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The Oscars are less than a week away and we’re taking a look at all the categories we care to. Today it’s Supporting Actor.

  • Christian Bale, The Fighter
  • John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
  • Jeremy Renner, The Town
  • Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
  • Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

John:

He probably could have knocked down Sugar Ray.

This is a good group, but Christian Bale is an easy winner for me. He shines when he’s onscreen. It’s the line delivery, the manner of speaking, the body language, the way he walks: it’s so fully-formed. Not that it should be surprising; Bale is terrific in pretty much everything. And I think the dude seeks out movies that allow his body weight to swing wildly.

Hawkes is my second choice, and perhaps the nomination announcement that made me happiest. He may be the most memorable part of Winter’s Bone. It helps that his character is so important and interesting, but Hawkes is still great alternating between menacing and protective. Ruffalo is also a good choice. It’s not easy being both a douchebag but likeable.

And Rush and Renner are unmemorable picks in my mind. Why was Rush the front runner for so long?

Snubs: Two of my favorite supporting performances of the year, after Bale, had shots here but came up short: Andrew Garfield in The Social Network and Bill Murray in Get Low. At least I was able to vote for Murray in the Independent Spirits.

Jared:

I’d probably argue that, pound for pound, this category is the strongest of this year’s crop.  I don’t have anything bad to say about any of the nominees.  And honestly, the five nominees hew pretty darn close to my ideal ballot.

If one of the five has to be weakest, then I guess it would be Jeremy Renner.  Hampered by a relatively weak script, he plays a very familiar character, the screw-up best friend, but does so very well.  Obviously there are significant differences, but I was reminded a lot of Ed Norton’s Worm from Rounders.  I think Renner would have had a stronger case had his character been given a little more room to shine.

Geoffrey Rush has shown incredible range in his career, further extended by his role his as a speech therapist to a king.  Even held to a stricter standard, because (in my opinion) he really is a lead actor in the film, it is hard to find anything to criticize about his performance.

I was pleased as punch when John Hawkes’s name was read on nomination morning.  Regardless of what I think about Winter’s Bone, it is really neat to see a role like this one recognized.  Teardrop is an extremely interesting character, but he isn’t a hero, villain, or foil.  Kudos to the Academy for recognizing a very fine performance in a different sort of role

Christian Bale is a guy you want in your movie.  He always give a consistently superb performance, regardless of the genre of the film in which he’s appearing.  But he also seems to allow his co-stars to shine.  It is a rare talent indeed who can range from perhaps the ultimate straight man (Batman) to a showy, scenery-chomping character like this one.  Especially with this script, Dicky could have been obnoxiously, unbearably over the top.  But Bale reels the character in to something much more appealing.

So talented, he's also nominated for Animated Short.

Only since all these guys can’t be winners, I’m going with Mark Ruffalo as my favorite.  Though in all likelihood this order would have been different had I written this entry on a different day.  I’m repeating myself, but no actor makes playing a character look as effortless as Mark Ruffalo.  If you look over his career, maybe he tends to play a certain general type of character, but it is clearly wrong to suggest he’s just playing himself.  I usually hate to fall back on the cliche, but Paul just felt real.  As in, not a character, but an interesting person.  We’ll shortly get to what I think of the script, but suffice it to say that I’m laying just about all of that on Ruffalo.

Adam:

Says that this category is probably this year’s strongest and can’t decide between Bale and Rush.  I assume he also would have insulted at least one of us.

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Huh.  Looks like we don’t have a proper post on The King’s Speech.  Guess I should rectify that before we start up our pre-Oscarpalooza.

The reason we never got one up, perhaps, is that the film gives you exactly what you see.  There’s nothing (I’d argue) deep or extraordinary or even special, really, about it.  The story is fairly simple: a prince turned king with a stutter learns, after peaks and valleys, to overcome his weakness, thanks to a supportive wife and determined therapist.  There’s no sex, no violence, and no catchphrases. And yet it is going to end up one of the Grouches favorite films of the year.

The best picture nominees this year were, generally speaking, very successful at the box office.  Inception, True Grit, and Toy Story 3 all sailed past $100 million domestic. Black Swan will do so tomorrow, The King’s Speech will by next weekend, The Fighter could sneak past and The Social Network seems like it will fall just short.  So suggesting that The King’s Speech has broad appeal doesn’t exactly make unique among the best picture nominees. That said, where specific audiences may have difficulty getting into any of the other contenders, it is very hard to dislike The King’s Speech.  Its feel-good story is accessible, smartly paced and never sappy.  If the lines aren’t especially memorable, they almost never fall flat.  And, of course, the actors absolutely sell the film.

