The Oscar contenders for Best Supporting Actor -- Jeremy Davies, Billy Bob Thornton, and Bill Murray are a few of our favorites

By EW Staff
Updated January 08, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

The secret to scoring a supporting-actor nomination this year? Get ugly. Virtually all of this year’s top competitors threw vanity to the wind before stealing their scenes. For starters, there’s Billy Bob Thornton as an unrecognizable hillbilly in A Simple Plan, a role that’s already won him kudos from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Similarly, 1996 Best Actor victor Geoffrey Rush sports rotting teeth in Shakespeare in Love, a much showier (and therefore more nominatable) performance than his vicious turn in Elizabeth. Bill Murray’s pallid, paunchy loser millionaire in Rushmore is a career-altering performance that’s garnered L.A. and New York critics’ awards. Even the usually knee-weakening Ed Harris (a past nominee for Apollo 13) hides under an unsightly beret as the godlike producer of The Truman Show.

Other impressively unappealing contenders include Donald Sutherland as a crusty track coach in Without Limits (though its horrible box office hurts his chances), Waking Ned Devine‘s bony nude moped rider David Kelly, Dylan Baker as Happiness‘ child molester, and shouting soldiers Nick Nolte (The Thin Red Line) and Ton Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan). Only Pleasantville dad William H. Macy, who rode the dastardly thing to a nomination for Fargo, has a shot in an upright role. But the edge goes to Robert Duvall’s ugly-on-the-inside lawyer in A Civil Action; he could earn his sixth nomination from voters who feel he was robbed of a statue for The Apostle last year (though he did win the Best Actor prize for 1983’s Tender Mercies).

For Your Consideration
We know it’s tricky to single out one of Saving Private Ryan‘s supporting grunts. There’s the danger of vote splitting (and besides, they’re all so damn good). So we’ll make it easy for you. In an epic filled with high-decibel scenes, soft-spoken Jeremy Davies, as the bookish, cowardly Corporal Upham, is the character who most sticks with you. Six months later, we still can’t shake the memory of his stairway meltdown.

Saving Private Ryan

  • Movie
  • R
  • 170 minutes
  • Steven Spielberg