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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actor, 2011-2012)

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.

2011

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Analysis:

This was a real boring year. Most of these people seemed like locks all the way through, but it wasn’t a particularly interesting category.

SAG had everyone but von Sydow. In fact, von Sydow had no precursors whatsoever. So you knew four of the five, but you weren’t sure who would sneak on fifth.

Armie Hammer had SAG for J. Edgar, but no one thought that would happen. Albert Brooks was in the conversation for Drive, but he didn’t have precursors to back that up. Then there was Viggo Mortensen for A Dangerous Method, but that didn’t seem likely either. Which allowed von Sydow to sneak on as a veteran, for a film that no one really saw coming.

And as for the win, Plummer had this category in the bag all the way. That was a lock from the start.

– – – – –

My Week with Marilyn is a movie that sounds like Oscar bait, but then when you see it, it’s just okay. But it sounds good.

It’s about the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, starring Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier, seen through the eyes of a young boy working on the film. Of course. And it’s about Monroe and all the shit she brought with her — being constantly late, hating her performances, working for hours and hours with her acting coach, not understanding her character and constantly clashing with master thespian Olivier. But you know, the boy knows the real her. The film is okay. Michelle Williams is good as Marilyn, but mostly it’s just pretty good.

Kenneth Branagh plays Laurence Olivier, in what might be the most karmically fitting nomination in history. Here’s a guy who burst onto the scene as the new Olivier, with Henry V (the same film Olivier was first nominated for acting and directing in) and doing all the Shakespeare films as well. So it seems fitting that he’d be nominated for playing Olivier.

His Olivier is a constantly exasperated director, and he’s more a director than he is Olivier. He sees an untalented actress who isn’t worth all the baggage she brings, and can’t see the star quality that shows up on screen in the films. It’s — fine. I don’t know if the performance needed to be nominated, but I also remember this being one of the weakest categories in a while and there not being a whole lot out there to nominate instead. So I get how he made it, but I don’t know if I consider him anything other than a fifth for performance and maybe slightly higher on the fact that I do like him and would want to see him have an Oscar. But even then, not enough to push him high enough for an actual vote.

Moneyball is a movie that, by all accounts, shouldn’t work, but does. And it’s great.

It’s about Billy Beane, manager of the Oakland A’s, who has to put together a winning team with a fraction of the payroll the bigger market teams have. So he discovers a philosophy based more on numbers than old school scouting, which allows them to take undervalued players that get on base and manufacture runs and win within a budget. It doesn’t sound like it’s good, but trust me, it is.

Jonah Hill plays Peter Brand, who introduces Beane to the sabermetric philosophy. He’s got an entry level job and has these revolutionary ideas, and Beane is the only one who listens to him. And he hires him as assistant GM despite no experience after he’s honest about Beane’s draftability when he was a player. And he becomes Beane’s right hand man throughout the film. That’s pretty much it.

Hill doesn’t really have an arc in this movie, and a lot of his performance makes me feel like he was overly nervous to be acting in such a dramatic part opposite Brad Pitt. He feels too buttoned up here. You can see a marked difference between this performance and Wolf of Wall Street, not that the other performance should factor into this one whatsoever. I’m just pointing out that I don’t know how much I actually like this performance as a nominee. Fine with it, but don’t think I consider him anything other than fifth. Him and Branagh duke it out for the bottom for me.

Warrior is a good film. Kind of underrated. Though people do seem to love it.

It’s about two brothers, Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, who are entered into an MMA tournament where grand prize is $5 million. Tom Hardy ran away when he was younger and joined the military, and Edgerton is a science teacher struggling to make ends meet when his daughter needs surgery. He secretly fights to make extra money. The two haven’t spoken in years and don’t really want to reconcile with one another. So of course they end up fighting each other in the tournament and it’s a big emotional moment. Really great movie. I didn’t fully appreciate it when it came out, but I watched it again specifically for this and I like it much, much more.

Nick Nolte plays the brothers’ father. He was an abusive drunk growing up and is now recovering. Hardy comes to him to train, and the two mend their relationship that way. He’s still estranged from Edgerton, who wants nothing to do with him, and he gets a lot of scenes of being an old man who just wants to reunite with his sons before he dies. And he gets a good “falling off the wagon” scene as well. This is today’s version of Dennis Hopper in Hoosiers. That’s what it is. It’s not a new or unique character, but Nolte plays him well. And in this category, you could take him. I’d wager a lot of people would. Hell, I still might. This is a veterans category, so we’ll see which veteran impresses me most.

