Oscar Blitz 2023 – Supporting Actor

I mentioned at the beginning of this year’s Blitz, while covering Supporting Actress, that this year was a rarity in that the actress categories are absolutely stacked while the actor side is decidedly lacking. Between both female-led fields, I’d argue that there are only two nominations that are somewhat fishy based on performance quality, and even then I understand why the nods happened anyway. For the men, however, both Lead and Supporting Actor have two nominees that basically have no business even being considered.

So why are they here? Well, because there just weren’t all that many standout performances from the fellas this past year. Look at the ones who got a pity nomination in other ceremonies but were left out by the Academy. Adam Sandler has a Lead Actor nomination with the Screen Actors Guild for Hustle. Now, I liked that movie, and I even noted that Sandler did a good job because the character was written according to his strengths. But that’s a competent performance, not an outstanding one. At the Golden Globes, where there are two lead categories to fill out, the HFPA really struggled, giving nods to the likes of Jeremy Pope in The Inspection, Hugh Jackman in the atrociously bad The Son, and Adam Driver in the aptly-named bore-fest that was White Noise. They also gave nods to Daniel Craig for Glass Onion and Ralph Fiennes in The Menu, which were both all but completely ignored by AMPAS because they hate comedy. And while it would have been nice to see them up for Oscars, even then there’s a severe drop-off from the top tier.

On the Supporting side, it’s not any better. Eddie Redmayne got Golden Globe, BAFTA, and SAG nods for The Good Nurse for what I can only assume was a passable American voice, Brad Pitt got one from the Globes for Babylon despite him getting top billing in that piece of shit flick, and the BAFTAs somehow created a sixth slot for one of the guys from All Quiet on the Western Front, because you know, that movie didn’t already have enough superfluous prestige. Meanwhile, poor Paul Dano was completely left out (apart from SAG) despite TWO really good supporting turns in The Fabelmans and The Batman. It’s genuinely perplexing.

Suffice to say, right upfront my contention is that only 60% of the field deserves to be here, both for tonight’s look at Supporting Actor AND next week’s video breakdown for Best Actor. Take that as a teaser if you must. But yeah, whereas in most years there are several instances where women are nominated for subpar or showcase films just to get the list to five, this year it’s clearly the men who came up short. And in this particular category, it’s even more of a microcosm of the overall quality of 2022 film and the horserace for the Oscars themselves, as there are three worthy contenders, but only two films worth any serious consideration.

This year’s nominees for Best Supporting Actor are…

Brendan Gleeson – The Banshees of Inisherin

Thank the great good Lord for Brendan Gleeson! It is genuinely shocking that this man, who has been making the highest quality films for 30 years is only just now getting his first Oscar nomination. Gangs of New York? Nah. In Bruges? Fuck it. There are clearly far more deserving performances out there, like Sam Rockwell playing George W. Bush or Christopher Plummer as Kevin Spacey. I know these aren’t all from the same years, but you get my point. Even on his worst day Gleeson can outshine half of Hollywood.

As the morose Colm in Banshees, Gleeson turns in what may be his best performance yet, giving audiences a cerebral, nuanced character who then takes his legitimate feelings and desires and turns them into extreme grotesquery. In his attempt to be an intellectual and artistic martyr, he ends up only becoming the fool, and Gleeson plays both ends of this stunning spectrum about as perfectly as you can imagine.

It all comes down to the fact that he’s willing to play Colm as being fully committed to whatever daft course of action he takes. It starts subtly enough in the beginning as he strategically ignores Pádraic when he comes knocking and takes a more circuitous route to the pub to avoid contact. Then he goes to direct action by addressing his issues with his former best friend, assertively asking to disassociate. And then finally and most shockingly, he makes good on his threat to cut off his own fingers and fling them at Pádraic’s door as a physical symbol that he wants rid of him. He’s even willing to burn alive in his own house to get away from Pádraic, so long as his dog is okay.

Say what you will about the methods – and there’s plenty to say, which is why Martin McDonagh’s script and direction are so masterful – but he’s a man of his word. Do not EVER call his bluff. He’s extremely blunt, but also extremely fair, at least in his own mind. He gives Pádraic plenty of chances to heed his warnings. He explains his wants and needs as clearly and patiently as he can to make sure the point gets across. He even defends Pádraic in certain situations without accepting his friendship. It’s honestly why his self-mutilation is such a great physical consequence of his actions. Forgive the pun, but when it fails him to be even-handed, he’d rather be no-handed, which is crazy, but makes sense within the character’s established motivations, which Gleeson never once betrays.

