Up today, day two of this week-long Oscar revelry: the Supporting Actors. Here we go.
GREG AKERS: Will Win: It would shock my socks off if Mo'Nique doesn't win for her magnificently memorable role as the victimizing, victimized mother in Precious. The rest of the nominees shouldn't even bother preparing an acceptance speech.
Should Win: I'm going to agree with the Academy here and give it up for Mo'Nique. I don't necessarily ever want to watch Precious again, but I will never ever forget her performance. Terrifying, and bringing in the sympathy late in the movie. I didn't see Nine, so shame on me. Maggie Gyllenhaal was okay in Crazy Heart but seemed a bit miscast and benefited much by star Jeff Bridges five-tool performance. Actually, I'm not sure how much I like Gyllenhaal as an actress. I find myself underwhelmed, again and again. Does that mean I'm broken? (Oh, except for Stranger Than Fiction, where I thought she was excellent.) That brings us to the Up in the Air actresses, Farmiga and Kendrick. Farmiga was excellent and held her own and then some against the George Clooney blitzkrieg of charm. Just about any other year, she'd be my favorite in this race. Kendrick kind of got lost in the shuffle for me amid the grown ups.
Got Robbed: Consider this alternate reality Supporting Actress category: Winner Mélanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds and nominees Cara Seymour, An Education; Amy Adams, Julie & Julia; Lisa Houle, Pontypool; Samantha Morton, The Messenger. Back to you Herrington.
CHRIS HERRINGTON: Dreaded agreement re-emerging.... Will Win: The little gold statue has seemingly been awaiting Mo'Nique since Precious first screened back at Sundance, and with the Up in the Air ladies splitting the vote, it's hard to see her not taking it.
Should Win: Penelope Cruz is the second-best thing in an otherwise terrible movie (the best thing about Nine is Marion Cotillard, who would be a better nominee here), but her own best performance of 2009 came in Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces. Unlike you, I am rather fond of Maggie Gyllenhaal as an actress (Secretary, the best thing about World Trade Center and Happy Endings), but like you, I didn't really buy her in Crazy Heart. I didn't believe her as a Santa Fe music critic or as someone who'd have a relationship with Bad Blake. She doesn't belong here. I like Kendrick more than you, apparently, but agree that Farmiga's performance is the superior one from Up in the Air. What she's doing is more subtle than the megawatt turn Mo'Nique gives in Precious, and I tend to think the Mo'Nique performance, like so many other Oscar turns, is so much about a showy role interestingly cast than strictly about the performance, but I'm still going to give it to Mo'Nique in a close call.
Got Robbed: As is sadly typical, there weren't a lot of great leading roles for women in the (American) movies last year, but there were lots of great supporting parts and performances. And I like what you did here so much, I'm going to copy it, including replicating your winner. Mélanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds would be my pick to win this, not merely get a nomination. Though more attention has been given to Christoph Waltz and Brad Pitt, Laurent is both the true heart and the true glamor of Tarantino's film. Other alternate-reality nominees: Lorna Raver in Drag Me to Hell, Rosamund Pike in An Education, Alycia Delmore in Hump Day, and Eva Mendes in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. (The latter gets my award for Best Reaction Shots of the Year.)
AKERS: Lorna Raver from Drag Me to Hell: Dig that. Regarding the fairer Gyllenhaal, I didn't see World Trade Center or Happy Endings, so maybe that's part of my damage. I did see Secretary and thought she was good but a lot of that coming from her professional bravery and lack of inhibition.
On to Supporting Actors.
Best Supporting Actor
The Nominees: Matt Damon in Invictus, Woody Harrelson in The Messenger, Christopher Plummer in The Last Station, Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones, and Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds.
Should Win: A couple of these names have no business being here. Damon's best performance of 2009 was as a lead in Steven Soderbergh's The Informant. His South African footballer in Invictus is a pretty meh character and performance. How does Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino get shut out of Oscar nominations and then land this for Invictus? And then there's Stanley Tucci. If he was going to get a nomination, it should have been for playing Julia Child's appreciative husband in Julie & Julia, not for his overripe characterization in The Lovely Bones, where he comes across as a Saturday Night Live skit version of the neighborhood pervert. Tucci in The Lovely Bones might as well have "CREEPY" stamped on his forehead. The other three nominations are solid: Plummer has great fun with some chewy dialogue as an aged Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station and Woody Harrelson gives probably a career-best performance in The Messenger. But, yeah, Christoph Waltz towers over the competition here.
Got Robbed: There is sometimes a thin line between a lead and supporting performance, as we see with Waltz. And so it is with my favorite male "supporting" turn of 2009: Memphis native Red West in Ramin Bahrani's Goodbye Solo. A longtime character actor, West gets a career role here as William, an aging Southerner contemplating the end of his life while negotiating the evolving landscape of his North Carolina hometown. He brings to the role surprising humor, deep emotion, an unforgettable face, and a great bit of improvised dialogue about music. Honorable mentions: A fearless Richard Kind and a hysterically deadpan Fred Melamed in A Serious Man, a boisterous Paul Schneider in Bright Star, and James Gandolfini for his voice work in Where the Wild Things Are.
AKERS: Dang, you're killin' it. No argument on Will Win — Christoph Waltz. Slam dunk.
No argument either on Should Win — Christoph Waltz. I can't remember the last time I remember an actor having as much fun as he does as Hans Landa tearing up Nazi-occupied France. Bully! I didn't see The Lovely Bones, but I did see The Last Station and thought Christopher Plummer was great. His bedroom scene with Helen Mirren was about as charming and enjoyable as anything ever. Plummer's first Academy Award nomination. Crazy. I can only assume that, like Peter O'Toole did a few years ago, Plummer will get his recognition as an Honorary Oscar. (Well, at least O'Toole was actually nominated a bunch of times.) Woody Harrelson was awesome in The Messenger — he's a very underrated, reliable actor. Matt Damon in Invictus getting nominated is a joke. It's his second acting nomination (Good Will Hunting was his first), and I can't think of a less deserving time to recognize the work of someone who is almost always been excellent. He had hardly anything to do in Invictus, except do weird rugby things like the "group hug" and the "human tower." Whatevs.
Got Robbed: Agreement: Tucci was really good in what could've been a forgettable role in Julie & Julia, loved Red West, and thought James Gandolfini did some of the best voice work in recent memory in Where the Wild Things Are. Will add: Peter Capaldi, In the Loop; Jude Law, Sherlock Holmes; James McAvoy, The Last Station; and Scott Speedman, Adoration. But I think I'm going to give my imaginary award to An Education's Peter Sarsgaard, who delicately guides his character through a difficult narrative arc and is thoroughly believable throughout.
HERRINGTON: I totally forgot about McAvoy. Good call there. His role in The Last Station — an audience stand-in serving a scenery-chewing protagonist — is similar to his role from The Last King of Scotland, but I liked him better here. Your second mention of Adoration — which really is an underrated film — is amusing to me. You really need to spend some time with Atom Egoyan's back catalog. Even deeper pleasures await.