Friday, December 24, 2010

Make Room For Pearce

Michael C. here from Serious Film to file a complaint.


If I were to name the biggest problem currently facing the nation today that problem would be category fraud. Okay, maybe not, but it still irks the hell out of me. Not because, like some political press release, this Oscar-grubbing is treated completely legit despite everyone knowing it's total bull. That's no biggie. No, what bugs me is the way this screws over the guys and girls this category is there to honor in the first place: the supporting players who show up for two or three scenes and absolutely kill it. Not only are the leads hogging the precious few slots, but they're overshadowing the real supporting players from their own films. Look no further than this year's The King's Speech to see this problem in action.

If it was called The King's Therapist would this even be an issue?
By pushing Rush as supporting they're sidelining the real standout supporting turn in the film, Guy Pearce as King Edward. With just a few well-chosen strokes Pearce deftly suggests his rebellious, feckless character. The audience's immediate reaction is, "Jesus, don't put that guy on the throne." The performance supports the movie perfectly, setting the stage for the main conflict. Yet Pearce can't get any oxygen because Rush is sucking it all up. What's the point of having a supporting category if major screen time is practically a requirement? The same thing happened when Jamie Foxx was laughably crammed into the supporting category for Collateral despite being in literally every scene in the movie. Barry Shabaka Henley's unforgettable seven minutes as the jazz club owner with regrets and secrets never had a chance.

Spot the supporting actor. Hint: It's not the guy in 99% of the film.
I don't see how anyone could classify Geoffrey Rush as supporting and keep a straight face since the whole movie is a two-hander between him and Firth. Listen closely, Academy: Just because one character is royalty and the other is a commoner doesn't mean the actor playing the king is somehow more important. I feel like this should be a simple concept to grasp.

30 comments:

Robert Hamer said...

Pathetically, this is not an easy concept for people to grasp. In fact, not only have a lot of moviegoers bought into this "Only One Lead" BS, but they actively fight for it. Not too long ago I had a conversation with a prominent Oscar pundit who was furious over the HFPA considering Hailee Steinfeld as a lead in True Grit. When I pointed out the obvious to him, his response was, "But in the screeners being sent to us she's clearly being campaigned as supporting, so they [HFPA] would have known..."

Did you get that? She's a lead and he knows it, but the Golden Globes should have played along with the studio's bogus campaign anyway.

Look, it's quite simple: There can be more than one lead in a film. Period. If that means certain performances (like Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech or Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit) fail to get a nomination, too bad. That's why an Oscar nomination is so coveted, and there's only five slots for the leading players. Selfishly taking slots reserved for the supporting people is absurd and unfair, and we should not tolerate it.

Think about that the next time you wonder why someone like David Carradine or Clifton Collins Jr were "snubbed" of Best Supporting Actor nominations.

adam k. said...

I HATE category fraud generally, for what I'm realizing are the same reasons I hate much of what goes on in actual politics (beyond the insular realm of film awards): it has to do with the issue of sheepie groupthink and people buying (joyfully!) into corporate propaganda even when it clearly flies in the face of basic factual truth. The idea that one should just do what the big, powerful studio it says, for no reason at all other than that they say so, is rather disgusting. Let the big studios have their way, dammit! Screw the little people who have actual supporting roles! It all smacks of corporate welfare.

But that said, I honestly don't think the Geoffrey Rush example is THAT bad. The supporting classification is arguable, but it's just that: arguable. You could argue it one way or the other. I think Gertie is much more the lead character in that he's the one who truly changes and has an arc, and he's the one around whom the important events all orbit. Yes, it's basically a two-hander, but it's more about Firth's character than Rush's, and Firth is in more of the film. You could argue that Rush's only real function in the two-hander is to be a foil for Gertie in his journey.

He's a lead, but he's at least the SECONDARY lead, and if you DID have to choose one lead, that lead would be Firth. This situation doesn't irk me nearly as much as...

HAILEE STEINFELD in TRUE GRIT! WTF! Just saw that yesterday, and yes, it's another Jamie Foxx in Collateral situation. This is the opposite situation: if you had to pick a supporting player out of the lead duet, it would have to be Bridges. But is that who they chose? Of course not. They chose the child. Ridiculous. And the fact that Jacki Weaver could lose out because they needed to reserve a spot for a child unknown just makes it worse.

