There is plenty to grouse about with the Academy Award nominations, as there is every year. For 2023, in particular, the underrepresentation of films made by women and people of color is fairly egregious. I look through every single category, and there is at least one nomination I disagree with. That is, with one exception: Best Supporting Actor. Now, the five nominees do not perfectly align with who I would select for those slots, but that doesn't mean I outright reject any of these performances. Quite the opposite, I greatly admire all of them.
Four out of the five actors nominated this year have never been nominated for an Oscar before, and the other, Judd Hirsch, hasn't been nominated in over 40 years. But what I adore most about this group is that they are all true blue character actors. There isn't some movie star committing category fraud or taking a slightly smaller role because they know their fame will propel them to a nomination. These are all jobbing actors who have yet to receive the proper accolades they have deserved for a good long while. I am extremely excited they are getting their due now.
Let's dive into the category and see why each of these men deserves to be here … and highlight the one misstep they made.
Out of every category at the Oscars, I think the safest lock of the night is that Ke Huy Quan is going to win Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Daniels' "Everything Everywhere All at Once." I have to cop to the fact that I am not a huge fan of this movie. However, that has absolutely nothing to do with Quan's performance, which I find to be far and away the best thing about the film. Not only does he get to play a tremendous range over the course of the film, having to play several different versions from the multiverse of his character Waymond, but he is the one who imbues the film with its heart and purpose. Plus, he gets to be apart of the film's best set piece, which involves a fanny pack.
Quan has talked extensively about struggling as an Asian-American actor and quitting the profession for many years to work behind the scenes. Making a comeback with a role as juicy as this one basically never happens, and he seized the opportunity beautifully. While he wouldn't be my winner — I can't lie about how I feel — I could not be more thrilled for someone who has gone through so much in this business and was able to find the perfect pathway back to doing what he always wanted to do.
The 'Banshees' Boys
Martin McDonagh is now responsible for seven acting nominations over the course of his last two films. That is a rather remarkable number, and it speaks wonders about his ability to craft meaty, complicated characters that actors can really sink their teeth into. Best Supporting Actor sports two performances from McDonagh's latest "The Banshees of Inisherin." Amazingly, Brendan Gleeson just received his very first nomination at the age of 67. This is what I am talking about when I say that this is a list of character actors. Gleeson has been kicking around this business for nearly 40 years in projects of all sizes and genres, and finally, the industry has rallied behind him. This is some of his finest work, and out of the nominees, he would be my winner.
Also nominated from "The Banshees of Inisherin" is Barry Keoghan. He is only 30 years old but has already established himself as one of the premiere actors of his generation. I would have nominated him a couple of years ago for another Colin Farrell-led film, "The Killing of a Sacred Deer." In this film, however, he gets to play far more openhearted and vulnerable than he usually does, and he nails every single devastating emotional blow and every single joke perfectly. I hope this is the first in a long line of nominations for Keoghan.
There Are No Small Roles
The last time Judd Hirsch got nominated for an Oscar was all the way back in 1981 for "Ordinary People." It was so long ago that Brendan Gleeson hadn't even appeared on screen before. This is the kind of nomination I want to see more of at the Academy Awards. So often this award can go to co-leads who drop down to the supporting categories because it's easier to win if you have a big part. Hirsch is in "The Fabelmans" for just a couple of scenes for a few minutes of screen time, but the impact that performance and character makes on the film is incalculable.
This is a true supporting performance that shows that the size of the part should not matter in determining whether or not the performance was worthy of attention and praise. Hirsch creates a full character with just a few pages to work with, and that is in some ways even more impressive. When you leave "The Fabelmans," you can't get Judd Hirsch out of your head. If that isn't a sign of a great performance, I don't know what is.
The Well-Deserved Surprise
The other four Best Supporting Actor nominees were either foregone conclusions or highly likely. Then there's Brian Tyree Henry getting nominated for his performance in the PTSD drama "Causeway." When I saw the film back in October, I immediately put Henry on my own personal ballot. This was a quiet, incredibly subdued performance of a man in tremendous emotional pain that he doesn't want to express, and my thought was that something this un-showy would never capture the attention of the Academy. He was going to get an Independent Spirit Award nomination (which he did) and some critics prizes (which he did), and that was to be the end of it. So, when his name was read out during the announcement broadcast hosted by Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams, it was the one nomination that made me audibly gasp and pump my fist in the air.
I imagine very few people reading this have seen "Causeway," as Apple did not do much to promote the movie, so I can't get into why his performance is so extraordinary. What I can say is that just the way he sits on a couch or drinks a bottle of beer makes you feel for this man. I felt Brian Tyree Henry deserved a Judd Hirsch in "The Fabelmans"-esque nomination a couple of years ago for "If Beale Street Could Talk," so I'm happy to not need to wonder when he will finally get the awards respect he deserves. And for this performance, he would be a close number two behind Gleeson for me to win.
The One Note
The one misstep I see in these nominations is Paul Dano for his work in "The Fabelmans." After Cate Blanchett in "TÁR," this is my performance of the year. First off, I do not know what more Paul Dano has to do to get an Oscar nomination. "Little Miss Sunshine," "There Will Be Blood," Love & Mercy," and his work as a writer and director on "Wildlife" were all perfect opportunities to recognize one of the most versatile and exciting artists working today, yet he remains without a nomination. Now, "The Fabelmans" comes along. He gets his first solo SAG nomination comes along. It's all set up for it and … nothing.
Of course, the trouble starts with deciding who to kick out of the category in order to slot in Paul Dano. For me, the short straw would unfortunately fall to Ke Huy Quan, but I would feel terrible to take away that nomination that obviously means so much. As much as I love Judd Hirsch, Dano is the performance from the film I prefer more. It speaks to the quality of this slate of nominees that I find it difficult to slot in my favorite eligible performance into the list without feeling bad. There's been plenty of times I would gladly throw out all five performances without hesitation. Props to the Academy for nailing Best Supporting Actor this year.
But Paul Dano should really be in there. He didn't even need to get beat up for the role.
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