My Favorite Male Supporting Performances of 2020
I should stress that these are going to be slightly odd lists because this year, the Oscar season is split between two years. Typically a fair portion of what makes these lists are the late-year ‘awards’ type movies. But since we still have January and February for those to come out… I’m working with what I have. That being the 2020 calendar year. Which, as we all know, was a strange one. So while this list is normally my prep for what would be my own personal Oscar choices… it can’t be that this year. Which might be a blessing in disguise.
I’m just gonna shout out the stuff from this year that I liked. Not even gonna rank anything. I felt like trying to do things by my normal standards was keeping some stuff off the list, since I kept looking for things that weren’t there. This way, I’m just telling you what I liked. We’re not trying to say one is better than the other and this way I’m just telling you, “Hey I thought this was good.” It’s probably better. And honestly, it’s actually getting me, in some cases, to put more than the usual 15 that I try to get to for each category. (Not this one, though. This one I actually had trouble with.)
Here are my favorite male supporting performances of 2020:
- Mathieu Amalric, Sound of Metal
He’s only really in like three scenes, but for some reason I found myself really affected by his performance. Aside from him popping up and getting a surprise Mathieu Amalric performance in the movie (which is always exciting), it’s the way he seems to convey so much backstory through his mannerisms and inflections that I found myself really taken with the performance. There’s so much unsaid about his relationship to his daughter (Olivia Cooke’s character), and I feel like the way he plays his scenes (and how Cooke plays off of him) really tells you so much in so little time. I can’t explain it except to say… I really did find myself leaning into what little was there and seeing so much stuff. Maybe it’s just me who saw it and felt it, or maybe it’s just obvious and I’m an idiot (both can be and probably are true). But I think this was one of the more memorable supporting parts I saw this year.
- Anthony Carrigan, Bill & Ted Face the Music
You’re lying if your list of favorite characters from 2020 doesn’t include Caleb Dennis McCoy, the killer robot. How fucking funny is Carrigan in this movie? It’s such a slow play too, since at first he’s just a killer robot. And then he starts accidentally killing the wrong people, and slowly the humanity starts to come in. From that moment of realization of, “Oh… oh no. Oh god, I fucked up,” to eventually having to come and apologize to Bill and Ted for murdering their daughters. Literally everything he does in this move is hysterical. If there were any justice, he would be nominated for an Oscar for this performance. Because it’s simply one of the best supporting characters we had all this year. Even them cutting to him dancing alone gets a huge laugh because of how great Carrigan is.
- Billy Crystal, Standing Up, Falling Down
This is just because it makes you realize how fucking great Billy Crystal is on screen. He doesn’t do it a lot anymore, and you forget just how natural a presence he is up there. It’s like that year when we had the Franco/Hathaway debacle at the Oscars and they brought Crystal as a surprise guest and immediately you went, “Man, I forgot how great he is.” Think about the last real time you saw Crystal on screen in a meaningful way. Start from Analyze This (and I guess, That). Analyze That was 2002. You can’t really name much of anything since then, can you? He was in Tooth Fairy with The Rock, shows up in the Joaquin Phoenix I’m Still Here movie, is in the movie Small Apartments (which nobody saw or knows about), Parental Guidance with Bette Midler, The Comedian with Robert De Niro (as himself), Untogether (which no one saw) and now this. This is his first meaningful part in almost 20 years. And man, is he welcome back. The movie itself is very much your standard indie — comedian who went out to LA to make it and hasn’t comes back to his hometown to reassess. Then he meets Crystal (an alcoholic dentist), a naturally funny guy, whose friendship encourages the guy to start being himself more on stage and stop trying to hard. The movie, without Crystal, would be completely generic. But having him there lightens everything up so much and makes it feel so much more worthwhile. And then, even better, the character has depth. You really get to the bottom of why he is the way he is. And there’s such great stuff there that Crystal plays wonderfully. Go see this movie. This is truly one of the best performances of the year that you don’t know about.
