Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Incoherent Oscar : Supporting Actor

It’ll probably end up being after the ceremony, but I’ll be resuscitating that Supporting Actor feature I started last year and take a look at this slate of supporting actors with rankings. For now, I’m just assessing the field as it relates to their position in the Oscar race.

The Nominees: Kenneth Branagh in My Week with Marilyn; Jonah Hill in Moneyball; Nick Nolte in Warrior; Christopher Plummer in Beginners; Max von Sydow in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

People are always going crazy about how AMPAS is ageist and old men always get honoured here which is a bit of a silly claim since the winners over the last two decades haven’t been expressly old. Perhaps it’s in keeping with my general laidback feeling about the Oscar race this year I’m very okay with this group of nominees, and I’d say that it’s a generally solid bunch. It’s something of the antithesis of the supporting actor category (which has four first time nominees). Four of the five actors nominated here have been nominated before and there’s one first-time nominee, who’s also something of a newbie in terms of acting.

The category is especially interesting this year, to me in that there’s no evidence of category fraud this time around. All the actors are all working with a definitively supporting character. Let’s take a look at the field.

Kenneth Branagh in My Week Marilyn
Branagh has been nominated for his writing and his directing over the year, but this is only his second nomination for acting. He was nominated in 1989 for his work in Henry V. What makes this performance and nomination that much more delightful is the longstanding comparisons to Olivier that Branagh has endured as an artist. Like Olivier Branagh made a name for himself from his adaptations of Shakespearean films and it’s something of a circular motion that he’s now playing the actor in My Week with Marilyn. It’s interesting how the film seemed assured of earning those two acting nods even despite being one of those with lesser buzz, call it the power of Weinstein or the power of the performance but I think he’s a solid nominee.

Jonah Hill in Moneyball
There’s been much ink dedicated to Hill and his comedic roots becoming an Oscar contender for his work on Moneyball and whatnot. It’s something of a coattails nod, not in the meaning of his performance being poor but the film’s quiet but steady surge and the support for Brad’s work in the film put Hill in the conversation, and allowed for more people to take note of his performance. Even though Moneyball is explicitly the story of Billy Beane, much of the baseball facets turn into a duet between Hill and Pitt and both turn out performances that complement the other. Since so much of his performance ends up being reactionary, he becomes something of the audience portal into the film (and to Beane).

Nick Nolte in Warrior
Nolte has been nominated twice, first for his work in The Prince of Tides in 1992 and then for his work in Affliction in 1998. I suppose you can compare his nomination to Plummer a bit in the way that the entire response of the awards’ community to Warrior seemed to rest on this supporting performance. A substantial part of the story of battling brothers in the film rests on their relationship with their father and even if it isn’t a performance you like it’s not difficult to see what makes voters sidle up to it. The reformed parent, the parent living through his children, the former athlete passing on his knowledge – they’re all hooks that make for sympathetic characters and Nolte manages to loom over the film.

Christopher Plummer in Beginners
Talk about reaching their heyday in the other old age. This is Plummer’s second nomination, earning his first only two years ago for his work in The Last Station. Even his performance wasn’t good , and even if he wasn’t getting those potential votes for his contribution to the cinema Plummer would seem like a likely winner. He’s the only nominee who was recently remembered by the AMPAS and this could – in some ways – suffice as a make-up nod for his work on The Last Station. His work on Beginners, though, is good enough on its own. Like Warrior and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close the relationship between the father and his children is a significant portion of this, and some of the most profound moments in the film rest on the relationship between Plummer and McGregor. And, kudos to Plummer for citing McGregor’s work in all his speeches.

Max von Sydow in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
This is Sydow’s second nomination having been previously honoured for his work on Pelle the Conqueror in 1988. This is, of course, the surprise inclusion of all the categories considering that he didn’t turn up at any of the major precursors. Why is he here? In a film about the relationship between parents and children, and focusing so much on a boy missing his father Sydow’s “The Renter” becomes a nice surrogate father figure for Oskar. Considering that the film never really tries to become a construction of the pain suffered by 9/11 (it’s more about Oskar specifically and his relationship to his father) The Renter’s psychological dumbness as a result of whatever tragedy he witnesses becomes a significant emotional arc in the story. The novelty of a performance without words cannot be ignored, too, especially when Sydow’s performance is as honest as it is.
Projected Winner: Christopher Plummer, there’s no reason I can think of to imagine Plummer not sailing through to the win. I say he’s the actor most assured of his Oscar.
Alternate: Max von Sydow, but even though everyone’s now considering whether Sydow could be a major upset I don’t think that because of their similarity in age and that makes for a likely upset. He’s the alternate, but I say it’s not very likely.

(In another year, and with a more appreciated film Branagh could have been a real contender, I think.)
Is Plummer as safe as I assume him to be? Is Sydow his only real threat?


Yojimbo_5 said...

Personally, I think it's von Sydow. Plummer is in his prime and will return. But, ya know what? I think it's going to go to Branagh, because the comparisons between the two actors-he and Olivier-are just so JUICY, and like the two Cate's (Blanchett and Hepburn), I think the Academy is going to give it to Branagh because it's just so NATURAL a casting and so skillful a resulting performance. One should never assume the Academy is going to be creative in thinking.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

yojimbo i really wouldn't mind branagh winning, i do love him, but i just couldn't bear to see plummer lose.

(curious, what were your thoughts on blanchett as hepburn?)