Ruffalo finally gets the nod

Posted by · 9:54 am · January 26th, 2011

Amid the assorted geeky stat-studies I made in the wake of yesterday’s Oscar nominations, I noticed that it hasn’t been a vintage year for first-time nominees in the acting categories. Of the 20 actors selected, 12 are repeat nominees — the highest number since 2002. But among the eight thesps making their Oscar debut are some very gratifying choices indeed.

The unusually robust Best Supporting Actor category is particularly pleasing in that regard. It’s always cheering when a long-serving character actor identified by most moviegoers as “oh, that guy” finally gets the spotlight, so amid the range of reactions to yesterday’s news, I haven’t heard a single person who isn’t happy for John Hawkes — an actor who deserved more individual plaudits than he got for his 2005 lead turn in “Me and You and Everyone We Know.”

And Christian Bale’s high-end choices and hard-graft technique placed him on many an Oscar-watcher’s “overdue” list, so I’m glad he finally got the nod for what I regard as his finest hour.

But if there’s one nominee for whom I’m happiest, it’s Mark Ruffalo. The kind of natural, relaxed screen presence who makes it look so easy that awards voters rarely notice the skill at play, Ruffalo has stood frustratingly on the brink of such recognition for an entire decade. As it stands, his first Oscar nod has arrived precisely 10 years too late: his nervy, humane breakthrough turn in the indie sleeper “You Can Count on Me” should have been a slam-dunk in the Best Actor category, particularly since his equally wondrous co-star Laura Linney was acknowledged. Alas, the Academy’s curious bias against male newcomers kept him on the outside looking in.

That performance should have ushered in a plethora of similarly strong leading-man showcases, but it didn’t quite turn out that way. Rather, Ruffalo carved a niche for himself as a failsafe ensemble player in classy projects like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Zodiac” and “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” — impeccably serving the films, but rarely drawing attention to himself.

When he did seize the screen, unfortunately, it was as the lone virtue of the dismal prestige failure “Reservation Road.” He was similarly outstanding as the sexually persuasive cop in “In the Cut,” but critics and audiences alike didn’t give Jane Campion’s erotic thriller a chance. He again played successfully against type in “What Doesn’t Kill You” two years ago — and again, no one was watching. People did see his pair of delightfully game romcom turns in “13 Going on 30” and “Just Like Heaven” — the kind of trickty above-the-material work critics so easily take for granted.

So what a relief that, in “The Kids Are All Right,” Ruffalo finally found himself in a well-seen, well-liked vehicle that still gave him some room to flex. His performance as an unwitting biological father, genially breaking up a happy family almost despite himself, may not be his finest work, but it’s a consummate demonstration of his actorly strengths: his sincere nonchalance, his dry humor, his ability to find discomfiting subtext in casual exchanges.

It is, in many ways, such a Ruffalo Ruffalo performance that I never stopped worrying the Academy would find it too effortless for their tastes, however many precursor mentions he racked up. I’m thrilled, then, that he’s finally in the Oscar club — he won’t win, of course, but the clearing of this hurdle means industry types might now pay more attention to his future good work. When Mo’Nique read out his name yesterday morning, I responded more with a sigh of relief than a loud cheer: for this most easygoing of stars, it seemed the more apt reaction.

[Photo: Focus Features]

→ 29 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

29 responses so far

  • 1 1-26-2011 at 10:02 am

    JJ1 said...

    Very happy for Ruffalo.

    Having said that, he already made my personal line-up for ‘You Can Count on Me’, so I don’t feel bad for not having him in my Top 5 this year.

    In fact, I preferred him this year in Shutter Island.

  • 2 1-26-2011 at 10:03 am

    Sertan said...

    Very happy for him! He’s been consistently good, even in bad movies

  • 3 1-26-2011 at 10:05 am

    Puchika said...

    Yeah, he was awesome in Shutter Island.

    Dissapointed Sam Rockwell didn’t make the cut

  • 4 1-26-2011 at 10:13 am

    Roger said...


  • 5 1-26-2011 at 10:19 am

    red_wine said...

    I absolutely loved him in this. He brought such a goofy and genial virility to his role. It all seems pretty low-key and understated in front of his two co-stars doing more “visible” work but he was truly deserving here.

    The field I agree is very strong. Though I would replace Renner and Bale with other better performances. My favorite out of the nominees is Rush, then Ruffalo and then Hawkes who I believe was even better than Lawrence.

  • 6 1-26-2011 at 10:25 am

    The Q-Mann said...

    Couldn’t agree more. Way overdue.

  • 7 1-26-2011 at 10:28 am

    Framescourer said...

    I agree. I would also put In The Cut at the forefront of his work for which this nomination is fully justified.

  • 8 1-26-2011 at 10:36 am

    John G said...

    The whole thing kind of reminds me of Thomas Haden Church’s performance in Sideways.

  • 9 1-26-2011 at 10:41 am

    len said...

    Soooo happy for Ruffalo and wish that he would win — he is the best thing about the kids are alright, liked his character so much that I wasn’t happy at the way (spoiler) they left his character in the end.

  • 10 1-26-2011 at 10:41 am

    RichardA said...

    I’ve said this before, but I love that idea that Mark Ruffalo’s character in You Can Count On Me moved from the northeast to west and found himself setting up an small urban organic farm in The Kids Are All Right. He grows up to be more responsible but the same personal problems he had in You Can Count On Me are the roots of the problems he has in The Kids Are All Right. It just seems so consistent.

