For the love of entertainment
Unlike the Best Supporting Actress winners for the same decade, here we have some quality contenders vying for the title. In the end, though, it all comes down to the bad guys.
Once again: in attempting to determine the best of the best when it comes to performances, I must limit myself to considering the men who took home an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. So it doesn’t matter if you think Jake Gyllenhaal was robbed–we’ll have that debate another day.
Morgan Freeman is a terrific actor, but let’s be real: this was more of a career achievement award than anything else. If you don’t want to call it a career achievement award, think of it as a make-good for not giving Morgan Freeman an Oscar for his work in The Shawshank Redemption. But no matter how you slice it, his performance here just wasn’t Oscar-worthy. Which of course means there’s nowhere to put it but down here.
Should have won in 2004: Thomas Haden Church and Alan Alda had buzz that year for their performances as, respectively, a ne’er-do-well friend in Sideways and an aggressive senator in The Aviator. In the end, I would have given it to Clive Owen’s cuckolded doctor in Closer instead. Now there’s a performance that would have ranked in this list.
To be fair, Jim Broadbent was very sweet and heartfelt as the husband watching his wife lose her mind to Alzheimer’s in Iris. But it’s another performance that just isn’t Oscar-worthy at the end of the day. I put him ahead of Morgan Freeman because, well, there’s kind of more acting involved here. Not to make light of Freeman, but he was kind of just being himself in Million Dollar Baby. Jim Broadbent had more of a transformation in taking on this role, if that makes any sense.
Which is still no excuse for stealing Ian McKellan’s Oscar. For shame, Jim Broadbent, for shame. You have displeased Gandalf. Not only was McKellen’s performance in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings better, it has had a significantly higher pop cultural impact.
Should have won in 2001: Ian McKellan all the way.
While you could say that Alan Arkin’s endearing portrayal of the grumpy grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine steals the movie, it wouldn’t quite be enough in the end to lift him any higher than this. I would also point out that little Abigail Breslin ultimately stole the movie anyway. She also gave the movie its heart and soul. He’s basically the stereotypical guy who yells at kids to get off his lawn in movie form. Still, Arkin is commendable for giving a fusty old man something approaching a genuine heart (albeit a scabby one) in the first place, but all the movie really asks him to do is be cranky. In a less competitive field (say: Best Supporting Actress for this same decade), he’d be more of a player. As it is, this is where he belongs.
Should have won in 2006: Some argue that Eddie Murphy should have won for his role as James “Thunder” Early in Dreamgirls, but I’ve always been comfortable with the way this played out. Murphy was good, but Arkin was better. Although it is amusing that Murphy’s loss is blamed on his other movie role of 2006: Norbit–a movie now synonymous with an actor screwing up his Oscar chances by releasing an execrable performance in a lowest-common-denominator comedy. Not to mention the fact that he denied paternity of a baby that did, in fact, turn out to be his.
Even Clooney acknowledged that he won this Academy Award as a make-good for the fact that he wasn’t going to win Best Director that night for Good Night and Good Luck. So the Oscar wasn’t as much for the performance as it was a thanks for all the amazing work he did that year. Still, Clooney put a lot into the part of Bob Barnes, a CIA scapegoat caught up in high-stakes political games in Iran. He even wrecked his back filming a torture scene. So yes, this was a ‘job well done’ Oscar, but at least it doesn’t feel cheap. The performance is still relatively deserving.
Should have won in 2005: relatively deserving as Clooney may be, it should be noted that Jake Gyllenhaal was more deserving for his role as one half of the gay cowboy couple at the heart of Brokeback Mountain. Had the Academy been looking to reward an actual performance that year (as opposed to a director’s consolation prize), there would have been no denying Gyllenhaal over Clooney.
Benicio Del Toro was good in Traffic as a Mexican cop dealing with crime and corruption involving the drug trade along the border, but this is one of those cases where the performance completely faded from my memory over time. I only remembered thinking that his performance had been overpraised by far. A refresher courtesy of YouTube reveals a solid enough performance (certainly worthy of middling placement in the ranking), but points have to be taken away for being so forgettable.
Should have won in 2000: you know who I do remember? Albert Finney as Erin Brockovich‘s put-upon boss. Joaquin Phoenix as Gladiator‘s deeply vexed, treacherous Commodus. Heck, I even remember Willem Dafoe’s creepy Nosferatu from Shadow of the Vampire and Jeff Bridges’ sandwich-loving president in The Contender. So while Del Toro clearly did all right against the other winning performances from this decade, any one of his fellow nominees would probably have been more worthy.
OK, not Jeff Bridges. And I’d have gone with Albert Finney.
