Herrington and Akers on the Oscars, Day 3: Supporting Performances

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And we're back with Day 3 of the Herrington and Akers Oscar parse-aroo. Previously on the series: On Monday we looked at Editing and Cinematography. Tuesday we examined the Lead Performances.Today, we consider the Supporting Acting categories.

Best Supporting Actress
Nominees:
Bérénice Bejo (The Artist), Jessica Chastain (The Help), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), Octavia Spencer (The Help)

We say Octavia Spencer joins Viola Davis as an Oscar-night winner.
  • We say Octavia Spencer joins Viola Davis as an Oscar-night winner.

Greg Akers: Will Win: Octavia Spencer has this one on lockdown. She won the Golden Globes, the SAG, and the BAFTA for her performance in The Help. That trio of wins has happened three times in 16 years, and each time it has netted an Oscar for the supporting actress as well. Only once in 16 years has someone (Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock) won this Oscar and not won at least once out of the Globes, SAG, or BAFTA awards.

Should Win: Octavia Spencer. Her role is meatier than Chastain's in The Help, and Spencer is dynamite. (The relationship between her and Chastain's characters is my favorite in the film.) We'll get into The Artist much more in later categories, but Bejo is very good as Peppy Miller, the starlet with charisma to burn. McTeer is probably better than Close, even, in Albert Nobbs ... but, dangit, she looked too obviously like a woman trying to look like a man, and that annoyed me. As for McCarthy, I LOVE Melissa McCarthy. I would want her to win all manner of accolades for all manner of things, up to and including her great Sookie from Gilmore Girls and Internet vlogger Marbles Hargrove. (Who satirizes people like us in this hysterical video below.) But Bridesmaids underwhelmed me. There, I said it.

Got Robbed: So many people got robbed this year. 2011 was the year of Jessica Chastain, who robbed herself in better performances in The Tree of Life and, in particular, Take Shelter. Kate Winslet was robbed from recognition as the brave, emotionally restrained first responder in the viral horror Contagion. Charlotte Gainsbourg got robbed for being sad the world was going to end in Melancholia. Elle Fanning got robbed for being a great kid actor in Super 8.

But more than any of these, Shailene Woodley got absolutely robbed for her performance in The Descendants, the best thing about a really good movie.

Herrington: Wait, how did Octavia Spencer win the Bosnia/Albania Free Trade Agreement? That's impressive! Wait ... what? That's not what "BAFTA" means? Then what the hell does BAFTA mean, again?

Anyway, as for the award I do understand, I'd peg McCarthy and Bejo as darkhorse contenders, but agree that Will Win: Octavia Spencer.

Janet McTeer, a woman playing a woman playing a man in Albert Nobbs.
  • Janet McTeer, a woman playing a woman playing a man in Albert Nobbs.

Should Win: Bejo is fetching but there's not really much going on with that role. It's a walking archetype. I agree with everything you say, positive and negative, about McTeer. And if I'm going to put a white actress from The Help on this list — which, given the other options, I wouldn't — I would probably go with Bryce Dallas Howard, who has the more difficult role in playing such a hateful character and ultimately works through the caricature to make her real.

That leaves us with McCarthy and Spencer in the two most crowd-pleasing supporting turns of the film year. Honestly, while I am also a Sookie partisan, I wasn't as knocked out by McCarthy as most. For starters, I think the film's biggest flaws are in the moments when it goes hardest into grossout territory, and in those moments the film asks McCarthy — as the fat, plain one — to carry the load. This is a flaw of conception more than performance, and I give credit to McCarthy for keeping her character from slipping completely off the map. But where many seem to think of McCarthy's performance as being greater than the film, it's actually one of the things I think of least when I think of Bridesmaids. I actually dote on most other supporting performances — especially Wendi McLendon-Covey's totally over it mom — more.

So, for me, it's Octavia Spencer mostly by default. She has charisma to burn and plays nicely against Viola Davis' more composed lead.

Got Robbed: If I came up with an alternate five, it would duplicate yours with one exception: I'll set aside Winslet and replace her with Amy Ryan, playing Paul Giamatti's wife in the under-rated Win WIn and creating about the realest character I saw in the movies all last year. As for my "got robbed" honoree, I'll second you in expressing surprise that Shailene Woodley — who gave the best performance in The Descendants — isn't on this list. But I'll give my nod to Elle Fanning, whose junior Naomi Watts audition scene early in Super 8 was one of the true knockout moments in movies last year and was just the start to a performance that was pitch-perfect throughout.

Akers: BAFTA is the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. #CmonSon

A for-real BAFTA award.
  • A for-real BAFTA award.

Bejo's character is a walking archetype, but I thought she nailed it with what she had to work with. She was believable as that type, in light of the knowledge that Debbie Reynolds ain't walking through that door. And her scene with Valentin's jacket was the best in the film and the thing that came closest to being worthy of Singin' in the Rain.

Herrington: What about "and Sciences?" Isn't that supposed to be in there somewhere? Why don't the Brits care about Television Sciences? Anyway ...

