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Checking in on the Supporting Actor Category

The Film Experience’s Nathaniel Rogers has prompted me to start giving some thought to the supporting categories. They feel blown out at the moment. Nat built this chart, and wrote a must-read post, to illustrate how supporting actors often get categorized:

So, Nat right mentions the assumed frontrunners right now – namely Geoffrey Rush who is a force to be reckoned with and seems to have the statue in hand — just by saying that one can jinx it, but the truth is – Rush’s is going to end the year, I feel sure, as one of the very best period, supporting OR lead. It’s the combination of his great work, his BODY of work, and the likability of his character.¬† But aside from Rush, what other names are churning around?

If Oscar season was right and fair, which it is not — we know that it is all about who is popular at the moment and not really about the best performances. It is about the best KNOWN actors in good performances. Sure, an unknown can break out if the performance is buzzed enough and the film worked enough, but generally speaking, when we talk about actors and actresses in the Oscar race, we are talking about known names.

The most under-reported and least known of the contenders has to be Winter’s Bone‘s John Hawkes. Okay, so a meth-snorting, gun-toting, creepy uncle isn’t exactly the stuff Oscars are made, but if we are just talking about the best performances period, buzz or no, publicity or no, John Hawkes is someone who, along with Jennifer Lawrence’s brilliant work, drives the film. Because Debra Granik sought authenticity, the film doesn’t feel like a third person account of the rural hillbilly landscape. It feels like you have slipped right into that world. And Hawkes is very much part of that. Will he get any attention? Who knows. He isn’t a star. He is, however, a very good actor.

Mark Ruffalo appears to be the one guy in The Kids Are All Right with a very good chance at a nomination, particularly since he’s been so ignored in the past and is generally a good actor and well-liked – he appeared recently on the Rachel Maddow show, for instance, not to talk about The Kids Are All Right but to talk about fracking — the subject of the documentary Gasland.

And then we have the tight, seamless ensemble from The Social Network, led by Andrew Garfield who plays Eduardo Saverin with a combination of excitement, confusion and bitterness – not an easy combo to pull off. He has some of the best scenes in the film and is the emotional center. Behind him is Justin Timberlake who plays the opposite — he’s the seductive threat, the new. Timberlake, despite it all, nails it. The two of them, along with Jesse Eisenberg, do not falter. Every scene is played like a World Series baseball game. Strange to see such young actors so capable, and much of this must be credited to Fincher, who directs the hell out of this movie – but was also someone who didn’t settle for a phoned-in performance, not from anyone in the cast – no, not even the women.

There is Bill Murray for Get Low, though his and every other performance in the film is kind of overshadowed by Robert Duvall. Still, Murray shouldn’t necessarily be counted out even if he isn’t doing a lot of publicity. Get Low is a film that could have slipped into quirky ridiculousness but it is held in place by its three central performances.

Although it’s quietest film in Oscar season, Another Year still does feature a funny, moving turn by Jim Broadbent. And if Academy members see the film, which I’m sure they will, how can they not nominate Broadbent? He plays the irritated husband of Ruth Sheen. There are many supporting characters in the film – and of course, they’re all great. Mike Leigh can do no wrong when it comes to his actor-led ensemble and he’s never made a film with bad performances in them. Another Year is one of his best. Broadbent is usually the one who is the source of the film’s pain, but here he provides many of the film’s funniest lines and moments of levity.

Two big supporting performances have yet to be seen but many are already predicting one or both, and that is Matt Damon and/or Josh Brolin for True Grit. We won’t know what their parts are, how good they are in them, or how much they have to do in the film until we see for sure. But here is what I know: the best supporting performances in Coen brothers films have been ignored. And there have been a great many of them throughout their long and satisfying careers. Although Javier Bardem won for No Country for Old Men, no one else from that cast was nominated – not Tommy Lee Jones, not Josh Brolin (who would have been lead). Not a single actor from A Serious Man was nominated. William H. Macy, who was the lead in Fargo, was nominated in the supporting category. But Steve Buscemi was not nominated, as horrifying as that is to imagine. Miller’s Crossing was not nominated for a single Oscar. So you know, the trick is not minding. It will be extremely rare if both Damon and Brolin, despite their currently popularity, get in. If either gets in it will be a miracle. If Jeff Bridges gets in it will be a miracle.

The Town is full of very good performances but none so great as Jeremy Renner. The Town should see a SAG ensemble nod if that group is sold on the film. There are a lot of actors in it and a log of good performances. Renner should be considered, no matter what. As an aside, other ensembles I’m seeing now – if they wanted to really do their job right, the SAG should nominate Winter’s Bone. Not sure that they will. But I’m seeing maybe The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, The King’s Speech, Black Swan (maybe?), True Grit perhaps. Aaron Eckhart is supposedly great in Rabbit Hole, but we still don’t know how that will turn out.

Sam Rockwell is also supposed to be very very good in Conviction. So we have to include him as well.

Finally, as Jeremie reminds me, Ed Harris for The Way Back cannot be forgotten. He is supposed to be great in the part and Harris is overdue. So, it could turn out to be Rush vs. Harris. Also, there is Christian Bale in The Fighter. Bale has a bit of a PR problem and is routinely ignored for turning in one great performance after another. But he must be considered also.

In the end, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see it go:

Geoffrey Rush
Mark Ruffalo
Andrew Garfield
Ed Harris
Jim Broadbent

And then:
Justin Timberlake
Christian Bale

Sam Rockwell
Aaron Eckhart
Jeremy Renner
Josh Brolin
Matt Damon

If The Social Network is not well liked, as many seem to think, because the Academy is of another generation – it’s possible, and in keeping with their history, that both actors from The Social Network wouldn’t get in. It’s possible Timberlake could get bumped. I remember when The Departed was up, everyone thought a lot of those actors would get in. Only one did, and many believed that was a sign the film couldn’t win. It isn’t always the case that a film with the most acting nominations wins. In fact, it rarely is the case.

Last year’s The Hurt Locker had two great supporting performances that were ignored. The film had one acting nomination, Up in the Air had three. In fact, only one supporting actor was from a Best Pic nominee and that was Christoph Waltz from Inglourious Basterds – and that was with TEN best pic nominees. The year prior, Slumdog Millionaire had no acting nominations. Moreover, once again, the supporting actor category had only one nominee from a Best Picture nominee — and that was Josh Brolin for Milk. Heath Ledger won. The year before, with No Country, only two from the Supporting Actor category were from Best Pic nominees – Javier Bardem, who won, and Tom Wilkinson for Michael Clayton.

Next up, Supporting Actress.