I won’t waste anyone’s time rehashing the merits of Geoffrey Rush or Colin Firth.  But I think it is fairly easy to imagine how much of a prick the therapist could have been in lesser hands.  Or how unwatchable the king’s stutter could have been, with a different approach. I think everyone knows Helena Bonham Carter is riding on the coattails of the film this awards season, I’m just confused why everyone continues to play along.  No fault of her own, of course, just isn’t a meaty role.  And hey, I’ve seen the BBC’s version of Pride and Prejudice twice, I like me some Jennifer Ehle, but she’s hardly in the film.  I did, though, kinda like Guy Pearce.  Who hasn’t had nearly the career he should have.  Even if he’s somehow been in three Oscar-nominated films over the past two years.

In the past few weeks the film has emerged as a front-runnner for a whole heap of awards, including Best Picture, thanks to the guilds’ unanimity in rewarding the movie.  Which has led to some rather unseemly sniping by the supporters of The Social Network, the erstwhile presumptive favorite after its near sweep of the critic’s awards.  Now, if you want to argue that The King’s Speech was not the best film of the year, fine, I can’t argue with that.  But we aren’t talking about a Crash situation here.  Hooper, Seidler, et al have created a damn fine movie.  Does it break boundaries?  No, probably not.  Will it inspire any new trends in cinema?  Doubtful.  But I’m not sure why either would be a prerequisite to being a great movie.

Oscar nominees are announced on the 25th.  Yay!  So let’s summarize what we (the royal we, at least) know.  Keeping in mind, of course, that when it comes to the Academy, no one knows anything.  Especially me.  This time: Best Supporting Actor.

VIRTUAL LOCKS

  • Christian Bale, The Fighter
  • Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

These two have been nominated in pretty much all Oscar precursors and split winning them.  Both have gobs of screen time; it is fairly easy to imagine their respective movies undergoing relatively minor rewrites to portray each as the main character.  Bale plays a loose cannon crack addict who can’t let go of the past, constantly reliving past fights, which is getting in the way of training his brother.  His performance is all kinds of showy, especially contrasted with Mark Wahlberg’s patented stoicism.  Rush, as a speech therapist tasked with helping a future king, is tasked with a more subtle role, playing mentor, friend, inferior to Colin Firth’s regal stutterer.

LIKELY IN

  • Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
  • Jeremy Renner, The Town
  • Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

The Academy has tendency to shower films it likes with lots and lots of nominations, so if it has caught the lovefest bug for The Social Network, we could hear Andrew Garfield’s name called.  He co-starred this year in the mostly-ignored Never Let Me Go and will be donning Peter Parker’s spiderduds in the upcoming Spiderman reboot.  Garfield’s character in the Facebook movie served an interesting and perhaps necessary counterpoint to the increasingly powerdrunk Zuckerberg.  The Town raked in a ton of dough and is generally well-liked, for reasons I can’t quite understand.  It boasts a strong ensemble, but awards buzz has focused on Jeremy Renner, nominated last year for The Hurt Locker.  Renner’s character doesn’t necessarily add anything new to the sidekick who is always looking for an edge even (or especially) when bending the rules.  Think Worm from Rounders, only from Boston.  But Renner is clearly quite talented.  In The Kids Are All Right, Mark Ruffalo plays a laid-back restaurateur who finds out that a sperm donation from nearly two decades ago has yielded two kids.  The idea isn’t novel to me, but I believe Ruffalo’s talent appears so natural that his work isn’t appreciated nearly as much as it should be.

FIRST ALTERNATE

  • Matt Damon, True Grit

I haven’t seen the film yet, so I won’t comment on Damon’s role or performance.  Buzz has been waning some, but count out at a respected, well-liked guy in a critical and commercial success at your own peril.

DARK HORSES

  • John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
  • Michael Douglas, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
  • Sam Rockwell, Conviction
  • Justin Timberlake, The Social Network
  • Armie Hammer, The Social Network

In a just world, Hawkes would see a nomination here, he truly turned in great stuff.  I just saw Wall Street 2 on the plane to Vegas, and while the movie was nothing special, Douglas does have an Oscar scene or two, and is a beloved industry veteran who was just in the news for kicking cancer.  I don’t think anyone saw Conviction, including yours truly, but Sam Rockwell is supposed to be very good.  Since the inevitable backlash for The Social Network hasn’t hit yet, you can’t count out Timberlake or Hammer, especially since they both have memorable scenes and lines.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER

  • Michael Shannon, The Runaways
  • Tom Hardy, Inception
  • Vincent Cassel, Black Swan
April 2019
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