As is often the case, this is a super-crowded category this year, but also one that has a pretty obvious pack in the lead. There were a lot of interesting actors I needed to leave off like Alan Arkin, Jason Clarke, Tom Hardy, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ben Wishaw but I am pretty happy with the final shortlist I’ve come up with.
- Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained: There are an abundance of supporting male actors in Django Unchained and many people felt like Leonardo DiCaprio was the standout, but I think the Academy got it right when they picked Christoph Waltz as the standout. One could argue that the performance is just an evolution of Waltz’ mannerisms in Inglourious Basterds, but he brings a lighter touch here and his line deliveries are the backbone of the film’s comedy.
- Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln: Tommy Lee Jones is of course a master at playing grumpy old men, and he turns the radical abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens into a man who’s grumpy for all the right reasons. In addition to being a good imitation of the real man, Jones does a great job of portraying how conflicted Stevens is in his compromises and at simply commanding the room whenever he’s onscreen.
- Phillip Seymour Hoffman – The Master: When you watch The Master you forget that Phillip Seymore Hoffman has worked with Paul Thomas Anderson four times before simply because what he’s asked to do here goes above and beyond the relatively one-note bit parts that he’s previously played in movies like Boogie Nights. Here Hoffman manages to give his L. Ron Hubbard surrogate just the right mix of intellectual, guru, and dork.
- Clark Peters – Red Hook Summers: Alright, if you put a gun to my head there probably are a couple of supporting performances that I would have put ahead of this, but they’re getting plenty of kudos elsewhere and I wanted to bring a little more attention to this one. Peters (who you might recognize as Lester on The Wire and Big Chief on Treme) plays a Baptists preacher with a hidden past in this flawed but interesting Spike Lee film and he does a lot to bring nuance to a character that could easily be a caricature in the wrong hands.
- Robert De Niro – The Silver Linings Playbook: Anyone who has a father around Robert De Niro’s age can probably relate to what the storied actor is able to pull off in this role in The Silver Lining’s Playbook. Many have made the accusation that De Niro has gotten more attention than he deserves for this role simply because he “does more than just show up” but I think those cynical accusations are being made by people who aren’t seeing a lot of the nuances that De Niro does bring to his work in the film.