Friday, October 15, 2010

True Hooks For Oscar Grit. About Supporting Actor...

I'm updating the Oscar categories as you read [index] but today I'd like to talk specifically about the supporting category. Can the Coen Bros western True Grit figure in?

Supporting Actor
The excitement-boosting second trailer for True Grit gives us a good look at both Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. I had hoped that we'd get a good look at the always under-appreciated and under-used Barry Pepper [sigh] but if the trailer is any indication, you may blink and miss him in the finished movie.

Lately Oscar voters have been on a villainous bender in the Supporting Actor category. There are many reasons for this the first being who the hell would deny Ledger in '07, Bardem in '08 and Waltz in '09? But aside from a great quality performance -- nut usually the deciding factor -- Oscar has always enjoyed a good stock role, particularly in the Supporting categories. Are they in the mood for The Sidekick, The Villain, The Wisened Old Man/Mentor, The Sad Sack, or The Eccentric Weirdo?

Maybe I should chart out the last decade?

 You're welcome!

Obviously Geoffrey Rush is good to go this year for The King's Speech. Even if he weren't a beloved awards-magnetized actor, he's all these things they love (mentor, weirdo, arguable co-lead).

When they're not rewarding those stock roles and tropes, they're rewarding lead players they've fraudulently shoehorned to the 'lesser' category or certain types of performers that might crossover into any of these categories but might not: The Ham, The Overdue Giant or The Guy Who Happens To Be Having a Great Year (And This is The Film We Decided To Honor Him For).

But before anyone says "these are basic fictional tropes, of course they're rewarded" remember that not every "type" is rewarded. Oscar generally has no time for The Cocksure Young Upstart or The Longsuffering Boyfriend [Tangent: They love Longsuffering Girlfriends but no patient if exasperated men. Imagine if the sexes in Erin Brockovich were reversed. Wouldn't Erin Eckhardt -- ha! -- have been looking at a Supporting Actress nomination for co-starring in Aaron Brockovich]. They're not even all that crazy about The Loving/Proud Father or The Beautiful Loser or the Sexy "Interloper"/Seducer... this is probably why Michael Fassbender couldn't get any attention for Fish Tank despite great reviews and this is why I worry about Mark Ruffalo though everyone else seems assured of his nomination for The Kids Are All Right. He doesn't fit it any vague category that they regularly flock to and what's more he doesn't have an accent, a disease, a drinking problem or anything else to sell, showmanship wise. His character is just this fully articulated human and that type of brilliance is sometimes a tough sell.

In other words: Where's the hook?  He'll need help from his 'trouper who is overdue for attention' status. But then, Sam Rockwell (Conviction) wants those votes himself and he's got the showier character.

So I was thinking of True Grit and the way it fits into the mouthy sidekick and the charismatic villain categories (Damon and Brolin respectively) and how The Social Network doesn't really even though it also has two star hopefuls in play. You can definitely call Justin Timberlake a charismatic villain (Oscar's favorite type) but can you really call Garfield a "sidekick?"...  he's not mouthy or wisecracking, and part of the conflict is that he's really not interest in being a sidekick. He wants the co-leading role that he keeps getting turned down for. He's just kind of this guy who is losing control of the monster he helped create. And yet he's not really a pitiable sadsack either. This is all a long way of saying that Oscar likes characters to fall a little more to the extreme side of the personality spectrum. Garfield, like Ruffalo, is just beautifully examining a somewhat normal guy in an extraordinary situation. No hooks.

So, good luck to both. Or maybe you think they won't need luck. Do tell...

Updated: Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Actor, Foreign Films


Andrew R. said...

You got Ledger's/Bardem's years mixed up.

Andrew R. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert Hamer said...

"...who the hell would deny Ledger in '07, Bardem in '08 and Waltz in '09?"

Anyone who thought those were lead roles, for starters.

Aaron said...

I think Clive Owen in Closer could easily fall into the "I'm a co-lead" category as well as "showy villain" (even though his villanious tendencies aren't as uber recognizable as the past three winners)...

