Why We Need Best Supporting-Supporting Actor & Actress Categories

This might sound a little nuts at first, but hear me out: the Academy needs to add another Acting category. I know, I know: the ceremony is already too long, and actors already get too much attention, and there are entire subsections of film workers not being honored at all.* And certainly I believe that the Academy should recognize the best of everything from trailers to end credits; as “a professional honorary organization dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures,” it should recognize dedicated professionals in all the different fields that make up movies. Why not recognize the people behind particularly striking title sequences or who make credits that an audience will actually sit through and enjoy? Make it about the entire filmmaking process! Mix it up! Let’s stay all night, why not? They’re never going to actually bring it back to two hours so let’s stop the pretense. But those are all ideas for another time, right now I’m arguing for a third acting category.

It’s Oscar time, hence, a series about our strongest movie opinions, past and present.

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You see, there really are only a couple handfuls of “lead” roles every year, so every other performance is relegated to the Supporting category. Eight memorable minutes on screen, like Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love? Supporting! Narrate the entire movie, playing ultimately the most powerful character, like Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects? Supporting! It’s an incredibly wide net and smaller roles, like Dench’s, are the exception to the rule — look at this year’s nominees for Supporting Actress. Helen Hunt is practically a lead role, Anne Hathaway monopolized conversations about Les Miz while having, let’s say, mostly front-loaded screen time, Amy Adams and Sally Field were major players in their respective films, while Jacki Weaver is on screen a lot in Silver Linings Playbook but rarely speaks. Lots of smaller, but still excellent, performances end up in the snub column in favor of weightier, more dramatic roles. This tends to punish comedies and ensemble casts with a deep bench like Network, Magnolia, or Pulp Fiction.

So I propose adding “Best Supporting-Supporting Actor/Actress.” This category would recognize performances small enough that, if they’d been played mediocrely they probably wouldn’t have greatly harmed the movie — but where, being great, the performance elevates the entire film. These smaller roles, often inhabited by lifelong character actors, take the film up a level by making the world seem richer, more believable. Now, I don’t mean wink-y cameos, or blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances. All of the proposed nominees below, they’re for characters not meaty enough to be honored as Supporting. But as Supporting-Supporting — maybe we need a better name for that — they stick out as the absolute best.

Last year:

Best Supporting-Supporting Actor
Albert Brooks, Drive
Benedict Cumberbatch, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Paddy Considine, Submarine
Nick Krause, The Descendants
Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris

Would also accept: Tom Hardy, TTSS

Best Supporting-Supporting Actress
Jill Clayburgh, Bridesmaids
Judy Greer, The Descendants
Gwyneth Paltrow (and/or the inside of her scalp), Contagion
Elizabeth Reaser, Young Adult
Maggie Smith, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. II

Would also accept: Paula Patton, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Anna Kendrick, 50/50.

This year:

Best Supporting-Supporting Actor
Reda Kateb, Zero Dark Thirty
Victor Garber, Argo
Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained
Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
Bradley Whitford, The Cabin in the Woods

It’s kind of a toss-up between Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins for Cabin in the Woods, but Jenkins would have won this category in 2009 for A Serious Man, so I’m okay giving this nod to Bradley.

Reda Kateb was the torture victim to Jason Clarke’s torturer in Zero Dark Thirty, and did amazing work in the role despite having hardly any lines.

In the case of Victor Garber: Didn’t you wish he had more screen time, too?

And as far as Samuel Jackson: COME ON!

Would also accept: Matthew McConaughey, Bernie.

Best Supporting-Supporting Actress

Judi Dench, Skyfall
Jennifer Ehle, Zero Dark Thirty
Amandla Stenberg, The Hunger Games
Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect
Kerry Washington, Django Unchained

In my mind, Ehle is the winner of this category…

… while Dench gets the “obviously” place on the ballot.

(Like you weren’t thrilled by her performance as Rue.)

Rebel Wilson was just !!! in Pitch Perfect.

Kerry Washington’s part in Django Unchained was apparently drastically cut down from what it was supposed to be — if it hadn’t been, I have no doubt she’d be up for Supporting Actress alongside Hathaway and Field.

Would also gladly accept: Julia Stiles, Silver Linings Playbook, who was the best thing in the movie with 20 seconds on the screen, as well as Shirley MacLaine, Bernie.

* Notably: Stunt Coordination, which should have been added a decade ago.

Previously in series: Hollywood, Stop Botching Your Third Movies

Victoria Johnson actually started this as a piece about Charles Grodin, who would have been the Daniel Day-Lewis of this category in 1984.