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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actor, 2009-2010)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

2009

Matt Damon, Invictus

Woody Harrelson, The Messenger

Christopher Plummer, The Last Station

Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones

Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Analysis:

To start with the easy part — Waltz had this one in the bag all the way from when he won Best Actor at Cannes. This was a clean sweep.

As for the category, SAG had all five, as did the Globes. BAFTA went almost entirely off the board, only having Waltz and Tucci. They had Alec Baldwin for It’s Complicated on their list, which is kind of insane. BFCA had everyone but Plummer. So this was the likely category.

– – – – –

Invictus is a pseudo-biopic of Nelson Mandela, as he and South Africa are about to host the Rugby World Cup. It’s basically Morgan Freeman finally playing Nelson Mandela after years of people saying he should.

Matt Damon plays the captain of the rugby team, who has a completely different storyline from Mandela’s. They meet once, but other than that, Damon is just a rugby player. He gives a rousing speech, and all that stuff, but otherwise he came along for the ride with Freeman and nothing more. In the realm of Matt Damon performances, this is not his strongest. Hell, he had The Informant this year and that was a way better performance. Though that was lead. This is clearly a #5, and there’s no way anyone votes for him here. This is a filler nomination. And it’s actually kinda crazy that this was Matt Damon’s first nomination in twelve years.

The Messenger is a nice little drama about soldiers whose job it is to go to the loved ones of those who died and break the news to them. It’s really, really terrific and underrated.

Woody Harrelson plays one of the two soldiers. He’s the veteran, Ben Foster is the new one. At first he’s stern and intense, giving strict rules on how and how not to notify the victims their loved ones have died. It’s the kind of thing where he’s been doing it so long he knows how bad it is when something like that is screwed up, and how it might not seem so important to them, but it’s the worst news in the world to the people receiving it. He’s an alcoholic as well, a byproduct of having done this for far too long. He cuts loose a bit when he’s not on duty, which gives him some different sides to play. But ultimately he shines in the scenes where they have to notify the families. Those are the bread and butter of this performance. I love Woody Harrelson and I really loved this performance. If it weren’t for Christoph Waltz, he’d have been my winner here.

The Last Station is The Last King of Scotland, but with Tolstoy instead of Idi Amin.

James McAvoy (again), plays Tolstoy’s new assistant, who is dealing with him dying and all the people around him fighting for control of all his legal works.

Christopher Plummer plays Tolstoy. He’s the lead of the film. They pushed him supporting so he would be nominated. That’s literally about it. He’s good, but he’s the lead. It’s also the same type of Christopher Plummer performance you’re used to seeing now. Nothing that special. His first nomination ever, actually, and is their way of bringing him back into the fold, leading to the Beginners win in two years. Veteran nomination. He’s good, but the category fraud cancels any of that out for me. Fourth choice at best, maybe third on performance.

The Lovely Bones is based on the YA novel that was always pretty famous. And then Peter Jackson turned it into a movie and everyone got real excited. And then everyone saw the movie and went, “Maybe Peter Jackson wasn’t the right choice…”

I had a feeling the movie would be underwhelming from when Jackson had hired Ryan Gosling to play the father and then fired him because he wanted to go method and gain weight and look like an actual emotional wreck of a father, and he replaced him with Mark Wahlberg… who isn’t exactly a method actor.

The film is about Susie Salmon, a teenager who gets abducted, raped and killed. And the film is half about her going around heaven and seeing things from above and half about her family dealing with her death. Never read the book, sounds like it would be a good read. The movie is mismanaged, because Jackson is more interested in how heaven looks than in the emotional journeys of the other characters.

Stanley Tucci — the great Stanley Tucci — plays the guy who abducts, rapes and kills Susie. He’s appropriately creepy in the part and definitely makes an impression. The performance was really solid, but the movie doesn’t help him and it cuts him out of it too much to have enough required to be the vote in this category. It’s a solid performance, but only worth the nomination and not the vote.

Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino. War film. You’ve seen it, so I’m not wasting time on this. Everyone’s seen it.