...a little off topic, but I think the supporting nominee (both male and female) that was the biggest head-scratcher and undefinable as far as where to place it would be Catherine Keener in Capote...I mean, that was a WTF nomination...I DON'T REMEMBER HER IN THAT MOVIE!!! Did she do anything???

Joe said...

Very surprised about you list of anomalies. Here's where I would put those:

Baldwin goes into showy villain. He breaks peoples legs. Literally.

Hounsou dies of AIDS so you can put him in pitiable sad sack and is also a wisened mentor(not because of age, but because as a black foreigner that is his purpose).

I would lump both Dillon and Giammatti into the "pitiable sad sack" position as well. Not because their character were, but because Giamatti got his oscar nom based on the huge snub the year before and because voters were saying to Dillon "oh yeah, you are a good actor. sorry you do all those BAD films."

Not sure about Owen or Walken though...

cal roth said...

You wrote "Doubt" instead of Hoffman.

I don't think Giamatti is an anomaly. He is the mouthy sidekick.And Freeman is the wisened mentor, the conscience os fthe movie, like Keener in Capote.

But, anyway I LOVED this chart. What about doing that in the 4 categories?


hmmm. perhaps i should make a few adjustments. a boys work is never done.

in truth i could not remember GIAMATTI's role in cinderella man at all. so that's what happened there. is he really the mouthy sidekick?

joe -- i didn't feel comfortable putting Hounsou in pitiable because isn't his character joyful? that's hte opposite. I don't remember the movie well though.


cal -- i'm tempted but trust that it was a lot of work. and i aint doing this for my health! what is with people lately vacating the commenting? let's get some'a conversations going people.

Holden said...

Damon as a co-lead for INVICTUS? He was barely in that movie for 10 minutes!

Unknown said...

My favorite thing right now about the supporting races is how wide open they are- any variety of nominees and no big, obvious winner. In supporting actor, I could see anyone from your top 14 (!) getting in. Hopefully the globes and SAGs keep it muddy and we can see some surprises on nominations morning

Arkaan said...

Heh, awesome chart.

Broadbent fits in the "The Guy Who Happens To Be Having a Great Year (And This is The Film We Decided To Honor Him For)." Remember, he supported three of the best actress nominees that year (Zelwegger, Dench and Kidman).

I really hope you're wrong about Garfield.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you still put Timberlake's chances ahead of Garfield's. I think, largely, the buzz for Timberlake has calmed down with talk of Garfield as having stolen the show. When I left my midnight screening of the film Garfield was literally all anyone was talking about — after they waited a little into the credits to find out what his name was.

Dominique said...

I agree that Timberlake doesn't seem very likely compared to the amazing Garfield (and personally I found JT to be simply adequate, no more no less) but more than that, I'm surprised Armie Hammer is nowhere on your list, not even Tier 3.

Now I know you're not a fan of this performance, but his buzz is undeniable (he's the first thing everyone I know talks about after they've seen the film) and he kind of reminds me of Wahlberg in The Departed, meaning the "pretty boy scene stealer no one was expecting to break out of this ensemble cast". Or something to that effect.

Not exactly the same kind of mouthy sidekick, but he did have his fair share of memorable bon mots...


anon & dom -- i guess the way i'm figuring it is i try to think of how Oscar feels about things, rather than the online community. A prime example is Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass. I can't tell you how many lists she shows up in online (usually not "predicted though) as if she's a longshot. But it is just never in a billion years going to happen. just like enthusiasm for Scott Pilgrim is never going to get that crowd to watch it. it's just not how they think. and i think this is where we see the generational divide, between the geek culture driven internet and the more traditional older industry veteran crowd.

and i guess it's this that i keep thinking of with The Social Network. because if you remove everyone's online excitement about Andrew Garfield due to spider-man (and please don't forget that i prefer Garfield to Timberlake too) i think you're left with

Garfield -sympathetic but passive role for newish actor.
Timberlake - showy plot-active role for major celebrity with tons of industry friends who tends to get love from the industry when he works outside of music (see Emmys)
Hamer - internet excitement and isn't it cool how they filmed the twins? (this type of cool factor almost never translates to Oscar attention) and a third tier role. You generally have to be total co-lead... or super large supporting (timberlake/garfield) or a celebrity already to get nominated, let alone getting nominated for a third tier role with two other people fighting for votes in your category.

