My Favorite Male Supporting Performances of 2017

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 400 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 2017:

1. Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I love this performance so much. I understand its detractors and how people could see it as less than the sum of its praise, but this isn’t your list, is it? Aside from adoring Sam Rockwell and wishing he would get his due for years, I think that this is just one of those characters that constantly surprised me. The character takes so many left turns, to the point where the place where he winds up at the end of the film is so wildly different from where he is at the start that you could never guess that when you first meet him. I really thought this was the best supporting performance of the year by a long way.

2. Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

This would have been Willem Dafoe’s year if not for Sam Rockwell. He brings such authenticity to The Florida Project, and even though he’s the only ‘name’ in the cast (technically Caleb Landry Jones is there too, but it’s a ‘blink and you’ll miss him’ kinda part. Just like Macon Blair, who also is there for about four minutes), he blends in so well that after a certain point you’re not watching Willem Dafoe, you’re just watching Bobby. It’s really great work.

3. Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name

He delivers the single best monologue in what is probably the single best scene of 2017. Armie Hammer got all the notices, since he’s got the bigger role and is more central to the plot, but Stuhlbarg delivers the heart of the movie. He takes a simple love story and lifts it to the sublime with five simple minutes of work. He is perennially undervalued as an actor, and is at the point where he’s appeared in so many big-name movies that everyone knows who he is. He’s in  The Shape of Water too! And The Post! (Which… yeah, he’s one of the few people to be in three Best Picture nominees in a year.) I love him in the last fifteen minutes of this movie, and that, to me, is worth more than almost all the other performances below it on this list.

4. Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

It’s a somewhat limited role, though it does keep rewarding a bit more later in the movie. Rockwell has the showier role, but as is usually the case with double nominees from the same film, Harrelson has the more ‘backbone’ role. Not as flashy, but solid all around. The scene in the interrogation room with him and Frances McDormand, where they start going back and forth playfully until the scene takes a most decided dramatic turn out of nowhere — it’s really great. The look on Harrelson’s face says it all. It takes what could be a two-dimensional character and really makes him have the empathy he deserves. I like that he got nominated alongside Rockwell. It’s a really terrific supporting performance in a film full of them.

5. Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

I wanted to have him high to show that this performance is much more than all the press surrounding it. Once the Spacey thing happened and they pulled him out of the movie and quickly reshot the scenes with Plummer, that’s all anyone could talk about. And when he started getting nominated for things, people felt like it was a shot at Spacey and the climate in Hollywood more than a celebration of the work Plummer did. But trust me, when you see this performance, you see a real performance. He really makes the character work completely. He turns it into Shakespeare, a man tragically connected to his wealth over all else. I’m sure if it weren’t for the speed with which he shot the scenes, I might not have had him this high. But this is the situation we have. And I was truly impressed by his work. He’s also 88. Which is nuts.

6. Patrick Stewart, Logan

Just like Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier has been around for 17 years. We got to know him really well. And now, we’re treated with a very dramatic send off for him. It’s truly a dramatic one, as the role is so grounded in reality that you almost forget this is X-Men. This could be any one of our parents or grandparents, aside from the fact that he has psychic powers occasionally. It’s a beautiful and touching performance, down to its last moments. It’s crazy to think that a superhero movie can make you cry, but this one does. And it’s due to Stewart being able to use those acting chops of his that he previously was unable to use in this franchise.

7. Tracy Letts, Lady Bird

Tracy Letts has been the secret weapon of a bunch of movies the past three or four years. Finally, he gets one where he can shine in such a way that people go, “Oh man, wasn’t he great?” Laurie Metcalf rightly gets most of the praise, but Letts is quietly very, very good alongside her. So much of his pain is internal — having been laid off after years of service, unable to provide for his family, and even losing out on a job interview to his own son. But there are great moments where he shows his love and dedication to his family, like where he helps his daughter apply to her dream school. I’ve been really impressed by his work in movies the past couple years, from Indignation to Christine to even The Big Short and The Post. I can’t wait for everyone to recognize him as one of the beloved character actors working.

8. Sebastian Stan, I, Tonya

He’s so great as Jeff Gillooly. It feels dead on, what he does. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney are getting all the notices, But Sebastian Stan is incredible as Gilloly, to the point where I’d almost nominate him for the role myself. Paul Walter Hauser was very funny as Shawn Eckhardt, but Stan really upped his game, showing all the different sides of the character in a much deeper way. He gets to be funny, and he gets to seem violent, but the scenes near the end, when he’s freaking out and encountering Shawn in the restaurant, are really great acting. He’s one of those guys that’s just sort of in things, and you never really appreciate his acting. But here, this is one of those times I got to go, “Oh wow, he’s really good.”

9. Daniel Craig, Logan Lucky

He steals the movie. It’s the colorful supporting part that a movie like this needs. He never overdoes it. He does the visual things, like the bleached shaved head and the tats, but the work is still there beyond that. Definitely one of the more memorable performances of the year, and it reminds you of how good an actor he is when he isn’t doing a Bond movie (which feels like it’s been almost all he’s done the past ten years).

