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OSCARS: The Supporting Actor Race

By | Saturday December 8, 2012 @ 4:06pm PST
Pete Hammond

In a year that the leading actor race is full of major heavyweight contenders — many going for their second or third Oscars— the Supporting Actor category is no less competitive and also chockful of major names in the hunt for another Oscar. With certified leading men like Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones, Russell Crowe, Ewan McGregor, and Matthew McConaughey in the mix, the supporting contest is easily one of the most fascinating. And it begs the question: What really is a supporting role? Is it playing a major title role in The Master or could it be just one 5-minute scene as a cancer patient in Flight? Is it a collective award for a trio of scene-stealing roles in one year, such as John Goodman’s 2012 resumé indicates, or will it honor a return to critical acclaim for a legend like Robert De Niro who hasn’t been Oscar-nominated since 1991? Whatever the case, this is the starriest group of best supporting contenders we have seen in many years. Here’s a rundown of the major players.

Robert De Niro | Silver Linings Playbook
As Pat Sr., the obsessive-compulsive father and Philadelphia Eagles fan, two-time winner De Niro wowed critics and immediately elicited strong Oscar buzz for the first time in a couple of decades. He hasn’t been nominated since 1991’s Cape Fear and hasn’t won since 1980’s Raging Bull. Now he’s back in the supporting category where he first triumphed in 1974 for The Godfather Part II. Will history repeat itself? He’s a hot contender to do just that.

Tommy Lee Jones | Lincoln
As the spirited and scene-stealing political powerhouse Thaddeus Stevens, Jones livens up the film with a rip-roaring turn that puts this leading actor squarely in the hunt for a second statuette in the supporting category. He won for 1993’s The Fugitive and was last nominated five years ago for the first time in the best actor category for In the Valley of Elah. His acclaimed turn opposite Meryl Streep in the summer release Hope Springs further enhances his chances of scoring another Oscar for his mantel. Read More »

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OSCAR: Supporting Actor/Actress Q&As – Part 1: Damon, Douglas, Renner, Steinfeld

Matt Damon, True Grit – He was the leading man starring in his Invictus director Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter. But his best chance at an Oscar is thought to be Joel and Ethan Coen’s True Grit in the supporting role of that gabby Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf, based on the Charles Portis novel. Deadline’s Mike Fleming interviewed him:

DEADLINE: You usually carry films. Why say yes to this smallish role?
DAMON: First and foremost was, it was Joel and Ethan Coen. I’ve been chasing them forever, hoping I’d get a call. Then it was reading the novel and the adaptation, which I thought was terrific. And the role was great. Even though the young girl is the center of the movie and Rooster Cogburn is an icon, that LaBeouf role is hysterically funny and I thought there would be something fun I could do with it.

DEADLINE: Though your character has some heroic moments, he’s a total blowhard.
DAMON: Obviously the guy is a windbag, and Joel and Ethan Coen took it to the absurd level of having him bite his tongue, almost severing it, and then still not shutting up. So we all had Tommy Lee in common and he’s not only from that part of the country, he can really hold court and he’s really fun to listen to. We thought, what if this guy had the presentation of Tommy Lee, mixed with the master politician charm of Bill Clinton, but he … Read More »

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OSCAR: Best Supporting Actor & Actress – Nothing Secondary About These Races

Pete Hammond

Category placement is always a delicate dance come Oscar time. In 1966, Walter Matthau won the Supporting Actor Oscar for The Fortune Cookie even though he was on equal footing with co-star Jack Lemmon. In 1981, Susan Sarandon admitted to voting for herself in Supporting for Atlantic City only to surprisingly land in lead. Patricia Neal took Best Actress for Hud in 1963 even though she was really playing a supporting role. Anthony Hopkins could have gone for support in 1991’s Silence Of The Lambs but was campaigned instead for lead and won. George Clooney was originally going for lead in 2005’s Syriana, where he almost certainly would have lost to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Capote, but strategically dropped to support where he also became an Oscar winner. And, in the most complex of scenarios possible, Catherine Zeta Jones  went strategically for  support in Chicago while her equal co-star Renee Zellweger had Best Actress to herself but lost to Nicole Kidman, who won for The Hours in a role that could have been classified as supporting but that’s where her co-star Julianne Moore competed so as to avoid cannibalizing her own chances for lead actress in Far From Heaven.

Get the picture?

Until 1936 in Academy Awards history, featured actors either competed alongside stars or not at all. Since then, the Supporting actor and actress categories have tried to make distinctions between themselves and lead, although it seems every year the line gets blurred. It was no exception in 2010 with so-called leading roles being campaigned for Supporting in some instances to give them a better shot at a nomination or avoid competing with co-stars. Which is perefectly acceptable since the Academy actors branch leaves it up to voting members to determine the appropriate category for each performance. Sometimes this results in split votes. Often in surprises. So here are this year’s prime contenders by alphabetical order:

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Christian Bale, The Fighter (Relativity/Paramount) – Bale’s dynamic turn as crack addicted Dicky Ward has drawn top reviews and made him a heavyweight contender not just for a nomination, but also the win. His dramatic weight loss and surprising performance is just the kind that attracts Oscar.

Jim Broadbent, Another Year (Sony Pictures Classics) – This previous Supporting Actor winner (Iris) retains his usual class and dignity, delivering another quietly effective performance for frequent director Mike Leigh. But that may not be enough to overcome flashier competition.

