OFF THE CARPET: Looking at the supporting gentlemen

Posted by · 9:10 am · November 9th, 2009

Paul Schneider in Bright StarIn recent weeks we’ve been covering the performance categories in this space.  With little else of tangible interest, what else can we possibly discuss?  It’s as good a time as any to take note of what we have on our hands.  Be sure to check out our looks at Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress if you missed them.

(Speaking of which, with the rise of “Crazy Heart” in this year’s race, it goes without saying Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal should be added to their respective fields as they are very much in this year’s race.)

At first glance, the Best Supporting Actor category looks fairly established this season.  There have been, after all, a number of contenders already and plenty more to come.  But none have really stood out from the pack yet, making this race actually as up for grabs as any other.

Possibly the most agreed-upon contender in the field has to be Christoph Waltz, who took acting honors in Cannes for his villainous portrayal in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” Waltz has made for quite the story off-screen as well, given his latter-career lift-off.  And even detractors of the film (yours truly included) have to consider his performance a highlight of the year so far.

If anyone gives considerable chase here it’s going to be Christopher Plummer, smartly shifted to a supporting focus for his performance as Leo Tolstoy in “The Last Station.” Plummer will have sentiment (never been nominated) and added visibility (also appearing in “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”) on his side.

A pair of performances from the same film could be (and some might say deserve to be) recognized in Lone Scherfig’s “An Education.” Early on I was a big supporter of Alfred Molina, who delivers warm, emotional work in the film, but Peter Sarsgaard also has some support (no pun intended).

Stanley Tucci in The Lovely BonesSony Classics didn’t make a decision on Sarsgaard’s placement until recently, though many expected him to go lead due to the amount of screen time he has in the film.  However, both the studio and, in fact, the actor himself, felt the performance belonged in the supporting category.

Two contenders remain on many a shortlist despite the fact that their respective films have yet to screen.  First, Matt Damon (who has a great deal of sceen time opposite Morgan Freeman in Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus”) could be a double nominee if recognized here and as a lead in “The Informant!” Co-leading portrayals tend to fare well in supporting.

Also waiting to be judged, and quite possibly the season’s instant frontrunner on arrival, is Stanley Tucci in “The Lovely Bones.” He has already offered solid work in “Julie & Julia,” playing vibrantly once again off of actress Meryl Streep.  Fall festivals and events are laying down tribute offers in anticipation as we speak.  This could be his year.

A couple of below-the-radar performances in war dramas could stir the pot if voters give Anthony Mackie the proper recognition in “The Hurt Locker” and if they actually see Oren Moverman’s “The Messenger” and Woody Harrelson’s moving performance within.  The former gives, to my mind, one of the better supporting performances so far this year.  The latter, meanwhile, also has added visibility in “Zombieland” to his credit and a consistently quality work flow as well.

There are other fringe possibilities, such as Paul Schneider, very deserving in “Bright Star” (and singled out in many reviews, sometimes more so than lead actress Abbie Cornish).  Christian McKay is lurking with a portrayal of the famed auteur in “Me and Orson Welles,” while newly tapped Oscar co-host Alec Baldwin could strike the right chord opposite Meryl Streep in “It’s Complicated,” though that film could ultimately prove too slight to resonate.

Potentially leaping into the race as the year draws to a close is Jude Law in “Sherlock Holmes,” who is said to be quite good opposite Robert Downey Jr. in the classic role of Watson and a film interested parties are quite keen to pitch throughout the season.  We’ll see if it’s all hot air in due time.

Robert Duvall in The RoadOne final note: Robert Duvall quickly left the lead actor race this year when Aaron Schneider’s “Get Low” was announced as a 2010 title, but I remain convinced that many will be quite taken with his work in “The Road.” He gets one scene, but he does so much with it that it’s difficult to ignore.  In many ways, those moments are the centerpiece of the film.  I certainly think he’s got a better case than co-star Kodi Smit-McPhee.  And ask Ned Beatty and Judi Dench if screen time is so important.

Additionally, Duvall has added exposure with a modest role in “Crazy Heart” opposite Jeff Bridges.

Check out the full slate of hopefuls over in the Contenders section.  The sidebar predictions, meanwhile, have received their weekly tweak.

