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Top 10 Best Supporting Actors: 2004

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The hardest part of picking out the best performance by an actor in a supporting role is just figuring out whether it's a supporting or lead role in the first place. I think Clive Owen is the lead in "Closer," but the studio has chosen to list him as a supporting player and I just don't understand their reasoning. Anyway, here are my picks for the best actors of 2004 in supporting roles.

1. Clive Owen ("Closer")

Clive Owen Closer
© Sony Pictures
Have you ever experienced one of those instances where you walk out of a theater and everyone around you is saying how disappointing a movie was, and you're left wondering if you've just watched the same film? That's what happened with "Closer." While my fellow critics were grumbling about the plot, I loved the film and thought Clive Owen and Natalie Portman were fantastic. Love the movie or not, Clive Owen's performance stood out above the rest of the pack of supporting players in '04.

2. Thomas Haden Church ("Sideways")

Paul Giamatti Thomas Haden Church
© Fox Searchlight
Thomas Haden Church's character's a total reprobate yet Haden Church manages to make him a little charming. Even though you dislike the character, you can't help being entertained by him thanks to Church's spot-on performance.

3. Peter Sarsgaard ("Kinsey/Garden State")

Peter Sarsgaard in Garden State
© Fox Searchlight
Peter Sarsgaard is quietly building up a resume of quality work. As I was making this Top 10 list, it was a toss up as to which of his performances deserved to be included on this 'Best of' list. Flipping a coin didn't seem professional (but I almost resorted to it anyway) until I realized it's totally fine to acknowledge him for his terrific work in "Kinsey" and in "Garden State."

4. Mark Wahlberg ("I Heart Huckabees")

Mark Wahlberg in I Heart Huckabees
© Fox Searchlight
Mark Wahlberg was first-rate in "Boogie Nights" and "The Italian Job," but was still working against being Marky Mark. Now with a supporting role in "I Heart Huckabees," Wahlberg seems to have become more comfortable, more at ease with himself. In a movie with a cast that includes Dustin Hoffman, Jude Law, Naomi Watts, and Lily Tomlin, Wahlberg's portrayal of firefighter searching for the true meaning of life was a notch above the performances of his critically acclaimed co-stars.

5. James Purefoy ("Vanity Fair")

James Purefoy and Reese Witherspoon in Vanity Fair
© Focus Features
The movie didn't really do it for me but James Purefoy's performance did. Purefoy has such a catlike ease and grace onscreen, he's a pure joy (get it?) to watch in "Vanity Fair."

6. Josh Lucas ("Undertow")

Josh Lucas in "Undertow"
© United Artists
One of these days Josh Lucas is going to be 'It.' This year, Lucas gave compelling performances in "Around the Bend" and "Undertow." Despite his high school quarterback good looks, Lucas is fully capable of being 'bad' onscreen and he does bad with a vengeance in the underrated "Undertow."

7. Freddie Highmore ("Finding Neverland")

Johnny Depp and Freddie Highmore in "Finding Neverland"
© Miramax Films
Johnny Depp. Julie Christie. Kate Winslet. Dustin Hoffman. Radha Mitchell. All this talent and it's the youngster Freddie Highmore as 'Peter' who captures the hearts of audiences.

8. Stanley Tucci ("Shall We Dance")

Shall We Dance Cast
© Miramax Films
Stanley Tucci stole "Shall We Dance" right out from under Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon. As the flamboyant, sparkly pants-wearing, fake tanned and flowing haired 'Link Peterson', Tucci takes it so far over the top it's impossible not to fall in love with this performance.

9. Morgan Freeman ("Million Dollar Baby")

Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman
© Warner Bros. Pictures
Comfortable as an old pair of socks, Morgan Freeman slips into the role of Clint Eastwood's sidekick so smoothly he makes it all look unbelievably simple.

10. Patrick Wilson ("Phantom of the Opera")

Patrick Wilson in Phantom of the Opera
© Warner Bros. Pictures
Patrick Wilson's a last minute addition to this list having finally had the chance to see "Phantom of the Opera." In a role that could have easily been upstaged by the other actors - and by the sets - Wilson brings something special to the character of Raoul, the Phantom's rival for Christine's affection.

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