It is easy to criticize the Academy for its choices.  Like any organization, they are going to make unpopular decisions.  And as with any vote, the most deserving person or film isn’t guaranteed victory in the least.  But part of the genesis of this project is the idea that it isn’t fair to ridicule a winner without seeing all of the other nominees.  So, we watched all the nominees.  Quixotic?  Maybe.  Fun?  Almost always.  Here’s what we though of the Best Supporting Actor category:

BRIAN

While there’s no doubt in my mind who I would give the Best Supporting Actor award to, I find this group of five performances to contain the most compelling and best work when compared to the other categories. In a weak year, I could easily make an argument for three of the actors and would be fine with two of the others. To start with the latter group, I enjoyed Robert Downey in Tropic Thunder, and he was probably the best part of the movie, but when given lines about going “full retard,” its hard to screw those up, so his success is more due to the strong script than anything else. And PSH, who is great in pretty much everything he does, kind of mails it in for Doubt. Maybe I’m still bitter about last year’s snubs for The Savages.

Michael Shannon was the best part of Revolutionary Road, even though his role was so outsized and out-of-place in the structure of the movie. He was fun to watch and engrossing while the rest of the film made me want to tear my eyes out. So he has that going for him, and should there be a huge upset, I wouldn’t mind. Josh Brolin was fantastic in Milk, and when compared to his good impersonation of George Bush in W., it’s astonishing that the same actor pulled off both roles. He has been on a roll lately, and I can’t wait to see what he does after Milk, because it appears there is little he can’t handle. Except for the Truffle Shuffle.

Surprise, surprise, but I give the award to Heath Ledger as the Joker. Helped along by the eerie score (a la 2007’s There Will Be Blood), Ledger’s foreboding presence dominates The Dark Knight and frightens the bejessus out of me. I love seeing evil personified in films, just because they offer such a clear contrast to the moral ambiguities in everyone else, especially Batman. It’ll be the high-water mark of the show…which is sad considering they usually give out the supporting actor awards first. I think they’ll have to do some retooling of the schedule this year.

ADAM

Will Win: Heath Ledger

    Heath is easily the front-runner for this award and all but has a lock on the win.  Some of the hype surrounding him is due to his untimely death, but I submit that even had he not died, he would have won the award.  His amazing and haunting portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight was easily one of the best performances of the year.

I Want to Win: Heath Ledger

    See Above.

Dark Horse: Anyone Else

    This is actually a very strong category this year.  Personally, the only fault I see was the exclusion of Brendan Gleeson.  Other than that, each of the actors nominated had very strong performances.  However, they all have one thing that is going to keep them from the win – Heath Ledger.

Random Notes:

I am glad to see Robert Downey, Jr.’s nomination here.  Mainly because I am a huge fan, but also because it shows the Academy is at least starting to consider comedies to be viable Oscar bait.  Also, as stated above, I am disappointed the Gleeson didn’t get the notice he deserves.

JARED

Wow, what a strong category.  Really, I’d be pretty OK with any of the contenders ending up with the statue.  And save for Shannon, they all seem to have had pretty sizable roles in their movies, perhaps a reason why someone like Eddie Marsan wasn’t nominated.  Surprising to me is how much I like each of the performances, despite only really having love for one of the movies.

My problems with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character is the same as my problems with Doubt.  The character just isn’t nuanced or interesting enough to stick out in my mind.  No offense meant to Hoffman, who I love.  In Tropic Thunder, Robert Downey, Jr.’s character is, as a friend put it, “a parody of Oscarbait performances.”  So, naturally, he gets a nomination.  I think he’s here for three reasons: 1) Academy members wanted to show they could be hip and take a joke, 2) he really was excellent in Iron Man, but there’s no way the Academy would ever see fit to give a lead actor nomination for that, and 3) Robert Downey, Jr. is awesome.  He’s had a tremendous year (don’t forget Charlie Bartlett), he just faces stiff competition and has to deal with an average script (though he does get off one of the best lines of the year).  If there’s a reason to watch Revolutionary Road, it is Michael Shannon.  An absolute whirlwind, he steals every one of his few scenes.  It almost didn’t matter that the words coming out his mouth were so inane.

I really really liked Josh Brolin in Milk.  I have to assume that most years he’d be the clear favorite.  The movie didn’t do as much for me as it did for my chums, but with someone other than Brolin, I likely would have rated it even lower.  Brolin has done an excellent job, recently, in finding interesting characters to take on.  It would just be nice if I liked his movies anywhere near as much as his characters.

But yeah, while I do think a legitimate case could be made for any of these actors, I’ll be rooting for Heath Ledger to take it down.  I can still remember the distraught text message I received from my brother on the day of Ledger’s passing, and how upset he was (and probably still is).  I would not fault any of the other nominees for grumbling something about a sympathy vote (though only if it was said in a state of inebriation).  But let’s face it, Ledger’s Joker is just so far out of this world.  The tension he generates in every single scene is almost beyond compare.  The other nominees were great, but Ledger was sublime.

JOHN

This is the second straight year with a very strong Supporting Actor group and a marked difference from the Supporting Actress category where I found little to move me. We have three great performances and two other very good ones and a slate like that is an unqualified success for the Academy.

Shannon steals every scene that he’s in. Part of that is surely how the character is written, but he gives John Givings a malicious edge that makes him fearsome as well as humorous. Hoffman can do no wrong and his Father Flynn is sympathetic even to those who, like me, think he’s guilty of some serious wrongdoings. He’s a progressive in a conservative institution in an era of intense inward and outward change but he still willingly uses the church’s patriarchal traditions to exert his power and benefit himself. And yet he comes off as a guy you’d like to have a drink with. He’s both creepy accused child molester and cool priest you’d like to lead your parish.

I think there’s a tendency to overlook Downey Jr because he has such an ostentatious role in a summer blockbuster. Tropic Thunder holds up very well in repeat viewings and Downey Jr is a huge part of that. He’s acting in blackface as a serious actor in blackface acting as a black soldier- and he’s great and hilarious. That’s tough. He’s over the top but in just the right ways that the premise doesn’t wear thin. And then he did the DVD commentary as his character’s character. I found him even funnier the second time I watched the movie.

Brolin could have easily won this category in another year. Milk is a great film and Brolin’s Dan White is the single most fascinating part. White is likable, awkward, vindictive, creepy, endearing, and insecure – often at the same time – and that’s all Brolin. In lesser hands White is probably just a straightforward villain. He’ll get his Oscar someday.

But how can you pick against Ledger? He did nothing less than create an iconic character, the type of character people will reference for decades. This won’t be a pity award, he’s positively mesmerizing. It’s a role that could have easily been played campy but Ledger takes it much darker. The only possible knock is that he could be considered a Lead. So I guess the modern path to Supporting Actor glory is creating an original and chilling villain?

Snubs: I don’t know if I ever saw anyone else push for Bill Irwin in Rachel Getting Married so I declare Golden Grouches the internet’s Bill Irwin headquarters. He’s the best part of that film. Russell Brand is a hilarious genius in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, though maybe he’s not acting. Jason Butler Harner is absolutely frightening in Changeling. If David Kross had to learn English for his role in The Reader and is still that good imagine how great he must be in German. And even though he’s nominated in that other category, I liked Brad Pitt even better in Burn After Reading.

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