What are your thoughts on the Best Supporting Actor race?  Have your say in the comments section below!

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48 responses so far

  • 1 11-09-2009 at 9:18 am

    "Julianstark" said...

    I think that if Alec Baldwin is in contention, then Steve Martin is too. Martin has never been nominated for an acting Oscar; since he is obviously loved by the Academy, I think he would make more sense for a nomination than Baldwin.

    That being said, I don’t think either will make the cut. Globe noms at best probably. My Supporting Actor nomination predictions match up with yours 100%. In fact, most people seem to have the same five in their Supporting Actor line-ups.

    I’m picking Tucci to win, with Plummer close behind.

  • 2 11-09-2009 at 9:19 am

    James D. said...

    Sad to see Damon go from your predictions for Best Actor, but I guess it is the most likely way to go until someone sees Nine or Invictus.

  • 3 11-09-2009 at 9:22 am

    geha714 said...

    The Academy has to recognize Ned Beatty someday. Maybe next year…

  • 4 11-09-2009 at 9:23 am

    Suzanne said...

    I’d love to see Paul Schneider get in for Bright Star, but it feels as though Bright Star’s buzz has altogether collapsed in the past month or so. Cornish and Schneider really should be recognized, though.

  • 5 11-09-2009 at 9:27 am

    Loyal said...

    I’m still predicting a BP nom for Bright Star (I know, I know) and would love to see a nomination for Paul Schneider. He was amazing.

  • 6 11-09-2009 at 9:28 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    The further I get away from it, the further “Inglourious Basterds” diminishes in my estimation, as its thematic purposelessness and gaping structural chasms grate ever more.

    In equal proportion, however, Waltz’s performance grows more miraculous in my mind: the way finds tension and rhythm in those shapeless dialogue sequences is quite masterful. (None of his co-stars manage it, for sure.)

    I personally think he should be classified as lead — he drives the film even when he’s off-screen, much like Hannibal Lecter in “Lambs.” That aside, I’ll be floored if any supporting actor contender tops him.

  • 7 11-09-2009 at 9:37 am

    Suzanne said...

    I agree, Guy. I also would place Waltz in lead, and Hopkin’s placement is a great example of why he belongs there.

    I think Tucci may bring the goods, though. It’s a tightrope walk, though. All eyes are on Lovely Bones right now, waiting for it to deliver or fail.

  • 8 11-09-2009 at 9:41 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Let me also add that a second viewing really highlighted for me just how terrific Tucci is in “Julie & Julia.” For my money, it’s actually the film’s sharpest performance.

  • 9 11-09-2009 at 9:50 am

    Caleb Roth said...

    Another year of category frauds. Plummer as supporting…

  • 10 11-09-2009 at 9:52 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    Christoph Waltz will not be considered for Best Actor. Even though he dominates the film, Inglourious Basterds is basically an ensemble piece, and ensemble films never have a cast member nominated in a leading category (Tom Cruise, Benicio del Toro, Clive Owen, George Clooney, Matt Dillon are a few examples) since no one character gets enough screen time to be the “center” of the story.

  • 11 11-09-2009 at 9:52 am

    "Julianstark" said...

    Yeah. When I heard about Plummer going Supporting, the thought of “fraud” came to my mind as well.

    Of course, there’s an obvious reason for him campaigning there instead of Lead, but that doesn’t justify the decision any more.

  • 12 11-09-2009 at 9:56 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Caleb and Julian: Have you see the film? Plummer IS supporting.

  • 13 11-09-2009 at 9:58 am

    "Julianstark" said...

    Guilty: I haven’t seen the film, but to me he sounded like the Lead. I just think it’s weird that a biopic about Leo Tolstoy would have Tolstoy as Supporting, while the role of his wife is Lead, but again: I haven’t seen it, so I shouldn’t even be making that call

  • 14 11-09-2009 at 10:06 am

    Raffi said...

    yeah. I just saw the film on Saturday and Plummer is definitely supporting to James McAvoy’s lead.

    Helen Mirren’s role is less distinguishable as lead or supporting.

  • 15 11-09-2009 at 10:32 am

    Rob said...

