Supporting Actor, along with supporting Actress can be a strange award. It is often given to the foil of the A-lister and handsome hero, sometimes given to someone who pops in and out of the film in a minor but memorable role, at other times given seemingly at random to one of a large ensemble cast. There seems to be a sex imbalance between the two awards and it is more likely for a man with a smaller role to win that a woman with a similarly small role. In the early years this could be a good chance for the bad guy to win, or for the side-kick to gain some glory. In the modern era there is less disparity between Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor and these boundaries appear to have been blurred. Many times an old hand, sometimes a previous Best Actor has come out of the wilderness and regained success and popularity due to this award. As I’ve mentioned before I am a big fan of horror movies, of action, sci-fi, and comedies. In many horror movies the supporting actor is the bad guy, or the boyfriend of the heroine- the bad guy usually has time and freedom to do what they want and make a huge impact, while the boyfriend is simply there to make us love the heroine more. With comedies there is the opportunity for an actor to have great fun with their role and make a lasting impact on the viewer if not the plot.
Now follows my picks for Best Supporting Actor throughout the years. More interesting (for me) will be how many bad guys, monsters, and extreme bit players I loved will get selected.
Official Nominations: Gig Young. Rupert Crosse. Elliot Gould. Jack Nicholson. Anthony Quayle.
Gig Young already had almost thirty years of performances and two Oscar nominations before he picked up the win for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They. It’s a suitably reptilian performance, a Cowell before there wasa Cowell,as he eggs on competitors for his own amusement becoming the viewer’s focal point for rage, becoming more venomous with each minute. Rupert Crosse was primarily a TV actor before landing the role in The Reivers, and becoming the first African American to be nominated in this category. It’s a fine performance but your focus is always drawn to McQueen so it feels like a strange nomination. Gould picks up a nomination for his straight-laced portrayal and landed him on the map – it would almost become his signature role as he would continue to tow the line between comedy and drama with a straight face. Jack Nicholson makes an impact in Easy Rider, firmly announcing himself to the world in a typically madcap way. For the next few years Nicholson would play straighter characters before eventually going ‘full Nicholson’, and here he manages to shows a little of both sides. He is a minor character and doesn’t have a huge amount of screen time, but uses that time to perfection. Finally, it’s Anne Of The Thousand Days again and Anthony Quayle. It’s… very stagey, Quayle is good at authority but not so good at authority slipping away. It’s fine, just not something I would ever pick.
My Winner: Gig Young.
My Nominations: Gig Young. Jack Nicholson. Noel Coward. Gregory Peck. Robert Duvall. James Cann. Robert Ryan. Richard Thomas.
Only two from the official list make it over to mine. My list sees existing and future legends competing for the crown, with Noel Coward bringing the laughs in The Italian Job. Many would say that Peck’s role in Marooned was as a lead – he was certainly the big name, but I find it more of an ensemble piece so for the sake of argument he’s being included. It’s a tense movie and Peck is his usual commanding self, and is conflicted and at odds with various characters throughout the movie. It’s a good performance and a movie no-one really remembers. Robert Duvall gets a nomination for The Rain People, already a star thanks to a number of previous big hits, but happy to appear in this seemingly minor indie. Again it isn’t a huge role but he garners enough empathy from the viewer and Natalie that he becomes another integral part.
Robert Ryan was notable as Captain Nemo in 1969, but he gets the nomination for his performance as Deke in The Wild Bunch, the Grim Repair stalking the central gang. We see him in flashback and in the present, and though ostensibly the villain we know that his revenge is justified given the circumstances. Ryan is just as cunning as the men he is chasing down and though it seems he is always one point behind he is in fact one step ahead. My final pick is for Richard Thomas, only 18 but already a veteran, very good as the bronzed, snobbish teen who gets his kicks through punishing and humiliating others – a little against type. Burns gets the most admiration in the film, but Thomas is very strong too.
My Winner: Gig Young
Let us know in the comments who is your pick as the Best Supporting Actor of 1969!
Official Nominations: Jack Albertson. Seymour Cassel. Daniel Massey. Jack Wilde. Gene Wilder.
A lot of unusual choices for performances this year, with Jack Albertson doing nothing out of the ordinary in the merely ordinary The Subject Was Roses. In a bleaker look at the falling apart of family and American values, Faces has a number of nominated performers including Seymour Cassel but none of them truly stand out for me while Daniel Massey camps it up memorably as Noel Coward in Star! Jack Wilde does an okay job as The Artful Dodger, and while those accents just grate on me his portrayal is the one I know best. Finally,Gene Wilder announced himself to the world in sterling form in The Producers.
My Winner: Gene Wilder.
