Supporting actors, step forward

Posted by · 9:19 am · October 1st, 2009

Christoph Waltz in Inglourious BasterdsA while back, certain folks were (rather unfairly) dredging up the routine annual complaint about the supposed scarcity of viable Best Actress contenders. Dave Karger, however, has located the real weak spot of this year’s awards race, and it concerns the opposite sex for a change: where, he asks, are the Best Supporting Actor standouts?

Pound for pound, I tend to find Best Supporting Actor the least compelling of the acting races, a haven for affectionately regarded stalwarts in bit parts that are frequently less than challenging. The last two years have raised the bar considerably, but recent wins for Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin and Michael Caine are typical of the laziness with which the Academy often treats the category.

Even by the category’s usual standards, however, this year’s pickings look unusually lean, as Karger narrows the serious contenders so far to a scant three.

As he puts it:

Inglourious Basterds breakout Christoph Waltz became an instant frontrunner at Cannes, and Alfred Molina is a decent bet for his first career nod as An Education’s strict dad. Ditto Stanley Tucci, who should score either for his killer role (literally) in The Lovely Bones or as Meryl Streep’s hubby in Julie & Julia. And…well, that’s basically it.

Is one of those men our winner? I’m liking Waltz’s chances more and more as the months go by, particularly given the Academy’s recent inclination towards more showy villainous turns in the category. Indeed, I’m starting to wonder if his awards trajectory could resemble that of last year’s supporting winner (and fellow Weinstein Company pony) Penelope Cruz: installed as a frontrunner at Cannes, and hardly unseated (barring that brief Kate Winslet category confusion) from then on, as critic after critic played ball.

Of course, it’s early days yet, and the supporting categories are more prone to late-breaking frontrunners than the leads. If Alec Baldwin really is a comic standout in “It’s Complicated,” might the Academy want to rubber-stamp his amazing career reinvention? If Stanley Tucci wrings every creepy note out of his “Lovely Bones” role (one that’s a little one-dimensional in the novel), could he finally be due for a career trophy? (Somehow his role in “Julie & Julia” doesn’t have a winning ring to it, though I can envision a nomination quite easily.)

Some might place their bets on Matt Damon for “Invictus,” in the event of his lead chances for “The Informant!” going quiet — though from a reading of the “Invictus” script, the role of Francois Pienaar offers him little of the latter role’s scope or invention. Karger also throws Anthony Mackie (“The Hurt Locker”), Paul Schneider (“Bright Star”) and George Clooney (“The Men Who Stare at Goats”) into the pot — plausible nominees, all three, but unlikely winners, to say the least.

Is it time to look further afield? Michael Fassbender is riveting in “Fish Tank,” and it’s only a matter of time before his career shoots into the A-league … but who’ll see the film? Can anyone stay awake through Apparition’s “The Young Victoria” for long enough to notice Rupert Friend’s film-stealing effort? And what the hell is going on with “Me and Orson Welles,” which first attracted Oscar buzz for Christian McKay over a year ago?

Any ideas?

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60 responses so far

  • 1 10-01-2009 at 6:22 pm

    parker said...

    Jeff Bridges in The Men Who Stare At Goats?

  • 2 10-01-2009 at 7:18 pm

    al b. said...

    What about the Imaginarium guys: Plummer and Waits. I have heard great things about those two

  • 3 10-01-2009 at 8:24 pm

    Less ham, more meat! said...

    Anthony Mackie for “Hurt Locker,” supporting. Renner for best actor (also “Locker”), along with Rockwell from “Moon” (which is aside from his performance, is a good-but-not-perfect first film). He is great in it, though.

    Waltz just comes off good because some of his “bigger” stars in “Basterds” are so campy and hamfisted. Not sure if his early contender thing will last — but ya never know.

  • 4 10-01-2009 at 8:47 pm

    Frank Lee said...

    Has anyone actually seen “The Lovely Bones”? From the trailer, it looks pretty bad. I mean “Running-with-Scissors” bad. Tucci was fun in “Julie and Julia,” but Waltz was outstanding.

  • 5 10-01-2009 at 9:02 pm

    Kate said...

    What about Ewan Mcgregor?
    – Amelia
    – The men who stare at goats

    I would loved if Ewan get a nom, he deserves it.

  • 6 10-01-2009 at 9:25 pm

    Kokushi said...

    Cant wait to see Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds, but my favorite supporting performance so far is Jackie Earle Haley in Watchmen, the academy will not recognize him but for me he was great.

  • 7 10-01-2009 at 11:50 pm

    Edward L. said...

    Katey: I agree about Fassbender in Inglourious Basterds. And how about Daniel Bruhl as well? Three supporting actor nominees from the film, with Waltz the deserving winner.

  • 8 10-02-2009 at 12:13 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Ewan McGregor is the lead in “Goats.” That said, I really don’t think anyone from the film is getting in. Clooney is only a distant possibility if the Academy goes really nuts for him this year.

  • 9 10-02-2009 at 5:14 am

    Glenn said...

    Year after year supporting actor is the least interesting category. Waltz is taking this in a walk if nobody steps up soon (granted, I only see Tucci as being of any competition).

  • 10 10-02-2009 at 7:43 am

    Frank said...

    How about Jason Bateman for “State of Play.” He was fantastic in that.