Friday, November 23, 2007

Early Supporting Actor Standouts

It's time for my first Academy Awards post. Thus far in 2007 the only category that has crosed my mind is that of Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Without giving much thought to it, on four occasions I found myself sitting in a theater thinking, "This guy deserves a supporting actor nomination come Oscar time."

The first supporting actor to come to my attention was way back more toward the beginning of the year in Adrienne Shelly's film WAITRESS. Of all people it was 81 year old Andy Griffith playing a wonderful character, Old Joe, that knocked my socks off. Griffith's job as Joe is better than the film itself, but I'd be sad if Oscar overlooks Griffith come nomination time.

Not long after that, I saw Werner Herzog's great RESCUE DAWN. Playing Duane, the always fantastic Steve Zahn struck me as very deserving of recognition for his supporting work alongside Christian Bale. This is a heartbreaking film and I don't know what else to say except that Zahn nails it as this Vietnam prisoner of war. Truly, an exceptional performance.

Ben Foster was the next guy to blow me away in a supporting role. This guy really shined in James Mangold's fantastic remake of 3:10 TO YUMA. Foster plays Charlie Prince, a loyal member of outlaw Ben Wade's gang. The amazing thing is that it would be incredibly difficult to stand out next to Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, but Foster does. Actually, the acting is so all-around extraordinary in this film. The two leads left me speechless. Peter Fonda and the the kid who plays Bale's son, Logan Lerman were great too, as was Bale's wife, Gretchen Mol. It's a total acting film. Indeed, I'm going on record as saying that this is the best acting showcase film since GLENGARRY GLENROSS in 1992! As an ensemble, all the players delivered something I couldn't take my eyes off, every grin, each nuance, the subtle inflections, gave me joy, just like GLENGARRY GLENROSS did. The nomination better go to Ben Foster though. Incidentally, did you ever see Foster in the excellent film ALPHA DOG? Check it out.

Sean Penn's profound work of art INTO THE WILD brought the third necessary supporting actor nomination to my attention: Hal Holbrook. Like with Andy Griffith, it was such a thrill to see an old legend knock one out of the ballpark! Holbrook is 82 now and I remember him from movies in the 1970s mostly in things like ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, CAPRICORN ONE, THE STAR CHAMBER, and THE FOG (four good movies by the way). But, also like Griffith, just being an old legend wouldn't be enough for me to gush over the performance. Holbrook's portrayal of Ron Franz in Penn's movie is deeply moving. In a movie like this, it's hard to deliver a magic moment because the whole movie is filled with them; however, Holbrook does it. Sitting on the mountain with Emile Hirsch, he speaks one of the movies most penetrating lines and he delivers it very effectively. A bit later there is a dialogue in a pick-up truck that has brought everybody I've talked to tears. Watch out for Hal Holbrook come Oscar time.

Not long after I saw INTO THE WILD, Tony Gilroy's MICHAEL CLAYTON starring George Clooney brought my attention to yet another terrific supporting role. This is just a Doah thing, but I actually didn't want to admit that this guy deserves the nomination because it seems like everybody has been praising him way too much since 2002's INTO THE BEDROOM. Nevertheless, Tom Wilkinson deserves a supporting actor Oscar nomination for his turn as Arthur Edens in MICHAEL CLAYTON. Wilkinson is so good that his performance reminds me of Peter Finch's Howard Beale in the classic NETWORK. Except, as MICHAEL CLAYTON moves along, you realize that Wilkinson's Arthur Edens isn't as "crazy" as Howard Beale was at all. Seriously, Wikinson is note perfect in this film.

Now I am not under any illusions that these five men will be the actual five supporting actor nominations months from now. I know there are some really good movies coming out between now and the first of January. This is merely my attempt to bring your attention to five noteworthy performances. Keep in mind that this is not a list of my favorite films this year. In addition, not all the films mentioned here are of equal caliber either. RESCUE DAWN is miles apart from WAITRESS and INTO THE WILD is a far better film than MICHAEL CLAYTON. Also, there are other early 2007 releases I like better than a few of these movies. For example, David Fincher's ZODIAC is a far better film than WAITRESS; yet, nobody stood out to me in that film the way the aforementioned actors do. If you're looking for movies to rent, you won't go wrong watching these five outstanding performances.

I can tell you one thing, come Sunday, February 24, 2008, the Supporting Actor category is going to be the one that is too close to call.

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