Brian Tyree Henry – Causeway

Look, I love Brian Tyree Henry. You love Brian Tyree Henry. He’s one of the funniest, most versatile actors working today, one who can easily slot himself into just about any role or film (hell, he made all that Thomas the Tank Engine bullshit in Bullet Train almost seem plausible and profound!), but when it comes to Causeway, this is a nothing performance in an even more nothing film. He did get an Independent Spirit nomination, but that’s a special case, because once you implement the qualification requirements (particularly in budget terms), so many other films from last year are rendered ineligible, so that we can eventually get to Henry. There was no such indication that he had a groundswell of support from the Academy membership. Everyone harps on the Andrea Riseborough nomination because it’s the more shocking, but Henry was also on no radars going into the Oscar announcement.

I mean, look at his character. He’s an auto mechanic with a prosthetic leg, as he lost his real one in the car crash on a Louisiana highway that gives the film its title. We do eventually see the injury (very bad CGI to give him a stump once the fake leg is removed), but before that, were it not for dialogue establishing his situation, you’d never know there was a problem. There’s nothing about Henry’s physical performance that indicates he’s an amputee. I’m not saying he has to limp and stumble all over the place and do tasteless pratfalls, but maybe give some visual evidence to support the exposition.

As far as line readings go, since he spends half the movie drunk and/or high, Henry’s delivery is slow, casual, and apathetic. His dialogue is so boring and unmemorable that the movie actually considers it a clever callback when Jennifer Lawrence repeats it back to him in the final scene. The only emotion I felt during the entirety of his performance was a desire for some shave ice (or “SnoBalls” if you want to get Deep South about this), cause that shit is delicious. He’s really only there to be a sounding board for J-Law’s poorly-written, low-grade melodrama, occasionally responding with the equivalent of, “Damn, that sucks, but it ain’t so bad, white girl. Come back when you got MY problems.” There are plenty of other films where a character like James only occupies two scenes, because that’s all the material you can really give him, and here he’s the secondary lead.

Again, I’m a huge fan of Henry’s, and I’m happy for him that he’s getting his due (and thankfully he doesn’t have to wait two more decades like Gleeson), but no, just no. The well can not possibly be this dry for candidates.

Judd Hirsch – The Fabelmans

Look, I love Judd Hirsch. You love Judd Hirsch. He’s one of the funniest, most versatile actors of all time… wait, this is all sounding familiar.

Yes, this too is a wholly superfluous nomination. I mentioned in my review of The Fabelmans that Hirsch is only in the film for five minutes, but acts circles around the entire cast while he’s there. I stand by that. But that’s also the problem. He’s only in the movie for about five minutes. I know technically screen time doesn’t matter – Anthony Hopkins won Best Actor despite only being in The Silence of the Lambs for 16 minutes – but it’s relevant here for three reasons.

1) Unlike Hopkins, Hirsch’s time in the film comes all at once. He’s in three scenes in a very short sequence, whereas Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter was a continual presence throughout the film.

2) This is an exact illustration of what I was talking about with Brian Tyree Henry above. Just like his role, Uncle Boris only has so much character to show us. Thankfully Steven Spielberg realized this and got maximum utility out of Hirsch’s brief time on set, rather than stretching the part out well past the point that anyone could care, but it’s still the same core issue. As fun as Hirsch is for his few moments, there’s not enough character there to truly “support” anything, be it the other characters or the story.

3) PAUL DANO IS RIGHT FUCKING THERE! You’re seriously going to sit there and tell me that, of all the other players in this able cast, that Judd Hirsch’s five minutes are worth more than Dano’s two hours, or even Seth Rogen’s half hour? Really?

I would love to see Judd Hirsch win an Oscar, again because it’s so rare for the Academy to recognize the quality that comedic actors bring to the table. Hirsch himself is a case in point, as his only other nomination was for Ordinary People over 40 years ago! But when his time in the film is so short, and there are much worthier candidates WITHIN THE SAME MOVIE, what are we even doing?

