FIRST-HALF FYC: Best Supporting Actor

Posted by · 5:18 pm · December 8th, 2010

Only two weeks into my new feature and I’m already a day late — apologies. My laptop (now cured, at least until its next mood swing) will graciously accept the blame.

If you missed last week’s introductory instalment, the game is a simple one. In the run-up to nomination day, I’m picking five outstanding contenders in each major category in films from the first half of the 2010 release schedule: a period repeatedly neglected by voters in favor of newer, shinier delights. We started with Best Supporting Actress — during which I learned that a lot of you really don’t like Taylor Swift, but you still all saw “Valentine’s Day” — and this week we fill in the male half of the equation.

Keen as I am on all five performances I dredged up from the January-to-June wilderness, I was somewhat disappointed to note a very similar template forming to last week’s list: one French breakthrough talent, one blockbuster high point, even one star from a particular film. All accidental, I assure you… but to think I complain about “slot” mentality in the Oscar-analysis game.

A more satisfying throughline I noticed upon gathering these five men is how many of these performances hinge on the masking and teasing of the audience’s trust; bar the fifth nominee, for whose performance the word “subtle” could only be a drawback, it’s an impressively gray-shaded and mutable collection of supporting turns. One of them could easily win my personal ballot for either half of the year; sadly, only one of these guys is even within spitting distance of the Kodak.

Nicolas Duvauchelle, “The Girl on the Train”
One of world cinema’s most promising (and, thanks to his ever-growing tattoo collection, most immediately recognizable) young actors, Duvauchelle is one of many elements making Claire Denis’s “White Material” the best thing currently on US screens, but he’s a lonelier standout in André Téchiné’s muddled political drama. As Franck, the sporty, shifty boyfriend of Emilie Dequenne’s directionless young graduate, Duvauchelle is by turn coldly and charmingly cavalier – the only sinuous character in an otherwise airless dramatic setup. His early exit from the scene rather stops the audience in their tracks; unfortunately, the same goes for the film.

Michael Fassbender, “Fish Tank”
I’ll come clean here: unlike last week’s unexpectedly crowded Best Supporting Actress group, my first draft of this list effectively read, “Michael Fassbender and four other guys.” It’s been 18 months and two more viewings since I was first wowed by Andrea Arnold’s sink-estate drama, and Fassbender’s is the performance that reveals more at each turn: as the kindly boyfriend of the teen protagonist’s neglectful mother, his delicate negotiation of the queasy divide between parental and sexual impulse gives the film its messy emotional heft, but he’s responsible for some unexpected stabs of joy too. In some parallel universe, the Oscar is already his.

John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”
With Jennifer Lawrence’s deserved Best Actress nomination looking all but a sure thing at this point, the question remains whether voters who are only now popping in their screeners will notice the rock-solid band of character actors bolstering her work. Chief among these is Hawkes, long a reliably dissolute Amerindie player, but here called upon to do more fractious, concealed work than usual: as he unfussily holds back on the nature and his intent of his relationship to Lawrence’s headstrong Ree, the maintenance of mystery in the film falls largely on his shoulders.

Rhys Ifans, “Greenberg”
Here in the UK, at least, Rhys Ifans’s profile as an actor has rather been eclipsed by his second career as a kind of professional West London partier, so it was a witty move on Noah Baumbach’s part to cast him as the kind of gone-to-seed rock ‘n’ roll dabbler he’s been acting as for the last few years anyway. The surprise is that this kind of personality-based trick has resulted in the most searching and affecting performance of the actor’s career: his Ivan is an organized, surface-only wastrel who has admitted to his limitations and made peace with them, beautifully balancing the title character’s uncertain yearnings.

Sam Rockwell, “Iron Man 2”
Yeah, yeah, Rockwell is fine in “Conviction,” even if Juliette Lewis does her darnedest to ensure no other actor gets out of that film alive. But if we must finally hand the man his well-earned first nomination this year, why not make it for genuinely inspired, grandly entertaining work in a film that pretty much needs to be stolen? Rockwell is a gleefully lascivious yet wincingly dorky foil to Tony Stark in this over-inflated blockbuster sequel, playing things interestingly close to Robert Downey Jr.’s own brand of smooth peanut-butter smarm, and providing the best possible reason for a third trip to this particular well.

Which supporting actors stick in your mind from the first half of 2010? Have your say in the comments. Next week, we press pause on the acting races and venture into the writers’ lounge.

[Photos: IFC Films, Strand Releasing, Roadside Attractions, Focus Features, Paramount Pictures]

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72 responses so far

  • 1 12-09-2010 at 8:43 am

    Keil Shults said...

    What the?! Now those posts have reappeared. Sorry guys, I don’t know if that glitch was on my end or yours.

  • 2 12-09-2010 at 9:33 am

    Ivan said...