I guess I just don't understand why the internet's enthusiasm is expected to transfer over into the showbiz community.

nor do i understand why the performance is special... I try to remove my own feelings about these things to a degree but in cases where i just can't drum up any enthusiasm AND I can't find the hook for the Academy, i figure there won't be attention.


hope that makes sense but i will have to recalibrate if this internet enthusiasm does begin to spill over. I freely admit i'm a little perplexed about the minor buzz that I freely admit he has ;) I just don't think he means anything to the industry yet in the way that Timberlake and Garfield already do. And it is an industry prize.


arkaan -- i know but i left that category out of the chart because it wasn't a "type of role". Reilly also fits into that category for 2002 since he was in like every movie and three of the best picture nominees.

Unknown said...

I have an odd hunch that Vincent Cassel will get in and win for Black Swan. In fact, I'm calling that film for lots of Oscar attention, though most seem hesitant to. Could Cassel work in "showy villain"?

I don't see any of the actors from The Social Network getting nominated. None of the roles are particularly strong, and the category generally doesn't go for breakthrough performances (last year being a major exception with front-runner and eventual winner Christoph Waltz).

Volvagia said...

I think Barry Pepper could be in the running, but for Casino Jack, as I've said before. (He plays Michael Scanlon. And SA is the only category we can rely on bio-dramedies for.) Also: By this point, Duvall is DEAD. On top of that, Gosling is most likely DEAD as well. (The last NC-17 or X Lead Actor nominee was Brando for Last Tango.) Bardem wouldn't be 6 for me at this point. Giamatti? Maybe, until you consider a Canadian novel adaptation hasn't gotten an acting nomination yet. Bridges? Possible. It did get John Wayne a nom. Franco? I don't know how much the Academy will pay attention to a mostly facial performance. A bit of a risk.

My Predictions:

Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Johnny Depp, The Tourist

My Dream List:

Jack Black, Gulliver's Travels (They need to make up for School of Rock. This should be the perfect opportunity.)
Justin Timberlake, Yogi Bear (seriosuly, have you seen the trailers? One thing you can't say about Timberlake is he's always trying to make himself look good (some people hate Boo-Boo. I know, I've looked it up.))
Kevin Spacey, Casino Jack ("There's this article in The New York Times called 'The Super Lobbyist.' You know who that is? That's me." *Goes bug eyed* "I'm the Super Lobbyist." If he can sustain something that perceptive for a whole movie, he deserves a nom.)
James Franco, 127 Hours (I know everyone's predicting it, but I don't see how the Academy's Actors are going to accept an hour of facial emoting alone. I think it's like how Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky wasn't for them. Interested in seeing it, but I think this is a dream citation, not an ACTUAL SERIOUS OSCAR NOM.)
Michael Cera, Scott Pilgrim (And I'm annoyed that people are saying "he does the same thing every time." Eisenberg is arguably even more guilty of this, and you don't see people trying to take down The Social Network on that fault, do you? I don't even think Cera was even the MAIN problem with the movie. That would be the fact that they sliced off over half of the comic, most of the sliced content coming from vols. 2-5. The resulting package was like having a meal of 5 slices of toast, instead of a toasted sandwich. Who knows? Maybe the DVD has a director's cut.)

Volvagia said...

And...did you change your mind on Ledger as a Lead in The Dark Knight?

Anonymous said...

@Julian - I totally agree with you on Black Swan's Oscar potential. Something tells me Cassel will be the surprise nod.