I’m more than a little surprised Robbins ended up so high on this list because I’ve never been truly enamored of his role in Mystic River. I always thought his performance got outshone by Sean Penn, Laura Linney, and Marcia Gay Harden in that movie. I mean, he was very good as Dave Boyle, one third of a couple of old friends who get reunited after one of their daughter’s is murdered. The three friends suffered an incredible trauma as kids, causing them to sort of drift apart as they grew up, and Boyle was the one who never quite managed to put his life back together. Well, he’s the one who managed it the least.
Like Morgan Freeman, it seems to me that Robbins’ Oscar was a significantly less obvious way of making up for the way Shawshank Redemption was ignored when it came out. To be fair, though, it’s very hard to point to one of the other nominees and say “that’s the one that got passed over.” Maybe I just like the performance more than I thought I did, because in writing this out I’m discovering more respect for what Robbins did in Mystic River. Who knew?
Should have won in 2003: I guess Robbins deserved it.
This is probably the performance people are least likely to remember on this list. The fact that no one really remembers the movie doesn’t help, I’m sure. But Chris Cooper was genuinely good as John Laroche, an eccentric orchid enthusiast willing to do anything to get his orchid fixes–as well as providing an unlikely romantic fixation for Meryl Streep’s journalist.
For those who don’t remember, Adaptation is a meta-adaptation of Susan Orlean’s nonfiction bestseller The Orchid Thief. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (who also gave the world Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) found himself struggling to adapt the book, so he wrote himself, a fictional brother, and Susan Orlean into the screenplay. A lot of the movie is oddball in the traditional Charlie Kaufman way (Kaufman even got his fictional brother a screenwriting credit), but Cooper and Streep deserve all the credit in the world for really making it sing. Their performances alone sold the source book’s themes of obsession and passion–ironically, the very themes that sent Kaufman off the deep end trying to get across in his script. So let that be a lesson to Hollywood–if you need someone to sell a difficult concept to an audience, hire Chris Cooper and Meryl Streep.
Should have won in 2002: Cooper earned the win.
You know how they say bad guys have more fun? Well, if nothing else we can say that bad guys owned the 2000’s. And it’s a testament to how good the top three is that Christoph Waltz ends up in third place for his deliriously villainous turn as depraved Nazi Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. Full disclosure: I absolutely hated this movie. With a violent passion. And not just because it willfully misspelled two–two–words in its title (which, it should be noted, is only two words long). But that’s a discussion for another day.
My feelings about the movie aside, there can be no denying Waltz for his brilliant performance. He was the frontrunner throughout award season and he deserved that title. Hans Landa is something of a cartoon, but that doesn’t count against him (a realistic villain would not have suited Quentin Tarantino’s aesthetic at all). Indeed, in a movie chock full of depraved actions and delirious twists, Waltz’s storyline is the only one that comes off as entertaining to my mind. When he isn’t onscreen you’re wondering when he’ll be back.
Should have won in 2009: Waltz earned every award he won, even if the movie was awful in my opinion.
Brrr. I’m scared to even talk about Javier Bardem’s haunting portrayal of violent, depraved, merciless hitman Anton Chigurh. With his dated clothing and ridiculous page-boy haircut, Chigurh should have seemed laughable. Instead, Bardem made him a figure of sociopathic menace no one would dare laugh at. Ever.
He doesn’t have the slithering evil of Hannibal Lector, but it’s no exaggeration to say that Bardem’s performance ranks with Anthony Hopkins’ as one of the all-time great villains of all time. And unlike the other two in the top three, Anton Chigurh is somewhat realistic, not cartoonish. OK, let’s stop talking about him. I’m not superstitious at all, but this guy is like the bogeyman. And you do not want the bogeyman showing up at your door.
Should have won in 2007: Bardem all the way. Would you want to tell him any less?
What could possibly top one of he greatest villains of all time? Another one of the greatest villains of all time, of course. If Heath Ledger’s incarnation of the Joker teamed up with Hans Landa and Anton Chigurh to form an evil version of the Avengers, they would be freakin’ unstoppable. Alhough I’m not sure Landa’s ego would work well with the Joker’s ego. Or that Chigurh would be much of a team player. But I digress.
Not only did Ledger reinvent the Joker, who had devolved into a cartoon of his former menacing self many years earlier, he set the bar for comic book villains to a ridiculously unattainable level. Marvel movies don’t even really try anymore–their movies are all about the heroes because it’s hard to make a good villain.
Ledger nailed everything from the appearance to the attitude to the tics. He made Joker a force to be reckoned with–Batman’s truest adversary, his polar opposite. Rarely has that kind of synergy felt so kinetic, so mesmerizing for an audience.
Should have won in 2008: Ledger, Ledger, Ledger.