OSCAR RACE: Best Supporting Actor



<!–[if !mso]>st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>

Continuing my analysis of the Oscar race (or as I call it, I need to get a life), it’s time to focus on the supporting acting categories.  One would think that supporting categories, whether male or female, would be much more difficult to predict and in one way they are.  While there is only one, maybe two, leads in a film (per gender), every film is crowded with supporting since, by deduction, if you’re not one of the two leads, you only have one alternative—supporting.   At the same time, like most categories, the possible nominations actually, and perhaps surprisingly, tend to settle rather fast to usually little more than six, or on rare occasions, seven possibilities.
I’ll start with the Best Supporting Actor category or as I and a friend of mine call it, the Don Ameche Award, named after the win by that actor for his role in Cocoon, not so much for his acting skill (which was often considered a joke by critics and film aficionados, though he did get better as he aged, like fine wine and cheese), but as a career award (like James Coburn, Christopher Plummer, Jack Palance, Sean Connery, Martin Landau, Alan Alda).  At the same time, I’m being facetious.  This doesn’t happen as often as one might think, and most of these performances were very deserving.  But I believe someone once did a study and discovered that supporting actor winners on average were older than supporting actress winners.  In the supporting actor category, it helps to have paid your dues more than in the distaff side, where voters (mostly male) tend to like their winners young and up and coming (even to the point of being a bit too Humbert Humbert in their choices, perhaps?).
At any rate, the dust has started to settle and it looks as if the list is becoming fairly clear.   At the same time, predictions are a bit hampered here by some of the films not having opened yet, so the performances in those movies are still somewhat unknown quantities.
Alan Arkin for Argo to win.  This now seems pretty settled and it would take a lot to unseat his position.   He’s already won his career award for Little Miss Sunshine, but that probably won’t cause him any problems this time around.  It’s a tremendous performance, a masterpiece of comic timing, in a very popular movie.   At the same time, Argo may have peaked a bit too soon and I may be speaking a bit too early. 
Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master.  The Master went totally over my head (and apparently, based on audience reaction, I’m not the only one).  Everything about The Master is a bit iffy when it comes to nominations just because it didn’t connect with viewers, including Oscars voters.  But everyone is still saying that Hoffman is a shoo in (some think he may even win, but I don’t see it yet).  A lot may depend on the campaign, since the movie has disappeared and may take a little doing to get people to remember it even opened this year (critics’ awards may help here).
Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln.  He steals every scene he’s in and somehow breaths life into the somewhat stilted dialog.  Lincoln is coming along as a major contender against Argo for best picture with a success at the box office that exceeded expectations (Argo may now have peaked too soon), and Daniel Day-Lewis is almost certain to win best actor, which could give Jones’ nomination a boost.
Robert de Niro for Silver Linings Playbook.  It has now opened, been reviewed, is doing very well at the box office and no one has stopped saying de Niro is going to get a nom, so it seems that he will be included.
Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained.  This is an unknown quantity as the movie hasn’t opened yet (apparently a story about a slave rescued by a bounty hunter with said slave now out to get revenge against the white men who abducted his wife is seen as the perfect choice for a Christmas opening).  What helps is that DiCaprio is a leading actor doing a supporting role, and this is always a plus when going for a nomination (and sometimes you win—Robin Williams and Renee Zellweger).   But until the movie opens, it’s hard to say.  This has caused some problems for Christoph Waltz.  The talk is he has been pushed to go for Best Actor (an unlikely nom at best), possibly to give DiCaprio a better chance.  But that’s mere speculation based on information I don’t really have, so do with it what you will.
Also possible is Dwight Henry, so deserving for Beasts of the Southern Wild, but it’s a very crowded category and he may get squeezed out; Russell Crowe for Les Miserables, too unknown a quantity right now; Matthew McConaughey for Magic Mike, and in a weaker year he might have a chance since he’s done so many movies this year and has worked hard to broaden himself as an actor, which translates as really paid your dues (which the voters like), but it looks like he won’t make it; anybody else from Argo—very doubtful. 

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD


Beasts of the Southern Wild is a story told through the eyes of a child, with all the awe and wonder of such a subjective viewpoint.  It has the same fairy tale quality of such movies as The Night of the Shooting Stars and The Night of the Hunter as well as more realistic films as To Kill a Mockingbird and Shane.  It is a wonderful film, perhaps the best of the year so far.   The narrator and our guide to this other world is Hushpuppy, a pint size little girl who lives with her alcoholic and ailing father in a place call the Bathtub, an outlying area on the other side of a levee that protects the larger, nearby city.  The residents of the Bathtub are free spirit types who want little to nothing to do with civilization.  At first one empathizes with this fierce independence; there is something grand and moving about it.  On the downside, though, the result is often alcoholism and cruelty, as well as an inability to protect themselves when disaster strikes.  And strike it does.  First Hushpuppy’s father has a heart attack.  And then the rain comes.  And while the city is protected by the levee, the Bathtub is flooded by salt water that eventually destroys all plant and fish life.  All the while Hushpuppy voices her childlike view of what is going on in voice over narrative while imagining the approach of wild beasts that have been released by the polar ice cap melting.  What happens next is the conflict between civilization and people who just want to be left alone.  I can’t quite agree with the ultimate conclusion here, that the people are somehow better off by returning to the Bathtub; I certainly would never want to live there.  But I found the unfolding of Hushpuppy’s story fascinating as the plot takes her all over the place, from a Fourth of July type celebration complete with tons of seafood and fireworks, to a shelter for people fleeing the floods, to perhaps the oddest place of all, a floating whorehouse.   Benh Zeitlin directed the film and wrote it along with Lucy Alibar, a first film for each of them, using non-professionals.  But Zeitlin makes excellent use of their amateurishness.  He gets a deft and fascinating performance out of Quvenzhane Wallis as Hushpuppy.  But perhaps the strongest performance is by Dwight Henry as her father Wink, a character both kind and cruel who rages and rages against the dying of the light.  He’s one of those awful people you never would want to meet in real life but are fascinating within the safe distance of a movie screen.   But in the end, perhaps the greatest kudos should go to Dan Romer who, with Zeitlin, wrote the sole stirring anthem that punctuates Hushpuppy’s story.  At the end, Hushpuppy tells us that she and all of the people in the Bathtub are all part of the universe, and that no matter what happens, they’ll keep going, as they march back home accompanied by that transcendental music.   It’s a deeply emotional ending to a very unusual and captivating film.