Best Supporting Actor
While the Lead Actor and Actress categories are mostly up in the air, the Supporting categories are far more predictable this year. In 2009, Christoph Waltz of Inglourious Basterds swept almost every award leading up to the Oscars and was the easiest win to predict that year. Something similar has occurred this year with Christopher Plummer of Beginners. Plummer might even have a greater advantage in the fact that he will receive the legacy vote to reward him for the decades of excellent work he has put in to the film industry.
The only actor who has prevented Plummer from winning every single precursor award is Albert Brooks of Drive. Brooks was not nominated by the Academy (in an egregious error) and so the competition has certainly thinned out. Before we hand the award to Plummer, however, let’s take a look at the entire list of nominees:
This is Kenneth Branagh’s fifth Oscar nomination. When I heard Kenneth Branagh was going to be protraying Laurence Olivier in a film, it might have been the least surprising thing I have ever heard. Some might even argue that Branagh has been imitating Olivier since Henry V in 1989. I have no doubt, however, that Branagh took this task very seriously and poured months of preparation into the portrayal of one of his personal heroes. He pulls it off remarkably by not only holding his own alongside Michelle Williams’ very good grasp of Marilyn Monroe, but infusing Olivier with a sense of artistic passion that is unavoidable. Olivier was going through a phase where he was less interested in high art and more interested in earning money and Branagh grasped that sense of a torn soul with great subtlety (which Branagh does not employ often). His eruptions against an obviously fragile Marilyn never destroy his likability, which ultimately saves his character from falling victim to a very flawed script.
This is Jonah Hill’s first Oscar nomination. It seems shocking that only four years prior to his performance in Moneyball, Jonah Hill was known for being the funny overweight guy in cursory teen comedies like Superbad. I have to admit that I can’t shake the notion that part of this nomination came from the surprise Academy members felt when they noticed that he could, in fact, act. Jonah Hill is actually quite solid as the intelligent and inexperienced sidekick to Brad Pitt’s confident leader. Hill effectively takes Peter Brand through an emotional journey that mirrors Billy Beane’s in numerous ways. Starting as someone not confident enough to speak for himself, he gradually realizes that having an established name is less important than having knowledge and numbers on your side. His final moment with Beane in a video editing room is among the highlights of the movie and shows a subtler style of comedy than we are accustomed to seeing from Hill.
This is Nick Nolte’s third Oscar nomination. When people think of Nick Nolte in the movie Warrior, most are probably going to recall the over-the-top scene where he ends his sobriety in dramatic fashion while pacing his hotel room belligerently hollering at his Moby Dick audiobook. Hopefully people will not forget that Warrior has one of the greatest opening scenes of any movie in 2011 featuring Nick Nolte and Tom Hardy showcasing the best acting in the entire film. Paddy (Nolte) returns home to find his estranged son Tommy (Hardy) on his porch ready to forgive his father’s neglectful past, but certainly not forget. The two reveal more emotional honesty in one ten-minute scene of expository dialogue than we will see throughout the entire movie. Really Nolte is remarkable in just about every scene in the movie except for the aforementioned breakdown, when the performances awkwardly turn to melodrama (we call those “Oscar” scenes).
This is Christopher Plummer’s second Oscar nomination. I already mentioned how Plummer is essentially a lock to win this category, but I failed to mention that I actually fully support that decision by the Academy. Plummer’s performance in Mike Mills’ charming little film also happens to be my favorite supporting performance of the year. In my full review of the film I mentioned how Plummer exhibits such youthful enthusiasm that he manages to come across feeling a decade younger than his 40-year old co-star Ewan McGregor. Both men turn in brilliant performances, but it’s Plummer that shines with a sense of rebirth as his character comes out as a gay man at over 80 years old. Plummer balances a delicate combination of wisdom and inexperience that never feels inauthentic for a second. Quite the contrary in fact; every emotion feels hilariously, adorably, and painfully real.
This is Max Von Sydow’s second Oscar nomination. Since Von Sydow was certainly the biggest surprise among this year’s slate of Best Supporting Actor nominees and his performance as a mute man in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was underwhelming, my first instinct is to be disappointed about this nomination. However, when I look at his IMDb page and find that the legendary actor has only received one other Oscar nominee besides this one and that his “Known For” credits include Minority Report, Shutter Island, and Robin Hood, I have decided to change my opinion. I support Max Von Sydow receiving an Oscar nomination in the hopes that people searching to determine what makes him different than Christopher Plummer will discover his brilliant work in the films of Ingmar Bergman. Even if his nomination is akin to John Mills’ win in 1971 for the ability to make faces and limp in Ryan’s Daughter (combined with being incredibly overdue).
Who Will Win?