Akers: If it was "and Sciences," the org would be BAFTAS, and the awards would be the BAFTASs.

Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (Warrior), Christopher Plummer (Beginners), Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close)

Herrington: Will Win: I'll leave the fancy explanations to you, but it seems like this is shaping up to be the lock of the night and I can't think of a compelling reason to buck the conventional wisdom — Christopher Plummer.

Should Win: I can't pretend to have strong feelings about these nominees. I'll confess that I was so put off by the preciousness of the direction in Beginners, that I checked out early, so I don't really have a great feel for Plummer's performance. Nolte has a great presence in Warrior, which was an under-recognized movie, but I'm not sure there's really enough there. Branagh? *Shrug.* That brings me to Hill and von Sydow, both of whom were my favorite things about movies I didn't like. Can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm going to cast my imaginary ballot here for the returning knight himself, Max von Sydow. I enjoyed watching von Sydow's silent performance for its own sake, in a way was completely divorced from the rest of the film. Which, in this case, was a good thing.

Got Robbed: Here we go. Other than Best Actor, where I don't think there was a deep list of great options to choose from, I think the Academy missed he mark on most of their acting nominations. So it's easy for me to go back to my "alternate nominees" gimmick again here. And, on this one, I'm content to throw them all out and start over.

So, with apologies to the likes of John Hawkes' seductive cult leader (Martha Marcy Mae Marlene), Viggo Mortenson's dryly comic Freud (A Dangerous Method), Bruce Greenwood's lost-on-the-prairie guide (Meek's Cutoff), Michael Fassbender's swashbuckling Nazi hunter turned birth-of-a-supervillain (X-Men: First Class), and Sacha Baron Cohen's warmly broad station inspector (Hugo), give me these, in ascending order:

Brad Pitt as a stern, unsatisfied dream of a ’50s father in The Tree of Life, a far stronger performance than his non-entity Billy Beane in Moneyball. John C. Reilly as a good-guy principal, turning potentially rote advice into true wisdom in the overlooked indie Terri. Kevin Spacey showing his age, rebounding from oblivion, and playing against type in the Jack Lemmon role in Margin Call. Patton Oswalt's surprising-to-me depth as Charlize Theron's unlikely hometown sidekick in Young Adult. And most of all, in the biggest heist of the Oscar season, one of my all-time favorite movie people, the glorious Albert Brooks, playing way against type as the unctuous baddie in Drive.

Akers: You just named five people who got robbed, and then cast them aside and named five different people who really got robbed. That's ... awesome.

Fancy explanations: My Oscarmetrics (TM) research is pretty clear that Christopher Plummer Will Win. Four years in a row, the Golden Globes and SAG winner has won this Oscar, and Plummer took home those for his performance in Beginners. Additionally, in the last 16 years, when the supporting actor took the SAG, Globes, and BAFTA, they are 3 for 3 winning the Oscar. Plummer won all three this year. It seems like a lock. (Note: only twice in 16 years has the Oscar winner not been predicted by one of those awards.)

Should Win: Believe it or not, I thought Beginners was fantastic. I get how precious the directing is, and I get how overly cute the meet-cute between the main couple is, and I get that there's a freaking dog character in it that communicates with subtitles. On paper, I hate Beginners. But in reality, I thought it was immensely charming. Plummer totally worked for me. His scenes weren't the best scenes (those would be the ones with the boy and his mother). Christopher Plummer edges out Max von Sydow for the honor. I agree that von Sydow was the best thing in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. (Would it have been too much to ask that Bibi Andersson play the grandma in the movie?) Jonah Hill was quite good, and his reaction when on the phone with the owner and he hears the answer he wants: priceless.

Got Robbed: If you can name 10 victims, I can come up with 10 you didn't. Brad Pitt was really good in Tree of Life, but not better than the actor he shared most of his scenes with, Hunter McCracken. Christoph Waltz dominated Carnage. Lambert Wilson shared a message of great faith in the face of no hope in Of Gods and Men. Jason Segel was the man in the man and muppet film The Muppets. Juan Carlos Aduviri stole the show as the exploited native two times over in Even the Rain. Matt Damon did quality work as the uncomprehending widower who still had to be a father in Contagion. Niels Arestrup was memorable in a good way in an otherwise lackluster War Horse. Eddie Redmayne was the most believable thing as the titular "my" in My Week with Marilyn. Ben Kingsley found the right damaged, wistful note as a certain Georges in Hugo.

But no one affected me more than Mark Strong in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, playing Jim Prideaux, the wounded, betrayed spy on the front lines of the Cold War. Strong is a good character actor who mostly plays scenery-chewing villains in films, so this turn really took me by surprise.

Oh, and Jeremy Lin!

Herrington: I was want to underscore one last time the grand larceny that is Albert Brooks not getting nominated. And, as a longtime Brooks fanatic, I'm going to use this as an excuse to promote his Twitter feed and put up another random Brooks clip. Here he is protesting a lateral transfer in his classic 1986 yuppie comedy Lost in America (some minor NSFW language):

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