- Hugh Grant, The Gentlemen
I love that he’s just doing 80s Michael Caine. It’s of course more than just that, but still… that’s what he’s doing. Just like Gary Oldman is doing Lionel Barrymore in Mank (which apparently nobody seems to be talking about). Here, Grant is channeling 80s era Michael Caine when he would play the gangster parts in films like Mona Lisa. But there’s such a flair to the performance that you can’t help but love him. Grant’s been one of those guys who doesn’t work all that often, but usually when he does, he’s pretty terrific. This decade, he was in Cloud Atlas (hugely underrated movie), The Rewrite (perfectly charming), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (more of a cameo than anything), Florence Foster Jenkins (where he is terrific), Paddington 2 (also terrific) and this. Plus two miniseries where he’s supposedly very good in both of them. He’s a great actor. And we tend to diminish the dramatic work because we always remember him in the rom coms. But he’s just as good doing more dramatic stuff as well. Admittedly, this is more of a light-hearted part. He’s playing a murderous gangster but it’s clearly meant to be funny. Still, it’s a great performance, and once again reminds us that having Hugh Grant in your movie is never a bad thing.
- Arliss Howard, Mank
The film is very much built around Gary Oldman, and some people get their showy moments (namely Charles Dance and Amanda Seyfried), but a lot of the other parts feel like they’re gonna get left by the wayside when people talk about this movie. Aside from the fact that Fincher did a hell of a job casting people to look exactly like who they were playing (except Welles, which is pretty much an impossible task that Fincher wisely left to the voice and used the beard to disguise the facial differences. Also, I didn’t realize until a month after the fact that Bill fucking Nye played Upton Sinclair in this), all of them do terrific jobs as well. Howard is so goddamn good as Louis B. Mayer. It’s such a scene-chewing role that fits the movie perfectly. Because that’s exactly how that type of role would’ve been cast at the time the movie took place. He’s just the right amount of big without ever stealing things from everyone else. Every time I go back to this movie I like Howard’s performance more and more.
- Mick Jagger, The Burnt Orange Heresy
He doesn’t really have to do much except be Mick Jagger, but you know what? That’s what the role calls for. He gets to pop in and out of the story and just be the cool rich guy. And then he has that amazing final scene that really cements me putting him on this list. It’s just an awesome part. Never gonna be anything that gets recognized formally, but I can love it. And that’s all that matters.
- Richard Jenkins, Kajillionaire
Jenkins is always great (and already made my lead performances list this year), but this performance is just so wonderful. It’s very much Evan Rachel Wood’s film, but it’s Jenkins and Winger who have to show you why she is the way she is. Which they do wonderfully. And while Wood’s character gets to change over the course of the film, the beauty of the parents is that they have to not. So the way Jenkins becomes absolutely committed to his way of living, even when the movie/Wood’s character moves away from it is just so wonderful. Again, another amazing Richard Jenkins performance that won’t get its proper due. The entire movie is a hidden gem all the way on down. Please see this movie if you haven’t. Vive le Jenkins!
- Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods
Some are calling him the lead of the movie. I feel like they’re all on screen enough together and apart that it feels like a true ensemble. But either way — he’s on a list and is one of the better performances of the year. Which is great, because Lindo’s always been one of those dependable supporting guys. Always great but never recognized. But here, he’s got some real meat to chew on, starting with his character as the sort of over-the-top one, with the MAGA hat and everything. But then the layers peel away to reveal a guy with deep, deep trauma and PTSD, and it’s a really affecting performance by the time you get to the end of it. It’s legitimately one of the best pieces of work of the year, and I’m glad people are recognizing it as such.
- Ben Mendelsohn, Babyteeth
We talked about Eliza Scanlen yesterday. And it’s not just her who’s great in that movie. Mendelsohn is also terrific. Because the film also deals with the shit going on with the parents on top of just her (also shout out to Toby Wallace in the movie as well. He’s also really good). Mendelsohn doesn’t have to play a villain for a nice change (though he’s been slowly breaking out of that over the past couple of years) and we really get to run the gamut of him as a character. Until eventually he becomes the backbone of the story in a really touching way.