I am unsurprisingly going to stick with Christopher Plummer from Beginners on this one. If he somehow manages not to win, it would be the upset of the ceremony and since it will be one of the first awards of the night, it would undoubtedly start the night with a sour taste. Alternates are pointless, but I’ll say Nolte is next in line.
Best Supporting Actress
The women of The Help have essentially dominated the races this year for both lead and supporting actress. For a while it was unclear if the Academy would be able to make up their mind between Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer, or one of the various other supporting turns in the movie. Precursor groups on the other hand couldn’t seem to decide which movie to reward Jessica Chastain for this year as she turned in solid supporting performances in six 2011 films. The Academy narrowed it down to just one, but others may believe it was the wrong choice and vote for another nominee in that category.
It is exceedingly rare for an actress to win the Golden Globe, the Critics Choice Award, and the Screen Actors Guild Award and not go on to win the Oscar, which is why Octavia Spencer is the one to beat in this category. The only obstacle she faces is an Academy surge for Chastain as an attempt to recognize her numerous roles or for Berenice Bejo as a further attempt to heap awards on The Artist. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s take a look at the nominees:
This is Bérénice Bejo’s first Oscar nomination. There may not be a more appropriate character name this year than Bejo’s Peppy Miller in Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist. From the moment of the fabulous pronunciation of her name to a crowd of chorus members, Bejo steals more than a few scenes in her performance as a young starlet on the rise in the film industry of the 1930s. Despite having the look of a natural 21st Century beauty, Bejo fits in well with the atmosphere of the film and helps with the transportation to a time when studios were pining to sign a star that they could sell to middle America. Bejo’s performance is honest, with just the right amount of quirk to make her seem more like a silent star who can stand on her own, rather than a Chaplinesque supporting love interest. Her scenes with co-star Jean Dujardin, particularly an extended slow dance sequence together on the set of one of his films, are hilarious as they tell us the story with their eyes more than anything else, using visual flair for support.
This is Jessica Chastain’s first Oscar nomination. It is amazing to think that about one year ago I, along with most people, had no idea who Jessica Chastain was except for the girl in Terence Malick’s next film. Fast forward and she is now a cherished favorite among many movie lovers. The reason for the sudden change is not just due to the fact that she was in about every other movie this year, but the fact that she was great in just about every other movie this year. My opinion of The Help was elevated simply because Chastain’s presence (I actually waited through the credits to find out who she was). Her eccentric character Celia existed to prove that the hatred expressed by the Southern women towards The Help was not simply about race, but deeper rooted in a fear of anything that challenges their lifestyle. Celia was written to be obnoxiously over-the-top, but Chastain never let that happen with a great control over her performance that made for a great contrast with the other characters.
This is Melissa McCarthy’s first Oscar nomination. Every once in a while the Academy embraces a performance that is so obscenely hilarious that it’s hard not to remember as outstanding. It happened in 2008 when Robert Downey, Jr. was nominated for Tropic Thunder and it happened again this year with Melissa McCarthy’s nomination for Bridesmaids. Comedies are often under-appreciated, especially when it comes to the performances within and I am glad the Academy finally recognized a performance like McCarthy’s. Her comic timing is impeccable and her sheer fearlessness is something that even acting greats would unlikely be able to pull off. What makes her performance “Oscar-worthy,” however, is her ability to transcend the fat jokes and portray a real, person with layers and flaws.
This is Janet McTeer’s second Oscar nomination. Two nominations for McTeer makes her the seasoned veteran in the category this year, as she is the only one with any prior Oscar experience. Hers is also the only nominated performance that I have not yet seen, so I am less able to comment on the specific reasons that convinced the Academy to list her as one of the favorites of the year. I will say, however, that many reputable sources have claimed that McTeer’s performance is stronger than the film’s star Glenn Close and that despite how unimpressed many were with the film, McTeer’s nomination was merited. I look forward to seeing for myself if that is true (and encourage anyone who has seen her to expound in the comments).
This is Octavia Spencer’s first nomination. I don’t think it would be unfair to suggest that Octavia Spencer received an Oscar nomination (and will probably win) almost solely because she is a dominant force in one of the most memorable scenes of the movie wherein she impels the consumption of her own defecation by a former employer. Her nomination is thanks in large part to the likability of her character, rather than the dramatic depths which Spencer plumbs. I don’t mean to come off as a Spencer hater, because I most certainly am not, but I find it hard to classify her performance as one of the top five in her own movie, let alone of the entire year. However, having won the Critics Choice, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild awards pretty much makes her a shoe-in to take the top prize at the Oscars.
Who Will Win?
As much as I would love to see McCarthy or Chastain or even Bejo for that matter, I’ve got to stick with Octavia Spencer for The Help, although a loss for her would be less surprising to me than a loss for Plummer. Berenice Bejo of The Artist is the top alternate in this category.
Stay tuned for the Sound categories to be broken down next.
What do you think of this year’s Supporting nominations? Which performances do you think will win?