Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Seen--and STILL Snubbed--By Oscar (Supporting Actor Edition)

It’s Oscar season, and all bloggers are contractually obligated to blog about it in some way, shape, or form.  Popular topics?  Here’s a few:
-who should win
-who will win
-who got snubbed
-who got lucky

There’s also the “long term” approach, which is basically picking any of the above topics and applying them to a period longer than just last year (and talking about it in past tense, of course—predicting, say, future Oscar snubs is pretty speculative).

Don’t get me wrong: I love reading lists like these.  There’s just a lot of them.  And a good number of people who write them have actually seen nearly every movie that came out this past year, and can speak from a far more informed point of few than I could.  So there’s no reason for me to get all huffy about “so-and-so should have been nominated from this great little Russian film from 2004—it was a huge snub back then.”  Joe Movieblog probably saw every movie back then, and would say it was only the 17th best performance.  And he’s probably right, for all I know.

So I’m not doing a biggest snubs list.  Here’s my list instead:
The biggest acting snubs of the last 10 years (i.e., the 2000’s) from movies that did actually received an acting Oscar nomination for someone else in the movie.

Pros to doing this list:
-It’s a relatively small sample size; probably about 115 movies received acting nominations in the last 10 years, and I’ve probably seen most of them.  I can kind of know what I’m talking about (so might WPFF readers!).
-I haven’t seen a list like this anywhere else; if it’s not unique (and—for real—it’s probably not) it’s at least more distinct than “biggest snubs of the last year”.
-Here's the biggie: While I don’t see every movie, neither, in fact, do the people who decide who gets nominated for and who ultimately wins Academy Awards.  But those folks DID, as a rule, see these 115-ish movies, since they nominated people who acted in them and all.  So this is actually a bit truer by way of pointing out actual snubs rather than performances that maybe just weren’t seen by enough of the right people.  These are performances that the Academy said, “Yeah, we saw it—we just weren’t that impressed.”

Also, I decided just to go with supporting actor snubs.  We’ll save the other categories for future posts.

Without further ado, here are the biggest supporting actor snubs of the 2000’s from movies that received an acting nomination for someone else.  (All info is from

What movie?  Erin Brockovich, 2000
Who got nominated?  Julia Roberts, Albert Finney
Who got snubbed?  Aaron Eckhart
Did anyone else see what I saw (i.e., any awards or noms from anyone)?  No.
What’s the big deal?  When I first saw Erin Brockovich, I remember thinking how neat it was that they got an actual biker-guy to play the biker guy in the movie.  “Typecasting exists for a reason,” I thought.  Eckhart didn’t become a household name (in my household, that is) until years later, and not until even later did I see his name connected with Erin Brockovich.  I couldn’t remember who he played in the movie.  “Surely not the biker-guy,” I thought.  Oh, you know he was.  I was retroactively very impressed.  Furthermore, I postulate that if Eckhart’s career had been reversed—that is, if “Thank You For Smoking,” “The Dark Knight,” and a couple of rom-coms had gotten him on the radar, and THEN he had played the biker-guy in “Erin Brockovich”—then I’m guessing the Academy would have noticed.  Obviously, it was “that kind of film,” with Roberts winning best actress and Finney getting a supporting actor nomination.  Eckhart would have been right there with them, probably viewed as the one of the three who was most stretched in his role.  But if you’re off the radar and not overly flashy, you’re not going to get noticed.

What movie?  About Schmidt, 2002
Who got nominated?  Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates
Who got snubbed?  Dermot Mulroney
Did anyone else see what I saw (i.e., any awards or noms from anyone)?  No.
What’s the big deal?  We already see a theme here: Actors completely enveloped in a non-flashy role.  Mulroney, from what I understand, is kind of a heartthrob.  In “About Schmidt,” he’s a “nincompoop,” as Jack Nicholson’s character refers to him.  And he’s wonderfully engrossed in the nincompooposity of his character, Randall Hertzel.  The “participant” trophies on display in his room perfectly encapsulate his character: he’s clueless, for sure, and not too bright; but he’s endearing and genuine in his way.  Part of him is really proud of his trophies, and he’s probably not sure why.  He probably hasn’t thought about it.  Mulroney obviously acts in a thoughtful way—his throwaway line at the airport about “having the plane in the background of the picture” is brilliant—but he hides his own thoughtfulness inside of a character who doesn’t do much thinking.  And he does it in such a way that's fun and not boring to watch.  That ain’t easy.

What movie?  Junebug, 2005
Who got nominated?  Amy Adams
Who got snubbed?  Ben McKenzie
Did anyone else see what I saw (i.e., any awards or noms from anyone)?  No
What’s the big deal?  Ben is best known for his leading role in “The O.C.”, and is cast against-type in “Junebug” as Johnny, a small-town drop-out with a lot of pent-up anger and not much to say about it.  Somehow Johnny ended up with an adoring wife (played by Amy Adams) who is very pregnant, and is as excited about the baby as Johnny is ambivalent about it.  We’re left to figure out the sources of Johnny’s anger: Fear about the baby?  Insecurity about having “married up”?  Feeling looked down on by his brother or his brother’s art-dealing girlfriend from the big city?  Shame from dropping out of high school, or from living at home, or from not being able to do something as simple as following through on a thoughtful impulse to record a TV show for his wife?  We don’t know, and neither does Johnny.  He seems as surprised as his brother is when he launches a wrench that hits his brother in the face, and McKenzie’s expression that follows is a lasting image from the film.  McKenzie lets us see for a moment how confused and scared Johnny is, and then he buries it away, beneath the familiar scowl.  If Johnny had dealt with his feelings on camera, maybe McKenzie would have gotten more attention for this role.  But communicating to the audience that Johnny won’t directly deal with his feelings, and will park in front of the TV for the next few weeks for some extended repression, is in itself an impressively specific reality that McKenzie conveys.