    I’d like for Laura Linney to visit his younger brother in California and meet Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in the sequel. This time Laura Linney finally figures out why she has failed relationships with men back east.

    And then they all move to San Francisco and live the lives of Armisted Maupin’s Tale of the City.

  • 11 1-26-2011 at 10:55 am

    Kyle said...

    Funny how opinions differ; in my eyes, Christian Bale gave the best performance by an actor this year (Lead or Supporting)…but to each their own…I can barely watch Geoffrey Rush’s hammy performance, doing what he more or less always does.

    But to get back on topic, yep, very happy for Ruffalo as well..though this was probably his only performance that I’ve ever enjoyed.

  • 12 1-26-2011 at 11:05 am

    Sertan said...

    I have one major problem: I cant decide which nominated actors (out of 10) is the sexiest? Ruffalo or Franco??? Such a tough choice :)))

  • 13 1-26-2011 at 11:26 am

    billybil said...

    God I have a crush on this man!!

  • 14 1-26-2011 at 11:28 am

    billybil said...

    No…seriously…it’s painful.

    And even though Franco is one hell of a man, Sertan – for me, Ruffalo is WAAAAY sexier!

    I can’t stand it!!

  • 15 1-26-2011 at 11:45 am

    Sound Designer Dan said...

    Batman, Hawkeye, and Bruce Banner fighting for an Oscar? Awesome.

  • 16 1-26-2011 at 11:57 am

    Marshall said...

    I’m not happy for John Hawkes. I didn’t think he was any good, and Andrew Garfield was outstanding.

  • 17 1-26-2011 at 12:11 pm

    Fitz said...

    Hawkes was definitely a surprise, but I think most of Winter’s Bone other nods were purely superfluous.

  • 18 1-26-2011 at 12:36 pm

    Rashad said...

    I think Ruffalo is terrible honestly. He always has this bewildered look on his face. Can’t stand it.

    He and Michelle Williams were the worst parts of Shutter Island.

  • 19 1-26-2011 at 1:00 pm

    Robyn said...

    Marshall – you’ve got to be joking. As much as I liked Garfield’s performance, Hawkes acted RINGS around him. He was unrecognizable, immensely frightening, and gave a bit of heart to what could have been a stereotypically villainous role.

  • 20 1-26-2011 at 1:08 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Ruffalo has the better body. I prefer the baseball player bodied types.

  • 21 1-26-2011 at 1:55 pm

    hh. said...

    OH! You forgot Ruffalo’s best perfomance!: My life without me, with Sarah Poley… he’s charmy and great in that movie!

  • 22 1-26-2011 at 2:20 pm

    cinephile said...

    Wonderful write-up, and very true. I am happy as well that Ruffalo can finally be called “Academy Award nominee”.
    How great would it have been if Julianne Moore had been nominated as well, alongside Ruffalo and Annette Bening, but… I have to say Ruffalo and Bening were better and it’ll be great to see all three of them to arrive as nominees at the BAFTAs!

  • 23 1-26-2011 at 2:35 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    I’m now gladder than ever that I (half-jokingly) made it a point to continuously bug Tapley about not discussing Hawkes on Oscar Talk. I went back to listen to Ep. 45 last night, and loved hearing Anne mention how “it’s not gonna happen, but it’d be nice to see him be nominated.” I’m paraphrasing, but the moment made me very giddy, and not just in an “I-told-you-so” kind of way.

    If you build it, they will come.

  • 24 1-26-2011 at 5:56 pm

    Sebastien Bertrand said...

    I am so happy for Ruffalo! I was ecstatic when his name was read. To answer the debate, Ruffalo is sexier than Franco. Love those hairy men! He’s one of the sexiest actor!

  • 25 1-26-2011 at 6:19 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Keil: I’d like to point out that Hawkes hasn’t left my predictions page in the past six weeks. (Plus, I first spoke up for his performance way back in February 2010. We haven’t been that neglectful!)

  • 26 1-26-2011 at 9:40 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***Marshall – you’ve got to be joking. As much as I liked Garfield’s performance, Hawkes acted RINGS around him.***

    YOU have got to be joking! Honestly, for me Garfield is better than everyone in that category save Christian Bale.

  • 27 1-26-2011 at 9:47 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    @ Guy: You’re a lot bolder than I am. When I first saw the film I thought, “Holy crap that Hawkes guy is marvelous, too bad Oscar probably won’t notice.” It wasn’t until very recently that I thought I might have been (thankfully!) mistaken in that regard.

    One of those all-too-rare times where the majority at first just resigns to a great performance being inevitably snubbed and failing to think, hey, maybe those Academy voters might agree with us?

  • 28 1-26-2011 at 10:15 pm

    JR said...

    Perfect piece but I’m pulling for Bale… I’d like to think the Academy is making up for ignoring him for American Psycho – for me, one of the great performances on film. Seriously, who else could have pulled off such a feat? At the same time, I long for an honest romantic film for Bale and Winona – their chemistry in Little Women cannot be denied.

  • 29 1-27-2011 at 8:35 am

    Keil Shults said...

    Guy: I know, I know. This is just an ongoing series of playful jabs with Tapley regarding Hawkes.

    And when I quoted Field of Dreams, I wasn’t really referring to the voters taking notice of people like me constantly blogging about Hawkes. It was more that if an actor like him continues to plug away and deliver honest, meaningful performances, eventually someone is bound to take serious notice.

    By the way, what are some of the best British TV series of all time, in your opinion? I’m running out of things to watch over here. Then again, everything seems second-rate once you’ve watched The Wire in its entirety.