Friday, February 18, 2011

Oscars 2010: Best Supporting Actor

Part two of my Oscar preview takes a look at the supporting actors, a group of men who have wowed us with their screen-time, whether it was limited or enough to reasonably be considered co-leads. Its a strong category this year, stronger, I think, than last year's (though none of these performances come close to matching Christoph Waltz's brilliant intensity).

 Christian Bale, The Fighter

Is there any actor nominated this year who's more overdue for a nomination, much less a win, than Christian Bale? He's been turning in incredible, lived-in performances for years now, literally risking his life and health in the name of his art. Yet, despite earning countless raves over the years, this is his first Oscar nomination, and likely his first win. Bale plays Dickie Ecklund, half-brother to Micky Ward and the "Pride of Lowell" for once knocking out Sugar Ray Leonard in a fight (or did he?). Wrecked with crack addiction, Dickie is a vortex that's bringing his entire family down, but he's got a golden heart and means no harm to anyone around him. Bale completely embodies the role, and his magnetic presence makes it impossible to take your eyes off him. Technically, he's a co-lead, as his antics and his damning HBO documentary about his fall from grace play a major part of the film. But there's no denying Bale's astonishing work, and if (when) he claims the Oscar, it will be more than deserved.

 John Hawkes, Winter's Bone

In the beginning of the awards season, Winter's Bone wasn't supposed to be a major player, outside of Jennifer Lawrence maybe getting a Best Actress nomination (she did, by the way). But the film picked up steam, and as a result veteran character actor Hawkes has picked up his first nomination. Hawkes' Teardrop, the uncle of Lawrence's Ree Dolly, is a chilling presence, a man who is visibly dangerous and undeniably frightening. Amid those hard stares, violent outbreaks, and brief snorts of cocaine, though, is man who genuinely cares about her niece, going far to protect her from her other, equally dangerous relatives on her quest to find her missing father. But Hawkes never drops his intimidating aura, making him the kind of man that you'd definitely watch your step around. Hawkes deserves this nomination, no doubt, but since it came as a kind of surprise (most, myself included, believed that Andrew Garfield of The Social Network would take his spot), and his performance is subtle, so a win is, unfortunately, unlikely.

 Jeremy Renner, The Town

I'm glad to see Renner back in the Oscar hunt after last year's show-stopping breakout performance in The Hurt Locker, which landed him a Best Actor nomination (and a #2 spot on my ballot last year). In The Town, Renner plays James Coughlin, a bank robber and all-around thug from Charlestown in Boston. Like his Sgt. William James, he plays Coughlin with the same reckless abandon, a man with little to lose and seemingly a death wish. The roles may be similar, but Renner makes Coughlin distinguished, supplying him with little nuances that make him interesting and exciting. He's a thrilling rush of adrenalin, and if you don't think he belongs here, just watch the scene in which he happens upon his partner-in-crime's date, and watching the acting fireworks fly. He doesn't stand out enough to win, with most of his fellow nominees receiving more notices than he did (not to mention he's, surprisingly, his film's only nomination). But he's sure to have plenty of chances to return in the future.

 Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

Ruffalo belongs in the same label as Christian Bale as an actor who's long overdue for his first Oscar nomination. Of course, its not all that surprising; his performances are so effortless that he hardly seems like he's acting at all. Such is the case with Paul, the sperm donor who discovers he has children with a lesbian couple and tries to be a father figure to them. Ruffalo embodies Paul with uninhibited masculinity, with a naturalistic performance that makes you wonder whether he's perpetually stoned or just really, really laid back. And his role in the family dynamics are kept subtle; you can always tell that, even when he's most accepted, he's still an outsider whose sway in the family is devastating. And the best part of it is that he completely convinces you of Paul's humanity, creating a fully-realized character that is impossible to separate from the actor. He'll likely not win, given that the Oscars like to reward actors who are capital-A Acting, but he's the most deserving of them all in my book.

 Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

Rush is an actor that I like to a degree: there's no denying that he's talented, but he's very much a scenery-chewer, emoting every scene he's in with a haminess that wears thin after a while. Surprisingly, there is only one moment in The King's Speech that features Rush at his Rush-iest, and it involves his Lionel Logue, a failed actor-turned-speech therapist reciting Shakespeare to his kids. Otherwise, he delivers a very restrained performance, one that, like Bale, is technically a co-lead but also makes sense as supporting, as his friendship with King George VI as he fixes his stammer becomes a foundation of confidence in the king. And Rush does an excellent job in portraying Logue, a man who genuinely just wants to help the king. Its a magnificent role for the thespian, and he could pull an upset over Bale, especially if The King's Speech sweeps the ceremony.

My ballot is as follows:

1. Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
2. Christian Bale, The Fighter
3. Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
4. John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
5. Jeremy Renner, The Town

What's yours?

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