What movie?  Juno, 2007
Who got nominated?  Ellen Page
Who got snubbed?  Jason Bateman
Did anyone else see what I saw (i.e., any awards or noms from anyone)?  No
What’s the big deal?  Memo to male actors best known for their TV roles who are offered non-heroic supporting roles in movies starting with “Jun,” opposite pregnant women: You will probably not get noticed.  That’s the trend on this list, anyway.  On the one hand, Bateman doesn’t stretch a whole lot from most of the roles we’ve seen him in.  But this role has a twist, and it’s a character twist that needs to work in order for the entire plot twist of the movie to work.  Bateman has played sleazy, and he’s played smug, but almost without exception, we’re supposed to like whoever he’s playing.  Not here.  What’s impressive is that we think we like Mark Loring, and any indication of “sleaziness” is easy to overlook because, hey, it’s Jason Bateman!  But when we find out we actually don’t like him or respect him, we feel the same mix of embarrassment and disdain that Juno herself felt: “The signs were there the whole time!  Why didn’t we see them?”  Maybe because Bateman knows exactly how subtle the difference between “sleazy-seeming-but-sweet” and “sweet-seeming-but-sleazy” can be, and, as Mark Loring, he takes us from one to the other before we know what hit us.

What movie?  Eastern Promises, 2007
Who got nominated?  Viggo Mortensen
Who got snubbed?  Vincent Cassel
Did anyone else see what I saw (i.e., any awards or noms from anyone)?  No
What’s the big deal?  As with Ben McKenzie’s character in “Junebug,” Cassel’s Kirill is angry, with a lot of confusion and insecurity underneath.  And just as we’re left guessing with Johnny in “Junebug,” we’re never fully sure what’s getting at Kirill.  This tense speculation is a driving force in the movie, because—like Mortensen’s Nikolai—we don’t know if we can trust him, largely because even if Kirill doesn’t suspect Nikolai to be a traitor, he still may do him in out of jealousy or even some repressed attraction.  Cassel’s volatile and unpredictable performance brings home the danger of Nikolai’s situation.  Cassel isn’t playing “just another tough guy”—he’s playing a tough guy who has a lot to prove, but who himself isn’t sure “what,” “why,” or “to whom.”  It’s scary, nuanced, and snubbed.

What movie?  Rachel Getting Married, 2008
Who got nominated?  Anne Hathaway
Who got snubbed?  Bill Irwin
Did anyone else see what I saw (i.e., any awards or noms from anyone)?  Yes!  He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor by the Chicago Film Critics Association.
What’s the big deal?  Maybe I’m a sucker for repression, but Irwin’s Paul differs from the other characters in this list in that instead of his repression leading to destruction, he’s doing his darnedest to hold something of his family together during the weekend of his daughter’s wedding.  He’s desperate to make something work, and his efforts at levity, expression of feelings, or even just conversation are all so laced both with sadness for his fractured family unit and deep love for the individuals, we can’t help but root for and even admire him for at least trying with all that he’s got.  When he breaks, we break.  Irwin makes all of this happen, playing a pretty ordinary guy in an extraordinarily difficult situation.  And, lest we think he’s typecast, this is the same Bill Irwin who plays “Mr. Noodle” on Sesame Street.

What movie?  Changeling, 2008
Who got nominated?  Angelina Jolie
Who got snubbed?  Michael Kelly, Jason Butler Harner
Did anyone else see what I saw (i.e., any awards or noms from anyone)?  No
What’s the big deal?  Once I got over Michael Kelly’s resemblance to Steve Martin, I appreciated his performance for what it was.  His character was the one who kept the police force from being a caricature, and gave us a believable glimpse of humanity within an inhumane system.  I feel like he must have been on screen the for the whole movie, because I can’t imagine his character’s transformation being so believable with only a handful of scenes—but that’s a testament to Kelly’s intentional use of what time he had to show us Detective Ybarra’s pivotal transformational moments, as well as enough build-up for us to believe them.

Harner, meanwhile, plays the flashiest character on this list: a serial killer.  And speaking of someone who makes the most of his screen time: he’s only got a few minutes, but those are some darned creepy minutes!  I like subtle characters, yes, but I’m not opposed to being blown out of the water by a portrayal of a killer.  Harner, with his oddly-timed smiles, shiftiness, and unsatisfying remorse—well, I’m a little creeped out just thinking about it.

And there they are.  Gents, I know a paragraph on is not the same as an Oscar statue, and maybe not even a Golden Globe, but kudos nonetheless.

Readers, enjoy the Oscars, and I’ll see you Friday.


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