My Favorite Male Supporting Performances of 2019

I’m doing these way early this year, because of the truncated Oscar schedule. A lot of the time the nominations have already happened by the time these lists go out. Usually I’m using them to fill time between nominations and the second half of the Release Calendar, or before it’s time to start category breakdowns. But we’re in a weird year, so here we are. I barely got to watch a lot of the films more than once before these lists go up. But it’s also not like they really matter all that much outside of some more content.

I will specify what I always need to specify — these are my lists. These are the performances that I personally preferred the best. They do not always line up with what the awards groups and the herd believes. They are literally me going through the list of every film I saw this year and jotting down the performances from each film that I thought were noteworthy and then paring the article down to a list of 15 and then creating some sort of ranking of those 15. So any problems — keep ’em to yourself. I’m only here to talk up the things I liked the best, not to create any sort of objective list. So if you’re butt hurt that this doesn’t match up with the slideshows on the other websites, then stick to the slideshows.

Today, we’re gonna talk about the male supporting performances of the year. This is 2019’s strong category. Every year has one category that’s particularly strong. This year, it happens to be supporting actors. The other categories I had trouble getting to 15. This one, I easily got to 30. So, before I begin, I just wanna give quick shoutouts to some other performances I really enjoyed from this year that didn’t officially make this list: Jonah Hill and Martin Lawrence in The Beach Bum. Pacino and Stephen Graham in The Irishman. Archie Yates and Sam Rockwell in Jojo Rabbit. Of all the people in Endgame, I was really impressed by what Hemsworth did with Thor. J.K. Simmons of course gives the cameo of the year in the end credits of Spider-Man: Far from Home. There’s Lucas Hedges in Waves, who continues a strong of strong supporting work over the past couple of years. Billy Crudup is great in Where’d You Go Bernadette in a thankless role. Jack Black continues his hilarious work in Jumanji: The Next Level. Tommy Lee Jones in Ad Astra, as the Colonel Kurtz character. Keanu Reeves has that great cameo in Always Be My Maybe. Jeffrey Donovan gives one of the underrated turns of the year in Villains. And then the late, great Robert Forster in El Camino, in a role I assume he had in the show that I thought was just riveting in the movie.

Okay, so that’s what I got. Now onto the list.

1. Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

My favorite supporting performance of the year. And it’s not even like he’s doing strenuous acting here. He’s just good. It’s such a fun performance. The way he’s so happy-go-lucky about everything and just so happy to be doing things. And then you just keep getting all these bits of backstory thrown in that keep adding to his character. To me, the two greatest moments of the performance are right after the Bruce Lee fight, when we cut back to him and he thinks, “Yeah, okay… I guess I deserved that,” and then in the car, right after Margaret Qualley offers to blow him. My god, is he great in this movie. And I remember seeing the movie and thinking, “I liked him better than Leo in that movie,” and how I was gonna probably have to keep saying that throughout the rest of the year. But not only does everyone seem to agree, he seems like he’s gonna win the Oscar for this! Which is awesome on so many levels. But it also makes me feel like everyone just sort of understands why this is the best supporting performance of the year. Which makes my life easier.

2. Joe Pesci, The Irishman

This is the best performance in this movie. De Niro is solid throughout and Pacino is good, but shouty. And Pesci manages to steal the entire movie out from under both of them. It’s the calmness with which he does everything that’s just perfect. He never lets emotion get in the way of anything because he knows he doesn’t have to. That’s why that scene with him and Pacino works so well together. Because Pacino can just go nuts and he can just sit there all quiet, even though he’s the one with all the power and is probably the only thing keeping this dude alive. It’s amazing. He’s so good that one of the most menacing shots in the entire film is when De Niro goes on that airplane and it starts to pull away, we get a glimpse back at the car, and Pesci’s just sitting there quietly. It’s absolutely perfect. You can’t even really see his face, and yet it’s the exuding of absolute power in that moment that strikes you. And his best scene is at the end, in the prison, where he’s just this old, shriveled guy (also, the way he plays having had a stroke is just perfect) and then has that moment of regret and sadness about having had Hoffa killed while also explaining how he can live with something like that, it gives you everything you know was inside the character the entire time. It was perfect. Honestly, were it not for Pitt, he’d be my vote for the Oscar ten times out of ten. It’s a perfect performance.

