In today’s post, I will be analyzing the Best Supporting Actor category for this year’s Academy Awards, the most decorated acting category at this year’s Oscars. (The five nominees combined account for 27 career Academy Award nominations in acting categories.) As I pointed out yesterday, the format for all of these post concerning the acting categories will be (1) a review of each nominee in alphabetical order; (2) a brief discussion of my other favorite performances of the year, including any “snubs”; and (3) a breakdown of who could, should, and will win the Oscar in this category.
So let’s go!
Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a biopic inspired by a real-life Esquire article about Fred Rogers (better known as Mr. Rogers) by journalist Tom Junod titled, “Can You Say…Hero?” Although the film takes inspiration from the famous theme song from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Mr. Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, is merely a supporting character. Hanks is obviously one of the greatest actors of his generation, and in this film, he is great in his embodiment of the calm, soft-spoken Mr. Rogers—although not looking physically like Mr. Rogers, Hanks nails the voice and mannerisms. But although I enjoyed his performance, it didn’t feel incredible invigorating for me, especially since Hanks just played Walt Disney in 2013’s Saving Mr. Banks, which this film felt so eerily similar to. I like Tom Hanks, and I really enjoyed him here, but I couldn’t help but think name recognition played a major role in not only this nomination, but also its companions at the Critics’ Choice Awards, SAG Awards, Golden Globes, and BAFTAs.
Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)
At first glance, I didn’t think Netflix’s The Two Popes was going to be a movie I’d enjoy, but in the end, I was thoroughly surprised by and taken with its charisma. The film is about Pope Benedict’s shocking decision to resign the papacy (the first to do so in over 700 years) amidst controversy and the unlikely journey of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (later Pope Francis) to the Chair of Saint Peter as his successor. The plot is simple, and the film is executed through Sorkin-esque dialogue between the two main characters as they debate and discuss many topics, most importantly their vastly different religious ideologies. Pope Benedict is incredible conservative, while Cardinal Bergoglio (played by Jonathan Pryce, who was nominated for Best Actor) is widely progressive. Both of the actors are exquisite and authentic in their portrayal of these real-life characters on the brink of a major shift for the Catholic Church, and per usual, the legendary Sir Anthony Hopkins is masterful.
Al Pacino (The Irishman)
Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, an epic 209-minute film, tells the story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro) who became a hitman for the Bufalino crime family and a close associate of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), the leader of the Teamsters. Surprisingly, The Irishman was Pacino’s very first collaboration with Scorsese, and it definitely left me wishing the two worked together more. In his portrayal of Jimmy Hoffa, Pacino returns to his peak acting prowess. Over the years, some believe Pacino has become a caricature of himself, resorting to the loud and boisterous delivery made famous in his Oscar-winning role in A Scent of a Woman far too often. In The Irishman, Pacino taps into those infamous rowdy and ostentatious traits, but he does so in a way that is extraordinarily reinvigorating—it is the Pacino we’ve grown to know, but it never feels like old hat. This is Pacino’s 9th Oscar nomination, but it’s his first since his lone win 27 years ago. As Hoffa, Pacino was back to his best, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to see him back at the Oscars as a nominee.
Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
In The Irishman, Joe Pesci plays Russell Bufalino, a mobster and crime boss of the Bufalino crime family. Pesci came out of an extended retirement to play his role in The Irishman, and some reports indicate he actually turned down the role over 50 times before finally agreeing to do it. We should all count ourselves lucky for his decision to jump in. In this film, Pesci is as we’ve never seen him before, especially in the mob genre. A frequent collaborator of Scorsese, we’ve learned to expect Pesci to embody the smack-talking, loud-mouth, larger-than-life, over-the-top character traits from Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino. (And oh, how I love Pesci when he’s in that zone.) But here, Pesci is distinctively restrained, exemplifying a strange sense of calmness. It is this aspect of Pesci’s performance that not only steals the show but also makes the character eerily more sinister than past Pesci characters—the guy plays a caring father figure to De Niro’s character with a great deal of compassion, all the while being someone who can call in a hit like it’s nothing. This will go down as one of Pesci’s greatest performances of all time.
Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
Quentin Tarantino’s newest masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set in Los Angeles in 1969 and tells the story of aging actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they work to find their place in the industry during the last days of Hollywood’s Golden Age. I am admittedly a huge fan of Tarantino and his work (Inglourious Basterds is my favorite movie of all time), and when I describe my love of Once Upon a Time to people, I tell them that it’s just a movie that was made for me. (Tarantino’s exquisite storytelling set against the backdrop of a glorious era of cinematic and cultural history is a recipe for success.) And from an acting standpoint, DiCaprio and Pitt are an amazing duo and are truly simpatico. And this film marks an outstanding return to the Tarantino set for Pitt, who dazzled in his memorable role as Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds. Here, Tarantino gets the absolute best out of Pitt once more. Cliff Booth is just cool, and Tarantino couldn’t have chosen a better performer to embody that swagger. Highlights for Pitt in this movie include his fight with Bruce Lee, fending off hippies in the Manson cult at Spawn Ranch, and that hilariously unrestrained ending involving Pitt high on an acid-dipped cigarette. In this movie, Brad Pitt is in his element, and oh, what a wonderful element it is.
Snubs and Other Performances
In addition to this year’s nominees, there were a handful of other noteworthy performances this year that easily could have been in contention for the Oscar. First, although The Lighthouse did not necessarily work for me (which was a surprise, as I generally love everything A24 Films puts out), there is no denying that Willem Dafoe’s gruff portrayal of lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake is superbly deranged as one half of the film’s two-man show. Second, Dolemite Is My Name was one of my favorite out-and-out comedies of the year. And not only was it the vehicle for Eddie Murphy’s spectacular R-rated renaissance, but it also provided a humorous return for Wesley Snipes, who portrayed the real-life blaxploitation star D’Urville Martin. Additionally, I really enjoyed The Last Black Man in San Francisco (shout out to A24 again), and although Jimmie Fails was great as the lead, I was most impressed with Jonathan Majors as Jimmie’s sidekick “Mont”—the character is eccentric, artistic, and caring, and Majors was absolutely brilliant in his execution.
One of the single best supporting performances of the year, though, came courtesy of legendary South Korean actor Song Kang-ho in Parasite. Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece is a darkly comedic exploration of class inequalities, and Song is extraordinary as Kim Ki-taek, the patriarch of a poor Korean family who uses ingenuity and deception to infiltrate the home of the wealthy Park family as employees. The entire acting ensemble in Parasite is collectively magnificent. (In fact, the group won the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.) However, Song is definitely the film’s brightest star, and he was thoroughly deserving of an Oscar nomination this year.
Who Could Win: Joe Pesci
Joe Pesci is currently getting odds of +1200 to render an upset in this category, better than any of the other three underdog nominees by quite a bit. (For instance, Al Pacino is next best, but his odds currently sit at +2800.) I don’t anticipate a surprise for Best Supporting Actor, but if the Academy throws us a curveball here, look for Pesci to be the only other nominee with a chance.
Who Should Win: Brad Pitt
I love Tarantino’s characters, and I love the actors and actresses he chooses to portray them. Cliff Booth is a fun and charismatic character, and I wholeheartedly believe no other actor but Brad Pitt could have breathed that energetic life into Booth. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the vintage performances from Pacino and Pesci, I find Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to be a better film than The Irishman. (Pacino and Pesci also cancel each other out a bit in this category.) So Pitt gets the nod here for me.
Who Will Win: Brad Pitt
Just like Laura Dern, Brad Pitt has executed a clean sweep this awards season, taking home this award at the BAFTAs, SAG Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards, and Golden Globes. Currently, Pitt’s odds to win the Oscar are an astounding -3335. So just like Laura Dern, it looks nearly certain that Pitt will be taking home the first Academy Award of his career in an acting category.