I was shocked to find out Anne Thompson and her circle think Natalie Portman has a snowball's chance in hell of winning (even though they all agree she's "fantastic" & that a nomination is "likely" = argh! my brain!). If Julianne Moore gets in -- and I think she will -- I don't see Annette Bening getting the lion's share of votes... making way for Portman. After all, she's pretty much a lock for the Best Actress - Drama Globe and is right behind Bening in terms of frontrunner status.

Can anyone who's seen the film give us some insight?


volvagia -- u need to stop it with the Yogi bear thing. Even Justin Timberlake was making fun of it at the Social network conference. and no voice work performance is going to get nominated any time soon. and if one is, it'll be a decade from now and it will be for something that is about some lauded star that's more motion capture'ish in something that's like AVATAR big. it's just a hurdle actors won't be able to overcome for awhile.

i think this is a generational thing too. I've noticed that the younger people are (i have no idea how old you are -- i'm speaking generally) around the web the more they complain about voicework not being recognized. I assume this is because they grew up in the age when animated fimls were great films (pixar's dominance) because i never recall anybody talking about this before the 90s.

and i personally would never nominate a voice only performance. the only way i'd do it is if it was voice with the actors physicality / face muscle captures (like Gollum or Neytiri or what have you) because otherwise it isn't a fair playing field at all. voice work only cannot compete with voice + body & gestural + face. there are just so many more tools for a flesh and blood actor to work with and in an animated film at least half of the performance belongs to the animators and character conception designers and not the voice actors.

my take at least.


badmofo -- i'm actually surprised that so many people on the internet think that Natalie Portman IS going to win. Why? The Academy couldn't possibly view her as "overdue" as they've only noticed her once. and they don't like horror/genre films that much.

I know the people who don't think that think BENING.

I personally don't have an opinion yet ;) i don't think there is a "frontrunner" or if it's Bening, she's a weak one as she hasn't even started her campaign yet (though that slow to jump on thing may pay off in the end because nobody will be sick of her. timing is a tricky thing)

David J. said...

I think Broadbent should be in co-lead category for Iris, I mean he was in it just as much as Dench was(if not more) and she was nominated for lead.

Anonymous said...

@Nathaniel - Annette does seem to be taking the slow approach this year, and a variation on that technique did help Mo'Nique win an Oscar last year (her excellent performance didn't hurt either ;-D).

And I'll admit it seems rather unlikely a film as outré as Black Swan could take home a Best Actress trophy.* However, I've been reading literally every review this film has received online (can you tell I'm obsessed? lol) and there's just too much enthusiasm for that performance to toss it out so quickly. When you also consider the fact that Portman reportedly dances through many of Oscar's favorite tropes in the film, it begins to look plausible.

As for the "overdue" factor: she's an industry staple who's been in the business longer than most of her contemporaries and... actually, I urge you to check out this spoiler-free link as it goes more into detail about her chances than I possibly could.

*I don't know why but Fredric March in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the first thing that springs to mind.

Anonymous said...

I've seen Black Swan and I guess I could see Cassel getting in, but he's sort of not in it much in the last act. As for Natalie her performance was really good, but I didn't find her amazing (her dancing was, if that was her). I loved the film BTW, can't wait to see it again. I didn't think Armie Hammer's or Timberlake's performance was that great either. Garfield was better than both, but the real star in acting was Eisenberg.

I agree with Nathaniel, I don't think there is a frontrunner in BA yet. Overall I do think Annette's Performance is better than Natalie's, but Natalie's performance is grander and probably suits the Academy tastes more. The film is more of a psychological thriller, so the Academy may embrace it. I really didn't think it was too out there for the Academy's taste.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous - Thanks for adding some much-needed perspective. I definitely see what you mean with the performance types and how the Academy responds in matters of great vs. grand.

To add to The Social Network discussion: I thought Armie Hammer's performance was reminiscent of Tom Hardy's in Inception -- i.e. entertaining and well-acted, but certainly not Oscar-worthy. Timberlake was surprisingly good but nothing special. Garfield was fantastic and I'd say he was more a hybrid of the mouthy sidekick and the pitiable sad sack (pitiable sidekick?). Eisenberg, however, IS the movie.