Beginners is about a guy whose father comes out as gay after the death of his mother. The film is presented through a series of flashbacks.

Christopher Plummer plays the father, and I remember him being nominated for this. His win was a foregone conclusion from the start. He was 82, had been a star for years, and this was their way of finally being able to recognize him for a career of great work. I think he was really fine here, but I’m not sure I think this was the best performance in the category. Not that I think he’s a bad winner, since this category isn’t strong enough for it to really matter. But I’m not sure I take him.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a strong film that got so much flack when it came out. Sure, it probably didn’t need a Best Picture nomination, but it’s not that bad. I liked it.

A kid with Asperger’s whose father died in 9/11 tries to go on a treasure hunt that his father told him about, which takes him around New York, looking up random people. It could be overly saccharine or pretentious, but they do a good job with it.

Max von Sydow plays a boarder who moves in with the kid’s grandmother. He doesn’t talk, and the kid takes a liking to him. We figure out pretty quickly that he’s the kid’s grandfather, and we find out as much later in the film. He accompanies the kid on his journey and becomes his pal. His biggest scene is when the kid plays him his father’s final messages on the answering machine, and he has to hear his son’s last words. It’s heartbreaking.

von Sydow does a good job playing silent, but it’s a bit of a badly handled film and part, and it doesn’t get as much out of him as it should. I really liked the performance, but I think ultimately the film lets him down, and I can see why he was not only a surprise nominee but someone who really stood no chance at a win. I absolutely adore Max von Sydow though, and I’m very happy he snuck in on this list. I know I voted for him last time, but that’s because I had no one else to take. This time, I still might take him, but I’m not sure.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I don’t much like this category. Jonah Hill feels overmatched. Branagh is just okay. von Sydow is great but underused. Plummer is good but I didn’t love the performance. And Nolte… honestly Nolte probably has the most going for him all around, and has just as much upside for a win as Plummer does. So while any of the three veterans would be good choices, I’ll take Nolte this time. I think he does the strongest work overall.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Nick Nolte, Warrior
  2. Christopher Plummer, Beginners
  3. Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  4. Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
  5. Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Rankings (films):

  1. Moneyball
  2. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  3. Warrior
  4. My Week with Marilyn
  5. Beginners

My Vote: Nick Nolte, Warrior

Recommendations:

Well this is fairly easy. Not really any of these are essential. The closest to being essential is Moneyball because it’s great and because Bennett Miller’s three films so far have all been pretty close to essential. He’s turning himself into one of those filmmakers whose films you need to see. So let’s just call it essential for now just in terms of, if you love movies, you’ll love this. So see it.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a really solid film that got shit on because it was (and probably shouldn’t have been) nominated for Best Picture. Sure, it’s not that great, but since when do Best Picture nominations really mean all that much? It’s worth seeing and I’ll give it a solid recommend, but it’s not essential. It’s Stephen Daldry, whose films are all high profile and generally get seen by people. (Except his latest, which no one even knows about. The one that sounds a lot like Slumdog Millionaire, because it kind of is.)

Beginners is a film that Oscar buffs need to see because of the win. Otherwise, it’s a film that the internet loves. I’ve never had any particular affection for it. It’s just kind of there for me. I don’t begrudge people who like it, I just don’t like it enough to recommend it all that highly. I’ll leave that to others to recommend. Though I can call it essential for some because of the win, so there’s that.

Warrior is a solid film. I remember thinking it was okay when I saw it, and then everyone else fucking loved it. I can give it a solid recommend that you should check out if it’s on TV or whatever. But otherwise it’s just a movie that’s solid but not overly great.

My Week with Marilyn isn’t that great a film. It’s just okay. The nominations make it look better than it is, but it’s just okay. See it, don’t see it. It’s mostly worth it to see how they handle famous people. Otherwise, ehh.

The Last Word: Plummer is fine because he’s such a veteran. This category is ultimately a historical blank so the veteran win makes sense. But you have three potential veteran choices, all of whom would hold up just as well as Plummer. So at that point, take whomever you want. I think Nolte gives the most appealing performance. Plummer is probably a second choice, and as much as I love von Sydow, he’s probably third of the three, in the weakest movie (even though I liked his movie and performance more than Plummer’s and Beginners). I think we need more time on this one, but it’ll never be a bad decision no matter how much time has passed. I just prefer someone else.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2012

Alan Arkin, Argo

Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

Analysis:

This was a fairly cut and dry year, though I remember there being some intrigue as to who the fifth spot would be. Though that was probably just me, as if you strictly followed precursors, this category was pretty obvious.