Christoph Waltz plays Col. Hans Landa. And even from reading the script, you said, “This guy’s gonna win an Oscar for this.” It’s a perfect role and Waltz was the perfect person for it. The opening scene alone in the farmhouse is good enough to win him the Oscar. And then all the later scenes he gets, like in the cafe with Melanie Laurent — this is his Oscar through and through, and I don’t think anyone would ever argue with that.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Waltz. Can you really make the case for anyone else? This is one of the quickest open and shut cases of all time. Hans Landa is a great character. Harrelson is great, but he doesn’t come close to the heights that Waltz reaches. And the other three are all compromised in different ways. Waltz is the choice, and the only choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
  2. Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
  3. Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
  4. Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
  5. Matt Damon, Invictus

Rankings (films):

  1. Inglourious Basterds
  2. The Messenger
  3. Invictus
  4. The Lovely Bones
  5. The Last Station

My Vote: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Recommendations:

Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino, and all his films are essential (except maybe Death Proof). So that won’t change. Plus the win. Essential all around and pretty much any film buff worth their salt will have seen this movie coming in, so we’re all good.

The Messenger is great and a hidden gem from 2009. Highly recommended. A nice small drama with great performances.

Invictus is decent. Eastwood, Freeman, Damon, about Nelson Mandela. Makes sense you’d want to see it. Mostly it’s just okay. Can be skipped, doesn’t need to be seen, but is worth a watch once. Get to it whenever you can. No rush.

The Lovely Bones — ehh. Peter Jackson, so that’s a plus. But it’s a film with good visuals that’s not particularly directed all that well. I call it a light recommend. Saoirse Ronan is good, Tucci is great, and otherwise it doesn’t have any kind of weight or emotion to it. You could not see this and be completely fine.

The Last Station is okay. Not my favorite. Can’t recommend it all that much, but the actors and the Oscar nominations make it worth seeing if you’re into that area of film. Otherwise can easily be skipped. Doesn’t crosslist all that much outside of the Oscars.

The Last Word: This is Waltz’s category and it’s one of the best decisions they’ve ever made. You can’t take anyone else here. This is one of the biggest consensus landslides of all time. Great decision.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2010

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

Analysis:

This year, SAG had all five nominees, and that was pretty much the only category that made sense. Andrew Garfield got some precursor nominations for The Social Network, but he didn’t seem like a legitimate contender. This was always the category.

For the win — Bale had the SAG and Globe and BFCA wins, and Rush won BAFTA, which makes sense. Bale was the odds-on favorite going into the night and no one really thought he was gonna lose, though Rush did seem like a sneaky alternate who could have won if support for The King’s Speech was stronger than anticipated. Ultimately the category went as expected.

– – – – –

The Fighter is David O. Russell’s return from some sort of exile, after the critical failure of I Heart Huckabees (and those set videos) and the actual failure of Nailed, which was a disaster on every level and one he never even finished.

It’s about Micky Ward, a boxer who was used as a stepping stone for real contenders who eventually fights his way to a championship. His brother Dicky Eklund was a pro fighter once whose biggest claim to fame was once having knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard. And the film is about him and his family, and how fucked up they are. It’s fucking great. It really is.

Christian Bale plays Dicky, and he’s completely charming in the role. A former fighter who is now a crackhead who thinks he’s making a documentary about his comeback but is instead part of a documentary about crack use in America. He wants what’s best for his brother but his and his family’s behavior isn’t helping at all. The idea of home grown family training is actually preventing his brother from getting anywhere.

Bale is unforgettably great in the role. This category was his from the start. You may end up with him second, but there’s no denying he’s good enough to have won this.

Winter’s Bone is a simple film that actually works really well. It’s also the film that introduced Jennifer Lawrence to the world.

Lawrence plays a girl who basically has to care for her family after their mother dies and their father disappears. And then she gets word that her father is out of prison (after having been arrested) but skipped bail, which means that the house they live in is about to be seized by the government. So she sets out to find her father so they can keep the house.

John Hawkes plays Lawrence’s uncle, who is addicted to meth and initially wants nothing to do with helping her. Though eventually he does give in and helps. It’s a quiet, but intense performance, and he has a couple of really great scenes. There’s a nice amount of nuance to the character, and Hawkes plays him really well. I don’t think I consider him anything more than a solid entry to the category, though I guess you could take him if you really wanted to. But I think the top contenders here are too strong to consider him, so to me, he’s just a nice third choice.

The Town is Ben Affleck’s second film. Another Boston crime drama.

The film is about a thief who falls in love with a bank teller from one of his heists. Meanwhile the FBI is working to bring him down. It’s a solid film. Not as good as Argo but better than Gone Baby Gone.

Jeremy Renner plays the crazy, violent, unpredictable member of the gang. He’s the one who can be ID’d by the girl, but also the one who will kill her without a second’s hesitation if she does identify him.

Here’s the thing — the character is underwritten but Renner brings him to life well. He keeps an air of unpredictability around him and you get the sense that he’s a complete wild card in every scene he’s in. I think he does enough to warrant a nomination but I feel like ultimately the nomination is it. The entire character is way too thin to warrant anything more than a nomination. Especially in this category.

