February 20, 2013

OSCARS MINUS 4: A Toss-Up and a (Probable) Lock


Almost anyone could win Best Supporting Actor this year.  All of the nominees delivered acclaimed performances in highly-praised films, and all are previous winners, so none of them would necessarily take precedence as someone who’s “owed.”  It’s possible to construct plausible cases for and against each one:

Tommy Lee Jones, LINCOLN

Pros:  Jones is the narrow frontrunner, and he delivers a perfect example of a Supporting Actor Oscar performance.  His role as Thaddeus Stevens is pungent but not overwhelming, he gets many of the script’s sharpest lines, and a final revelation near the end shows him to have had more layers than one might initially have thought.

Cons:  Daniel Day-Lewis is going to win (and so may Steven Spielberg), so there’s no pressing need to give another prize to Lincoln–which can’t be said of all the competition.  Jones is great, but not surprisingly great–he gives exactly the performance you’d expect him to give.  And although this isn’t supposed to matter, Jones has made few friends with his pugnacious refusal to glad-hand during what is, after all, a campaign.


Pros:  No one is better at Quentin Tarantino’s twisty, menacing repartee than Waltz.  He’s also almost a ringer, his role so large that at one point he was going to be entered as a leading actor.  None of the rest of the Django cast is nominated, and Tarantino has plenty of competition for Original Screenplay, so this could be the Academy’s best chance to recognize a film many people love (including the public, which has made it Tarantino’s biggest hit).

Cons:  Not only did Waltz win just 3 years ago, he won for a Tarantino movie.  It’s not unprecedented for an actor to win multiple awards for work with the same writer/director (Dianne Wiest did it with Woody Allen), but it’s unusual, and in such a crowded category, voters may feel no urgency to give Waltz what feels a lot like a repeat win.


Pros:  One of our greatest actors’ best performances in more than a decade.  Also, while he may be a living legend, DeNiro hasn’t won an Oscar since Raging Bull in 1980–and if you’re not aware of that, Harvey Weinstein will remind you about it a dozen times each day, much as he successfully parlayed Meryl Streep’s long hiatus between wins to victory last year.  DeNiro really wants this award, and has been doing heavy duty on the publicity front.

Cons:  It’s a very strong performance, but it doesn’t compare with DeNiro’s best.  And should the actor really win a prize for finally deciding to make an effort after years of paycheck roles and increasingly painful self-parodies?  Jennifer Lawrence is favored to win (and David O.Russell has chances for both Director and Screenplay), so Silver Linings probably won’t go unrewarded.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, THE MASTER

Pros:  A brilliant performance in a film that failed to be nominated for its remarkable direction, script, cinematography or music, let alone Best Picture.  Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams are both extreme long-shots in their categories, so this may be the only chance to honor one of the year’s most distinctive films.  It’s not hyperbolic to say that in 20 years, this will be the performance of these 5 that’s still being talked about.

Cons:  There are 3 Weinstein Company nominees in this category, and Hoffman is the one getting the least of Harvey’s attention.  The Master was perhaps the year’s most divisive film, with some considering it a masterpiece and many others finding it the cinema equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes.  Also, Hoffman has done little campaigning.

Alan Arkin, ARGO

Pros:  He has everyone”s favorite role in the favorite for Best Picture, with the movie’s best line (Ar-go fuck yourself, indeed) and the film’s only acting nomination.  He gets to be hilarious and heroic, and he plays a good-guy movie producer, one of the rare times you’ll see one of those on screen (or off).

Cons:  It’s a comic role, and actors don’t typically win Oscars for comedy (unless they die, which Arkin did in Little Miss Sunshine).   The part has little emotional weight compared to the other nominees.  Arkin, to put it unkindly, has never felt like the kind of actor who needed to win multiple Academy Awards.  Plus Argo is going to win plenty of other hardware, so this is a chance for voters to spread the wealth.

The odds in London (via Oddschecker) are similarly confused:

Tommy Lee Jones:  6:5

Christoph Waltz:  13:8

Robert DeNiro:  6:1

Philip Seymour Hoffman:  8:1

Alan Arkin:  40:1

If anything, DeNiro may be even closer than those odds have him, and Arkin–while legitimately the longest shot–may have a better chance.  But this will be one of the nail-biter categories on Sunday.

The same can’t be said of Best Supporting Actress.  From the moment the first teaser trailer for Les Miserables appeared online and in theaters, scored to Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream,” she’s been the clear favorite, and once people saw the film itself, and appreciated the fact (through their crumpled Kleenex) that this heart-rending performance was delivered in a single uninterrupted shot, the deal was sealed.  Hathaway has been all over the campaign trail, and while young, she’s paid her industry dues.  Seemingly the only thing that could stop Hathaway from winning is the weird resentment some people have toward Anne Hathaway.  It’s not entirely clear why there’s an unreasoningly strong disdain for her in the air–something about her enthusiasm and willingness to show emotion (it’s not dissimilar to the shots regularly taken at Taylor Swift after awards shows)–but it’s given rise to a lot of viperish parodies and online snark.

Can any of that really stand in Hathaway’s way?  One would think, and hope, not.  But there are other strong candidates in the category for those seeking an alternative.  Sally Field is Hollywood royalty, and she’s played this Oscar campaign with perfect grace and style.  Helen Hunt, like Christoph Waltz in Supporting Actor, is arguably a lead performer in The Sessions, and although the film never found an audience, everyone who saw her in it has rightly raved.  Amy Adams, after 4 nominations, is now one of the “owed,” and she gives an amazing, chilling performance in The Master; like Hoffman’s it’s one for the ages.  Jacki Weaver remains the longest shot, although she can hope for a tidal wave of Silver Linings sentiment.

London has little doubt how things will play out:

Anne Hathaway:  1:50

Sally Field:  16:1

Helen Hunt:  25:1

Amy Adams:  25:1

Jacki Weaver:  66:1

That seems pretty accurate.  A Hathaway loss on Sunday would be a substantial shock–but not a complete impossibility.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."