My own final ballot, the six best performances by a supporting actor in 2018. Many of them much-ballyhooed, many of them underrated amid the usual fracas of myopic Oscar fever, all of them worthy of recognition and supreme acknowledgement. If you want more read my take on supporting actresses this year here.
6. Adam Driver – BLACKKKLANSMAN
The perfect flip-side to John David Washington in Spike Lee’s buddy cop duo, Driver is low-key wonderful as Flip Zimmerman, the white-Jewish officer who joined up with Ron Stallworth in the 1970’s to take down their friendly neighborhood KKK terrorists. He’s so good at playing the internal combustion of a Jewish man forced to play it cool around anti-Semites and racists while undercover. One scene in particular has Driver and John David in a quiet heart-to-heart over Stallworth’s KKK membership card. Here we finally see Flip come to terms with the meaning of his upbringing. He wasn’t raised Jewish, he was just another white kid celebrating Christmas. He was passing. And just like that Driver is in the driver’s seat of a poignant and subtle performance.
5. Aaron Taylor-Johnson – OUTLAW KING
A spectacularly quirky and showy performance, but one so enjoyable I couldn’t ignore it. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is the zest of life in a film that is occasionally pedestrian in following the path laid by previous medieval epics. It’s the little things that count, like stretching before and after battle or maintaining that glint in his eye, the inkling of something crazier than we know. Which is saying something given how crazy this character behaves. He’s a man on a mission to clear his family’s name and get it back for himself and forever. Johnson has one of the greater line deliveries of the year in a climactic battle scene, as he hacks away at an enemy combatant’s rival sword he screams “what’s my FOOKIN’ NAME?”
4. Bryan Tyree Henry – IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
In the span of ten minutes Bryan Tyree Henry makes a big impression, adding humor and gravitas to Barry Jenkins’ second great film, stealing every scene, and making one tabletop conversation with Fonny (Stephan James) a whopper of thematic weight and eerie foreboding. On the heels of Widows and White Boy Rick, Henry’s had a banner year and breakout moment all rolled into one, going from complete unknown to respected actor in the blink of an eye. Only great actors can pull off such a feat and his work in Beale Street proves he’s here to stay. Shrouded in a cloud of smoke, his late-film monologue is one for the ages, clearly outlining with eloquence the magnitude of the white man’s hatred.
3. Alex Wolff – HEREDITARY
Wolff is Hereditary‘s secret weapon. Everyone comes for Toni Collette, but they stay for this young kid’s brilliant performance as the troubled son of a family beset by tragedy. From his all-too-real silence in the face of an unspeakable accident to his unnerving fight with Mom at the dinner table, Wolff matches the more experienced actress moment for moment, blow for blow. His restraint in playing grief as quiet and repressed, his innate ability to act with only his own two eyes, his willingness to dislocate his own jaw for the love of the game, these are all reason enough to shower Wolff with accolades. But above all, his performance stands out for the same reason the role itself is a barn-burner: he’s more vulnerable than we’re used to witnessing in film, particularly in horror films, and Wolff takes risk after risk in going there.
2. Josh Hamilton – EIGHTH GRADE
Relative unknown Hamilton gives one of the best performances of the year as the best movie Dad of the year in Bo Burnham’s funny, moving, horrifying Eighth Grade. Watching him reach out to his newly minted teenager at the dinner table is endearing, heartbreaking stuff. He’s that adorkable father always hoping, trying to better know this child who is rapidly changing before his eyes. He sees in her the wonderful, caring, empathetic person she’s become, even if she doesn’t know it or fully recognize it yet. She’s his hero every day she wakes up and takes on the world with all its foibles and confusing obstacles. Whether on the page or not, it’s all on Josh Hamilton’s face as he watches her grow. He’s never terse or judgmental, he’s only the loving father he knows she must have during such a difficult time. This character actor makes it his own, bringing subtext to life.
1. Sam Elliott – A STAR IS BORN
There’s an adage that three great scenes makes a great movie. I’m here to say the same applies to great performances. In Bradley Cooper’s romantic drama, ol’ cowboy Sam Elliot has three great scenes that certify him as the best supporting actor of the year. The first scene has him taking the brunt of his surly brother’s rage upon finding out what he did with their father’s old farm. It’s the pained expression of an older brother taken aback by how far his younger sibling has fallen. The second scene we all know by now by movie or meme, tears flooding from the bowels of shared history when Cooper’s Jackson Maine reveals that Bobby (Elliott), not their father, was his idol over the years. And the third scene oughta become a meme in its own right, a now famous monologue about the twelve notes of music. Elliott’s gravelly voice has been a signature of his since who knows when, and it serves him well as Jackson Maine’s true father in A Star is Born.