There's fraud, and then there's FRAUD. Steinfeld is of the capital F variety.

And it seems that the main reason capital F FRAUDULENT categorizations have to be put in supporting is that the performances aren't strong enough to be put in lead. In supporting, people seem to have the reaction of "wow, that person did all that in a supporting role? I have to vote for them then! it's almost like they were a lead, they were so good!" Well DUH.

CORPORATE WELFARE.

Michael C. said...

Funny thing is nobody bats an eye when there's two leads of different genders nominated. That happens all the time. As Good As It Gets, Walk the Line, The Silence of the Lambs, In the Bedroom just off the top of my head. Why should leads of the same gender be any more rare? But of course they are. The last time was Thelma and Louise (91) for women and Amadeus (84) for men.

adam k. said...

Honestly, for all the kvetching people do about the HFPA, between their (generally) superior taste and their usual category fraud rejection, they do themselves proud year in and year out.

If you just cover up the BEST PIC -COMEDY/MUSICAL/FUSION nominations, their nominee lists are quite great.

Michael C. said...

Adam K - I would definitely agree that Firth is the protagonist, but I think lead status should largely be a question of screen time and amount of dialogue not dramatic arc. To go back to Collateral, Foxx is the one who goes through the change, but Cruise and Foxx are clearly co-leads.

But I definitely agree Rush isn't the most egregious example by a long shot. Stanfield is, of course, the much worse. At least Rush is not in some scenes! I'm just bugged that genuine supporting excellence gets muscled out.

Paul Outlaw said...

@ adam k:

Gertie? ;-)

Anyway, this year's worst example of category confusion is Lesley Manville in Another Year. One of the best performances of the year, and it may end up slipping through the cracks.

Alex said...

I agree that lead status has more to do with character arc and development than screentime. "The King's Speech" is really all about Firth. The fact that Rush has a HUGE amount of screentime doesn't change the fact that he's a supporting character. Hailee Steinfeld, on the other hand...

It sort of balances out Lesley Manville getting her supporting turn nominated in lead...

NATHANIEL R said...

michael -- thanks for posting this. you know i saw this (vaguely) a second time. I wasn't watching closely the second time since i'd already seen it but the second time through i did notice Guy Pearce and suddenly thought 'oh, he's had a pretty good year. Given this and Animal Kingdom. But in both films he is exactly what a "supporting" actor is.

NATHANIEL R said...

adam you write "And it seems that the main reason capital F FRAUDULENT categorizations have to be put in supporting is that the performances aren't strong enough to be put in lead."

That is absolutely the god's truth.

Since Hailee isn't as good as the 7 or 8 women fighting it out for leads, she's demoted so they can honor her. How about just accepting that the awards are what the awards are: they're meant to award the 5 best in each category. Not the 14 leads you liked the most plus 6 supporting players ;)

the confusing thing for me about the Hailee situation is that she's good in the film and when people are good in a film, shouldn't good reviews and strong bolstering of their careers be reward enough?

I think it all just comes down to the fact that critics and pundits and oscar voters don't respect supporting players. It's a food chain and lead actors are at the top. Might equals right.

Michael C. said...

That really is too bad about Manville. She is one of those rare ones where I think either classification is justifiable. It's pretty clear now that they should've gone for the Gosford Park, everyone's supporting route.

RJ said...

I actually thought his character was the weakest spot of the movie for me, especially when it went out of its way to make him and Wallis Simpson cartoony villains. I don't need the cards so stacked to like the protagonist.

Evan said...

Following up on RJ's comment, a thought:

I wonder if part of the reluctance to nominate Pearce is that his character is often viewed in a good light by the public (i.e. "He gave up the throne for the woman he loves!"). Just a month before I saw "The King's Speech," for example, I watched a Today Show segment about Wallis's jewelry which were on the auction block (or in a museum exhibition... something like that). 'Today' called Wallis and David's story one of the greatest romances of all time. And yet, here was the movie and an actor portraying him really negatively. That's a hard pill for a biased audience to take.

cal roth said...

I've seen Another Year and it was very clear to me that Ruth Sheen has the leading role and Manville has a supporting role with a lot of screentime and material to work with.