    Seriously, “thematic purposelessness”? Besides being completely subject to one’s opinion, has supposed lack of thematic weight or “purpose” been an issue with Best Picture nominees before? Surely there are “purposeless” movies that you like purely as entertainment or noteworthy filmmaker exercises, Guy, no?

    Sounds akin to kids from my old high school dismissing movies because they “had no point.”

  • 16 11-09-2009 at 10:38 am

    James D. said...

    The anti-Inglourious Basterds stance here at continues to sadden me. While it may have flaws, I can’t think of a more fun experience in theaters.

  • 17 11-09-2009 at 10:48 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Has supposed lack of thematic weight or “purpose” been an issue with Best Picture nominees before?”

    I’m confused why you bring this up, Rob. What do its Oscar chances have to do with my personal estimation of the film’s merits? There are dozens of Best Picture nominees that I find inadequate.

    Sorry to sounds like one of the high school kids, but I didn’t think “Basterds” had a point, and that was a problem for me. (And since you bring up the “entertainment” factor, I think the film has some crushingly dull stretches, so it fell short for me there too.)

    Anyway, that’s all an aside to this discussion: Waltz is a sensation.

  • 18 11-09-2009 at 10:54 am

    Louis said...

    I love the anti-Inglourious Basterds stance here at InContention. Keep it coming!

  • 19 11-09-2009 at 11:03 am

    Andrew Webb said...

    Waltz all the way!

    I’d really really like for Harrelson’s work in The Messenger to get recognized, as well.

  • 20 11-09-2009 at 11:09 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    There is no anti-Inglourious Basterds “stance” here at In Contention. And if there was, so what?

  • 21 11-09-2009 at 11:22 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yikes, I kept quiet on the film before, precisely because I knew people would corral Kris’s and my opinion into some collective agenda. Forgot about that for a moment … should’ve kept my trap shut!

    Seriously, “anti” is too strong a term anyway — there are some aspects of the film I quite admire. It’s just soured for me over the months.

  • 22 11-09-2009 at 11:23 am

    snowballa said...

    @guy: you are correct. none of tarantino’s flicks have any true point. they don’t really tell you about the man. he likes movies. old ones. seen a lot of them and knows how to steal from many different genres to make a new film.

    however, he does know how to make them entertaining* which is more than his bethren in useless entertainment, michael bay, can say.

    * i was quite bored by inglorious basterds. the basement scene alone should be whittled down considerably and more emphasis should concentrate on shoshana’s rather hasty choice to kill the man she breathlessly ran away from four years prior

  • 23 11-09-2009 at 11:23 am

    James D. said...

    Kris, you have been anti-Inglourious Basterds since your year-in-advance column back in February. I love the site, and I don’t hold it against you for having strong opinions, but come on.

  • 24 11-09-2009 at 11:45 am

    j said...

    Kill Bill has a point. And presents it well.

    This category still feels really boring with Waltz being the only perf so far that people are super-excited about. Maybe if Ben Whishaw was pushed for supporting (He’s 2nd fiddle to Cornish. If Plummer is in supp…) I’d have at least one person to root for.

  • 25 11-09-2009 at 11:52 am

    Jim T said...

    Waltz was really great. If he and Mo’nique win, it would be great in the sense that they are not big names (in movies anyway). Although the supporting categories don’t usually care about how big your name is as much as lead categories do.

  • 26 11-09-2009 at 12:07 pm

    Ryan said...

    Yeah Kris I can see why you don’t like Basterds. I mean, it’s no Bolt is it?

    I have a feeling Plummer could win, based on his previous career efforts, a la Alan Arkin. Another shame, since Waltz was very good. However, if Plummer is better, then all the luck to him.

  • 27 11-09-2009 at 12:16 pm

    Jim T said...

    Ryan, it’s better than to watch a film with some good jokes and some good action scenes than a film that tries hard to be great but you end up being bored. (I’m not saying that that’s Kris’ problem with IB. I just gave an example)

  • 28 11-09-2009 at 12:19 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    James: “Anti” indicates a desire to take something down. I’ve offered nothing but honest perspective from day one.

