In today’s post, I will review the Best Supporting Actor category for this year’s Oscars. Let’s go!
Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7)
In Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, which tells the true story of a group of anti-war activists standing trial for allegedly inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Sacha Baron Cohen plays Abbie Hoffman, the outspoken Flower Power leader who co-founded the “Yippies” (i.e., the Youth International Party). Baron Cohen is exhilarating as Abbie Hoffman, and his overall fit as a performer for this role is embodied in this quote by Baron Cohen on playing Hoffman: “There’s the public persona of Abbie where he’s trying to inspire people and then there’s the private Abbie. So there’s a balance between the clown and the intellect.” Baron Cohen strikes gold in portraying this dichotomic nature of Hoffman, using his trademark funnyman skills to perfection, while also emoting the superb dramatic elements of the character. In a year where Baron Cohen dominated entertainment headlines for his Borat sequel, his true prowess as an actor was most exemplified by his turn as Abbie Hoffman.
Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)
In Judas and the Black Messiah, Daniel Kaluuya portrays Fred Hampton, the real-life chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and deputy chairman of the national Black Panther Party, who was gunned down by law enforcement in 1969. This film should be required viewing as a remarkable depiction of the underlying racial, societal, and political forces which both brought Fred Hampton to prominence and resulted in his assassination by the Chicago police. And aside from the film as a whole, Judas and the Black Messiah is a must-see for Kaluuya’s awe-inspiring performance. As Fred Hampton, Kaluuya is electrifying. Hampton was clearly a gripping public speaker, and Kaluuya shines the most in the scenes depicting rallies and speeches. The film’s signature scene takes places in a church following Hampton’s release from prison, wherein Hampton delivers an iconic movie speech to his many supporters. It’s single-handedly one of my favorite scenes in movie history, and Kaluuya is front and center. During that speech, Kaluuya masterfully embodies the true essence of Fred Hampton’s vital role as a revolutionary. It’s some of the greatest acting I have ever seen, which only adds to Kaluuya’s other impressive moments in the film’s quieter, more intimate scenes. This year, there simply was not a better supporting performance by an actor than Daniel Kaluuya as the one-of-a-kind Black Panther leader.
Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami…)
Regina King’s directorial debut One Night in Miami…, written by Kemp Powers and based on his 2013 stage play of the same name, gives a fictionalized version of a meeting between civil rights icons Malcolm X (played by Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali (played Eli Goree), Jim Brown (played by Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) at a motel in Miami, Florida, following Ali’s title-winning fight against Sonny Liston in 1964. I was personally impressed by each of the four central actors’ performances in this movie, but as the Academy and numerous other award shows have noted via their nominations, Leslie Odom Jr. clearly stands out as the best. Odom Jr. first became a household name a few years ago due to his transfixing performance as Aaron Burr in the critically acclaimed Broadway musical Hamilton, but in One Night in Miami…, he demonstrates why he’s a true force to be reckoned with on the silver screen. In this film, Odom Jr.’s transformation into Sam Cooke is exquisite, and his acting skills are most on display in the scenes debating and arguing with Ben-Adir’s Malcolm X about the strategic ins and outs of the civil rights movement. (Not to mention Odom Jr. utilizes his award-winning vocal skills in a beautiful performance of Cooke’s famed “A Change Is Gonna Come” toward the end of the film.) Leslie Odom Jr. put on a show as Sam Cooke, and for that, he received a deserved first Oscar nomination. (Odom Jr. is actually nominated twice this year, as he also received an Oscar nod for Best Original Song for co-writing “Speak Now” from the same film.)
Paul Raci (Sound of Metal)
Sound of Metal tells the story of Ruben (played by Riz Ahmed), a recovering drug addict and drummer in a hard metal band, who suddenly loses his hearing. Eventually, Ruben makes his way to a sober-living community for deaf people, which is run by Joe (played by Paul Raci), a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War. If it weren’t for Daniel Kaluuya’s justified domination in the Best Supporting Actor category this awards season, I would heavily campaign for Raci to take home all the wins. His acting in Sound of Metal is incredible as he deftly portrays Joe as an unflappable, yet compassionate figure. A performer with over 30 years of acting experience, Raci’s breakout role was a match made in heaven—although Raci isn’t deaf, he is a C.O.D.A. (i.e., child of deaf adults) and is fluent in American Sign Language. This deeply personal context for Raci’s portrayal of Joe only adds to the magnetism of his performance and the authenticity of the film overall. One of the most emotional scenes in the entire movie (a heartbreaking conversation late in the film between Joe and Ruben at a kitchen table) provided Raci his Oscar moment. I couldn’t be more excited to see the Academy bestow this much-deserved nomination on Paul Raci.
Lakeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah)
In Judas and the Black Messiah, Lakeith Stanfield plays William “Bill” O’Neil (i.e., the titular Judas), the criminal-turned-informant who infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party for the FBI. I am beyond frustrated by Stanfield’s nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category. It’s not because Stanfield didn’t give us an Oscar-worthy performance—he delivered in this movie some of the year’s best acting, period. Rather, my annoyance resides in the fact every movie has to have a lead, and in this film, it is Stanfield. This is his character’s story. Expectantly, the Judas and the Black Messiah folks campaigned for Stanfield in the Best Actor category (while Kaluuya received support in the Best Supporting Actor category). But apparently Stanfield received more votes from Academy voters in this category, so here we are. Regardless, Stanfield is magnificent as the controversial Bill O’Neil. The character is clearly the film’s antagonist, and yet, it’s clear O’Neil is a complex figure, progressively more tortured by his informant role as time goes by and the stakes get higher. Stanfield walks his character’s moral tightrope between good and bad, right and wrong, with absolute precision. As an audience, it’s easy to be frustrated with O’Neil one moment, while feeling great empathy for him in the next—and it is Stanfield’s expertly nuanced portrayal that makes people care about the character.
Snubs and Other Performances
Other than the Oscar-nominated actors discussed above, this past year featured a number of other noteworthy acting performances from performers in supporting roles. First, the always-impressive Barry Keoghan is fascinating in The Shadow of Violence (titled Calm with Horses outside of the United States) as Dymphna, a member of an Irish family of drug dealers who puts up the front of a tough guy, while truly being a more scared, vulnerable character—the actor plays boss/sidekick to the film’s true hardman lead, played by Cosmo Jarvis, and Keoghan again shows why he is one of the best young actors in the world. Second, in the unfortunately average The Little Things, Jared Leto is definitely one of the best parts in his portrayal of Albert Sparma, an enigmatic man suspected of multiple murders. Even if the film underwhelmed, Leto was great, truly sinking into his character. Additionally, in Minari, aside from the other outstanding performances, a couple of which garnered Oscar nominations, Alan Kim was delightful as David Yi, highlighted by his bantering scenes with his grandmother, played by Youn Yuh-jung. Kim is currently 8 years old, and we are sure to see more of him very soon.
However, the one performance I expected to receive an Oscar nomination which didn’t was veteran of comedy Bill Murray in Sofia Coppola’s Apple TV+ film On the Rocks. Murray and Coppola previous collaborated in 2003’s Lost in Translation, for which Murray received his first Academy Award nomination, and in On the Rocks, Murray is clearly back to his best. Murray plays Felix Keane, the father of Rashida Jones’s character Laura Keane. When Laura experiences some strain in her marriage, suspecting her husband of cheating, she taps Felix for help. Laura clearly gets more than she bargained for, as Felix immediately inserts himself way too far into Laura’s life. The key to Murray’s brilliance in On the Rocks is how Felix interferes with Laura’s personal life in an incredibly charismatic way. This relationship between father and daughter is clearly dynamic, and you cannot help but love Felix, despite all his flaws. And for me, that was all Bill Murray. He’s perfect in this role, almost as if he was made to play the part. And for that, I really wish he could have been rewarded with a second Oscar nomination.
Who Could Win: Sacha Baron Cohen
Sacha Baron Cohen is currently getting odds of +900 to render an upset in this category, better than any of the other three underdog nominees. However, I don’t anticipate a surprise for Best Supporting Actor. the Academy throws us a curveball here, look for Pesci to be the only other nominee with a chance.
Who Should Win: Daniel Kaluuya
This year, for me, who should win isn’t even a question. There were some really great performances worthy of Oscar nominations…and then there was Daniel Kaluuya—a class of his own!
Who Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya
Not only is Daniel Kaluuya currently getting -2000 odds from the bookmakers, but he’s already secured every single win at the major pre-Oscars ceremonies, including the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and British Academy Film Awards. This is Kaluuya’s second Oscar nomination following his breakout role in 2017’s Get Out, and for his remarkable turn as Chairman Fred Hampton, he will absolutely be heading home with his first Academy Award next Sunday.