But the it still Sheen and her friends. And if you ask me, I loved Sheen in the movie, more than Manville. So, if you have two great performances, why not to campaign them the right way:

Sheen is leading (and she deserves a campaign)

Manville is supporting

Case closed.

mrripley said...

I don't get how kirsten dunst is supporting in all good things.

NATHANIEL R said...

mrripley -- it's impossible to defend that without getting into SPOILER territory ;)

AnthonyDC said...

I actually liked Guy Pearce better than Geoffrey Rush in "The King's Speech." Rush took a knife and fork to the walls, whereas I was looking forward to every scene with the two brothers or Edward and Wallis. (I think part of this was the ad campaign's fault -- the trailer featured nearly every one of Rush's punchlines. I felt like I had already seen the movie and just wanted his parts to end.)

/3rtfu11 said...

Funny thing is nobody bats an eye when there's two leads of different genders nominated. That happens all the time. As Good As It Gets, Walk the Line, The Silence of the Lambs, In the Bedroom just off the top of my head. Why should leads of the same gender be any more rare? But of course they are. The last time was Thelma and Louise (91) for women and Amadeus (84) for men.

Michael the answer is simple – people of the opposite sex aren’t competing against each other. No studio wants to campaign duo same sex leads for vote splitting to occur and you’re stuck with someone else being the victor. So from the studio’s end it’s better to campaign an actor who fits the criteria for someone viable in the more competitive category – the Lead Actors race.

Before anyone brings up Maclaine and Abraham – Maclaine by virtue of being Jack’s female co-star the same night they’re honoring him clinched her victory. If I’m not mistaken Debra Winger is an actress respected but not at all liked in many circles because she’s honest with people in show business (see Sigourney Weaver).

NATHANIEL R said...

/3rtfull -- well i think everyone knows WHY it happens. But that doesnt make it right. Nor does it explain the complicity of "critics" who really ought to know better and be less sycophantic (i mean if you're just aping whatever the studios want, you're not a critic, you're another PR agent. There's nothing wrong with PR people. But it's a different job.)

/3rtfu11 said...

The supporting category is made up of two types those never to return again (one night stands) and the only way this actor is going to win an Oscar is in this category.
The only time I had a real problem with category fraud is George Clooney walking away with one when all of his more deserving nominees for Supporting Actor had to sit in disappointment. That’s just cruel – especially when the likely hood of Clooney winning again in either Best Actor or possibly Best Director is so high.

adam k. said...

I think the more obvious reason MacLaine and Abraham won is that they were both in Best Pic winners that swept the board. But still, it shows that it's possible to beat your costar in the lead race. It could still happen. Annette could triumph over Julianne this year, for instance (they'd just have to REALLY love TKAAR).

Btw, the Steinfeld situation is made even more galling (IMHO) by the fact that they don't even have the "same gender" excuse. She's just the lead, period! And the only female lead, at that. So what if she's 14 years old and Jeff Bridges is a bigger star?

I actually just saw Paper Moon and was similarly frustrated by that one. Tatum REALLY wasn't a supporting actress.

I still wouldn't put it past the academy to pull a shocker and give us a best actress lineup of: Bening, Portman, Kidman, Lawrence, and... Steinfeld. It all feels so very "Whale Rider" to me...

Paul Outlaw said...

@ Evan:

Edward & Wallis haven't really been all that positively viewed in a long time. He is generally seen an effete, Nazi-sympathizing weakling, she as a manipulative shrew. The King's Speech presents them pretty traditionally, as far as contemporary audiences go. Nothing new or controversial there. Madonna's film may or may not rehabilitate their images, but I haven't heard anything about her take on them.

cal roth said...

@/3rtfu11

Well, one can say Clooney was really great in Syriana (he was), that there was not category fraud at all (it was an ensemble piece with A LOT of characters), and that a popular actor shouldn't lose the Oscar if people think he gave a great performance only because his competitors won't have a second shot.

Clooney was the best of the nominees if we don't consider Gyllenhaal - now that was huge category fraud.

Bryan said...

I feel like all the Steinfeld inevitability sort of just... happened. It's like her nomination was just determined one day, arbitrarily.

Does she even have ardent supporters? I feel like Jacki Weaver has more enthusiastic fans, for example. And if Steinfeld gets boosted into Lead, she'll likely be taking the spot of Lesley Manville or Michelle Williams-- two women who, again, I feel have more vocal supporters.

