OSCAR GUIDE: Best Supporting Actor

Posted by · 10:30 am · February 17th, 2010

Matt Damon in InvictusIn a slight rarity, the year’s Best Supporting Actor category reflected the Screen Actors Guild nominees 100% this season. Nominations for Alfred Molina and Alec Baldwin at the BAFTA Awards weren’t enough to generate enough cross-over support, while Christian McKay’s late surge couldn’t get him there, either.

What we’re left with is a sleepwalking performance in a dud movie, a spellbinding portrayal from a consistent performer in an indie awards success story, the first nomination for one of the screen’s legends, a tip of the hat to an actor who showed a wide range this season and a multi-lingual piece of work that began its awards run way back at Cannes.

The nominees are:

Matt Damon, “Invictus”
Woody Harrelson, “The Messenger”
Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station”
Stanley Tucci, “The Lovely Bones”
Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”

Like Best Supporting Actress, the field of supporting acting contenders is likely just sitting back waiting on the inevitable on Oscar night. But at least two of the nominees deserve a fairer shake than that and, in any other year, may have had an angle on this thing.

Matt Damon, however, is not one of those examples. His performance in “Invictus” seemed like a no-brainer on paper, which led to months of sight-unseen predictions that he’d be chalked up right alongside co-star Morgan Freeman. As the captain of South Africa’s Springbok Rugby team who was galvanized by the country’s recently liberated leader, Damon had a prime opportunity. Then the movie came and, save for a few who must have seen something else entirely, it underwhelmed. Damon’s performance was a large part of that disappointment, not just because he didn’t hit the notes one might have expected, but because he seemed to be merely a part of the scenery, barely registering a note. And yet, his brilliant turn in “The Informant!” goes unrewarded. Stunning.

In “The Messenger,” actor Woody Harrelson brought his A-game like never before. He owes a bit of his success this year to co-star Ben Foster, who proved to be an amazing partner on screen. But Harrelson’s moment, and the one that likely sealed the deal for many awards-giving bodies throughout the year, came during the film’s final moments as he reacts, quite emotionally and quite authentically, even, to a harrowing story from Foster’s disturbed soldier. This at the end of a performance that showed equal parts stiff-upper-lip professionalism, hard-assed soldier sincerity, easy-going off-the-clock affability and internalized sorrow for the news he wakes up every day to deliver to unsuspecting families around the country. He might have been a frontrunner in another season.

That Christopher Plummer only landed his first nomination in 2009 is, anyone would agree, unbelievable. At the very least he should have been here — and holding a statuette — in 1999, but alas, he remained without Academy recognition throughout his career. The recognition finally comes for “The Last Station,” with Plummer taking on a lion of a role in legendary author Leo Tolstoy. Plummer stalks the screen with a lust for life, but he balances that with the heavy heart of a man considering signing away his life’s work to the public domain in the interest of his ideals. And like fellow nominee Harrelson, Plummer had a wonderful sparring partner. He and Best Actress nominee Helen Mirren engage in a wonderful screen romance as fiery as it is loving.

Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones” was murdered upon arrival from a critical community seemingly oblivious to anything deeper than the screen itself. And that’s fine. But thankfully, Stanley Tucci managed to make it through the season unscathed. As a positively creepy pedophile murderer, the actor was brave merely to have taken on the part. But he proves quickly in the film that he has the chops to flesh out a monster such as this in soft tones that register. The cadence in his voice, the mannerisms he develops for the character, every nuance seems to add to the icky experience of watching him on screen. The work is all the more impressive when considered alongside his work in another film, “Julia & Julia,” which saw the actor gushing love, adoration and pride for his wife, Julia Child.

And with all that breathless consideration of the other nominees in the field, it all seems fairly moot, as Christoph Waltz is more than likely our victor walking away. In “Inglourious Basterds,” Waltz takes the role of Hans “The Jew Hunter” Landa by the horns, delighting in the character’s intimidating atmosphere and putting forth, truly, one of the great modern villains of the cinema. Quentin Tarantino has called it a difficult role to cast because of how specific it was, a man who speaks French, German and Italian within the context of the narrative. And Watlz pulls it off seamlessly. Audiences in Cannes were the first to get a look and he walked off The Croisette with an acting honor for his troubles. Little did we know he would go on to steamroll the season.

Will win: Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”
Could win: Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station”
Should win: Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”

Should have been here: Alfred Molina, “An Education”

Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds

Who do you think deserves to win the award for Best Supporting Actor? Have your say in today’s sidebar poll!

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44 responses so far

  • 1 2-17-2010 at 10:36 am

    Shannon said...