Arkin, Jones and Hoffman hit all the precursors and were locks. And De Niro hit SAG but missed everything else. But given the love for the film, everyone knew he was getting on. Which left one spot open.

Waltz hit BAFTA and the Globes, and seemed like the obvious choice. Javier Bardem hit SAG and BAFTA, which looks nice, but because it was for Skyfall, no one really took him seriously as an actual nominee. The other contender, who only really got a Globe nomination, was Leonardo DiCaprio, for Django. And I was holding out some hope that he’d be nominated instead of Waltz, though all the data clearly pointed to Waltz.

And then, once we had our category, no one had any fucking clue what was going to happen until the very end. Waltz won the Globe and BAFTA and Tommy Lee Jones won SAG. Which… looking back, Waltz was clearly the choice and yet somehow I missed it. That one’s my bad.

– – – – –

Argo is a great movie. One of those movies that has all the elements to be a film that most people love. Still not entirely sure it should be a Best Picture winner, but I’m not opposed to that either.

It’s about the Iran hostage situation and a true story where the CIA posed as a film crew shooting a science fiction movie with some stranded Americans as part of it in order to get them out. And it’s awesome. It really is.

Alan Arkin plays a film producer who helps start a phony production company with Affleck and helps him navigate the treacherous waters of Hollywood so Affleck can go navigate Iran. He’s mostly the comic relief of the film. He has a couple of standout scenes, like when he gets the script optioned by pretending he knows Warren Beatty, and coining the phrase “Argo fuck yourself.”

It’s an amusing performance and Arkin has made a living the past decade playing this character a bunch. He was nominated because he’s a veteran and because a Best Picture contender needs an acting nomination in order to really contend. Arkin got the nod because he was the most obvious choice. He’s clearly fifth in the category and there’s no way anyone takes him over any of the other four nominees. That’s just how this is. Nice to see him here and he’s great in the film, but you can’t vote for him.

Silver Linings Playbook is David O. Russell doing his new David O. Russell thing. He has a trilogy of films, from The Fighter to this to American Hustle, where he’s perfecting this energetic ensemble style. I’d argue that this might be the best of the bunch, but American Hustle is probably the most perfected version of the style he was trying to achieve.

Bradley Cooper plays a guy just out of a mental institution after a nervous breakdown, which happened when he found his wife having an affair and lost his mind. Now he’s out and he’s trying to turn over a new leaf. He moves back in with his parents and starts up a relationship with a local widow who has started sleeping with a lot of men after her husband’s death. And the two of them enter into a dance competition. Which sounds like a terrible plot, but it works. It really works.

Robert De Niro plays Cooper’s father, and he’s fantastic in the role. He’s a bookmaker and is trying to open his own restaurant. He’s fanatical about the Eagles and is very OCD. He has a bunch of wonderful moments in the film and really stands out. It’s a very De Niro performance and also not very De Niro at all. He gets to show real emotion here and create a three-dimensional character for what feels like the first time in fifteen years. I think he’s well worth a vote here and could definitely be considered for it.

The Master is Paul Thomas Anderson making a movie that’s essentially about Scientology. But he obscures any critiques of it by making a movie about an L. Ron Hubbard figure and Joaquin Phoenix’s aimless sailor character. And it’s wonderful.

I don’t know how to explain this film, but I think most people have seen it (because how could you not, with the people involved in it). So we’ll just move on to Hoffman.

Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, basically Hubbard. And he’s spellbinding in the role. He really is. He’s everything you think the leader of a religion/cult would be, and he perfectly plays opposite yet similar to Joaquin Phoenix. The undercurrent of seething intensity is impressive to watch. Problem? Kind of a co-lead. I can see making him supporting, but if we’re gonna call Waltz a co-lead, you have to call Hoffman a co-lead too. He’s great, and you can easily take him (and I imagine, over time, most people would), but this category is strong enough to where you can make a case just about any which way but Arkin.

Lincoln is fucking wonderful. Spielberg directing Daniel Day-Lewis in a movie about the passing of the 13th Amendment that freed the slaves. Absolutely wonderful all around.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens, the most vocal person in the chambers about freeing the slaves. He’s radical in his views and thinks Lincoln’s plans are tame. He gives these great speeches and is clearly the most enjoyable character in the film. His big thing is he’s radical, and is persuaded to tame his views for the greater good, because trying to be radical will prevent the moderates from accepting the changes and get us nowhere. So he allows himself to say something he doesn’t believe in order to get the amendment passed. It’s the stern/cold guy showing that he has a heart. Pure Tommy Lee Jones. And he gets what is undoubtedly one of the sweetest endings of a character, he goes home to his wife… his housekeeper, a black woman.

