Mike’s Favorite Male Supporting Performances of the Decade (20-11)

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:

20. Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse

First, just the notion of casting Willem Dafoe as an old sea captain is worth a spot on this list. On paper alone, you knew this performance would rank on this list. Because it’s just such perfect casting. And man, does it deliver. Dafoe gets every opportunity to explore the edges of the frame and eat whatever scenery he wants to eat. That giant monologue he has where he’s just shouting for a couple of minutes is one of the most riveting things I’ve ever seen. It’s so incredible.

19. Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

I love him in this. Again, Martin McDonagh giving great actors great material and characters to work with. It’s also one of those performances where, if there were just a bit more of it, I’d probably have ranked him even higher than this. You get the fun moments of him as the police chief who is nice and understanding and does want to do right by this woman, but also wants to keep his town out of chaos. Meanwhile, of course, he’s dying and has to deal with all that as well. The best scene in the performance is the one in the interrogation room as they’re having the back and forth about her and the dentist and then all of a sudden he coughs blood and things get very real. And it puts it all into perspective, which precipitates what he does next (and even that final letter, which is also a nice cap on the character).

18. Michael Fassbender, Frank

I had zero expectations for this film when I saw it, other than, “Michael Fassbender is in a giant plaster head the entire time,” and could not have expected one of the most touching film characters I saw this decade. For most of the film, he’s just this weird, enigmatic singer who always wears the mask and a lot of the comedy comes from him always wearing the mask. And you never know what he’s thinking or who he’s really looking at and all of that. And he says these things that are either borderline crazy or borderline brilliant, and you’re never quite sure which. And then, by the end, it becomes this really touching portrait of mental illness, and how some people find ways to become part of the rest of the world. I really loved this character a lot, and it might be my favorite Fassbender performance of this entire decade.

17. Ben Foster, Hell or High Water

He’s so good in this movie. It could be argued that he’s borderline a lead, but I think he goes away enough and the film focused on Pine and Bridges enough that he can be considered supporting. What I love about the performance is, while he gets to play the ‘crazy brother’ character — which we all know. There’s the one brother with values who’s only doing this for a good reason, and then there’s the loose cannon brother, who has a tendency for crime and violence and is clearly the one for whom this won’t end well — he gets some really nice moments to show his trauma and his anger. There’s an incredible moment when he’s sleeping on the couch having a nightmare, if I remember correctly, and Pine comes to wake him up, and he sort of shakes awake, and you see the cycle of his emotions run through his face. And of course, the anger he shows behind his face in the ‘Comanche’ scene at the casino. And my favorite of all his moments — when Pine at the end tells him he loves him, and he turns his face away from the camera as if to hide his feelings from him. Foster is one of those actors who never gets enough credit for being credit.

16. Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

It’s a Hell or High Water two-fer. The entire film is filled with great performances. Bridges is the part everyone talked about, and with good reason. It’s kind of an updated version of his Rooster Cogburn performance, only with more of a focus on him aging over him being a drunk. The aging lawman character is one perfectly suited for Bridges, and he makes the most out of it here, particularly in his final scenes. The moment where he completes his mission and simultaneously has that shriek of joy and breaks down into tears says everything you want to know about his character and what he’s feeling. It’s a beautiful moment, aside from all the other great moments with his character, having the buddy comedy scenes with his partner or subtly picking up on what’s going on with all the bank robberies. Few people can layer a character the way Jeff Bridges can.

15. Joe Pesci, The Irishman

Boy, do I love what he did with this performance. Pretty much everyone would agree that Pesci is the performance of the film. He steals the whole thing out from under De Niro and Pacino, and he does it by being incredibly deliberate and patient. They set that up with the Paul Sorvino character in Goodfellas, “Paulie only moved when he had to.” But that was really more in theory than practice. Here, you understand it from Pesci. He never raises his voice throughout the entire film, because he doesn’t have to. Someone yells at him, he listens, he takes it, and he responds in a measured way. Because he doesn’t need to yell. He can have that person killed at a moment’s notice. He gets such amazing moments out of stillness and silence. There’s the moment pictured, when he, just from a look, keys De Niro that it’s time to kill Crazy Joe. And then there’s the most chilling moment in the scene, the shot through the plane window back at the car where Pesci’s just sitting there, waiting. And he gets the emotional payoff at the end when he’s old and in prison. It’s really the best dramatic work of Pesci’s career.

14. Robert Forster, What They Had

The last major dramatic work of Forster’s career before he passed, and it’s one almost no one had seen. Anyone reading this site will remember me screaming about how he should have been nominated for it at the time. And, of course, no one bothered to watch the movie and the film and performance got forgotten, as is usually the case, and then he died. And of course, no one still went back to this movie.

It’s an indie in the vein of The Savages, based on the director’s actual experience, about siblings coming together to deal with a parent slipping into senility. Only here, it’s two siblings, one who lives locally and one out in Los Angeles, and their mother has dementia and their father (Forster), is starting to get too old to care for her, but refuses to admit it. So a lot of Forster’s performance fluctuates between loving scenes of him caring for his ailing wife, and him defiantly saying everything’s fine and he doesn’t need help, etc, while also showing exactly the kind of person he is. I love how you understand exactly what kind of a man he is and what his values are from the way Forster plays him, and he gets those nice, tender moments mixed in with that as well. It’s a tremendous performance that might be the best work of Forster’s entire career.

13. Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained

I love how Quentin always gives actors a character they can do something with. Leo’s never really played evil before, and he just leans into it with this one. Quentin gives him all the room in the world to go big with this one, and in a way, Leo almost can’t play him too big. The great thing about Leo as an actor — and you see it more in Once Upon a Time than here, because he has more room to do it there — he’ll take a character that could be cartoonish and instill a sense of a real person in there. Here, the character is insane, but then he has that dinner table monologue and all of a sudden you sort of understand who this guy is and where he came from. Plus, that moment is just so goddamn menacing in itself, mixed with him slicing open his own hand, mid-monologue and then continuing the scene as if nothing’s wrong. It’s just an amazing character, and while they rushed to award Christoph Waltz for his (also amazing) work, they did so at Leo’s expense, because he also had an incredible performance that got very much overlooked.

12. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Rylance is an actor who no one really knew before this movie. He’s an acclaimed stage actor, and he’d done maybe five movies in twenty years before this, and was on Wolf Hall, which people seemed to like. Mostly what I’m saying is, for a lot of us, this is a guy we’d never seen before. And the film starts with him. You have these opening scenes, without Tom Hanks, and with this random guy who doesn’t even talk for most of them, and you’re just riveted. There’s this way Rylance has about him that you can’t take your eyes off of. He exudes this casualness of everyday life and manages to work an incredible performance behind that. It’s like when you have to feed a dog medicine inside a treat. He sneaks the acting in there when you’re not looking. There are some incredible moments for this character throughout the film. I love every moment inside those interrogation rooms with him and Hanks, where he seems completely unconcerned about the fact that they’re trying to hang him for treason. And even at the end, on the bridge, he seems almost unaffected and straightforward about the whole thing in such a profound way. Really, really incredible work, and for me one of the most refreshing and memorable pieces of supporting work from the decade.

11. Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

It’s recent, so I think we all know how great he was. We’re now at the point of the list where we all kind of understand how great all the performances are and there’s little to say. I said a lot about this performance a few months ago as he was winning all the awards, and that all stands. It’s an amazing piece of work. I love how laid back and easygoing his character is, and then you get these great moments of character development mixed in, and somehow it all culminates in that amazing scene at the house at the end. It’s hard to argue against this as one of the great pieces of work in Pitt’s great career.

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