Carrying on from last week’s ‘Top Ten Lead Actor Performances’, I’ll be posting my ‘Top Ten Supporting Actor Performances’ today.
Making this list was significantly harder than narrowing down my Top Ten Lead Actor Performances. Over the years this has become my favorite of the acting categories, and I’ve grown to absolutely LOVE many supporting men. Trying to etch out the perfect top ten was hard, and to be honest I saw a lot of names spill over from the Lead Actor side as well. In fact, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Russell Crowe, Marlon Brando, Orson Welles and Anthony Hopkins were all thought of for a spot, but only two of them actually made my top ten (and not the two you may be thinking). Two names that popped up that were very close to making the top ten were Jude Law (for ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’) and Dirk Bogarde (for ‘Darling’). In fact, the only reason I hesitated with Bogarde, who is exceptional in ‘Darling’, was because I’m still not sure what category I’d consider him. I really need to rewatch the film (I haven’t seen it in about three years), but I believe I had him in my Lead category for a while.
I also wanted to list George C. Scott for something (he was so good in everything) and Eli Wallack’s performance in ‘The Misfits’ is still one of my favorite things ever, but there was only room for ten (I should extend this to twenty sometime).
A shocking inclusion on this list is a performance that actually came out of 2011. I personally tried to stay away from performances that came from this current decade since they haven’t, in my eyes, had enough time to really settle into that territory of ‘classic’ or ‘masterclass’ and yet there was one performance that has rattled me so much that I couldn’t leave it off (in fact, it ranks rather high).
Well, with that said and done, here is my top ten:
I’ve been a fan of Sarsgaard since his staggering performance in ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, but it was his string of supporting roles in the early aughts that really cemented him as one of his generations greatest. Starting with ‘Shattered Glass’ and ending with ‘Jarhead’, Sarsgaard stretched himself and defined himself as a truly talented actor with underappreciated range (why is he constantly typecast as the jerk when he can do SO MUCH MORE?). My favorite of his roles was in ‘Jarhead’, and the reason for that was the way he so effortlessly builds this character while lingering in the background. He is never the focus, he is never jumping out at you and begging for attention, and then he snaps. That tower scene is monumentally impactful because it takes everything that Sarsgaard has been doing in the background and thrusts it forward to devastating effect. He basically sums up the whole meaning of the film itself in that very moment and gives me chills just thinking about it. Such a powerful and haunting portrayal of a man slowing losing every part of himself he found special.
This was an unexpected surprise for me, for when I watched ‘California Suite’ I was mainly alert to the praise for Maggie Smith, and honestly I was forcing myself to wait for her segment with Caine since the rest of the film was quite terrible. But then they came, both of them like a beacon of glorious light, and I found myself utterly mesmerized by the pair of them. Perfect compliments to each other, they were both exceptional and yet it was possibly Caine who I found all the more endearing. The husband with a secret, hiding in the shadow of his famous wife and cowering to her every demand out of respect and unwavering devotion, Caine builds such a tragic character who balances out so many shades of his character and makes them all mesh beautifully. He is endearing, lovable, mysterious, guarded, aching, confused, entitled and heartbreaking, and in every one of those moments he is honest and pure.
There are few performances that capture the essence of ‘classic’ quite like Orson Welles performance in ‘The Third Man’. Just the image alone of his creepy stair cast out from behind the shadows elicits such a reaction from people. You instantly recognize the face, the film and that lingering performance. The fact that he doesn’t show up until the final act and basically walks away with the whole film is further proof that it deserves to be on this list (and every list for that matter). Welles was one of the greats for sure, not only for his tremendous acting talent but his overall grasp of cinema and the lengths he went to make it something special. He defines villainy here, taking a stock character and making him sing with a true sense of charisma, calm and effortless conveyance. He’s just smooth, a smooth operator, and he becomes simply unforgettable because of it.
Evil has a face, and that face belongs to Ralph Fiennes. His portrayal of Nazi evil is so ingrained in the history of cinema at this point that his face is almost synonymous with the term evil. He can make me shiver. The brilliance in this performance is that he never once stoops to caricature hysterics and he never once tries to humanize the evil, as can be the case for actors searching for relevance in a role. I’m not against an actor fleshing out the core of a monster, but sometimes a more impactful message can be sent from stating the cold, hard facts. Fiennes locks onto the audience and sentences them to death with his icicle stare, proving to be the definition of evil (there’s that word again). This is such a technically ‘correct’ performance (not a hair out of place so-to-speak) and yet Fiennes never loses that spark that draws our eyes inward, to the soul of this living breathing creature.
