The Oscar Warrior Previews Supporting Actors & Actresses

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Our deepest apologies that we’re running a bit behind on these previews, but now it’s time to get to the supporting actor and actress categories, which are both a much more wide open race than any previous year in memory. Very often, the supporting categories are a place where anything goes and there’s always room for surprises, especially in the weeks leading up to the Oscars, but there are also very specific types to look for that help suss out the many great performances.

One of the performances that’s getting a lot of attention is Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Sir Laurence Olivier in Simon Curtis’ My Week with Marilyn, which has a lot going for it, including the fact Branagh is playing a real person and a famous actor who some of the older Academy members may have known and worked with. Branagh is already a respected and filmmaker who has been nominated for Oscars in the past but has never won, which gives him a nice edge for this role.

Christopher Plummer is one of our finest living actors and while he has a key role in David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which could get him attention, he’s more likely to get nominated for his unforgettable role as Ewan McGregor’s dying gay father in Mike Mills’ Beginners earlier this year. Focus Features is putting a lot of their resources into pushing the movie and Plummer’s performance. Plummer was nominated two years ago for The Last Station but lost to the frontrunner Christoph Waltz.

Albert Brooks has only been nominated for his acting once in his long career and that was for his supporting role in James (no relation) Brooks’ Broadcast News 24 years ago. His performance in Nicolas Refn’s Drive as a quiet but violent mob boss has had everyone who saw the movie talking, and it would be the perfect way to honor a rare bit of dramatic acting from the comic performer. The question is whether FilmDistrict will bother giving the movie a push or send out screeners now that Bob Berney (a big supporter of the film) is gone. (QUICK UPDATE: We’ve been told that Bob Berney will be remaining with the company through March, which means Brooks stands a much better chance as does the movie in the Best Picture category, something we will explain in a separate post soon.)

As much as the Academy likes to honor veteran actors in this category, they’ve also been known to honor surprising young talent and Ezra Miller certainly could get their attention for his shocking performance as a teen torturing his mother (played by Tilda Swinton) in Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. Miller’s also good in Sam Levinson’s debut Another Happy Day, holding his own against Ellen Barkin, but we think “Kevin” is the role the Academy will take notice of.

John Hawkes got an Oscar nomination last year for Winter’s Bone and his performance in Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene as a controlling cult leader is just as powerful if not moreso. We’re hoping he might get recognized for a second year in a row, but he seems to have tougher competition.

With such an illustrious cast, it’s hard to believe the most memorable performance in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is the portrayal of Ernest Hemingway by the virtual unknown Corey Stoll and if the movie is going to get any nomination in the acting categories, he is the most likely one.

We haven’t seen Jason Reitman’s Young Adult just yet, but we’re hearing great things about the performance by stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt in a more dramatic role, which we believe having seen him do such great work in Big Fan a few years back. We also haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which is likely to be a contender in many categories going by Daldry’s previous track record with the Academy, but we’ve heard murmurs that veteran actor Max von Sydow is terrific in it. We’ll see.

Two of our favorite moments from Alexander Payne’s The Descendants are the two scenes with actor Robert Forster, and they really break through the tough guy persona he’s created for movies like Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown as a father whose daughter lies in a coma. Sadly, they’re fairly short scenes so his performance may be overshadowed by others.

We’re even bigger fans of Gavin O’Connor’s MMA drama Warrior and we were blown away by the heartbreaking performance by Nick Nolte, an actor who hasn’t been nominated since 1999. He certainly fits into the category of older respected actors pulling out a late-career showstopper and Lionsgate has already sent out screeners to Academy voters, which could make up for the movie’s disappointing showing at the box office.

Another older actor who has already won an Oscar in this category but continues to be a regular nominee is Jim Broadbent who stars opposite Meryl Streep in Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady. Since we haven’t seen it, we can’t really gauge if the Academy will honor him again.

We weren’t that crazy about Armie Hammer’s performance in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, compared to what he did in David Fincher’s The Social Network last year, so he probably will be ignored. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti are both previous nominees in the supporting category and they’re both solid as usual in George Clooney’s political thriller The Ides of March, but so is George, and one would think if anyone would get attention for the movie it would be him and his supporting role as a presidential candidate under fire.

As far as the actresses go, there are a couple of funny ladies who have already gotten attention over the summer, and they’re likely to continue that goodwill through awards season. No one who has seen the summer sleeper The Help can come away from it without being really impressed with Octavia Spencer’s contribution and with her co-star Viola Davis almost guaranteed a nomination in the lead category, some of that love should spill down to Spencer as well.

The supporting actress category is generally more open to comedic performances than lead, which gives Melissa McCarthy a good chance at getting a nomination for her performance in Kristen Wiig’s Bridesmaids, which will be helped greatly by her Emmy win and a stint host “Saturday Night Live” that has made the veteran character actress hotter than ever.

Vanessa Redgrave’s performance in Ralph Fiennes’ Shakespeare adaptation Coriolanus has gotten a lot of people excited about the six-time nominee getting back into the Oscar race for the first time in 20 years, and she is the best part of an otherwise erratic drama.

The performance by just-turned-20 Shailene Woodley opposite George Clooney in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants has been getting a lot of attention and Oscar campaigning master Fox Searchlight has been getting her out there early on with festival appearances. It’s very likely Ms. Woodley may be taking the Abigal Breslin/Hailee Steinfeld slot this year, because the Academy just can’t stay away from honoring at least one young ingénue a year and the lead actress is too crowded. Judy Greer also gives a great performance in the film but it’s a smaller role that’s likely to get overlooked.

Argentine actress Bérénice Bejo is absolutely fantastic in her husband Michel Hazanaviscius’ silent movie The Artist, but with the Weinstein Company trying to support so many lead actress nominees already with Michelle Williams and Meryl Streep, we think they’re going to try to convince voters her role is supporting and she should be nominated in the less competitive category.

Glenn Close’s portrayal of crossdressing waiter Albert Nobbs has been getting a lot of attention on the festival circuit, but Janet McTeer plays Albert’s kindred spirit, another woman pretending to be a man, and she’s far more convincing and emotive, so she could easily end up sneaking into a very open category.

Mike Fassbender is getting a lot of attention as a sex addict in Steve McQueen’s Shame, but Carey Mulligan’s performance as his troubled sister is just as strong and Fox Searchlight may try to push her into the supporting category, which would be a much easier place for her to get recognition, though the film’s graphic sex may put off too many Oscar voters to get her in.

This has been a terrific year for actress Jessica Chastain with strong leading roles in a number of films including The Debt, but we think she’s more likely to be pushed in one of her supporting roles, whether it’s her comedic bits in The Help or the family drama of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life or Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter. She’s terrific in all three, but she also seems to be busy enough that these roles could just make Academy members aware of her when she plays more significant roles… such as the role of Princess Diana, a casting announcement made in the last few weeks, which could see her getting a nomination in the lead character.

Similarly, everyone has been loving Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, and previous lead actress winner Marion Cotillard is terrific, but Academy members already know what a strong actress she is and might feel her win for La Vie en Rose should be enough reward for her skills for years to come. We loved Olivia Colman in Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur (out Friday) and we’re wondering whether that strong dramatic performance is something that might get noticed in The Iron Lady opposite Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher. Dame Judi Dench has appeared in a lot of movies that will be getting awards attention for other actors and we don’t think her supporting role as Leo’s mother in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar will be seen as something to nominate her for.

Obviously, our busy schedule has kept us from doing these previews with any regularly consistency, but we will try to get into the directors and screenplays next time, which will probably be sometime after Thanksgiving at this point.