    My ballot…

    Niels Arestrup/A Prophet
    Pierce Brosnan/The Ghost Writer
    Joel Edgerton/Animal Kingdom
    Michael Fassbender/Fish Tank
    Sven Bertil Taube/The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  • 3 12-09-2010 at 9:39 am

    Tom C said...

    It’s all about the John Hawkes for me. What a commanding performance. I don’t think anything would make me happier on nomination morning than seeing his name pop up.

  • 4 12-09-2010 at 10:10 am

    Angry Shark said...

    Ruffalo for either The Kids Are All Right or Shutter Island. His performance in Shutter Island is incredibly underrated, like virtually all of his performances, because he’s so awesomely subtle.
    Also, Jonah Hill came out of nowhere with Cyrus. Up until this point, it was pretty obvious he was a so-so comic character actor getting famous because he was lucky enough to be friends with other people that had just got famous. Here, he proves that it’s not just hype, that there’s a brilliant actor in there who just needs the right direction to be coaxed out.
    also Ben Kingsley is pretty good in Shutter Island, too.

  • 5 12-09-2010 at 10:33 am

    Andrew F said...

    Any official word from the Academy if “Fish Tank” is eligible for anything?

  • 6 12-09-2010 at 10:34 am

    Andrew F said...

    Ah… nevermind. Thanks, Teresa!

  • 7 12-09-2010 at 11:36 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Allow me to throw in Hamed Behdad in No One Knows About Persian Cats and Rob Corddry in Hot Tub Time Machine.

  • 8 12-09-2010 at 12:01 pm

    Joe7827 said...

    Keil: settle down, man. Don’t panic! Deep breaths.

    And yes, we all know how good John Hawkes was.

  • 9 12-09-2010 at 12:02 pm

    Pete said...

    Ivan, thanks for listing Niels Arestrup. His performance anchored A Prophet.

    Why is everyone overlooking Andrew Garfield in The Social Network?

    Ben Kingsley in Shutter Island merits attention.

  • 10 12-09-2010 at 12:03 pm

    Bernard said...

    Pete – because The Social Network came out in October, not the first half of the year.

  • 11 12-09-2010 at 1:00 pm

    DylanS said...

    I’m as big a Sam Rockwell fan as anybody, but I would argue that Mickey Rourke gave the best performance in “Iron Man 2”, one of the best performances of the year in my book.

  • 12 12-09-2010 at 1:03 pm

    Rashad said...

    Fish Tank wasn’t the UK’s submission last year. However it was released and eligible to be. So no, I don’t it’s eligible although it was one of the best films from last year

  • 13 12-09-2010 at 1:15 pm

    MovieMan said...

    Pierce Brosnan, “Remember Me”
    Nicolas Cage, “Kick-Ass”
    Chris Cooper, “Remember Me”
    Pippo Delbono, “I Am Love”
    John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”

  • 14 12-09-2010 at 1:20 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Why is everyone overlooking Andrew Garfield in The Social Network?

    Because the film wasn’t released in the first half of the year? Is this so hard, people?

    Fish Tank wasn’t the UK’s submission last year.

    Are you talking about Best Foreign Language Film? Fish Tank couldn’t have been the UK’s submission, not least because it’s in English.

  • 15 12-09-2010 at 1:22 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Jeremy: A Prophet is not eligible for Academy consideration this year, otherwise Niels Arestrup would be right up there.

  • 16 12-09-2010 at 5:05 pm

    Jeremy said...

    Thanks Guy, good to know.

  • 17 12-09-2010 at 7:04 pm

    Glenn said...

    The replies in this entry are making me laugh!

  • 18 12-09-2010 at 9:37 pm

    Douglas said...

    Nicholas Cage for Kick Ass

  • 19 12-09-2010 at 11:38 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    See, if they were to do a serious campaign for Cage he might even get in.

  • 20 12-10-2010 at 12:17 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    No, he wouldn’t. Blog readers and the Academy hardly constitute the same audience.

    (And come on, he’s not particularly good in Kick-Ass. People have affection for Cage’s schtick, and that’s fine, but there’s no need to throw awards at him for it.)

  • 21 12-10-2010 at 5:54 am

    Tye-Grr said...

    John Hawkes, ‘Winter’s Bone’
    (one of the best performances of the year)

    Ben Kingsley, ‘Shutter Island’
    (layered and hammy)

    Mark Ruffalo, ‘Shutter Island’
    (layered and subtle)

    Michael Shannon, ‘The Runaways’
    (Capmy and over-the-top, but the life of the film)

    Kieran Culkin, ‘Scott Pilgrim VS The World’
    (the funniest performance in the film without trying as hard)

    Pierce Brosnan, ‘The Ghost Writer’
    (Brosnan’s best performance since ‘The Matador’)

  • 22 12-10-2010 at 2:39 pm

    Tye-Grr said...