Jack Nicholson is a legend, without a doubt. The man has three Oscars and has a reputation a mile long, but for me it will always be this early glimpse at his greatness that stands atop the pack so-to-speak. Proving his comedic chops before he created an identifiable brand, Nicholson goes for the gut and steals the whole show in this uproarious performance that gets me laughing every time. Not a second of screen time is wasted and not a single joke or gesture fails to land. From that squirrely voice to his wobbly accent to his detailed mannerisms and annunciations, Nicholson is on top of it 100%. The best part is, he’s so quotable, giving the audience so much to remember despite being a small player in the scope of the film.
I tried hard to stray away from including the very recent, and yet it was impossible to ignore Nilssen’s performance mainly because I would rank him so high. If he were to have landed in the lower half of this Top Ten, I could have justified leaving him off until the film and his performance had aged enough, but really, there was no denying the power of presence and the lasting impact his performance has had on me. I still think about it and am still so moved by every ounce of depth he brought to it. Taking a young man lost in his own discipline and etching away at the robotic ‘self-preservation’ to reveal a truly haunted and broken soul was something extraordinary to witness, and Nilssen’s underlining of each progressive moment with this inner voice was so special. You could watch the confliction and the eventual gratification that came from his very blossoming, and it remains a complete masterclass performance. He left me speechless; utterly speechless.
Where Fiennes created an outright fearful villain, Malmsjo is a tad slyer in his development of character and gives the audience a little more flesh to chew on. He is terrifying, for sure, but the way that he crafts that terror is shocking to the core. With subtle movements and stern facial expressions, Malmsjo creates a fabric of mystery that moves swiftly across the screen and latches onto the viewer with a soft ferocity, taking us down for the count without us ever truly being aware of it. The two-faced pursuer is not something new, and it’s not like it hasn’t been embellished and exploited man times before, but there is something so rich about the way that Malmsjo creates such a towering image of shaded hostility and disclosed aggression that one cannot shake the feeling he leaves long after he’s left the screen.
Pure entertainment at its very best, and certainly unforgettable, Joel Grey, and really ‘Cabaret’ as a whole, is beyond perfection. I know that most look for those deeper layers of emoting when judging acting, but sometimes it is important to just lay back and let it all flow organically. Grey never tries too hard here. He sings and dances and prances and sucks you in to each number with precision and awe and while he does nothing else (his sole purpose in the film is to perform the next number) he is beyond captivating. A triple threat (he can act, he can sing, he can dance) and the true spirit of the film, Grey anchors these musical numbers with enough understanding to help narrate the film, capturing the emotional and historical relevance to both sides of the tracks so-to-speak and delivering a breathtaking performance that stands the tests of time.
Historically, this category loves the villain. Apparently, so do I (for Huston would be the fourth included in this list of ten) but really, what better way is there for an actor to exercise his chops than by taking the stock supporting role of villain and injecting a new sense of life and backstory to it? Huston’s towering performance in ‘Chinatown’ (who the hell wasn’t he Oscar nominated for this, when Oscar loved the movie so much?) is possibly the very best in this department. First off, I’m probably spoiling quite a bit by labeling him a villain, since his true colors are not manifest until the shocking conclusion to the film, and yet who hasn’t seen ‘Chinatown’ by now? What I love so much about this portrayal is that it reeks, and I say that with all due respect. There is just so much passion here, and Huston completely overtakes the film itself. His eyes possess so much knowing, and they mislead and distract and deceive with an ease that is unforgettable. The way he consumes that epic revelation is breathtaking in its sheer weight. Utter brilliance indeed!
I could gush for hours about this performance, and much like my adoration of Salvatori in ‘Rocco and His Brothers’, the reason for this love is because of the overall completeness of this performance. Bjornstrand is witty, charming, genuine, engaging, stern, desperate, depressed, concerned, focused, heroic, dashing and even a bit scary. He covers all of the bases with effortless balance and not a single ounce of awkwardness. This is possibly the most ‘complete’ supporting performance ever recorded on film, and as you can tell it is my personal favorite. While he is never the focal point of the film, he is constantly there, providing a point of reference for the audience and at the end of the day it is his presence and character development that is most remembered.
So that's it for today. We'll be moving on to the Actresses next week. GOD, this is getting difficult!