Sunday, January 25, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Oscars: BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

The Best Supporting Actor race this year is a bit of a formality. Four of the nominees should start appreciating their nomination now because a win will not be following. The Academy may have ignored THE DARK KNIGHT in the top categories but there is no way they can ignore Heath Ledger’s last completed performance as The Joker. Not only does the man have an immense amount of sympathy behind him but he has also won nearly every major award leading up to the Oscar and – now this is the crazy part – he is actually amazing as The Joker. It is impossible to remove the layer Ledger’s death added to the way his performance is seen but does it really matter when he is completely engrossing and captivating? It’s fair to say who I’m putting my money on here but just to be fair, the nominees for Best Supporting Actor are …

Josh Brolin for MILK
Brolin is beautiful as the man who kills Harvey Milk and subsequently establishes the infamous twinkie defence, Dan White. Brolin’s performance is mostly internal. He is clearly always thinking but what he is thinking about is a tightly guarded mystery that struggles to come to the surface.

Brolin made a major comeback last year with stellar performances in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and AMERICAN GANGSTER, both of which were overlooked by the Academy. And after his finely nuanced performance as former President, George W. Bush (it feels so good to be able to use the word, “former” now) in Oliver Stone’s W., the Academy is rolling all their love into this one nod. Sean Penn is the likely favorite to win an acting award for MILK though and Brolin is not Ledger.

Robert Downey Jr. in TROPIC THUNDER
For years now, Downey Jr.’s potential comeback was slight at best. Then came 2008. His turn as Tony Stark in IRON MAN brought him back to the level of celebrity he was always destined for. His turn in TROPIC THUNDER is certainly one of the best things about Ben Stiller’s very funny but also often very dumb comedy. Black face is generally frowned upon but Downey Jr. not only pulls it off, he shows us a thing or two about our own prejudices while he’s at it.

THE SOLOIST was supposed to be Downey Jr.’s ticket to the Oscars this year but when that got bumped to the spring, weight was thrown behind TROPIC THUNDER. He wouldn’t have won the Best Actor Oscar this year given the competition and he won’t win the Supporting Actor nod either for the same reasons. Welcome back though.

Philip Seymour Hoffman in DOUBT
Hoffman has overcome many an odd in Hollywood. He is not a typically handsome, svelt leading man but he is one heck of a great actor. He shines over and over again in almost everything that is thrown at him. Albeit little seen and even less appreciated, Hoffman’s lead performance this year in Charlie Kaufman’s SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK was marvelous. It is his more traditional role as a priest accused of abusing a young boy in DOUBT that has the Academy’s full attention though.

Hoffman has the best chance of besting Ledger in this category. This is fitting as Ledger and Hoffman went head to head three years back for their respective roles in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and CAPOTE. Ultimately, Hoffman took home the statue there and that will likely leave voters throwing it the other way this time out.

Heath Ledger in THE DARK KNIGHT

What can I say that I didn’t already say? Ledger hasn’t always been a critical darling but he always wanted to be. He fought hard against playing typical roles and got the recognition he deserved for spots in MONSTERS BALL, CANDY and the aforementioned BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. In THE DARK KNIGHT, he does exactly what he did in that gay cowboy movie (c’mon, for old time’s sake); he transforms his entire self into his character. Sure, he had precedent to draw upon as The Joker but this is The Joker like we’ve never seen him before. He is naturally playful and sinister but he is also empty and hollow inside. He is essentially terrifying and entirely deserving of what will likely be only the second posthumous Oscar to be awarded in history.

Shannon almost passed up the opportunity to play John Givings, a man out of step with society in the 1950’s and therefore deemed mentally unfit, to star in a play. It must have been one heck of a good play opportunity because he would have been passing up an incredible opportunity that has now led him to his first Oscar nomination.

Shannon was tipped to be a contender in this category very early on but the tepid reception to REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by most critics was seemingly squashing that. Oddly enough, he finished by being the only actor in that film to garner a nomination. Still, it is clear to me that Shannon nabbed the fifth spot here and it would be a miracle for him to climb to the top.


Like I said before, there is no contest here. Black Sheep bets on Heath Ledger, hands down.

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