2007: Best Supporting Actor

1. Javier Bardim – NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Yep, I’m picking him too. I wish there was some good competition this year, but nobody else comes close to the force of evil that is Bardim’s killer on a mission. The interesting thing here is Bardim doesn’t just personify the ultimate badass, he’s a mythic presence…a Boogeyman. But, aside from the haircut, there’s nothing about him that sticks out. You can’t do an impression and expect people do get what you’re doing. He just IS, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

2. Ben Foster – ALPHA DOG
I’ve never cared for Ben Foster, but I like characters who live a few steps beyond reason so this was the perfect part for Foster to win me over. His character starts out with loose screws and crossed wires, but after his brother is kidnapped, all bets are off. The performance isn’t as smoothly polished as the next two pros on my list, but the rawness makes him all the more electric. Foster played a similar emotional wreck in 3:10 TO YUMA, but this was by far the better performance of the two.

3. Russell Crowe – AMERICAN GANGSTER
We’ve seen these kinds of cops before, where the need to crack the big case balances the shamble of a personal life. But you’ve never seen the part played by Crowe, and Pacino is possibly the only actor who’s ever done it better. I love how, as the case goes on, Crowe’s character doesn’t even try to make his personal life amount to something as well. He just gives up, and his determination to catch Denzel’s kingpin BECOMES his personal life. There’s a realization moment in a courtroom that just floored me, and after that you see Crowe become twice as good, twice as driven as before. In his big scene with Denzel, Washington shouts and points and works himself up. Crowe just sits back and confidently steals the scene.

4. John Carroll Lynch – ZODIAC
Lynch plays Zodiac suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, and while he has very little screen time, he completely dominates the scenes he’s in. The standout is his questioning, which is a master class in saying so much more than the dialogue. His shifts in tone and body posture convey so much. He feels that he’s under the microscope and he just might be enjoying it…but he’ll never tell. His final moment is one of the most memorable and haunting of the year. I’m still wondering if I’ve deciphered what he’s doing. Like the entire film, it’s a mystery I’ll never completely solve.

5. Nick Frost – HOT FUZZ
In a buddy cop movie there’s your tough guy, and then there’s his less ambitious partner. Nick Frost seems about as likable a bloke as you’d ever meet, and he’s the perfect foil. He’s given great dialogue, but it’s the little extras that you just feel HE brought to the part that make it so special. The way he sprays deodorant in one straight-line blast. The way he acts along with Keanu in POINT BREAK. He also gets great emotional mileage when he learns the truth about what’s going on, but comes back in the end for the best line delivery of the word “Motherf**ker” ever spoken by a Brit.

6. Justin Timberlake – ALPHA DOG
I’ve mentioned ALPHA DOG a few times, and I should stress that I was very surprised by how good I think it is. Nothing was more surprising than the performance by Justin Timberlake (although Ben Foster comes close). Timberlake carries the film’s moral weight and at first he just plays the cool friend, easy enough. But as things go bad, J.T. becomes more conflicted. I like how you can see Timberlake trying to come with a solution as things become bleaker. He’s the guy who realizes that if he doesn’t stop this train, a lot of people will get hurt. The anguish feels very real.

7. Robert Downey Jr. – ZODIAC
Downey’s been on a real comeback recently. This doesn’t have the live wire energy of his work in KISS KISS, BANG BANG, but it shows how he can effectively dial down the manic to suit the nature of the piece. There’s a real jackrabbit quality to Downey’s work. He draws from his past to create characters who are super-intelligent to the point of professional and personal destruction, yet they never feel like Downey doing his shtick. A couple of more roles like this and he could become one of the very best actors we have.

8. Kurt Russell – DEATH PROOF
Kurt’s the kind of guy you feel you could sit back and have a beer with, and I loved that he kept that friendly everyman attitude while playing psycho killer Stuntman Mike. Out of touch with the times (and reality), Russell strikes such a nice balance between earnest and scary that he can give you the creeps while saying nothing but kind words. Even before he gets his, there’s a real emotional hurt. You feel sorry for him as he tries to talk a woman into giving him a dance.

9. Armin Mueller-Stahl – EASTERN PROMISES
I was watching EASTERN PROMISES for Cronenberg and Viggo, but it was Mueller-Stahl who impressed me the most. He was very convincing as both a kindly old man and the leader of a powerful group. Usually, it’s meant to be surprising when a sweet person is revealed to be a monster, but Mueller-Stahl played this patriarch in so you understand his soft demeanor is exactly how he approaches the rotten things he does.

10. Mark Ruffalo – ZODIAC
Since I’ve awarded ZODIAC in nearly every category, including 3 mentions here, I should probably explain why it didn’t make my Top 25. This could be a post unto itself, but the short answer is Jake Gyllenhaal. Think of the movie as a doughnut…Jake is the hole. An empty center surrounded by greatness. The film unfortunately focuses more and more on Gyllenhaal’s character as it goes on, and he just isn’t up to the level of everyone else.
But enough with the negative. Let’s talk about how good Mark Ruffalo is. He plays celebrity detective David Toschi who loses his credibility and career trying to catch the Zodiac Killer. Unlike Spacey’s more flashy celebrity detective in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, Toschi is a humble man who finds the reward in a job well done. He knows he’s great at his job, and the frustration just eats away at him. It all builds to a scene where he watches Dirty Harry catch the fictional version of his killer. Great moment.


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