    It is a travesty of the highest order that Plummer was not nominated for The Insider. I completely agree that he should not only have been nominated, but should have gone home with the prize. What stunning work.

    However, this is not his year. Waltz gave the best performance in this category, and this will be one of the times the Academy gets it right.

  • 2 2-17-2010 at 10:37 am

    Hans said...

    This category seems cut and dry…happy to know that “I” will be taking home the Oscar that night! :)

    Should have been here: Jim Broadbent in HP6, Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds.

  • 3 2-17-2010 at 10:50 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    “truly, one of the great modern villains of the cinema.”

    You can say that about the last three (I am including Waltz) winners for supporting actor.

    As well as this year’s supporting actress.

  • 4 2-17-2010 at 10:52 am

    matsunaga said...

    I think Michael Gambon from HP 6 should be here more than Jim Broadbent… He put his best foot forward on that film itself… Anyway, Christoph Waltz is locked with this one.. He deserves it more than anyone else..

  • 5 2-17-2010 at 10:53 am

    Megan said...

    I was completely spellbound with Waltz’s character from the moment he entered the screen, and my enthusiasm/support for his victory goes all the way back to August; it has yet to relent.

    If I HAD to choose another victor, however, it would be Harrelson. I love his accessibility and everyman-ness, and his presence on-screen is always graceful and as natural as breathing.

    Nevertheless, this category is nothing short of locked-up, and I’m feeling swell about it.

  • 6 2-17-2010 at 10:57 am

    Fitz said...

    I didn’t know Plummer has gone this long without a nod, that makes the snub for The Insider much much worse.

  • 7 2-17-2010 at 10:58 am

    davidraider88 said...

    I remember way back Kris saying that Tucci was def. going to win even after Waltz seemed like a shoe-in (after IB came out and before TLB came out)

  • 8 2-17-2010 at 11:07 am

    Amanda said...

    Your hate for Invictus is kinda pathetic as are most of your reasonings behind it.

  • 9 2-17-2010 at 11:08 am

    Speaking English said...

    Christoph Waltz.

    But I have to say, Christopher Plummer gives a really wonderful performance in “The Last Station.” Very poignant.

  • 10 2-17-2010 at 11:13 am

    AmericanRequiem said...

    this is a cut and dry category, if anyone but waltz wins itll be one of the biggest upsets the academies seen, i cant think of anyone whos had such a steamroll of a season, landa vs the joker is something id like to see

  • 11 2-17-2010 at 11:17 am

    Megan said...

    “landa vs the joker is something id like to see”

    What if it happened where Javier Bardem, Heath Ledger, and Christoph Waltz were all contenders the same year?

    “Your hate for Invictus is kinda pathetic as are most of your reasonings behind it.”

    You could honestly smell the suck off of that role from several countries away. Reasoning is a waste of energy.

  • 12 2-17-2010 at 11:20 am

    voland said...

    Bardem wouldnt stand a chance.

  • 13 2-17-2010 at 11:21 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Amanda: Pathetic? No, what’s pathetic is that you can’t engage in a conversation and actually debate my reasons.

    david: You’d have a bit of a time pointing out a moment when I said Tucci was “definitely going to win,” certainly not when Waltz was a “shoo-in” (which actually happened later than many want to believe). It’s funny how people’s perceptions of my predictions get so twisted throughout the season.

  • 14 2-17-2010 at 11:22 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Also, Amanda, your comment is very odd when considered alongside this comment you made some time back:

    “Damon deserves to be nominated for the Informant! It was one of the best performances of the year. Im a big fan of his, but he doesnt deserve to get in for Invictus. I hate when the academy nominates people for “both” performances. Just put him where he deserve to go. His performance was better than Freeman and Clooney IMO and should get in before either one of those.”

    We seem to agree. So settle down.

  • 15 2-17-2010 at 11:29 am

    Benito Delicias said...

    if Matt Damon needed a nomination, it should have been for The Informant where he could have bumped off Freeman for his “I look like Mandela, cast me, I’ll be unsurprisingly good, but the movie will be so boring that I’ll end up looking like I barely tried”.

    Damon looked tired and sweaty and got 10 pounds of muscle. There’s no need to nominate somebody for that.

    Instead Alfred Molina should have taken his place while Damon still got nominated for a performace that is better than 3 of the 5 nominees (including Bridges).

  • 16 2-17-2010 at 11:41 am

    Leighton said...

    Waltz deserves it, no question.

    My two should’ve been theres: Anthony Mackie from The Hurt Locker and Christian McKay from Me & Orson Welles

  • 17 2-17-2010 at 12:22 pm

    Lance said...