Barry Keoghan – The Banshees of Inisherin

Talk about a contrast in characters. Part of what’s so wonderful about the core ensemble in The Banshees of Inisherin is how different they all are on the surface, but how similar they all are in their basic desires. No matter what their motivations or actions, each of the main four all want the same things: happiness and acknowledgement. Colm finds that in his artistic expression, Pádraic in the dependability of his friends and routine, Siobhán gets it from her studies and the sense of adventure in expanding her horizons, and for poor simple Dominic, it’s derived from an idea that he can never realize, a loving family.

Dimwitted and crass, Dominic has only known a life of suffering because his abusive father is also the main policeman in the community, meaning he acts with complete impunity and will never be held accountable. As such, Dom gets comfort out of his friendship with Pádraic and his unrequited love for Siobhán. He sees in them the supportive relations he never had, even when they too dump on him a bit. He knows that whatever ribbing he gets from them comes from a place of caring and a desire for him to better himself, which he doesn’t get elsewhere. Deep down, he knows there’s nothing better for him out in the wider world, so he wants to make the best of what he has in Inisherin’s small confines. The fact that any outside observer can tell that even that is impossible makes him the most tragic character of the entire story.

And credit to Keoghan, he consistently finds that sweet spot to make sure the character of Dominic comes across as genuine and sympathetic despite his myriad flaws, including the ones that are entirely of his own making. Keoghan makes sure to play Dom straight enough that his mental deficiencies don’t become a punchline or caricature, while also asserting just enough agency to demand the same dignity as the other characters without it feeling like virtue signaling. Every time he tilts his head down, you somehow know that when it comes back up, he’ll have something worthwhile to say, even if it’s gibberish on the surface. That shows a lot of discipline and skill for such a young actor. He probably won’t win this year, but I’ll be amazed if his name’s not called by the Academy quite a few more times in future.

Ke Huy Quan – Everything Everywhere All at Once

The first moment of pure glee I experienced watching this movie was when I heard Waymond’s voice and realized who the actor was. He looked familiar, but I just couldn’t place him. And then, like a spark of nostalgic wonder, my brain silently screamed, “HOLY FUCK, IT’S SHORT ROUND!”

The man hasn’t been in a film for 30 years, back when he was a child actor known as Jonathan Ke Quan (it’s common practice for Asian immigrants to adopt European names when they come to America), and seeing him again, it’s like he never left (or rather, never was forced out of the industry due to an insane lack of mainstream opportunities for Asian actors). The manic energy, the ceaseless charm, the perfect comedic timing, and that endearing smile took us all back to our own childhoods, a perhaps unintentional but nonetheless effective mental link that allowed audiences to engage even deeper with the material of Everything Everywhere with unexpected ease.

But this isn’t just a nostalgia trip. The man kicks ALL THE ASS as Waymond. I don’t just mean the fight scenes, either, though he’s spectacular in those moments thanks to spending the intervening decades as a stunt coordinator (I mean, good God that fanny pack bit was glorious!). There’s a purity, kindness, and good humor to the character of Waymond that is just infectious beyond belief thanks to Quan’s natural performance. In many ways he gives what most of us would consider a textbook supporting turn, as he’s there to prop up Stephanie Hsu and Michelle Yeoh as they handle the heaviest material.

Most importantly, though, Quan gives the audience the first true taste of the potential that the Daniels’ story lays out. Waymond is the one who explains the stakes and delivers the exposition. He’s the first one to “verse jump” and change his personality before our eyes. As I mentioned with the fanny pack, he provides the first major example of just how bonkers the plot and action will eventually become. And finally, he’s also the first indicator of how surprisingly emotional the film will be, asking in the heat of battle why everyone can’t just be nice to one another in a somewhat comedic beat; and then seeing him in the universe where he and Evelyn are both famous, he tenderly says that he would trade it all for a happy life where they just did laundry and taxes together. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. God dammit, Short Round! You were the one who told us there was no time for love!

My Rankings:
1) Brendan Gleeson
2) Ke Huy Quan
3) Barry Keoghan
4) Judd Hirsch
5) Brian Tyree Henry

Who do you think should win? Vote now in the poll below!

Up Next, we conclude the second week of this year’s Blitz with a trip around the world! Well, more like, around Europe with a brief detour to South America. But hey, at least it’ll be in video form. It’s International Feature!

Join the conversation in the comments below! Who would you have nominated outside the top three? Why do you think the male side of the acting equation was so weak this past year? Have you tried to recreate the fanny pack choreography? Let me know!

One thought on “Oscar Blitz 2023 – Supporting Actor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s