    Ryan: What a zinger. Did it take you all day to come up with that one?

  • 29 11-09-2009 at 12:56 pm

    daveylow said...

    I have no idea if Me and Orson Welles will find an audience but Christian McKay deserves to be nominated. It’s a no brainer.

  • 30 11-09-2009 at 12:58 pm

    M.Harris said...

    I thought that Christoph Waltz – in his limited screen time carried “Inglourious Basterds.”

    That lead scene had me on the edge of my seat.One of the most tension filled moments that I’ve had at the movies in a long time.

    Maybe that scene lead me to expect too much from the film – because that was film at it’s best.

    Although there were some good moments afterward – for the most part I was disappointed with the film.A flash of greatness in the beginning and some quality scenes in between, showed me flashes of brilliance.

    I just think that more focus on some central character’s could have made the entire film great.

  • 31 11-09-2009 at 2:46 pm

    aspect ratio said...

    I’m kinda shocked how lousy this category is this year, very few performances so far have wowed me and of the ones I haven’t seen and of the upcoming, there aren’t all that many I feel excited about seeing.

    As delightful as Waltz is in Inglourious Basterds, I don’t really feel it as a performance that really ought to win an Oscar. And this is coming from someone who has Waltz at the top of his supporting actor list and the film as his no.2 of the year thus far. Much like Robert Downey Jr. last year in Tropic Thunder (but much better), it’s greatly entertaining, but in a way a nomination is quite enough.

    But take out Waltz and there’s nothing that gives me such an Oscar-deserving vibe.. I certainly hope that changes once I see the performances in the running, but so far it’s been such a bummer year for this category.

    That said, I could easily imagine Damon winning this if Invictus is a hit. He is who he is, and while he has an Oscar he doesn’t have one for acting, plus if the performance in Invictus is top notch he’ll have two great roles this year that could only help (whether or not he’s nominated for lead in The Informant).

  • 32 11-09-2009 at 2:48 pm

    aspect ratio said...

    Oh, and if there is one performance worthy of a nomination (but doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting it), it’s Timothy Spall’s performance in The Damned United.

  • 33 11-09-2009 at 3:02 pm

    Ryan said...

    No Kris, that one took all about 8 seconds. I just happened to recently look at the top of 2008 lists here since I recently discovered this website.

    Jim T., I happened to laugh at the jokes in Inglorious Basterds and was quite thrilled by it as well. Sure IB probably needed some editing among other things, but I still think it is much better than most of what came out this year (so far).

    I guess agree to disagree.

  • 34 11-09-2009 at 4:15 pm

    caleb roth said...

    I thought Plummer was leading because the only posts I’ve read about the movie are Nat Rogers’, and he’s already screaming “category fraud!”.

  • 35 11-09-2009 at 4:43 pm

    Scott said...

    I’m not excited about this crowd. Mackie isn’t in the running for The Hurt Locker? That’s a shame. And I like j’s suggestion of running Ben Whishaw for supporting since he’s unlikely to get recognition for lead.

  • 36 11-09-2009 at 5:08 pm

    Adrianna said...

    So far, this category is great. It’s got actors I admire and respect and would be thrilled to bits to see nominated.

    – No need to wait for “The Lovely Bones” for Stanley Tucci. I agree that he was the MVP in “Julie and Julia”.
    – Christopher Waltz was amazing in “Inglourious Basterds”.
    – I’ve loved Alfred Molina’s performances for years. I hope this year he gets some recognition.
    – Christopher Plummer – one of the all time greats. I hope he wins this category. When I read the book the movie was based on, his character was supporting (although movies are not the same as the book).

    Last nominee? Who knows. Maybe some movie that is hotly appreciated will pick up some noms that indicate support, eg. one of the actors in “The Hurt Locker”.

  • 37 11-09-2009 at 5:13 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    For those who think it’s an “anti” bias to predict a film won’t make the cut:

    “Beyond those 11, ‘Inglorious Basterds’ seems to have admirers but little affection.”

    I’m not exactly out on a far limb.

  • 38 11-09-2009 at 5:14 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    caleb: I can only guess Nat hasn’t seen the film, and he’s quicker than most to call foul on “category fraud,” so…

  • 39 11-09-2009 at 5:30 pm

    Jim T said...