10. Ben Mendelsohn, Darkest Hour

The toughest thing about this performance, aside from the fact that it’s a thankless role next to Gary Oldman’s Churchill, which takes up most of the air in the room, is that he’s playing the same king that Colin Firth memorably won an Oscar for a few years ago. It’s one thing if it was just another king we didn’t recognize, but we know this one. We remember him being played very well. So he had two holes to climb out of. And I’m really impressed with what he did. He really manages to overcome all of it and give a full, rounded performance out of fairly limited screen time. He’s one of those actors we tend to take for granted because he’s so solid in everything and so rarely upstages other people. But this is one of those situations where he deserves a lot more credit than he’s getting because he really delivers some exemplary work in a place where no one’s looking.

11. Kevin Costner, Molly’s Game

Again, the star is probably Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue, but I really liked how he handled all of it. The entire scene in the park near the end — sure it might be overwritten and overdone, but I loved it and I loved Costner’s performance in it. I felt like he gave some of his best work in recent years, and is also one of those guys we take for granted because we’re used to him as a leading man who isn’t really required to have that kind of range or show any depth of character. So I like shouting him out whenever I can and this is one of those situations where I get to do so.

12. Michael Shannon, The Shape of Water (and Wolves)

Michael Shannon is one of those actors — I will watch him do literally anything. He was in a movie where he walked around in a Bigfoot costume this year and I loved it. His Shape of Water role (aside from being an allegory for a lot of things, many of which allude to the present day) is a classic, grade A villain. No complexity, no shades of grey — this is dude is singular. It’s the kind of villain you don’t see anymore, and I loved it. Now, on the other hand, Wolves is a movie that no one knows exists. It’s a tiny VOD movie that barely came out. It’s the kind of movie that, when you put it on — you’ve seen it before. You know everything it’s gonna do. It’s about a high school basketball star who is being recruited to play in college. He’s got it all in front of him. But, Shannon plays his father, a gambling addict. And he’s such a scumbag that it’s wonderful. He’s a professor who gambles the family’s money away constantly, and they just put up with it. Plus, he’s a really harsh father. He demands excellence from his son. And yet, you can also see why his kid sticks by him and still loves him. And, somewhere, you can see that he also loves his son. It’s a great performance. Reminded me (and maybe it’s just because of the scene where they play one-on-one against each other) of The Great Santini, with Robert Duvall. Different specifics, but same general relationship. A very underrated performance in a movie that’s not a whole lot better than it. But still, Shannon is one of those actors who is just wonderful all the time, and I feel like as long as he’s acting, he’ll keep appearing on these lists.

13. Will Poulter, Detroit

An overlooked performance in an overlooked film. Poulter is still basically a kid. Ten years ago, he was in Son of Rambow! And here he is playing basically the most evil person in this movie. He’s a sinister, racist cop, who seems to want to beat up and kill some black people. And the things he does are just awful throughout the movie. And you buy it. This is a kid who, like five years ago, was in a movie where he got a spider bite on his balls and was running around on camera with a swollen testicle. So I’m really impressed that I was able to watch this movie and truly despise this character and actually feel fear when he was on screen. It definitely reframed how I see him as an actor.

14. Ray Romano, The Big Sick

Comedians are, by and large, naturally adept at transitioning into dramatic roles. And while this isn’t exactly Lost in Translation, it’s a really solid performance. He feels like a real guy. This is a guy who has a particular style of comedy and had a show for like eight years. We know what he does. And here, I didn’t feel like he was doing that. He had some nice moments of real empathy in this. I’m not gonna say it’s truly a great performance, but in terms one one that I liked in a movie that I liked a lot, I was impressed by his work.

15. Bill Skarsgard, It

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One response

  1. lacourseauxetoiles

    This is a good list. I don’t think that Will Poulter was that great though. His character felt 1-dimensional. I also don’t understand how you could consider Idris Elba’s performance in Molly’s Game a lead performance while considering Sebastian Stan’s performance in I, Tonya a supporting performance. I’m pretty sure that Stan gets a higher percentage of screentime than Elba does, he has way more scenes that he doesn’t have to share with Robbie than Elba has scenes he doesn’t have to share with Chastain, and his character has a much stronger arc than Elba’s character does.

    I haven’t seen The Florida Project, Logan Lucky, or It, but this would be my list going off of the performances I’ve seen.

    1. Patrick Stewart (Logan)
    2. Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World)
    3. Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water)
    4. Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water)
    5. Michael Stuhlbarg (The Shape of Water)
    6. Idris Elba (Molly’s Game)
    7. Lucas Hedges (Lady Bird)
    8. Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards)
    9. Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards)
    10. Ray Romano (The Big Sick)
    11. Jon Hamm (Baby Driver)
    12. Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
    13. Jamie Foxx (Baby Driver)
    14. Lucas Hedges (Three Billboards)
    15. Doug Jones (The Shape of Water)

    February 1, 2018 at 11:17 pm

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