As the Oscars draw ever closer — February 24 is D-Day — it's time to start seriously thinking, really seriously thinking, about the major categories. Who will win? And, more importantly, who should win? Over the next few weeks we'll be looking at each category and making those crucial decisions. Today we begin with the Best Supporting awards.
Best Supporting Actress
The Nominees: Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables, Sally Field for Lincoln, Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook, Helen Hunt for The Sessions, Amy Adams for The Master
Who Will Win: Barring an act of a musical-hating god, Hathaway has this sewn up.
Who Should Win: Were I an Academy voter, my thinking would go something like this. Sally Field was way over-the-top in an otherwise respectably understated biopic about big times, plus she's already won twice, so she's out. Everyone loves Jacki Weaver, but she was mostly a nonentity in Silver Linings. Yeah, she was terrific in Animal Kingdom a couple years back, but she justifiably lost to Melissa Leo when nominated that year; it's not like she's owed for a past robbery. Helen Hunt is kind and pleasant in The Sessions, but her seriously wobbly Bahstin accent disqualifies her immediately. That leaves Hathaway vs. Amy Adams. Obviously Hathaway goes for bonkers broke in Les Miz and there's something to be said for that, all that suffering for her art and whatnot. And then there's Adams at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, who brought a chilly quietness to an otherwise rather turgid film. So we're dealing with bombast versus furtive closeness, emoting versus evoking. This is a point where voting on art becomes a little silly, because the two performances aren't at all comparable, really. But, compare we must. So, faced with that decision, I must admit that I would likely opt for Adams. If only because she's been nominated four times now and could have won each time without causing any outrage. So, she's deserving. And I'm fairly certain that an actor being "deserving" is a common voting factor for Academy members. Hathaway will undoubtedly get her trophy someday, but her fifteen or twenty minutes of screen time (granted, Adams isn't in much more of The Master) don't quite earn her the prize this year.
Best Supporting Actor
The Nominees: Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master, Alan Arkin for Argo, Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained, Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln, Robert De Niro Silver Linings Playbook
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Who Will Win: Hard to say exactly, but we suspect Tommy Lee Jones will pick up his second trophy for his glorious and brave wig-wearing.
Who Should Win: This is one of the snoozier major categories this year, mostly because it's a bunch of older white guys who have all won before. Not to detract from the work, of course — all the performances were terrific in their own ways. It's just that without the excitement of a newbie or two in the field, it's hard to care much about who winds up on stage. But, decide I must, because today I am a pretend Academy member. Because he won so recently for, let's be honest, playing a variation on the same damn role, let's cross Waltz off the list immediately. (He's a likely upset for Jones in the real race, btw.) Waltz is a great, wily actor who's lots of fun to watch, but some real modulation is needed before he should win a golden totem again. Alan Arkin is basically the same in every movie, and while it's always a delightful character, this Alan Arkin guy, we've seen it before and awarded it before, so out he goes. Tommy Lee Jones made a fine Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln, crusty and ornery but never not lovable. It's what Tommy Lee Jones does best, really. And you know what? He's done it too often. So he's out. Which leaves us with bellicose, bellowing Phil Hoffman in one corner and a weepy Bob De Niro in the other. The case for De Niro is that his OCD dad in Silver Linings is some of the first actual acting, committed and detailed and devoid of the metallic whine of autopilot, that the venerable actor has done in some years. Should he be rewarded for a late-game creative comeback? He's got two Oscars already, so should he be counted out like Sally Field? My gut says yes, count him out, but not because of how many awards he's won. I just don't know if he's quite yet made up for all the years of movies like Righteous Kill and Killer Elite and Stone and Machete. He needs to pay a little more penance before he's awards eligible. And Hoffman was so mesmerizing in The Master. Joaquin Phoenix got most of the attention, but that's only because he was hollering for it the loudest. Really the truly graceful acting in The Master — graceful in the sense of seamlessness, not that all acting has to be elegant — was Hoffman's. His Lancaster Dodd was menacing and thwarted and soothing and monstrous all at the same time, and all the while he came across as a mostly credible human being. That's a lot of work, and Hoffman did it all prodigiously. Meaning, I'd vote to give Hoffman his second Oscar. Then he, too, can wait another twenty-plus years before he's due again.