Pierce Brosnan, The Ghost Writer (Summit Entertainment) – Brosnan gets a real chance to stretch his image and show his chops under the direction of Roman Polanski. The film’s February release doesn’t help being remembered against a tough field of contenders.

Vincent Cassel, Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) – This French star gets a juicy, hard-edged role in an American film and runs with it. The fact that he is also being campaigned in the lead category for his mesmerizing two-part Cesar award -inning portrayal in Mesrine won’t hurt his chances.

Matt Damon, True Grit (Paramount) – Damon is an Academy favorite. Under the guidance of the Coen Brothers, he gets right the role singer Glen Campbell screwed up in the 1969 version. But he’s playing second fiddle to Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges more likely to earn nods.

Michael Douglas, Wall Street Money Never Sleeps (20th Century Fox) – Douglas revisits the Gordon Gekko role 23 years later and has the industry rooting for him to overcome his bout with cancer.  He could become the first actor to win two Oscars for playing the same character.

Andrew Garfield, The Social Network (Sony Pictures) – Garfield was impressive in two distinct dramas this fall, the other being the little-seen Never Let Me Go. Plus he’s the new Spider-Man. But his role here is earning Oscar talk with Golden Globe and CCMA nominations.

Ed Harris, The Way Back (Newmarket) – A four-time Oscar nominee, this well-liked veteran is overdue,  and his physically challenging role is first-rate work which his peers expect from him.   But the film’s year-end qualifying run and lack of marketing funds may dim his chances.

John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone (Roadside Attractions) – Although Jennifer Lawrence seems to get all the attention, nominations for this journeyman actor’s authentic backwoods portrayal from the Spirit Awards and SAG are beginning to make a longshot Oscar nod far more realistic.

Bill Murray, Get Low (Sony Pictures Classics) – Many feel Murray was robbed of the Best Actor Oscar for Lost in Translation and the actors branch might just want to make it up to him by recognizing this nicely-etched performance which scored an Indie Spirit nomination.

Sean Penn, Fair Game (Summit Entertainment) – Penn steals this entertaining true-life political thriller. The role would seem to belong in lead but Summit is hoping the two-time Best Actor might stand a better chance in supporting. Though the movie has faded without much buzz.

Jeremy Renner, The Town (Warner Bros) – With a triple-play of supporting nods from SAG, Golden Globes and CCMAs, Renner has emerged as a very good bet to grab his second consecutive Oscar nomination after first being named last year in the leading actor category.

Sam Rockwell, Conviction (Fox Searchlight) – Rockwell is popular with his fellow actors and long underrated. He won early buzz for his performance but has so far not shown up in many pre-Oscar contests. With lack of recognition by SAG, he is suddenly in an uphill climb.

Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right (Focus Features) – Ruffalo worked just six days on this indie dramedy but he obviously did something right to earn SAG, CCMA, and New York Film Critics attention. This lively supporting turn should result in his first career Oscar nomination.

Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Co) – Rush hits it out of the park and gives this very accessible period drama its heart and soul. A former lead actor winner for Shine, Rush is one of the frontrunners to hold Oscars for both lead and supporting roles.

Justin Timberlake, The Social Network (Sony Pictures) – Pop star Justin Timberlake has displayed acting talent  before in films like Alpha Dog and his SNL hosting gigs but he is suddenly in the Oscar conversation despite fierce competition from even his own movie.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams, The Fighter (Relativity/Paramount) – Adams has already landed two Oscar nominations and seems certain for a third in this change-of-pace role as the expletive spewing, tough-as-nails bartender girlfriend of Micky Ward. Voters love to see actors go against type and expertly so. Read More »

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OSCAR: Michael Douglas As Gordon Gekko Second Time Around: “Supporting Is Good”

Pete Hammond

EXCLUSIVE: 20th Century Fox has yet to officially decide. But, according to my sources, the studio is “heavily leaning” toward pushing Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps‘s Michael Douglas for Best Supporting Actor. That’s a very different Oscar race than Best Actor where Douglas won the Academy Award for playing the same Gordon Gekko in 1987’s Wall Street. But it makes sense. Even though he is first billed and is perceived as the star of Oliver Stone’s sequel, Douglas does not have nearly the amount of screen time as co-star Shia LaBeouf. Most importantly, I’m told Douglas himself feels that Gekko is really a supporting role this time around. Here’s another complication: Anchor Bay is campaigning Douglas in the Lead Actor race for the May released Solitary Man. So, by suggesting voters consider Douglas’ second Gekko go-round as supporting work, Fox would be making it easier for everyone involved.

The studio is waiting to see where the Hollywood Foreign Press Association puts him in Golden Globe competition, although the HFPA is giving a freer hand to distributors when it comes to placing contenders this year than they have in the past. But, unlike other awards groups, the Academy Of Motion Picture & Arts Sciences does not suggest categories on their official ballots but leaves that up to the individual voters in the acting branch. Through advertising, though, a studio will try to sway voters in one clear direction. But it doesn’t always work. Susan Sarandon famously voted for herself in supporting for Atlantic City (1981) but was surprised when she found herself nominated for lead actress. The debate about the push for lead vs. supporting is one that rages every year and Oscar history is littered with actors in lead roles who win for supporting (ie Timothy Hutton in 1980’s Ordinary People) or actors in supporting roles who win for lead (ie Patricia Neal in 1963’s Hud). Read More »

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