Mike’s Favorite Male Supporting Performances of the Decade (90-81)
I make ‘favorite performance’ lists every year, and I get that these lists, more than the rest, are the most subjective one can make. Because it’s really about what you see in each performance and what you respond to; There’s no objective way to truly rate a performance as better than another. With whole films, it feels easier to make that distinction. So with these lists, I’m just gonna focus on some performances from the decade that I really, really enjoyed, and the goal here is just to shout them out and maybe get some people to watch the films if they hadn’t or reevaluate each of the performances the next time they watch the films.
These are my favorite male supporting performances of the decade:
90. Casey Affleck, Out of the Furnace
Out of the Furnace is such an underrated film. It’s Scott Cooper’s followup to Crazy Heart, and is a wonderful story about a man constantly having to look after his brother, often at his own peril. Christian Bale plays the man and Affleck plays the brother. Affleck is a vet with PTSD who cannot adjust to civilian life, which leads to him getting into all sorts of trouble and scrapes and being unconcerned about the consequences because he’s seen so much worse. Eventually he gets into bare knuckle boxing for Woody Harrelson’s character (a real bad dude).
It’s a great piece of work by Affleck, who for years was one of those great actors who never got the right part to really let him shine. Though now, post-Manchester by the Sea, it’s more that everyone knows how great he is and now there’s a whole slew of performances out there for people to discover because they never managed to see them the first time, like this one.
89. Jake Gyllenhaal, Velvet Buzzsaw
I like that Gyllenhaal has spent most of this decade creating a rogues gallery of film weirdos. Nightcrawler is of course the benchmark for all of this, but his second Tony Gilroy performance does have shades of it in there too. He plays a very highly pretentious art critic and watching him create this guy is just a delight to watch. Everything he says is just dripping with pretense. It’s like the modern day version of George Sanders in All About Eve. I’m loving this new, weird version of Gyllenhaal.
88. Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
It’s fun to make this movie a punchline, but I always thought it was quite solid. Plus, no matter how you feel about it, there’s no denying the power in Max von Sydow’s performance.
The film is about a young kid with Asperger’s whose father died on 9/11. In order to make sense of the tragedy, he discovers a key left behind by his father which he thinks is part of an elaborate mystery left behind by his father that he needs to solve. von Sydow plays a renter who has been staying at his grandmother’s apartment. He’s entirely mute and only communicates via a notepad. The kid begins to confide in him and go around town with him, and we eventually learn that he’s the kid’s grandfather, which culminates in the scene pictured above, where the two listen to the messages the boy’s father left in the time after the plane hit and before the tower went down. It’s some really effective stuff. It’s yet another great performance in the long history of a great actor.
87. Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained
I love this performance. I remember reading the script and the moment his character shows up, Quentin referred to him as the ‘Basil Rathbone’ of house…. I’ll leave out the last word, but you get the idea. That phrase told me everything I needed to know about the character, and it extended into watching it on the screen. That is this character to a tee. And Jackson plays him exactly like that.
He’s the servant who’s cared for Leo’s character since he was a child, so Leo sees him as a kind of father figure. And as such, Jackson not only sees himself as more of a white person than a black person, he takes these casual liberties that are just wonderful. That moment where he’s sitting in the parlor, casually sipping brandy without any fear of repercussion — that tells you everything you need to know about this dude. Plus, the character in itself — the slave who doesn’t think of himself as a slave because he has a measure of power that he uses to his full advantage. Jackson hadn’t had this kind of a character in a Quentin movie since Jackie Brown, and he really makes the most of it.
86. Sebastian Stan, I, Tonya
He’s great in this. Particularly in the later stages of the film, as the situation begins to get out of hand. It’s the scene pictured above in particular, when he realizes Paul Walter Hauser’s character is wearing a wire so is both keeping what he says innocuous so as to not get himself in trouble and visually threaten him with his body language, is really impressive work.
85. Bruce Willis, Looper
Bruce doesn’t always seem to try much anymore, but when he does and he has the right material, sometimes it turns out like this. This is really the one performance of his where you can say he truly gave a shit the past 15 years. And it shows. I like the amount of pathos he gave to the character, allowing you to understand why he’s doing what he’s doing, and why he thinks it’s just, even though he’s murdering children. You really feel the full effect of the character.
84. Nick Nolte, Warrior
It’s an archetype, that’s for sure. The father who was an abusive drunk and now in his old age wants to do right by his sons. Film has a long history of this character, and even sports movies have a history with this character. Dennis Hopper in Hoosiers, though his is more drunk-redemptive than this. Still, you get it. And Nolte does a great job with it. You really feel his sense of regret and pain and wanting to make things right. Plus, he gets a nice scene where he falls off the wagon, too. It’s a well-worn character played by a well-worn character actor, but he does a really fantastic job with it, and, like the film itself, makes an old story feel fresh again.
83. Alan Alda, Marriage Story
I love Alan Alda. We’ll start there. It’s always great to see him pop up in any movie, which sadly has become few and far between in recent years. Here especially, though, he’s really wonderful as the nice but ineffectual lawyer who is calm and reassuring but isn’t a match for the high-priced shark that Scarlett Johansson has hired. And he’s got some really wonderful moments, like when he starts eating donut crumbs in the shitty conference room and talking in hypotheticals — ‘if you were my client…’ ‘I am your client’. It’s such a great piece of work. And I love that he as a performer isn’t hiding his condition, either. That’s really nice to see.
82. Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight
I’ve been a fan of Walt Goggins for 20 years now. I first took notice of him in, of all things, Major League 3. And then I’d see him pop up in other things over the years, like The Bourne Identity and The World’s Fastest Indian, and always be like, “Hey, it’s him!” And then over the past decade, he’s really turned into a star on his own that people recognize and think is a great actor, which is awesome. This role particular is probably the best film role he’s gotten, playing a sheriff who used to fight for the Confederacy but is now upholding justice. So you get some nice turns to the character, being fanboy to Bruce Dern’s southern general, and then him playing amateur detective with Samuel L. Jackson’s character. It’s great because he’s sort of dumb, but also likable and trustworthy. He’s the guy you root for because he feels like the purest one in the group. It’s nice seeing him get the kind of role that puts him front and center in a film.
81. Ralph Fiennes, Hail, Caesar!
“Would that it were so simple.” He’s in more scenes than this, but it’s impossible not to love the performance for this scene alone. How fucking funny is this moment? I love that he’s playing an effete, George Cukor-type of director who makes these upscale period pieces and now has to deal with this dumb cowboy actor who can’t deliver lines of dialogue. He gets laughs from the first moment they cut to him after Ehrenreich says his first line, and he almost stutters through ‘cut’ as if he’s in disbelief at what he’s seeing. It’s wonderful how he keeps himself in check even as he gets more and more frustrated. This remains one of those hysterical scenes everyone remembers and references, and sure a lot of it is the Coen brothers and their dialogue, but Ralph Fiennes is also a huge part of that as well.
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