Best Supporting Actor is up next, a category that also shares a dynamic relationship with its Leading counterpart. Unlike Actress and Supporting Actress, the Actor categories mixed early and often, with traffic in both directions: John Garfield, Clifton Webb, Jose Ferrer all hit Supporting en route to Lead, while Frank Morgan, Walter Huston, and Monty Woolley moved in the other direction, and Barry Fitzgerald famously straddled both categories with a single role in Going My Way. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the flow shifted pretty decisively in the direction of SupportingàLead, especially in the “springboard” capacity (Richard Burton, Jack Lemmon, Jack Nicholson, and Robert De Niro as examples of decorated leading men with a lone Supporting nomination to kick things off). After a period of relative equilibrium, the flow has also shifted heavily toward LeadàSupporting in the past ten or fifteen years, with only George Clooney bucking the trend since the year 2000.
As far as my progress is concerned, I have my work cut out for me in this category: I’ve checked off 268 of 385, leaving 117 perormances to go, including seventeen winners. There are plenty of embarrassing omissions, either for the performer himself (Robert Mitchum in The Story of GI Joe, John Lithgow in The World According to Garp) or just the film (Dennis Hopper in Hoosiers, John Cassavetes in The Dirty Dozen). A great many of the names here are familiar to me, though I’m very curious to see how some will stretch themselves beyond how I know them already—Anthony Perkins in Friendly Persuasion, for example.
The category has many of the same traits as Best Supporting Actress, including its service as a campground for revered star performers and disguised co-lead roles. Due to the perennial strength of the competition in Best Actor, this category has featured some of the most egregious category fraud, with worthy leading performances (Tinothy Hutton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Haley Joel Osment) showing up here as a political calculation by the distributor campaigning for the film. Nonetheless, I am a great fan of many of the performers and performances here, and I’m also quite enthusiastic about the number of atypical nominees, from Vittorio De Sica for A Farewell to Arms (seriously, who’d have thought?) to Mako for The Sand Pebbles to Bobby Darin for Captain Newman , MD—and that’s just amon theones I haven’t seen yet. The Best Picture coattails effect also comes into play here, as at last one Best Picture nominee has been represented here in every year (except one! I’ll leave it to you to figure out which it is!) However, I feel that the trend is a little weaker here than it is in Supporting Actress, with groundswells of support for a performance (Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda, Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast) or a career (Nick Nolte in Warrior) more frequently finding a place in the Oscar race. With the range of titles that await me, I also look forward to tackling this category, though I think 117 is a pretty tall order for now!