The Kids Are All Right is a film I had a contentious relationship with when it came out. Because I never really thought it was anything more than just a pretty good film. I thought the performances were okay and the film was fine, but not really anything more than that. And then when it came out, people loved it, and it got these nominations, and I couldn’t understand why everyone thought it was so good. And, at that time, it meant that I grew to hate the film (mostly because of people and nothing to do with the film).

It’s about a lesbian couple whose children decide they want to know who their father is. That is, the man who provided the sperm that created them. And that causes issues, since one of the women ends up sleeping with him. Mostly it’s about an unconventional family.

Mark Ruffalo plays the father. He’s a landscaper and is pretty carefree about everything. Mostly it’s just a likable Mark Ruffalo performance and not a whole lot else. I don’t see him really accomplishing a whole lot here. Some might. I don’t put him higher than… fifth, actually. Maybe fourth for a vote, but fifth overall. I don’t much care for the film and think the performance is just okay. I’ve seen him be better.

The King’s Speech is already a kind of classic. I was pissed at it at the time, but there’s no denying it’s a great film that wholly deserved Best Picture (even if I didn’t think it was the best choice at the time).

It’s about King George VI and his ascension to the British throne despite a horrible stuttering problem. And he’s tried everything to fix it, but nothing’s worked. So he meets unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue, who manages to actually help him. It’s really terrific all around.

Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel Logue, the king’s speech therapist. And he is perfect in the part. Honestly, if it weren’t for Christian Bale, he’d have won this category in a landslide. You know how effective this performance is? When he’s not on screen he’s impressing you. In the first scene where the two meet, he has the king recite the “To be or not to be” speech into a recorder while listening to music. And the king thinks it’s rubbish. And later on, he listens to the recording, and hears himself saying the lines perfectly, without stutter. And that moment only serves to enhance Rush’s performance. Everything about him in this movie is perfect, and honestly, I am even hesitating as to whether or not I’m gonna take Bale over him. It’s 1 and 1a. They’re both worth it.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: This category comes down to only two choices: Bale and Rush.

Ruffalo is solid, but I don’t much like the film and think he’s just okay. Hawkes is solid but doesn’t have enough to do here to warrant a vote. And Renner is good but I’m not sure he even warranted the nomination. I’ll take it, but you can’t vote for this for the win. If you are, it’s mostly as a makeup for The Hurt Locker.

Bale and Rush are the most dynamic and affecting characters in the category. Bale has the showier role, the crackhead brother trying to help his brother win a heavyweight championship, but Rush has a showy role in a different way. His is the kind of performance that wins this category four out of five times. The friend/teacher character helping the person overcoming the disability? Honestly if Bale isn’t here, Rush wins this in a walk. And he deserves it. You can take either one, and I fluctuate as to which I like better. But I always come back to Bale. He’s really terrific here. I remember seeing the film in theaters and going, “He’s gonna win an Oscar for this.” You saw it and you jut knew. He’s my vote, even though Bale is a close and deserving second.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category and films):

  1. Christian Bale, The Fighter
  2. Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech
  3. John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
  4. Jeremy Renner, The Town
  5. Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

My Vote: Christian Bale, The Fighter

Recommendations:

The Fighter is essential. David O. Russell’s recent string of films are all essential. And it won two Oscars. Totally essential all around. Time may say otherwise, but time hasn’t happened yet.

The King’s Speech is essential all around. Best Picture winner, Best Actor winner, a great film, gonna hold up well over time, and Tom Hooper is fashioning himself into a filmmaker whose films are all must-see. Totally essential and will always be because of the win at the very least.

The Town is a solid film. If Mystic River is essential, than this should be too. Solid crime film from the year, more a high recommend than anything. Not essential, and won’t really ever be. Just a solid film worth seeing.

Winter’s Bone is solid. Worth it because you get Jennifer Lawrence doing great work as a young woman before she got super famous. Otherwise just okay. Not essential and not something you’ll ever need to see. I haven’t watched it in five years, so at most I’ll give it a light recommend if you ever get around to having the chance to see it. You’re okay without it though.

The Kids Are All Right is a film I don’t love. So I can’t recommend it. But people love it. So look to them for a recommend here. The most I can say is it’s all right (like the kids).

The Last Word: Easy category. Bale and Rush were the best choices, and Bale seems like the best one. Time will tell on it, but I think they’re both gonna show to have been worthy choices, and it’ll come down to which one prefers. I think Bale takes it, but you could just as easily have taken Rush here. Both good choices.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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