- Robert Pattinson, The Devil All the Time
The movie’s a true ensemble piece, with everyone doing their own little part. But it’s impossible to come out of this movie and not remember whatever the hell Pattinson was doing in it. Which isn’t a dig so much as it’s a — I don’t even know what the hell that accent was. And yet it worked. Apparently he never told the director what he was gonna do and just showed up on set like that. And it shows. It’s like Brad Pitt in Snatch. Where he just showed up unintelligible and it just worked. That’s what I feel like Pattinson was doing, and honestly — it lightened up the festivities. It’s kind of an over-serious movie at times. But Pattinson brings the right dose of weird to it that someone fits.
- Will Patton, Minari
I love how weird the character is, and how it’s never fully fleshed out. This dude just exists, and you just get more and more wrinkles. I remember watching this the first time and, the first time you see him, you immediately think, “Oh, is this dude trying to get one over on Yeun?” And then that goes away and then you start seeing him in the fields doing his little noises and whistling and Jesus praying, and at first it’s kinda funny because, “What the fuck is he doing?” And then you just get used to it. And then you start seeing him carrying the cross on Sundays by himself and you’re like, “What the actual fuck?” And yet somehow… all of that just builds to a fully fleshed-out character. I don’t know how to explain it except to say — we all had that one weird neighbor who had their quirks but was otherwise a completely nice person. And that’s Patton here. He’s the one real friend the family has throughout the course of the film. And he had some nice moments with Yeun. It’s not a performance that’ll ever get is proper due (much like most of Patton’s work. He’s always the dependable player who gets overlooked next to all the bigger names), but I’m a fan of what he did here.
- Tyler Rice, Butt Boy
What a weird goddamn movie. I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s like if you took the premise of the movie Swallow and turned it into a pure B movie about a guy sticking things up his ass. But like, babies and dogs and actual people. It’s the craziest kind of absurd. The third act largely takes place inside the dude’s ass. It’s insane. But to me, the best part of this movie was Tyler Rice. That dude committed to that character. He plays the most stereotypical movie detective you’ve ever seen. White shirt, suspenders with the guns, toothpick, the overdramatic nature about everything. It’s the perfect complement to the absurdity of a movie about a dude sticking things up his ass. Because he’s the cop investigating all the disappearances. And he’s also an alcoholic in the same AA group as the guy who did it. And so there’s this weird relationship between the two of them, and we keep getting more backstory on Rice’s character throughout… it’s so fucking weird. I love it. And in a year where so little stood out to me, this one definitely did.
- Sam Spruell, Small Axe: Mangrove
This dude was nasty in this movie. He’s the racist cop who targets the Mangrove restaurant and is just a real racist piece of work. It’s his face. He has that instantly recognizable and scary face. It reminds me of the guy who played Frank Nitti in The Untouchables. With that white suit. You know how whenever he came on screen, you just felt scared and you felt that he was evil? That’s Spruell in this movie. And he does so much with the part. I loved some of the courtroom stuff where they start showing how much of an uneducated fool he is, using his own logic against him, and he has to stand there and take it (while also showing the absolute inner anger of this guy that he lives with all the time). It’s a fantastic villain performance, and villain performances usually don’t ever get their proper due. But this one definitely deserves it.
- Donald Sutherland, The Burnt Orange Heresy
Mick Jagger got the fun part in this movie, but Sutherland was having the most fun. Because his character is the lynchpin of the story. He’s an artist who is best known for creating what people say is one of the most brilliant art shows anyone’s ever seen, only the night before it premiered, the building burned down. So all that’s left is what people remember about everything. And ever since, he’s lived in reclusion, most recently living in Mick Jagger’s guest house. So the whole plot revolves around all this art he’s been making (that no one’s seen). And his whole performance is him knowing everyone wants to see the art and just having fun with the whole thing, knowing he’s got the secret that everyone wants to know. It’s such great work, especially after you get to the end of the movie and know everything there is to know. It makes the performance play so much differently the second time around. Also, part of me wanting him on here has to do with how rare it is to see people of Sutherland’s age get truly meaningful parts. He fared much better this year than Elliott Gould did. It is possible to write good parts for older actors, and I’m glad Sutherland got one.
- Glynn Turman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis are gonna get all the notice, but Turman’s character is the heart of the film. Colman Domingo is the steady hand throughout the film, but Turman’s the beating heart of the story. He’s got a couple of really terrific monologues that I hope don’t go overlooked next to everyone else in the film. He’s really great here.
– – – – – – – – – –