    Was “Lovely Bones” murdered or was it a sad obvious drunken old man that tied a noose around it’s neck and jumped off the chair?

  • 18 2-17-2010 at 12:27 pm

    Reuben said...

    “truly, one of the great modern villains of the cinema.”

    You can say that about the last three (I am including Waltz) winners for supporting actor.

    As well as this year’s supporting actress.

    I agree with this. When Waltz wins, it’ll become the third straight year where an actor playing an iconic villain wins the Best Supporting Actor trophy.

    If you count Penelope Cruz’ character in VCB as a villain, then the same could be said for the Supporting Actress category.

  • 19 2-17-2010 at 12:34 pm

    Fitz said...

    If you count Cruz as an actress, which I don’t.

  • 20 2-17-2010 at 1:43 pm

    movieman said...

    Christoph Waltz was electric in “Inglourious Basterds” and reminded of Javier Bardem’s equally brilliant turn in “No Country for Old Men.” He’ll win this thing, easily.

    “Invictus” was one of the year’s worst and most misguided pictures, and Matt Damon was almost nonexistent in the film; that said, I disagree with you, Kris, that he should’ve been nominated for “The Informant!,” as I really, really disliked that movie as well.

    Stanley Tucci was definitely fantastic in “The Lovely Bones,” but that movie was really just not good at all. I haven’t seen either Harrelson in “The Messenger” or Plummer in “The Last Station,” but from the buzz, Plummer could win it.

  • 21 2-17-2010 at 1:47 pm

    James D. said...

    It is just so weird to read Glenn Kenny, who usually articulates everything I am trying to say, praise Invictus as one of the best of 2009. Was it a bribe?

  • 22 2-17-2010 at 1:47 pm

    movieman said...

    Forgot to add this:

    Will win: Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”
    Could win: Christopher Plummer in “The Last Station”
    Should win: Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”
    Should have been here: Rupert Grint in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” Brad Renfro in “The Informers”

  • 23 2-17-2010 at 2:19 pm

    Craig said...

    Of the three consecutive “villainous” portrayals in the category, I think Waltz is arguably the best…

  • 24 2-17-2010 at 2:27 pm

    mark said...


  • 25 2-17-2010 at 2:27 pm

    Jason Travis said...

    Why was Matt Damon nominated? Politics- he hadn’t been nominated since 1997, and since then has given Oscar-worthy performances in “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, “The Bourne Ultimatum”, “The Departed” and of course this years “Informant!”

  • 26 2-17-2010 at 2:27 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Amazing how so many people loved Stanley Tucci’s belabored, completely over-the-top turn in The Lovely Bones, especially when he gave a MUCH better performance in a different movie *in the same freaking year.*

    It’s almost as if he kept thinking throughout the shoot, “Gee, how else can I telegraph my obvious creepiness, just in case the audience needs any more reminders?”

  • 27 2-17-2010 at 2:29 pm

    Joey said...

    I was surprised that McKay didn’t get nominated for Me and Orson Welles. His performance was just so damn good that I was bummed to see he failed to get a nomination.

  • 28 2-17-2010 at 2:45 pm

    JR said...

    Much as I love Molina, Sarsgaard was the actor who was truly robbed of a nod. Strong as Mulligan is in “An Education,” if Sarsgaard had not been so nuanced, the film would have been thrown far off balance. Morover, he’s simply a phenomenal actor – Boys Don’t Cry, Shattered Glass, Kinsey, just to name a few.

  • 29 2-17-2010 at 2:50 pm

    j said...

    He never was even in the running, but I loved Nicholas Hoult in A Single Man. Then again, I think that movie deserves double-digit wins instead of a single nom.

  • 30 2-17-2010 at 3:00 pm

    Patryk said...

    Too bad about Anthony Mackie. With each viewing, the performance just gets better and better. Christoph Waltz belongs in lead, and Michael Fassbender should have gotten in for supporting.

    And I’m still hoping Woody Harrelson shocks the world and wins.

  • 31 2-17-2010 at 4:55 pm

    tintin said...

    Will win: Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”
    Could win: Christopher Plummer in “The Last Station”/Tucci (The lovely bones)
    Should win: Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”
    Should have been here: Jim Broadbent(Harry potter 6)/Alfred Molina(An education)

  • 32 2-17-2010 at 5:59 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Had the Academy singled out Stanley’s performance in Julie & Julia – he would’ve been my favorite pick for an alternative winner – I don’t feel too sentimental about any of the other actors in this category – so Waltz all the way.

  • 33 2-17-2010 at 6:45 pm

    matt said...

