2019 Calvin Awards: Best Supporting Actor
By Kim Hollis
February 18, 2019
It was a close race in Supporting Actor, with just 13 points separating first from fourth. We definitely had a clear line of demarcation at that point, but you’ll often see this category be one where someone always stands out. Think Heath Ledger as The Joker, J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds, or Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men. We didn’t really have one of those type of performances this year, no matter if the Oscar race seems like a foregone conclusion.
In fact, our winner of the Calvin Award for Best Supporting Actor isn’t even nominated for an Academy Award this year. He did finish in our top 10 a couple of times in the past, though. Michael B. Jordan first caught our attention with his television work on The Wire and Friday Night Lights, but when he expanded into film, it was time for the world to stand at attention and recognize his talent. Fruitvale Station proved he was a revelation, and then he took Creed and helped to rebuild and rebrand the Rocky franchise. In 2018, he played one of the great Marvel villains, and the best thing about it is that general audiences had no idea who this character was.
Killmonger is Black Panther’s rival for the throne in Wakanda, but rather than adopt T’Challa’s more peaceful approach to the world, Killmonger wants to use the advanced technology they possess to help people of African descent rise up and destroy their oppressors. What’s fascinating about Killmonger is the fact that he’s not wrong about the fact that great injustices have occurred. He’s just using extreme measures to effect the change he desires, measures that aren’t all that different from the ones employed by Thanos in events soon to follow, if you think about it. And Killmonger is charismatic and convincing enough to pull people to his side, too – and the reason that it works is because Jordan is sympathetic, interesting, and intense. We love the guy, and we can’t wait to see what’s next for him.
Just five points behind Jordan (and matching him with regard to number of first place votes) is Adam Driver, whose portrayal of a Jewish cop who acts as the “face” of Ron Stallworth as he goes undercover with the KKK. Over the last few years, Driver has had some stellar performances, including Inside Llewyn Davis, Midnight Special, and Logan Lucky, but he’s never been so engaging as he is here. His character Flip Zimmerman somehow shines it on strong for his undercover work, but proves to be a loyal and dedicated man of the law as well.
The great Sam Elliott finishes in third place thanks to an understated (and possibly underrated) role as Jackson Maine’s brother Bobby in A Star Is Born. The siblings have a turbulent relationship, and the reasons unfurl with some great storytelling in the film, reinforced by a somber, tolerant Elliott. He’s the perfect father figure here even though the duo are brothers, and his struggles with a Jackson who consistently descends into the depths of depression and self-medication are sympathetic and tragic. Also, this feels like a great opportunity to recommend Elliott’s work in the TV series Justified. He’s never been so terrifying.
Our fourth place selection is the likely favorite to win the Academy Award. Mahershala Ali was easily our favorite part of Green Book with his portrayal of Doc Shirley, a classical jazz pianist and composer. He’s haughty and composed, but Doc slowly lets his guard down around his driver, Tony “the Lip” Vallelonga. Particularly noteworthy is the dignity that Ali imbues the character with throughout the film. It’s quiet. It’s human. And it’s memorable.
We round out the top five with some applause for Brian Tyree Henry, who makes the most of a small role in If Beale Street Could Talk. For my money, his role as a villainous politician in Widows was a bit more memorable, but subtlety is nice, too. He’s a bit of a bookend to the main character Fonny, as both men take plea deals for crimes they didn’t really commit, with Henry’s character Daniel being a witness who can prove Fonny’s innocence. Trouble is, Daniel’s on parole and thus considered unreliable. Henry is earnest and devastating, a perfect choice for the role.
We continue our selection of more unconventional picks with Steven Yeun from Burning, a South Korean film that made the short list for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards (it lost out on a nomination, unfortunately). Yeun portrays Ben, one of three characters in a love triangle, one fraught with jealousy, tension, and eventually nightmarishness. The viewer sympathizes with main character Jong-su in his detestation of the wealthy, slippery Ben, and Yeun is responsible for those feelings. It’s good to know that he’s moved on to better things than The Walking Dead.
Mark Rylance is a past winner in this category for his role as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in Bridge of Spies, and we loved his most recent collaboration with Steven Spielberg, too. In Ready Player One, Rylance is James Halliday, the Willy Wonka of the video game world. He’s brilliant, absent-minded, and introverted, and the masterful OASIS that he co-created is indeed a world of pure imagination. Rylance is one of those reliable actors whose presence means you’re going to enjoy at least some part of a film (or TV series – give Wolf Hall a shot).
There’s just no commonality whatsoever between our eighth, ninth and tenth place nominees, other than that eighth and tenth are in overlooked films, perhaps? Rafael Casal finishes eighth for his entertaining performance in Blindspotting. As Miles, the careless, reckless, crime-minded best friend for life of main character Collin, Casal manages to be hilarious, infuriating, vulnerable, and loyal. He makes the audience understand why Collin is his lifelong buddy – and also why Miles is a possible threat to Collin’s happiness.
Ninth place goes to yet another Marvel character, and this time it’s Chris Hemsworth in Avengers: Infinity War. Look, we just love Thor, okay? After making us laugh and swoon in Thor: Ragnarok, he made us feel a bunch of feelings in Infinity War. He… loses people. And friends. BUT at least we get to have a little fun with his meet-up with the Guardians of the Galaxy.
And finally, Richard Grant might just be great in Can You Ever Forgive Me? because it feels like the role was created just for him. The character is based on a real person, though, so the fact that Grant takes Jack Hock and makes him compellingly unlikable and unsympathetic. Somehow, we still like the guy, and we understand why Lee Israel would befriend him, too.
A great group of actors just barely missed out on being nominated here. Kyle Chandler (we might have a thing for Friday Night Lights) was admired for First Man, and we also liked a villainous Sean Harris in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the goofy Ike Barinholtz in Blockers, Russell Hornsby in The Hate U Give, Ed Oxenbould in Wildlife, and Brendan Gleeson in Paddington 2 (seriously, see Paddington 2!).
2019 Calvin Awards
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
|| Michael B. Jordan
|| Adam Driver
|| Sam Elliott
||A Star Is Born
|| Mahershala Ali
|| Brian Tyree Henry
||If Beale Street Could Talk
|| Steven Yeun
|| Mark Rylance
||Ready Player One
|| Rafael Casal
|| Chris Hemsworth
||Avengers: Infinity War
|| Richard E. Grant
||Can You Ever Forgive Me