3 + 4. Tom Hanks and Chris Cooper, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I’m putting them both on a single entry, not because they’re in the same film, but because when I came out on ranking them, each one had an intangible that superseded the other, so I split the difference and just put them here together. Cooper is the one that gets the short straw in this movie. I saw him in the first couple of scenes and thought, “Oh my god, he’s amazing in this… and no one’s gonna notice.” There’s a lot of really tricky stuff in this movie. Matthew Rhys has the trickiest role in the entire film, in a way, and these are the two guys he’s playing off for the whole thing. Cooper has to play the fuck up father who is trying to do good for once. And so he plays a lot of different layers at once, and it’s truly wonderful. When you watch this movie, I feel like everyone’s watching for Hanks’ performance because that’s the one that’s gonna get nominated for all the awards. But Cooper, to me, is right there with him in terms of what he brings to the table. He’s always great, but he’s particularly great here, and it’s sad because it’s a thankless role. So I wanted to start with that to make people realize that it’s not just Hanks that’s great in this. Hanks, meanwhile… the thing about Hanks that makes his performance more impressive than Cooper’s… it’s a harder performance to give. Because Cooper, as great as he is and as thankless a part that is against Hanks… he’s not playing anyone people know. He can do what he wants and go as big or small as he wants with it. Hanks it playing Mr. fucking Rogers. There’s a tremendous burden on his shoulders in getting that across. I can only imagine how difficult that is to not only have to do your job but also feel like you’re gonna fuck up people’s childhoods if you don’t approximate who this man is and what he means to millions of people (myself included). So for that alone, I consider it the more impressive of the two performances. But they’re two sides of the same coin, and I loved them both. I think both really hit home runs in the film, and I’m happy that I can have them both in my top five so I don’t have to make that Sophie’s Choice when filling out my ballot next week.

5. Christopher Plummer, Knives Out

Knives Out is filled with great performances all around, and I could have had any number of the supporting turns in this film on my list. But when I came out of it, apart from the two leads who of course are great and noteworthy, the name I kept saying when talking about a great performance was Plummer’s. And I felt like I had to watch the film a second time to really decide if I felt that way. And honestly, watching it again… yeah. I love it. The performance is entirely in flashback, as he is the victim of the film. But watching all the different angles of what happened… his character is never betrayed. Sometimes they do things where they don’t reveal enough about the person until it’s time for a reveal. Here, the only time his character is ‘betrayed’ per se is when Ana de Armas can’t remember if he said to pull off before or after the carved elephant. Otherwise, all they really do is not give the full context of what he said and did until it’s time. And he’s for sure got enough screen time in this to be considered a true supporting performance. The entire scene in the study when you get the full story of what happened is an amazing piece of acting. He’s 90, and he’s still got it. It’s a really touching and perfectly rounded performance in a lot of ways, and I kind of wish more people would shout him out for it. I thought it was the best piece of work in the film.

6. Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse

I mean, do I have to say anything about this one? He’s fucking tremendous. It feels like there’s been a year in the past few where Willem Dafoe hasn’t been on one of these lists for an amazing performance. So that part’s not surprising. But here… holy shit. That sea captain accent and the way he’s delivering his lines… it’s so fucking good. It’s hilarious and perfect for the tone of the film. I can’t imagine anyone making a list like this and not having him on it let alone not near the top of it.

7. Sterling K. Brown, Waves

This is such a tender performance. You get all the different angles of him as a husband, a father and a man. It’s one of those performances where, admittedly the film and the performances by the two children outshine him, and his character gets moved to the sidelines for just too much time within the film for me to put him any higher than this. But man, is this just such a wonderful piece of work by him. And he’s one of those people that everyone’s been talking about for years now, and I just hadn’t ever seen it. Because a lot of his great work has been on TV. So all I ever did was see him in these small roles in movies and think, “Okay, sure.” But this is the first time where I saw it. I get it. And man, is he fantastic.

8. Shia LaBeouf, Honey Boy

This is one of the hardest performances of the year. Dude has to play his own father. I can’t even imagine what it took for him to get through all of that. But also, it’s a really good performance. There’s a lot going on there. There’s that scene in the middle between the two, where the kid tries to tell him off by saying he’s the one with all the money and that if the father weren’t being paid, he wouldn’t be around, and sort of threatens him by saying he can take everything away from him in a second. It’s a really powerful scene, watching Shia go through the different peaks and valleys of it and how he goes through all these different emotions at once. It’s crazy. I’m really impressed by everything he did with this, and it’s one of those performances that I actually feel bad about not being able to strongly consider him for my Supporting Actor list just because the stuff at the top is just so good. Other years, I’d have for sure had him at or near the top of my list.

9. Robert Pattinson, The King

I already had him on my list for lead in The Lighthouse. But he delivered two great performances this year. This one is less cerebral as much as it is hilarious and amazing. He plays the King of France. I’m sorry… the Dauphin. And the whole movie is basically Pattinson fucking with Timothee Chalamet. And Chalamet’s like, “I don’t wanna have to go to war with you.” And Pattinson’s like, “You’re a little bitch. I dare you.” It’s great. He’s so good here. And the French accent he does is perfect. It’s the kind of thing where, he could be speaking French, because Chalamet and the character speak French, but he’s speaking English with that particular type of French accent that you just know is being done in that way just to needle Hal a bit more. It’s so good. I love this performance and I think it’s the best thing about the entire movie (which is very good).

