Now that we know Michael Stuhlbarg isn’t going to be an Oscar contender, can we just make up a prize to give him in honor of a standout year?
The actor might not have major name recognition, but he’s been doing incredible work for a long time, especially since starring in the 2009 Coen brothers movie “A Serious Man.” He’s never had a stretch quite like 2017, however, during which he had supporting turns in three best picture nominees — “The Shape of Water,” “Call Me By Your Name” and “The Post” — and nailed every scene in the third season of FX’s “Fargo.”
He was hardly a lock for a supporting actor nomination. His best shot was for “Call Me By Your Name,” but it seemed more likely that Armie Hammer, who had the larger role, would get the spot. Instead, neither landed a nomination. Woody Harrelson ended up a surprise nominee for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” along with two actors who were on the bubble — Christopher Plummer and Richard Jenkins — so the movie was shut out of the category.
Stuhlbarg’s part in “Call Me By Your Name” was understated but also emerged as the emotional anchor for the movie. He played the professor father of Elio (best actor nominee Timothée Chalamet), and the one who introduces his teen son to Oliver (Hammer), kicking off a summerlong romance. At the end of the drama, as Elio is mourning the end of that affair, Stuhlbarg delivers a gorgeous, poignant monologue about the importance of such extreme emotions and the reasons it’s better to feel them rather than bury them. For a lot of viewers, this was the moment when the tears really started to flow, which is why some fans of the movie are so heartbroken over the Oscars snub.
But Stuhlbarg still deserves some kind of prize for being both prolific and consistently wonderful this year. He isn’t the only actor to show up in a bunch of recent awards contenders: Caleb Landry Jones had three very different parts in “Three Billboards,” “Get Out” and “The Florida Project”; Tracy Letts was in “The Post” and “Lady Bird”; and Chalamet was in basically everything. But Stuhlbarg’s presence tended to add a level of emotional weight to his movies. In “The Shape of Water,” for example, he was a Russian spy scientist who puts his life at risk by double-crossing both sides to save an aquatic monster from certain death. In “The Post,” he had a smaller role with more name recognition, playing New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal.
And in “Fargo” he sported a flat-top and a bushy mustache and drove a ridiculous yellow Hummer to play Sy Feltz, a character who was both unintentionally hilarious and incredibly tragic. His character was the right-hand man of Ewan McGregor’s Emmit Stussy, and when McGregor accepted his Golden Globe for best actor in a drama series, he gave a shout-out to the actors who worked alongside him. “There wouldn’t be any Emmit Stussy without David Thewlis and Michael Stuhlbarg,” he said, giving some credit to a couple of unsung heroes of character acting.
It isn’t quite the same as getting their own Globes, but it’s some consolation. And besides, there will be more opportunities in the future. This year, Stuhlbarg will have a role in Hulu’s buzzy series about 9/11, “The Looming Tower,” which comes out next month. And he may have a shot at reprising his “Call Me By Your Name” role if a sequel does in fact pan out.
There’s no guarantee that those parts will lead to prizes, but maybe it doesn’t matter when we know the real winner.