When/how did the Steinfeld thing happen, exactly? It's sort of like the HBC performance in The King's Speech; I'm not aware that anyone LOVES it, yet her spot is all but assured.

Amir said...

ahhh tell me about it.
watched the film earlier today and the whole time i was trying to figure out how Firth was any more important at all than Rush.
i think they're both good but if i were to nominate one in lead, i'd totally go for Rush.
and yeah, Pearce killed it.
What did you think of Spall? I think he was really great with his few minutes as well.

NATHANIEL R said...

Bryan -- well obviously someone LOVES the Steinfeld performance because she's suddenly picking up actual precursor wins (albeit from small critical associations)

i do agree that it happened arbitrarily... it's weird. So many great performances from COEN BROS films have been ignored and that one is the one that gets to just sail in with ease? odd.

/3rtfull -- yeah, MACLAINE's win had nothing to do with Jack winning the same night. It was by virtue of being in the best picture frontrunner but even stronger an incentive than that was that Maclaine had put a lifetime into the movies with multiple Oscar nods. She was one of the most "overdue" of all stars who've ever been up for the prize. If anything Maclaine helped pull Jack to his 2nd win ;)

/3rtfu11 said...

Nathaniel,
The wins Jack and his female co-stars have received appear to make it about him. Fletcher and Hunt appear to me to be carried by Jack – the same goes for Kathy Bates’ About Schmidt Supporting Actress nod. Huston was the industry frontrunner for her Prizzi’s Honor statuette but being Jack’s girl certainly didn’t hurt. You’re right Maclaine likely helped him in the Supporting race.

GaryS. said...

You guys are so pressed. Year after year after year after year. Rush is fine in supporting actor. Even with Rush out of the picture, Guy Pierce would be nowhere near that final five, and you know it. Don't be disingenuous. You know who's in the running and who's not. If Rush was in lead, then you'd have Rockwell, Murray, Timberlake, etc. (the second tiers) rising to the top slots. That's how the game works. Sorry, but no one here is new to this.

Leslie said...

I watched the original True Grit a few months ago, and I wondered why Kim Darby never got any traction for her Mattie Ross. Maybe people are making amends of sorts now with Hailee Steinfeld, like, now that we're more progressive and receptive toward child actors, let's recognize this standout role while we have the chance. I haven't seen the new True Grit yet (I'm trying to finish the book first), but I'm wondering if that's a part of her positive reception (along with what I hear is the standout performance of the film, even above Jeff Bridges, and the in flux nature of supporting actress this year). And with Bridges, I think that history is working against him here in a way that it's working for Steinfeld. He just won last year for Crazy Heart, and I don't think he's the kind of actor that's going to win two Oscars in a row. Plus he's reprising an Oscar-winning role, and I doubt voters will double-dip when they don't have to with such a strong frontrunner as Colin Firth in the mix and the legend of John Wayne floating about. That's a lot of rambling on my part, but I see a lot of positive factors in Hailee Steinfeld's favor right now, and I could actually see her winning the supporting actress Oscar in February.

NATHANIEL R said...

Leslie -- i could too but I don't like it.

Gary -- yes we know how the game works, but the posts urging voters to ingore category fraud are totes sincere anyway. I mean, it just makes everyone look bad... like NO ONE cares about the art at all and they're all just admitting that it's all politics and popularity contests. We like to pretend that the actual movies figure in. Someone needs to.

what weirds me out more than my own fascination with this actual problem is how angry people get at me for talking about it. I'm sorry I'm not willing to help you (the general you -- not you specifically -- with your delusions that people who are in every scene are "supporting" players. I just can't do it. I can't even convince myself to try to do it... and I'm regularly embarrassed for "critics" (whose job it is to have critical thinking skills) who don't have integrity about this. I get why awards voters do it but it just embarrasses me with the critics groups.

GaryS. said...

But that's you again generalizing rather arrogantly that critics don't have proper "critical thinking skills" for disagreeing with you on category placements. They could genuinely believe that Rush and Steinfeld deserve supporting placements. It doesn't have to be a we all sipped the kool-aid type situation. It happens so much not just at the Oscars that I've resolved that it's their award to do with as they please, and if you don't like it, then don't pay attention. It's good for your health that way.