    Kris, Nathaniel has seen the film. He just disagrees with you. ;)

  • 40 11-09-2009 at 5:42 pm

    Vito said...

    Waltz and Mo’Nique can’t be touched. The top 2 performances of the year.

  • 41 11-09-2009 at 8:17 pm

    Glenn said...

    Could Duvall have one of those things where they don’t nominate him for a tougher perf (The Road) and instead nominate him for the film they liked more (Crazy Heart)? It’s surely happened a few times. Dennis Hopper immediately comes to mind, but that was so long ago that maybe it’s not really an issue anymore.

  • 42 11-09-2009 at 10:57 pm

    red_wine said...

    Guy I agree Waltz is lead. And though I would also be the first to point out that the film does not have a point, its a ‘movie’ movie. It doesn’t quite stick in the memory but its quite thrilling to watch(Except Brad Pitt’s scenes, I loved all the European bits). The sheer joy of film-making and craft is palpable. I for one will be rushing to buy the DVD when it comes.

    And Kris, Tarantino & his movies are just too beloved. People will always jump on you. God forbid if you hadn’t liked TDK last year, there would have been blood on the site.

    But back to Waltz, I seriously think he was as good as Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood. Beneath the facetious demeanor, it is a performance so expert and so skilled, I admit my main reason of watching the film so many times was to watch him. I would just hate it if he fails to win an Oscar for that performance. But I feel it will end up being a pity Oscar for some bigger star than go to a completely unknown European TV actor.

  • 43 11-09-2009 at 11:25 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I can’t imagine anyone making an honest case for Plummer in lead. It would be the kind of thing the same parties scream “category fraud” over year after year, so it’s like you can’t win.

    McAvoy is the lead.

  • 44 11-10-2009 at 2:02 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    There is no way anyone could make a justifiable case for putting Ben Whishaw in supporting, guys. A film can have more than one lead.

  • 45 11-10-2009 at 6:14 am

    Caleb Roth said...

    That’s what he said. He also said The Last Station is very similar in structure to The Last King of Scotland, with two male leads. The difference between the movies is that The Last Station also has a female leading role.

    He’s decades overdue, isn’t he? They like famous actors playing famous historical figures
    …but it’s a lead role. And Mirren has the showier role and McAvoy is the audience surrogate. Could be snubbed but should really go for it with a big, career honors lead campaign.”

    Ok, so I’ll look for a third or a fourth opinion. Let’s wait and see.

  • 46 11-11-2009 at 5:43 pm

    SJG said...

    Okay so I’m a day late and a dollar short posting on this, but…

    I can TOTALLY get behind Stanley Tucci winning for Julie and Julia. I loved the movie, I loved Meryl Streep, but when I left the theater, it was Stanley Tucci who left me with warm fuzzies. I really don’t think the film would have worked without him. He truly supported Meryl Streep’s zany interpretation of Julia Child in the best possible way.

  • 47 11-14-2009 at 9:35 am

    Anonymous said...

    I don’t “get” the whole Waltz hype thing. All because of the ham-handed and convenient appearance of an oversized prop pipe? Is that the new criteria for excellence? If it is, then somebody please give Meryl Streep a German pipe for her next role and tell her to speak French, then she’ll finally be a “lock” on the win come next awards season.

    Tarantino is a talented director. The film will probably get a best picture nomination… but I think the Waltz thing has been majorly over-hyped. He was good, but I think the Academy is going to want to discover the “good” performances on their own and not have certain names shoved down their throats by overzealous bloggers and/or critics who want to dictate the winners of the awards race. Besides, it’s no fun!

  • 48 11-14-2009 at 11:01 am

    T.J. Wells said...

    Hopeful nominees:

    Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”
    Paul Schneider, “Bright Star”
    Niels Arestrup, “A Prophet”
    Peter Capaldi, “In the Loop”
    Anthony Mackie, “The Hurt Locker”

    Expected nominees:

    Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”
    Matt Damon, “Invictus”
    Alfred Molina, “An Education”
    Peter Sarsgaard, “An Education”
    Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station”