it’ll pretty much be Pacino (with maybe a chaser on Caan once in a while) from here on out.

  • 1982, Lou Gossett Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman over James Mason in The Verdict

Switched over to the winner again. I took James Mason because he’s good and because he’s James Mason. Gossett is good, but I get why I didn’t want to vote for him. I’m still not 100% sold on him as the choice. I like him a lot and think he’s a fine choice, but it’s not the slam dunk I was hoping for. Even the second time around, I like the performance a lot and would take him over the rest of the field, but I’m not sure this is something that automatically sticks for me. Doubtful the other three jump up to be the vote though. (Durning just has one five minute musical number, which is admittedly awesome. Lithgow is good, but ehh. And Robert Preston… well, maybe. We’ll see where I’m at with that performance in five years.) Gossett seems like he’ll come out on top more often than not for me.

  • 1984, Haing S. Ngor in The Killing Fields over Adolph Caesar in A Soldier’s Story

This one was all about appreciating the winner. I had this thing where I diminished the performances just because the people were essentially non-actors who lived what they were portraying. (Him and Harold Russell were the two.) But going back and making sure to actively look at the performance, he’s the vote. I love Adolph Caesar and I still could go back to him in the future, but the important thing this time was appreciating a performance that I previously denied for whatever stupid reason at the time. There’s also absolutely no one else to take in this category, all due apologies to Pat Morita.

  • 1985, Klaus Maria Brandauer in Out of Africa over Eric Roberts in Runaway Train

Do not like this category. Don Ameche is a veteran win and nothing more. I don’t like the performance enough to take it, so I’d basically be voting for the actor if I went for him. That said — Robert Loggia’s just okay in the movie, and that would be an actor vote too. Eric Roberts, I have no idea why I took him the first time, but sure. Definitely not the best performance in the category, but he’s good. Brandauer is very good and I suspect if he isn’t the vote going forward the person most likely to get the vote is William Hickey, just because he’s so memorable in that movie.

  • 1992, Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men over Gene Hackman in Unforgiven

These two are the timeless performances, and while I went with Hackman originally (I’m thinking because I crunched numbers. This gave him two overall while Nicholson already had two overall and would win a third in lead), what’s more iconic than the “You can’t handle the truth” speech? Nicholson’s so good even though it’s so iconic it borders on parody now. It’ll be one or the other for me, but I suspect more times than not it’ll be Nicholson.

  • 1994, Martin Landau in Ed Wood over Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction

Yeah, this… is always gonna be tough. Samuel L. Jackson is so fucking good in that movie. But what Martin Landau accomplishes in that movie… he’s gotta be the choice. He’s so good I can’t really be upset at this. Landau’s truly the best performance. Sam Jackson’s just the most awesome performance. It’s also tough for me to not even be able to think about taking Lieutenant Dan or Paul Scofield or Chazz Palminteri. All of them would be serious contenders in any other year. But yeah, Landau’s the vote. He’s the true vote. I might slip back to Jackson but I went the right way this time.

  • 1996, Edward Norton in Primal Fear over William H. Macy in Fargo

Glad I took William H. Macy the first time. Thought I’d taken Cuba Gooding Jr. Who was very worth for the performance. I think my tiebreaker was the career Macy had after that. I didn’t think I’d end up with Norton this time out. But he’s incredible in that movie. And he had The People vs. Larry Flynt going for him this year! Which he was a scene stealer in. So I get it. It’ll always be a three-way race going forward. I doubt I’ll ever lock into any of them. They’re all gonna move into first place at times and it’ll only finalize when I actually have to make a decision.

  • 1997, Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting over Robert Forster in Jackie Brown

Because Robin Williams gives the best performance. I only took Robert Forster because I love Jackie Brown. This will stick as Williams from here on out. This was an example of getting me off my bullshit and going with the right choice.

  • 2000, Benicio Del Toro in Traffic over Willem Dafoe in Shadow of the Vampire

Love Dafoe, love the performance. Benicio Del Toro should have won. Same thing as 1997. I moved onto the right choice and it’ll probably stay that way from here on out.

  • 2002, Christopher Walken in Catch Me If You Can over Chris Cooper in Adaptation

This surprised me. I was the biggest Chris Cooper supporter in 2002. I was so happy when he won, especially since he was up against way bigger actors and didn’t really have the precursors to seem like a favorite. It was one of the earliest moments where I “called” a winner. I always really liked that performance, but I also acknowledged that he was in a very strong category. The fact that we’re two votes in and Paul Newman is nowhere to be found surprises the hell out of me. I thought for sure he’d be the one I went to this time, if I didn’t take Cooper, and was really shocked to find myself going with Walken. But he’s so good in that movie. He won SAG for it! It must have been a real tight race. This is always gonna be a three-way race for me no matter how many times I go over it. It’s possible the winner for me is whichever performance I’ve seen most recently.

  • 2006, Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls over Mark Wahlberg in The Departed

Yeah… Eddie Murphy was always the right choice in this one. I took Wahlberg because he stole scenes in The Departed and because I didn’t love the other performances enough to take them. And I think there was some residual dislike of Dreamgirls from 2006 when I formed arbitrary opinions on Oscar movies based on what I preferred to win instead. The Alan Arkin performance is very likable but I think we all understand it’s a veteran win and not a performance win. I can accept that, but no matter how enjoyable he is, I wouldn’t vote for it. Eddie Murphy gives the best performance in the category, so I took him this time. No guarantee that I switch over to someone else next time (Jackie Earle Haley seems the likely choice), but he’s the one I probably should have taken all along.

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