Off the Carpet: Wide open supporting actor race could be headlined by vets

Posted by · 9:39 am · October 3rd, 2011

Last week — out of pure laziness because there frankly isn’t much about the season worth discussing without assigning dubious meaning to this and that — I shined a light on the lead actor category in this space. Today, for the same reasons, let’s move on to Best Supporting Actor.

Anne and I took a stab at the supporting categories in Friday’s Oscar Talk, but digging in a bit on the fellows, it’s exciting how wide open the field appears to be. When your best bet is a player in a fringe indie hopeful that isn’t likely to stir much discussion in other arenas, you know it’s a fluid line-up. Still, Christopher Plummer is a delight and makes it look so easy in “Beginners,” so, fittingly, he’s already having flags planted on his behalf by early kudo committees. But after that, it’s anyone’s game.

I placed a bet on Max Von Sydow last week after hearing multiple accounts of his work in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” being something special and the most viable option from the cast. But it’s still a largely unseen film, as is “My Week with Marilyn” and Kenneth Branagh’s supporting turn as Laurence Olivier. But those who have caught a look are quick to mention the two.

Of the films that have been widely screened, Albert Brooks sticks out as a real possibility in “Drive.” That is, of course, assuming the Academy can warm up to the chilly film. Certainly if Brooks maintains a presence throughout the season, he’ll be an easy vote for many. And it’s the kind of recognition that would open even more doors for the long-time comedy actor.

One question is whether Nick Nolte can hold on to a spot in the wake of box office woes for “Warrior.” That will be a tough hurdle to clear, and it’ll require a bit of a presence, much like Brooks. Sustaining anything from September on is difficult, but especially so when you face inherent uphill climbs.

It’s interesting, then, that so many veteran actors are leading the discussion in the category this year. But the fun doesn’t stop there.

Fox Searchlight is planning a supporting actor push for Brad Pitt’s career-best performance in “The Tree of Life,” a nice complement to his leading work in “Moneyball.” He could find traction in both categories easily. It’ll be interesting to watch how or if the focus shifts between the films.

George Clooney’s “The Ides of March” contains a pair of performances that could find room. Philip Seymour Hoffman nails the part of a jaded but loyal campaign strategist, however, I think Clooney’s sparsely utilized politician makes a more compelling case for recognition, especially given a knock-out delivery late in the film.

Jim Broadbent and David Thewlis have similar roles in “The Iron Lady” and “The Lady,” respectively. The latter has received good notices out of Toronto while the former is still to be revealed.

Another mostly unseen possibility is Patton Oswalt in “Young Adult,” who is said to be a very sympathetic element of the film. Meanwhile, Jonah Hill already has a healthy number of fans of his work in “Moneyball.”

There are a pair of brief but memorable portrayals in “The Descendants” (Robert Forster) and “Rampart” (Ben Foster). The former has the most potential for finding champions but neither are likely to gain considerable traction.

Finally, if enough people see their films, John Hawkes (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”) and Ezra Miller (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”) could easily find passionate supporters.  And who knows what the supporting casts of “J. Edgar” and “War Horse” bring to the table?

But since things are so up in the air, I’d like to throw my vote into the ether. Corey Stoll in “Midnight in Paris” remains one of the true delights for me this year. His riff on Ernest Hemingway through the author’s trademark prose style was perfectly executed. I keep saying I just had a big smile on my face whenever he was on screen, and that kind of presence deserves to be recognized. Here’s hoping he can find some traction this season.

QUICK NOTE: The Contenders section still isn’t up and running yet, but for now, I’ve done a small bit of updating in the sidebar predictions. The full list of predictions will soon be available there, but for now, it was easier to move the top eight categories there while we work on other elements.

What are some other supporting performances from the year that you think deserve a look in this wide open race? Rattle off your favorites in the comments section below.

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