The supporting acting categories are some of the slipperiest the Oscars have to offer. Studios (and obsessive Oscar bloggers) spend months deciding which actors should go lead and which should go supporting, and movies without a hope of winning anything else grab hold of one performance that stands out and ride it all the way to awards night.
At this point in the year the supporting acting categories, like every other category, are exceedingly murky. Many, if not most, of the possible contenders have yet to be seen, from the vast cast surrounding Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to a few gems who seem to be lurking in Revolutionary Road. But with 10 slots to fill between the men and the women, the supporting categories already have a few possibilities floating around out there-- and at least one guaranteed nominee. We'll take a look at a few of those, including some movies that haven't been released yet but I, lucky me, have seen. Don't get stressed when your favorites aren't included, like Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt or Kate Winslet in The Reader; we're in a no-speculation zone for now.
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder. I never would have guessed that actors from two summer blockbusters could make it into this category, but Paramount is pushing hard for the man who starred in their two biggest cash cows, this one and Iron Man. I'm not sure it'll work, though, unless the other supporting performances turn out very, very weak. Then again, you can't underestimate star power, and a desire to reward Downey's excellent year. His chances?: Fair.
Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky. His movie is a showcase for its lead actress, Sally Hawkins, but the movie's best, most intense scenes come as a result of his uptight driving instructor character. But the movie has been out for some time now, and no one but Hawkins seems to be getting the attention. I'd like to see him make it in here, but for now... His chances? Not great.
Dennis Hopper, Elegy. He's making a go of it-- we'll have an interview with him later this week to prove it-- but it might be a struggle to bring attention to this summer release, especially with Ben Kingsley sucking up much of the available oxygen in the lead role. He's good in this, though, and deserves at least a shot-- if maybe not a spot in the final five. His chances?: Iffy.
Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire. It's pretty sneaky for Fox Searchlight is putting him in the supporting category, since he's the main character of the movie and gets the most screentime of any actor. But it's probably a smart choice-- this is a less crowded field than Best Actor, and his movie seems poised to break out big. Patel is charming and disarmingly youthful in person, which will serve him well as he makes the publicity rounds this winter. His chances?: Pretty solid.
Josh Brolin, Milk. His career has exploded in the last year, and this is the most intense of the many supporting roles in Milk. Plus, this category loves a bad guy-- Tim Robbins, Kevin Spacey and Javier Bardem can attest to that. Sean Penn will get a ton of attention for his lead performance, and Brolin is the most likely to ride his coattails. His chances?: Very good.
James Franco, Milk. He's playing the role that has won supporting Oscars for countless women (Jennifer Connelly and Marcia Gay Harden most recently among them)-- the supportive partner to the main character. And he makes hay with his limited role, playing Harvey Milk's boyfriend left behind by the politics that overtook Milk's life. I'd rather see him get a statue for Pineapple Express, and he'll have to pass Brolin to get in there, but... His chances?: OK.
Michael Sheen, Frost/Nixon. This is more like wishful thinking, since I hear he and Frank Langella with both go lead with their performances, but Sheen's role is so secondary to the towering figure of Richard Nixon in this film, he might be better off here. It's extremely unlikely that both he and Langella will both get Best Actor nominations (and Langella is the stronger performer), but Sheen would have a good shot in this category. Won't someone listen to me?? His chances?: Better off here!
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It's impossible not to love her in this movie, as she almost single-handedly takes it from an old man's fantasy of one girl's summer of love to a funny, sexy adventure that any of us would want to take. The movie is no powerhouse, but this is such a blank category at the moment that she's pretty much the only safe bet. Her chances?: Stellar.
Elsa Zylberstein, I've Loved You So Long. The movie is very much the Kristin Scott Thomas show, but Zylberstein provides much-needed balance and empathy as the younger sister of a woman just released from prison. It'll be hard to make it in here, what with the French-language performance and the low profile, but she might ride Thomas's coattails to a nomination. Her chances?: Pretty good.
Rosemarie Dewitt, Rachel Getting Married. Like Zylberstein, she's second to a strong star performance here-- playing a sister, no less!-- but the attention for Anne Hathaway's lead role might shine some light on Dewitt as well. I haven't seen this one yet, so no opinion from me-- just speculation. Her chances?: Fair
Debra Winger, Rachel Getting Married. Somehow she seems like an even longer shot than Dewitt-- she's a bigger name, a veteran, and no one is really talking her up. But once the awards machine for this movie gets started, we may see some buzz start up again. Her chances?: Slightly poorer than fair.
Vera Farmiga, Nothing But the Truth. I just saw this one last night (it comes out in December), and while I wasn't wild about it, I did enjoy Farmiga's performance, even more than Kate Beckinsale's touted lead turn. Farmiga is tough yet vulnerable as a CIA agent whose identity is outed by a reporter-- the character is based on real-life spy Valerie Plame. But I don't see the movie making it through the Oscar muddle, and Farmiga's performance, while strong, will most likely get lost with it. Her chances?: Not good.
If you've made it all the way to the end (good for you!) you'll notice the female category is pitifully empty compared to the men. Figures. I really can't even think of who is going to swoop in and become the frontrunner here, except for Cruz-- most of the big movies still to come aren't heavy on the strong female supporting performances. For the men it gets a bit clearer, and pretty much everyone ought to be second-in-line after Ledger anyway. But it seems all the heat and interest will be the in main acting categories this time around.
Looking at the chart, pretty much nothing has changed. Having seen Frost/Nixon, I liked the movie better than I expected to but feel the same about its Oscar chances. And after Slumdog Millionaire opens this weekend, it'll be another two week drought before the big guns start showing up in full force. But we all have Twilight to look forward to in the meantime! See y'all next week.