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Oscar FYI: Supporting Actor

Posted by Wesley Morris  February 18, 2010 08:26 AM

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So every winter, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rounds up 20 or so actors and five directors for work exemplary they did in the previous year. And every winter, I think about what these people were up to before the Academy called -- or what they were doing between nominations or when Oscar wasn't looking. I'm calling it Oscar FYI, starring clips of this year's nominees' other work -- great and, um, "inglourious." 

Let's begin with the supporting actor category, which has inspired a lot of carping for how boring it is. But isn't any category whose top vote-getter seems forgone kind of dull? Sadly, the likely winner -- Christoph Waltz -- is the only nominee whose movie more than 15 people saw. Here today's Oscar FYI.

This nomination does nothing to change the fact that Damon's talent, like Leonardo DiCaprio's, remains somewhat underappreciated. But for "Invictus," he simply mastered an accent and a bench press (not that either feat is easy). I wish him well as he watches Waltz accept this Oscar while wondering what on earth he had to do get the Academy to take his "The Informant!" performance seriously. My guess is one week doing the following with the entire actors branch (skip ahead to 2:30):

I don't know what Harrelson was voted most likely to do in high school, but "most likely to win  some Emmys and two Oscar nominations"? I would have lost that bet. He's made the most of his stoned-seeming class-clownness. In "The Messenger," the steely soldier we meet in the first 30 minutes relaxes into a harder, more disturbed version of Woody from "Cheers." It's funny, though. In 1986, he appeared destined to achieve proto-McConaughey beefcake-dom, playing the quarterback for Coach Goldie Hawn in "Wildcats." That never quite worked out. Maybe it was the rapping he did at the end of the movie. (And, yes, that was Wesley Snipes as his Randy Moss.)

It's inconceivable but true: after more than 60 years of acting -- sorry: Acting -- Captain Von Trapp finally makes an Oscar team. For those of you keeping track of this sort thing, Three 6 Mafia has one whole Oscar. Hilary Swank has two. El Plummer? Zero. He's had an illustrious career of great, royal, important, self-important, powerful men. He's also had his Michael Caine moments, where he took jobs presumably because he forget to pay his roofer. Alas, he is human just like us. Most important: He, Earl Hyman, and Roscoe Lee Brown taught me how to act in a sitcom living room. 

A little less shocking but no less odd than Plummer's getting his first Oscar nomination only this year is Tucci's being passed over for this category on a shameful number of occasions. It's annoying that nomination number one is for grinding his teeth as a serial-killing freak. But it seems wrong to complain, so I won't. Tucci is another of those actors who's done a little of everything. Here he is on "Miami Vice" (with hair) as a tastefully dressed mobster trying to stay out of prison. Back then, if you cut him, he'd bleed Pacino. (This is the entire episode. Tucci shows up at minute 5:30.)

Thumbnail image for Christoph Waltz as Roy Black.jpg
Before his performance as Nazi Colonel Hans Landa made him famous to the rest of the world, Waltz was a prolific German star, making dozens of movies in which he played everything from a lady killer and slutty movie director to his award-winning work as the late German singer and actor Roy Black, a clip of which is here since embedding appears to be verboten. What's interesting in all the acting I've seen him do is how there's not a tremendous difference between what he did for Tarantino and what he's done in about 20 German TV movies -- he's insinuatingly sardonic in just about everything. He plays men you don't trust not to stab you while your sleeping beside them. One eye is always open. The difference in "Inglourious Basterds" is that he seems to want to impress Tarantino by the being the ultimate version of himself.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

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