#1. Samuel L. Jackson gives what might be his finest acting performance. Yes, Leonardo DiCaprio just won the Best Supporting Actor award from the National Board of Review for playing Calvin Candie, the film’s major heavy, and while that is a terrific choice, the standout Supporting Actor performance from Django belongs to Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen.
Playing Calvin’s house slave henchman and de facto father figure, Jackson is equal part plotting, murderous and grotesque Uncle Remus caricature, part destroyed and hollowed old husk of a man. Stephen is a man who has had to learn how to survive an ugly world at any cost. Jackson plays him far beyond stereotype, riffing on racist character types throughout film history and then elevating the characterization with a bracing hint of menace, he provides an unexpected, dangerous twist at every turn and never goes in the direction you think he will.