My Nominations:Gene Wilder. Jack Wilde. Robert Vaughn. Robert Helpmann. Karl Hardman. Henry Fonda.
Only Wilde and Wilder make it to my list, with four overlooked performances added. Karl Hardman is the opposing force to Duane Jones’s Ben in Night Of The Living Dead – creating one of the most punchable people in horror history yet an utterly human and understandable character, all the more surprising given Hardman was a Producer not an actor. Robert Helpmann likewise crafted an iconic figure in the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitt Bang Bang, while Robert Vaughn is the unlikable politician Chalmers Bullitt. Finally, Henry Fonda is even more unlikable and cast against type brilliantly as the devious killer Frank in Once Upon A Time In The West.
My Winner: Gene Wilder
Who is your pick for the Best Supporting Actor of 1968? Let us know in the comments!
Official Nominations: George Kennedy. John Cassavetes. Gene Hackman. Cecil Kellaway. Michael J Pollard.
George Kennedy was the surprise winner this year for his memorable turn as the big, brazen friend to Paul Newman’s Luke, against type for his usual bad guy roles. John Cassavetes could almost have been awarded a nomination for the Best Lead Actor category but due to the ensemble nature of The Dirty Dozen he fits into this category better – standing out in the large cast as one of the most memorable characters. Gene Hackman made his first significant impact this year with Bonnie And Clyde, and although he plays second fiddle to Beatty and Dunaway it is clear he has star power of his own. Kellaway feels like a strange choice as he doesn’t have a major role or a huge amount of screen time in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, but is an affable presence who supports the young lovers unexpectedly. Finally, Michael J Pollard gives Bonnie And Clyde another nomination, giving a respectable performance as the unlikeliest member of the gun-totin’ clan.
My Winner: John Cassavetes.
My Nominations: George Kennedy. John Cassavetes. Alan Arkin. Telly Savalas. Peter Sellers.
Kennedy and Cassavetes make it over to my list and join Alan Arkin for his sinister, over the top performance in Wait Until Dark. Speaking of over the top performances, Telly Savalas turns on the crazy in The Dirty Dozen as the most ill-advised choice of ally to go on a suicide mission. Finally, Peter Sellers does as well as he can in the original Casino Royale, winning most of the laughs that the film has.
My Winner: John Cassavetes.
Who do you think deserved the Best Supporting Actor award for 1967? Let us know in the comment!
Official Nominations: Walter Matthau. Mako. James Mason. George Segal. Robert Shaw.
This years nominations don’t hold many surprises, although the shock win of Walter Matthau for The Fortune Cookie may have raised a few eyebrows due it it being light fare. In his first collaboration with Jack Lemmon, Matthau is memorable as the slimy, money-grabbing Whiplash Willie. In a film (The Sand Pebbles) which attempts to portray the racism of the time and situation, Mako makes for a sympathetic and always likable character who befriends some of the US sailors at the cost of creating enemies elsewhere. Mason is, as always, dependable in a role (Georgy Girl) which required him to give his standard cold demeanor shtick and later become more obviously affectionate, while George Segal undergoes similar changes as Nick in Who’s Afraid Fo Virginia Woolf? Robert Shaw picks up the final nomination as Henry VIII in A Man For All Seasons in one of the definitive performances of the big chicken-thigh eater.
My Winner: Mako
My Nominations: Mako. Robert Shaw. Lee Van Cleef. Eli Wallach.
Mako and Robert Shaw make it over to my nominations, and I add to that couple two men who went toe to toe with The Man With No Name in The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. Lee Van Cleef, a man who looks like a veteran of the Wild West through and through, gives a worn, sinister performance as Angel Eyes. The bad guy of the piece, Van Cleef tones down much of the charm which made previous villians so memorable, and accentuated the ruthless, murderous side. My win though goes to Wallach whose performance is largely grounded in comedy, but manages to make the audience both despise him and feel pathos. In a film where most of the performances are marked more by the silence and the internalised, Wallach’s Tuco provides the outlet for the emotion and absurdity of the events.
My Winner: Eli Wallach
Who is your pick for the best Supporting Actor of 1966? Let us know in the comments section!
Official Nominations: Martin Balsam. Frank Finlay. Tom Courtenay. Michael Dunn. Ian Bannen
Another British invasion this year, with 3 of the 5 nominees hailing from GB. Martin Balsam picked up his only Oscar win this year for his straight-laced portrayal of a conformist clashing with his non-conformist brother. For an actor who appeared in some of the biggest and best films of the 50s, 60s, and 70s (from On The Waterfront to Psycho to Breakfast At Tiffany’s to All The President’s Men) it is interesting that his win came in a film which so few have seen nowadays. Ian Bannen gets a nomination for his performance as Ratbags in Flight Of The Phoebnix, one of a series of performances as the angry Scot. Tom Courtenay was edged out, surprising some thanks to a strong performance as Antipov, but the scope of Doctor Zhivago sent the actor largely back to a stage career. Michael Dunn got his big break away from television in Ship Of Fools which opened the door for a host of actors with dwarfism. Frank Finlay rounded off the list as Iago in Othello, perhaps his most successful role in a career full of action packed films, horror turns, and honest dramatic portrayals.