    If Christoph Waltz is the 100 percent chosen one — the movie should be be a true contender — Inglorious Basterds is the best picture of the year — multi layered, fun and so satisfying. Waltz should not win only win this but Tarantino should get best director and best picture.

  • 34 2-17-2010 at 8:03 pm

    David said...

    People complain about Plummer not making the cut in 1999, but I have to disagree that he was robbed for a spot, considered the fact that the Supporting Actor category that year was phenomenal!

    Michael Caine (The Cider House Rules); Tom Cruise (Magnolia); Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile); Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley); Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense).

    All of these were stand-out performances and no one got a spot that was unrewarded. I love The Insider, but… the competition in this category was just too much.

  • 35 2-17-2010 at 9:06 pm

    Judy said...

    Seems inevitable see Waltz win and he did a great job, but I am still thinking that is more deserved an Oscar to a more inner performance and this year should be Woody Harrelson, would be great great surprise see him win.

  • 36 2-17-2010 at 9:47 pm

    Jessica said...

    With Damon nominated for putting on a South African accent and playing rugby, it weakens the category. I would have much rather seen Anthony Mackie nominated. I haven’t seen An Education, so I don’t have an opinion on it.

  • 37 2-18-2010 at 12:40 am

    Criddic said...

    I am torn between Waltz and Plummer. Both gave terrific performances. Waltz was a dominating presence in Inglourious Basterds, but Plummer was also engaging and moving in The Last Station (with the added fact that the Academy has wronged him terribly over the years.) Can there be a tie? Yet I know that if they did not award Peter O’Toole in 2006 (admittedly Whitaker was a stronger player that year, but O’Toole was very good too), then they won’t give it to Plummer (although he doesn’t have an Honorary Award to soften the blow of a loss).

  • 38 2-18-2010 at 2:21 am

    moviefan1 said...

    I guess im alone in thinking that I didnt find Waltz all that impressive I think its slightly overrated, I would easily give my vote to Woody

  • 39 2-18-2010 at 6:03 am

    Julian Stark said...

    Supporting Actor is really interesting. For the past three years, the winner was a previous nominee (not counting Clooney, even though he had multiple nominations in 2005). However, the frontrunner probably had Academy members saying “Christoph who?!” in the middle of the season.

    I’m half expecting an upset on Oscar night from either Plummer or Harrelson… maybe even Tucci! Funny thing is: veteran vote splits and Waltz wins? Maybe

    Officially: Waltz wins
    Unofficially: any of them could win… except for Matt Damon. Fully agree with you about his nomination. What a joke.

  • 40 2-18-2010 at 6:05 am

    Joseph said...

    And I conversely wasn’t that impressed with Woody. Samantha Morton however was robbed by Penelope Cruz.

  • 41 2-18-2010 at 7:20 am

    Megan said...

    “I guess im alone in thinking that I didnt find Waltz all that impressive I think its slightly overrated, I would easily give my vote to Woody”

    I think people find stuff overrated when they listen to all the hype BEFORE seeing something. I made that mistake with Hurt Locker. As for Basterds, I came into that movie with zero expectations and zero knowledge of Waltz’s existece, and was blown away.

    As for robberies, I think the most agonizing one for me was ignoring Paul Dano for his hyperbolic preacherman in There Will Be Blood. That will piss me off for eternity.

  • 42 2-18-2010 at 8:34 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    @ David: You’re kidding, right? Michael Caine couldn’t even put on a convincing New England accent and Michael Clarke Duncan did nothing more than an honest day’s work with a paper thin, borderline racist character. No, Christopher Plummer (and John Malkovich, for that matter) were indeed robbed.

    @ Megan: Why would the Academy recognize the biggest flaw of There Will Be Blood?

  • 43 2-18-2010 at 9:12 am

    trey said...

    In a perfect world (ie one where more than 32 people had seen “The Messenger”), this award would be Harrelson’s to lose. But this category doesn’t really go for subtlety and range, does it?

  • 44 2-19-2010 at 7:49 pm

    The Dude said...

    #43- Implying that Waltz doesn’t show range in Inglorious Basterds is pathetic, please stop.

    And I have to mention again, just to be annoying, that American reaction (in general, of course) to Eastwood’s latest films (which are as good as the ones that came before) is sickening. If he delivers another great film this year and reaction is the same, I’m calling him the new Almodóvar or the new Kurosawa. He’d probably be better off moving to Europe.

    That said, Damon’s nomination was ridiculous. He the overrated Clooney got nominated because of star power only. Anthony Mackie should have had Damon’s spot, and there’s a dozen actors that could have taken Clooney’s.