2020 Oscar Predictions: Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Updated: Feb 8
Nominees: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Al Pacino (The Irishman), Joe Pesci (The Irishman), Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)
Will Win: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
Should Win: Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
Runners-up: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
My Choice: Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse)
My Nominees: Joe Pesci (The Irishman), Song Kang Ho (Parasite), Shia LaBeouf (Honey Boy), Jonathan Majors (The Last Black Man in San Francisco)
Runners-up: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Wesley Snipes (Dolemite Is My Name), Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Jamie Foxx (Just Mercy), Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes), Al Pacino (The Irishman)
Hollywood icon Brad Pitt, long time acting heart-throb and tough-guy as well as top-tier producer for films such as 12 Years a Slave (2013), will undoubtedly win his first acting Oscar for his role as Hollywood stuntman (and possible sociopath) Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. As Cliff, Pitt exudes the classic aura of rugged masculinity through his deep voice, chiseled muscular frame, and laid back "I don't give a shit" persona. His nonchalant disregard of others and lack of fear in clearly frightening scenarios (such as when he meets the Manson cultists face to face) make his character both cool and ironically hilarious. It is a joy experiencing Pitt's suave, almost lazy approach to his character's acting alongside Leonardo DiCaprio's character's zealous, frantic B-list actor's self-deprivation. The complexity of their interactions is truly mesmerizing, and the saving grace of an otherwise forgettable and over-rated film.
Though Pitt definitely deserves a win, I think that Joe Pesci's performance as mob under-boss Russell Bufalino is more layered and deserving of the prize. Viewers have always known Pesci for his uncanny ability to infuse every one of his roles with fiery fits of loud, vulgarity-riddled violence, which is why it was such a surprise to experience him as the soft-spoken and seemingly friendly "silent-killer" in The Irishman. Much like DeNiro's performance in the film, Pesci's acting here is often working under the surface in stewing thoughts, slights of hand, and the emphasis of certain words and phrases that grow more meaningful with retrospection. Of all the actors in The Irishman, Pesci is also the best at acting his age throughout his character's different life periods, transitioning masterfully from ambitious, calculating mob overseer in his early forties at the start of the film to frail and regretful care center resident in his late eighties by the end.
There is no question, however, on the best performance of the year, and perhaps of the decade: Willem Dafoe's unkempt, mad-dog lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake in The Lighthouse. The requirements of the role feel more that of a stage performance than the screen with long-winded monologues where Dafoe must carry minutes of the viewer's attention span without the aid of edits or flashy cinematography-- and Dafoe does so masterfully. Not only are we as the audience engaged, but we are terrified. His face moves like the shadows itself from that of wiry old man to monstrous grimace possessed by Poseidon's fury. His voice at times bellows like storm waves against the inner chambers of a ship and others drips with brine and rasps like barnacle and crab-riddled tide pools. He encompasses the sea itself into the furious attack on his understudy Thomas Howard's (Robert Pattinson) sanity, prodding him with mocking jeers and sickly subtle deception toward violence. So furiously genuine is Dafoe's ability to manipulate his subject that even we as viewers begin to doubt what we see in Wake, if he really is an innocent, hurt old hermit or a demon inspiring fear and darkness within us.