He’s wonderful in the film, and I loved, loved, loved his performance. I’m not sure he’s technically the best performance in the category, but man, is he absolutely fantastic here and well worth taking, as are just about everyone in the category. So you know, it comes down to personal preference. But it’s impossible to come out of this movie and not think, “Tommy Lee Jones was awesome.” It’s like Anthony Hopkins in Amistad. Same thing. The part was written to be here, and Jones does a fantastic job with it. He didn’t need to win, necessarily, but he is good enough to.

Django Unchained is Tarantino. Which means everyone’s seen it.

Christoph Waltz plays King Schultz, a bounty hunter and (apparent) dentist who buys Django because he can identify some people he needs to find and collect bounties on. So he makes a deal that he will grant him his freedom as soon as he identifies the men. And then when he does, he trains Django as a bounty hunter and the pair go in search of Django’s wife, who is still in slavery. It’s fucking terrific. Not sure it’s a masterpiece just yet, but it’s wonderful.

Waltz is the lead character for 75-80% of the film. Foxx becomes a co-lead, but Waltz is unabashedly the lead of the movie. Which makes it difficult for me to automatically want to take him, despite him being fantastic in the part. Ideally, he’d have been placed in lead (though, this year, he had no chance of a nomination there, so I get it) and DiCaprio would have been (rightly) nominated supporting. Or both would be here. But that was also tough because of how strong it is. Either way, Waltz is top two for performance and might even still be the vote despite being a lead.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I think I came up with an appropriate tagline up there: Any which way but Arkin. Arkin is great, but is clearly #5. Outside of him, they’re all worth voting for.

De Niro and Jones have the old school veteran thing going for them. Jones isn’t playing really against type at all, but the role gives him so much to work with in terms of entertainment value and likability. That can’t be discounted. De Niro gets to give a full-fledged performance for the first time in years and really makes an impression.

Between those two, I like Jones’ performance more and think De Niro probably gave the better performance. But performance isn’t always everything. And when it’s close… Jones only won once for a somewhat lesser performance and De Niro has two wins for great performances. That normally doesn’t mean anything, but this category being so strong… it means a little.

Now, Waltz and Hoffman are the two co-leads of their films. Waltz is doing a variation of the same performance he won for in Inglourious Basterds. Hoffman is just great all around.

The intellectual side of me says Hoffman is probably the best performance and the vote. The emotional side of me says Waltz and Jones were my two favorites. The logical side of me says Hoffman and Waltz are co-leads and that goes against the purpose of the category. The logistical side of me says: De Niro has two already and is fine. Arkin has one and that’s fine. Waltz doesn’t need a second one. Jones has one and wouldn’t hurt with a second. Hoffman has one in lead and a supporting one could also fit.

All that being thrown together… between the most likable ones, I want to take Waltz, and between everything else, I want to take Hoffman. And, to be perfectly honest, since we’re not really that far removed from the category, I’ll stick with Waltz for now and wait another five years to see how things change then.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
  2. Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
  3. Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
  4. Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
  5. Alan Arkin, Argo

Rankings (films):

  1. Django Unchained
  2. Silver Linings Playbook
  3. Argo
  4. Lincoln
  5. The Master

My Vote: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

Recommendations:

We’re not that far removed from this category, but as of right now all five of them — Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, Argo and The Master are all essential films. Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell (especially from Three Kings onward), Steven Spielberg and Paul Thomas Anderson’s films are all essential. They just are. Argo also won Best Picture which makes it essential just on pure logic for film buffs. Not to mention, all of these films except The Master won Oscars. And The Master, I think we can all agree is maybe the most essential of the bunch when you start getting into the “cinema” aspect of the whole thing. So, let’s call all five essential and say that if you love movies, you need to have seen all of them.

The Last Word: They’re all great actors and all give great performances. Put DiCaprio here instead of Arkin and you legit have five winners in the category. They’d all hold up well, I think. Arkin, not so much. Outside of him — De Niro holds up the weakest but doesn’t look awful as a winner. Not as great as some others, but not bad. Jones would have held up fine, but not great. Waltz, I don’t know yet. He holds up okay. Hoffman probably would have held up the best, but again, time’s gotta tell there. I think they made a fine decision as it stands now. Waltz is pretty awesome in Django.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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