My Winner: Martin Balsam
My Nominations: Edward G Robinson. Lee Van Cleef. Yul Brynner. Martin Balsam
Not the greatest year for me, with three new choices making my list. Robinson gives his best performance in years and provides the best moments in The Cincincatti Kid while Lee Van Cleef replaces Charles Bronson in For A Few Dollars More bringing a sneering, cynical performance to the military man in search of bounty. Brynner is brilliant in the rarely seen Morituri, starring as a Nazi Captain torn between his sympathetic nature, furthering his career, and preventing his second in command from atrocities.
My Winner: Edward G. Robinson
Let us know in the comments below who is your pick for the Best Supporting Actor of 1965!
Actual Nominations: Peter Ustinov. John Gielgud. Stanley Holloway. Edmund O’Brien. Lee Tracy.
Peter Ustinov picked up the official win for his role as a hustler in Topkapi, though some would say his role should have qualified for the Best Actor award. Also nominated was John Gielgud as King Louis XVII in Becket , his first nomination, Stanley Holloway as Eliza’s crafty father in My Fair Lady, Edmund O’Brien for political thriller Seven Days In Many and Lee Tracy for the role he played on stage in The Best Man.
My Winner: Peter Ustinov
My Nominations: Geroge C Scott. James Booth. Michael Caine. Gian Maria Volonte.
I’ve selected four different actors for my nominations, including at least one major snub. George C Scott missed out on an official nomination for Dr Strangelove, his manic performance foreshadowing Patton by 6 years. Even though Kubrick suggested Scott played practice takes in a more ridiculous fashion (and then used those takes in the final film) it was Scott’s leering, lurching style which made the mad General character a cliche in years to come. James Booth and Michael Caine get nods for Zulu, truly an ensemble film where no one character can be said to be the lead; they play vastly different characters, an officer and a scoundral, but both soldiers who stand together for survival. Gian Maria Volonte gets my final choice as the villianous Ramon in A Fistfull Of Dollars.
My Winner: George C Scott
Have I missed your favourite Supporting Actor of 1964? Let us know in the comments!
Official Nominations: Melvyn Douglas. Hugh Griffith. John Huston. Bobby Darin. Nick Adams.
1963’s official nominations aren’t very exciting for me and I don’t feel that any of the choices really stand out as Oscar worthy. Eventual winner Melvyn Douglas gets my vote too, although I feel a bit dirty picking Hud‘s dad as a winner and not Hud himself. Hugh Griffith adequately plays a scheming squire, John Huston adequately plays a scheming Cardinal, Bobby Darin adequately plays a Corporal, while, surprise surprise, Nick Adams adequately plays a murder suspect. It’s not very exciting.
My Winner: Melvyn Douglas.
My Nominations: James Garner. Donald Pleasence. Robert Shaw. Gary Raymond. David McCallum. James Coburn. Hannes Messemer. Charles Bronson.
Again, none of my picks are part of the official list and most of mine come from The Great Escape. Robert Shaw goes down in history as one of the great Bond villians, not because he is an outlandish character or because of some cartoonish device, but because he is basically another version of Bond- charming, cold, calculating, and will stop at nothing to get the job done. Gary Raymond does a similar job in a very different film as Acastus in Jason And The Argonauts. He is the villianous counterpart to Jason but like Jason is toyed with and largely controlled by forces beyond his control. My remaining picks fill up The Great Escape cast. James Garner is the more productive American, although like Steve McQueen, it seems at first that everything he does is for himself. He is able to charm the enemy in the jaws of death and it is his own wit and ingenuity which saves many lives, including his own. Coburn and McCallum give memorable performances with both men again using their wiles to survive from day to day and help with the escape plans, Bronsan is the powerful but reluctant tunnel king. Not to leave the bad guys out, Messemer is both approachable and wicked, and although he is the figure of hate in the film we get the sense that he is following orders which he wishes he didn’t have to, not that that could ever absolve him of his guilt. My win though goes to Donald Pleasence who for much of the film doesn’t seem to give anything productive to the troops other than teaching them bird calls. It is his downtrodden nature and the sympathy he generates in us for him in his slight movements and old world naivety which gives him my vote.