Sometimes it's the supporting roles that are the meatiest. These characters don't have to carry the burden of the plot -- or the box office -- on their shoulders, and that can be liberating. For our third Yahoo! roundtable, I welcome actress-director Jordan Bayne , "Movie Mom" Nell Minow, critic Caryn James, and film writer Scott Marks.
Let's hit the roundtable for best supporting roles with Scott Marks of the San Diego Reader grousing about AMPAS [Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences] in general:
Scott: It's the Oscars, Hollywood's answer to "The Miss America Pageant." Do you really care about an organization that slights Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant only to hand golden doorstops to Red Buttons and "Oskar Schindler and the Temple of Doom?" This year they snubbed Albert Brooks and Brendan Gleeson in favor of pretty boys Clooney and Pitt. Do you really think the latter two handed in award-worthy performances? Art should not compete, something the Acadummy proves every year. The non-Cronenberg "Crash" won Best Picture. I rest my case.
Thelma Adams: Eek! "Crash" Did anybody outside L.A. buy that movie? So, welcome Scott, to our awards chatfest. We still have a Grammy hangover, and there are crumpled tissues all around my hotel room over Whitney, that Juliet without a Romeo. But the show must go on. So, Scott, I agree, we all felt shot through the heart when Albert Brooks did not get a nomination for best supporting actor. How could that be possible? In what parallel universe does Jonah Hill best Brooks? Also, would Pitt have been a sure thing if he'd been nominated in supporting for "Tree of Life?" That's a performance! And could Max von Sydow best Plummer? That would be an upset! I heard that von Sydow got the largest round of applause at the nominee luncheon -- but Plummer wasn't in the house. Hmm, Dr. Evil, what do you think?
Scott: Von Sydow has a strong chance. He played a cuddly concentration camp survivor in the first "feel-good" picture about 9/11. Oscar loves important subjects no matter how feebly they're presented. They'll probably give it to Plummer for "The Sound of Music."
Caryn James: Plummer deserves to win, and will. But there would be some poetic justice in von Sydow winning this year for a performance more silent than anything in "The Artist," and infinitely better. And, Thelma, I'd argue that Nolte stole Brooks's slot, not Jonah Hill.
Scott: Hill was added as a ratings inducement in hopes of encouraging a younger audience demographic. Plummer will no doubt win, but of the five, Nolte's addition is not only the biggest surprise, it's also the finest performance of the bunch.
Nell Minow: I would have loved to see Brooks nominated but have to support Hill's inclusion for a very subtle, skillful acting job. But the race is between the two octogenarians, both with decades of superb work and iconic roles. Von Sydow's performance was actually silent -- all of his communication was with gestures and facial expressions, unlike the performers in "The Artist" who spoke normally as a part of their performance even though we didn't get to hear what they said. I'd give it to von Sydow but expect it to go to Plummer for a, well, very plummy role, and I won't be disappointed.
Thelma: There is nothing crueler than pulling a Lauren Bacall -- making an actor feel that they have it in the bag and then pulling the rug out from under them because of popularity issues. I'd throw that out there in the Plummer case. I am recusing myself on Hill. I had a bad interview experience with him. But I will say that Nolte was heartbreaking in "Warrior." Honest, through the mill, screwed up and back, a bad father who knows the only amends he can make are with God because you can't change the past. I have been watching him on "Luck" and realizing people don't remember how young and beautiful and athletic he was at the start, in his "Rich Man, Poor Man" era. What an incredible arc for Nolte, unforgiving and un-forgiven, and still good.
Jordan Bayne: I have been delighted watching this discussion. I laughed so hard at Scott's remark that they will give it to Plummer for "The Sound of Music." It's been said: Plummer and Von Sydow have had incredible careers. They are fine actors, true artisans who have crafted a lifetime of beautiful work. I can't say I cared for Hill's work, certainly not at this level. Nolte pours so much of himself -- raw, broken, risen -- into his work, it is hard not to be moved. I love this kind of revealing of life in a character. But, for me, the one complete surprise was Albert Brooks in "Drive." The man found every inch of his dark side. Not only was it a stretch, but it was also so wonderfully, disturbingly executed.
Thelma: I totally agree with you, Jordan. His humor has always been angry, and this time he turned it away from himself or his character on to another, and it was so very satisfying. And that's why it's so astounding that Brooks is not even in the running.
We became so focused on the best supporting actor category, I have to assume it's because there's no rival for Octavia Spencer's spot, while there is still some wiggle room on the male side? I believe that in the top six categories -- Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress -- the closer thing to a lock is Spencer, although Michel Hazanavicius (a name that I can now spell proudly and confidently) seems to be nearly a sure thing as well. When we return next week, we'll be dishing Best Picture (and plating Best Director).
See the trailer from 'The Beginners':