10. Bill Camp, Dark Waters

This is the kind of performance where, in almost any other year, I’d go, “Holy shit, this dude is gonna/should be nominated for an Oscar.” In the past, he probably would have. But the movie just got totally ignored by everyone for starters, and the performance isn’t the flashy kind of supporting turn that awards groups go for. Plus, this year is just so filled with star names that he never stood even a half a shot at consideration. But my god. The minute he shows up on screen, either you’re like, “Who’s that?” or you’re going, “Oh wow, he’s really bringing it.” And “Who’s that” is something people have said the past couple of years with Camp. He’s almost the new J.T. Walsh (look him up, young’uns. Anyone who grew up in the 90s knows that man from at least three movies). He was consistently in stuff, but I don’t know if anyone really paid attention until like 2013/2014. He’s the dude in the street doing Shakespeare in Birdman, and he plays hitmen in both Black Mass and Midnight Special. A lot of people recognize him from The Night Of, because apparently he’s really good in that. But then he showed up in Killing of a Sacred Deer, Hostiles, Molly’s Game, Vice… he’s even in Joker this year, as one of the cops. He’s becoming ‘that dude’. And here, though… man. He’s got this voice thing going on, and it just createst this complete character out of nowhere. You have to see it to understand what I mean. You see this dude for like, five seconds, and you know everything about him. The uninitiated are gonna go, “Is that Beau Bridges?” But the rest of us see it and go, “Oh shit, okay then, Bill Camp. Bring it on.” He’s so good in this movie. This is the role that would have been nominated 20 years ago when these movies were still in style. He’s really good in this movie.

11. Wesley Snipes, Dolemite Is My Name

Oh my god, does he bring his A game to this movie. I saw a Q&A with the writers, where they said they basically wrote his character as the straight man to all this ridiculousness, the one who’s like, “You know this isn’t how movies are made, right?” And then Wesley showed up and was like, “Oh no, I’m not gonna be the only one not having fun on this set.” And he just went into all the stuff he brings to the movie, which is the funniest stuff in it. Because he’s just going all out. It’s wildly over the top in the perfect way that just fits perfectly with everything going on around him. I love everything he brought to this movie.

12. Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

Taika’s hilarious on his own. But him playing Hitler was just perfect casting to really help nail the tone of the entire movie. He’s hilarious here. And he does a great job of starting as this cute, imaginary friend, and it’s funny because it’s Hitler. But you really watch him modulate the performance over the course of the movie, starting to get more serious, as Jojo starts to have his blind fanaticism taken away from him. It’s really nice how he does it. Because at first it’s just kind of cute that he’s mad that Jojo isn’t doing what he should, but then he starts getting mean and controlling, and it really drives home… oh yeah, it’s Hitler. It’s also a figment of this kid’s imagination, and we have been treating him as a buffoon, but also… this dude is fucking bad. Which helps that applause line at the end when he finally ‘leaves’ the film (with the perfect comic touch of him having a bullet hole in his head during that entire scene). It’s a performance that is more than you think but also underrated because of how it has to underscore the journey of Jojo as a character throughout the film.

13. Alan Alda, Marriage Story

I loved everything he did in this. First off, I love that he’s still acting, even with Parkinson’s. It’s like Michael J. Fox. I get happy every time I see him, because you know it’s not easy. He’s gonna have bad days, and there’s gonna be some maybe less than flattering things people see on screen. So that alone endears me to him and the performance. Also, it’s Alan fucking Alda. Who doesn’t love him? But I just love what his character is in the movie. The really nice dude who basically works out of his apartment, this cheap little office in LA, is a very good dude but an ineffective lawyer. And his scenes are the funniest in the film. That whole bit about, “If I were defending you” — “You are defending me.” And all the little things he does, like eat the crumbs from the empty box of donuts… it’s perfect. Maybe a bit harsh against the real people who are those kinds of lawyers, but a perfectly executed character by Alda, who just nails exactly what he’s supposed to be in the film and brings the right amount of touch and class to it to make it work. It was my favorite performance in the movie.

14. Bokeem Woodbine, Queen & Slim

He’s been delivering great performances in high profile films for a few years now. It started with Fargo Season 2 when he played hitman Mike Milligan and was the best thing about that entire season (which had a lot of great things in it). And since that, he’s been in more high profile stuff. He’s also in In the Shadow of the Moon this year and does a really solid job there too. Here, though, he really knocks it out of the park. His part in the film is largely an extended cameo, as Jodie Turner-Smith’s uncle, a pimp in New Orleans. But he’s got a nice chunk of the movie to himself and does pop up again toward the end to give him enough of a role to be considered here. He’s just great. And you just keep getting more backstory about him, too — the PTSD/military angle, and then the whole thing about her having defended him in the past for killing her own mother… it’s strong shit. And he’s really an emotional core to the film. Because you know this is a bad dude, but when you see him, you just kind of understand him and you see him helping our main characters, so you know he’s not just this awful dude. There’s a realism there. And he helps build out whatever the situation is in this town, where he openly talks about murdering a cop and talks shit to the cop’s face, openly flouting that he’s a pimp. I love everything he does in this, and there’s some really emotional moments that he is at the center of in this movie. I’m a big fan of him and this performance.

15. Jake Gyllenhaal, Velvet Buzzsaw

Yet another year with a weird Jake Gyllenhaal performance. I’m loving this version of him. That guy that can lead a movie but seems to be best served as the guy behind the lead who’s doing the interesting shit. Ojka, Sisters Brothers — he’s been awesome lately. This one, though — everything he’s doing with that role, of the pretentious art critic… it’s so good. I had to sneak him onto the end of this list.

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