Academy of One: Best Actor in a Supporting Role 2011

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

As I prepared for today’s post, I found myself crossing off names very quickly. I try not to do that. Often because the individual actors do put in valuable and good works, but just like this year’s Best Picture nominees, I was thoroughly tepid about a lot of these acting nominees. Especially in this category and especially when I could easily find replacements for them.

Without too much deliberating up top, here are the nominees as they currently stand.

  • Kenneth Branagh - My Week With Marilyn

  • Jonah Hill - Moneyball

  • Nick Nolte - Warrior

  • Christopher Plummer - Beginners

  • Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

As I mentioned up top, this is not my list. So, I will give you a few actors I feel could be a better fit for this year in film.

  • Jim Broadbent - The Iron Lady

  • Albert Brooks - Drive

  • Shahab Hosseini - A Separation

  • Brad Pitt - The Tree of Life

  • Stellan Skarsgaard - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Iron Lady is wholly Meryl Streep’s film from the first frame to the last, but Jim Broadbent, spending much of his time as a hallucination caused by Thatcher’s deteriorating mind, plays Denis Thatcher with such humor and life. The performance is a great counterpoint to the stuffy seriousness of most of the film.

It’s always wonderful to see an actor known for comedy jump into the darkness of a thriller. Albert Brooks plays one of the best mundane mobsters. His temper is only flared as he’s at the end of his rope, the rest of the time he’s cool, calculating, and so very scary.

Shahab Hosseini is able to tap into the unhinged bits of his personality to portray an out of work, devout man who won’t suffer people he sees as fools. The terrifying nature of the character is that he seeks out the witnesses in the case and attempts his own brand of intimidation, asking them to swear on a Qoran that they’re not lying. The confrontational style raised my hackles as I saw it. It’s a great performance for that intensity.

This is the role I hinted at last week as the Brad Pitt performance I prefer. As the embodiment of nature/natural selection/pragmatism, Pitt is able to explore these ideas in an intense, physical performance as a character who understands life’s practical dilemmas. It’s a great character with a lot of range for Pitt to tackle and he does it splendidly.

The scariest parts of Stellan Skarsgaard’s performance is that he plays the unassuming villain so very well. He’s able to trick Blomqvist easily into believing him as the most normal of all the Vanger clan. It makes Skarsgaard’s ability to switch on the psychopath when he’s down in the basement torture and kill room all the more believable. A truly terrifying performance.

O.K., now that I’ve lined up my actors, here’s that list of original nominees again.

  • Kenneth Branagh - My Week With Marilyn

  • Jonah Hill - Moneyball

  • Nick Nolte - Warrior

  • Christopher Plummer - Beginners

  • Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

As I mentioned in the introduction. I kept slashing out names once I saw this list, but I’m not replacing them all, just four (!).

To start off the hatchet job, I’m eliminating Kenneth Branagh. The Academy loves when an actor plays an actor. It’s one of their favorite things (see many nominations in the acting categories of the past twenty years), but I don’t feel that it’s a great performance or even a particularly memorable one.

Then, we have Jonah Hill. I think the Academy liked this performance because it was so against type for Hill, but I think it’s so far against type that the character has no personality to speak of. He’s more of a robot for Brad Pitt to have conversations with like an imaginary friend that others can see.

As for removing Nick Nolte, it’s more about wanting more of the character and not getting it. He has a good arc in the film, but there’s just not enough of it there to call him a supporting actor.

Finally, I think you knew this one was coming, Max von Sydow. He is a great actor. I use no hyperbole when I write that statement. Von Sydow is one of the greatest living actors, but this is a truncated role in what could have evolved into a stunning performance or at least a more affecting one than is on the screen.

Maybe it’s because the performance is entirely non-verbal, or maybe it’s because the Academy members are more fond of the book in which it’s explained that The Renter, as his character is known, is a Holocaust survivor, another Academy baiting type role, but this is not a performance I would consider among the best.

So, with that unpleasantness behind us, which of the five I proposed will enter into the four open slots? Here’s my list.

  • Albert Brooks - Drive

  • Shahab Hosseini - A Separation

  • Brad Pitt - The Tree of Life

  • Stellan Skarsgaard - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

All right, here’s what this new, alien landscape of nominees looks like.

  • Albert Brooks - Drive

  • Shahab Hosseini - A Separation

  • Brad Pitt - The Tree of Life

  • Christopher Plummer - Beginners

  • Stellan Skarsgaard - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Now, with the right nominees in place, the question is, did I have a really difficult time picking just one? Short answer, yes.

In the end of my deliberations it came down to Christopher Plummer and Albert Brooks. Both feel like what one would call a legacy nomination, a culmination of a strong career of work, but they’re both roles that play to the actor’s strength at not having been typecast as one role for their entire careers.

I think, to avoid a tie mostly, I have to go with my favorite and pick Albert Brooks.

He is so good. The greatest part of the character is we don’t need a lot of back story to understand him. His actions bring his past back into focus with several moves he makes.

I think my favorite collection of scenes is as Bernie takes control of Nino’s mess. He goes to do what he’s always done, to clean up. The scene where he talks to Shannon he reassures him like a predator pretending to be wounded in order to lure in its prey.

He tells Shannon it will all be O.K. and as the two of them shake on it, he flips Shannon’s wrist and with a smooth, practiced, muscle memory of a strike, Bernie slices open Shannon’s forearm through the vein. He keeps Shannon calm as Shannon quickly bleeds to death. It’s so surgical of a movement that as a viewer you barely realize what’s happening until you see the blood and the look on Shannon’s face.

Then, Bernie goes home, cleans his razor, and puts it back in a case with several other knives, likely the tools of his past, how he used to make his living.

Everything from the way Bernie speaks and moves so deliberately tells his story without being too overt or expository. It’s a great performance by Albert Brooks and one that’s unforgettable once it’s seen.

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this week. So, between now and next week you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit my website, www.zachyoungs.com for links to where you can buy my self-published works. Here on my blog you may also be interested to read a few serialized blog stories that I post every Wednesday and Sunday.

A new post of Academy of One will be available every Friday on this very site.

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to dive in with you next Friday with the nominees for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

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