Best Supporting Actor: A Look Back

Continuing on with my look back at the major categories from 1990 to the present at the Oscars, we arrive at Best Supporting Actor! If you missed my post regarding Supporting Actress, you can find it right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As I did with that blog entry, I’m picking the top 3 least surprising winners (performers who essentially sailed right through awards season) and the 3 biggest upsets in each race. I am also selecting the strongest and weakest fields overall.

As a primer, here are the 28 actors whose support earned them a golden statue:

1990 – Joe Pesci, GoodFellas

1991 – Jack Palance, City Slickers

1992 – Gene Hackman, Unforgiven

1993 – Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive

1994 – Martin Landau, Ed Wood

1995 – Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects

1996 – Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire

1997 – Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting

1998 – James Coburn, Affliction

1999 – Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules

2000 – Benicio del Toro, Traffic

2001 – Jim Broadbent, Iris

2002 – Chris Cooper, Adaptation

2003 – Tim Robbins, Mystic River

2004 – Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby

2005 – George Clooney, Syriana

2006 – Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine

2007 – Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

2008 – Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

2009 – Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

2010 – Christian Bale, The Fighter

2011 – Christopher Plummer, Beginners

2012 – Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

2013 – Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

2014 – J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

2015 – Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

2016 – Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

2017 – Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

There are plenty to choose from as far least surprising winners, but here’s my top ones:

3. Gene Hackman, Unforgiven

Clint Eastwood’s Western picked up a slew of awards on Oscar night and Hackman’s inclusion in that race was never really in doubt. It was his second statue after winning Best Actor 21 years previously for The French Connection.

2. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

It was director Christopher Nolan giving numerous awards speeches on behalf of the late Ledger, as his work playing the iconic villain swept all precursors as well. This remains not only the only win in the omnipresent superhero genre in the 21st century, but the only nomination.

1. Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

Like Ledger, Bardem created a bad guy for the ages in the Coen Brothers Oscar-winning picture. He picked up all the precursors as well for his role.

And now the upsets!

3. James Coburn, Affliction

There was clearly no front-runner in 1998 as a different actor was honored in each preceding awards show. Ed Harris took the Golden Globe for The Truman Show, Billy Bob Thornton (A Simple Plan) was victorious at the Critics Choice Awards, Robert Duvall’s role in A Civil Action was honored at SAG, and Geoffrey Rush (Elizabeth) was the BAFTA recipient. Surely one of them would win the Oscar, but it instead went to Mr. Coburn.

2. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

In 2015, the general consensus was that Sylvester Stallone would punch out the competition in his signature role for Creed. That would have been quite a feat after Rocky took Best Picture in 1976 – nearly four decades prior. Yet it didn’t materialize when Rylance made the trip to the podium.

1. Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine

Along the same lines, Eddie Murphy was the strong favorite for his rare dramatic work in Dreamgirls. With Jennifer Hudson as a sure thing for Supporting Actress (which did happen), the musical looked safe for a supporting sweep. The Academy surprisingly went another route by honoring Arkin.

And now to the fields overall and choosing a strongest and weakest. For the least impressive of the bunch, I’m going with 2011. Here were the nominees:

Christopher Plummer, Beginners (winner)

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

When it comes to best overall field, I chose 1993. This is the year that Tommy Lee Jones got the gold in The Fugitive. That’s a rare acting win for an action flick. It was deserved in my view and the other four nominees were very strong as well. They were:

Leonardo DiCaprio, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List

John Malkovich, In the Line of Fire

Pete Postlethwaite, In the Name of the Father

Furthermore, I could keep going with other deserving actors that year, including Val Kilmer in Tombstone and Sean Penn for Carlito’s Way. 

The next trip down memory lane will be Best Actress and it will be up soon!

Oscar History: 2011

For the Academy Awards, 2011 will forever be known as the year when a French black and white silent film came out of nowhere to win three major categories, including Best Picture. That would be The Artist and it picked up momentum over its rivals, becoming one of the more unlikely recipients of the prize in some time.

During that year, the number of Picture nominees was nine and it beat out The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse. 

As for some others I may have considered, my favorite film of the year was Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Another personal favorite: David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Furthermore, the expanded list of nominees could have given the Academy a chance to nominate some of the better blockbusters that year: Rise of the Planet of the Apes or Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol for example.

The Artist‘s auteur Michel Hazanavicius would win Director over stellar competitors: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), and Martin Scorsese (Hugo). Again, Mr. Refn and Mr. Fincher would have made my cut.

The Artist love continued in Best Actor where Jean Dujardin took the prize over Demian Bichir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Gary Oldman in his first (??) nomination (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and Brad Pitt (Moneyball).

I may have found room for Ryan Gosling’s silent but strong work in Drive or perhaps even Steve Carell in Crazy, Stupid, Love – in which he showed off real dramatic acting chops coupled with his comedic abilities for the first time.

Awards darling Meryl Streep took Best Actress for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher (no relation) in The Iron Lady. Othern nominees: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn).

The Academy’s penchant for ignoring comedy was shown here as Kristin Wiig should have merited consideration for her megahit Bridesmaids.

Beloved veteran Christopher Plummer won Supporting Actor for Beginners over Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (Warrior), and Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close).

Two others I may have made room for: Albert Brooks in Drive and especially the brilliant motion capture work of Andy Serkis in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Octavia Spencer was victorious in Supporting Actress for The Help over her costar Jessica Chastain, as well as Berenice Bejo (The Artist), Melissa McCarthy in the rare nod for comedy in Bridesmaids, and Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs).

Two other comedic performances worthy of consideration: Rose Byrne in Bridesmaids and Jennifer Aniston’s scene stealing work in Horrible Bosses. I also would have found room for Shailene Woodley in The Descendants.

And that’s your Oscar history for 2011, folks! I’ll have 2012 up in the near future.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Movie Review

When the famous line “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” appears and the Star Wars emblem rockets across the screen, it evokes a series of emotions that is familiar to any lover of the franchise. It changes from generation to generation but is likely strongest with those old enough to recall the first time seeing it in 1977 when the original premiered. The first Star Wars was a cultural phenomenon from the get go. It solidified what we now know as the modern blockbuster era. Its sequel The Empire Strikes Back improved upon it. Return of the Jedi ended the trilogy on a satisfactory if more uneven note. I was not alive in 1977 and I witnessed the series in a weekend of VHS viewing where I was captivated like legions of film lovers across the globe.

By the time George Lucas got around to making his prequel trilogy, I was age 19 at the time of The Phantom Menace. Like all other fans of what came before it, I anticipated Menace breathlessly and like many others, it was a letdown in many fashions. It didn’t really look like a Star Wars pic. More like a video game. In all honesty, the concept of watching the eventual Darth Vader as a precocious child wasn’t really necessary. Follow ups Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith were improvements in some ways (especially Sith) yet still didn’t come close to matching the magic of the real trilogy (as I refer to it).

Therefore it was with a sense of major excitement mixed with some trepidation that I awaited Star Wars: The Force Awakens, episode VII of the franchise that picks up about 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. George Lucas sold the rights to Disney, who have grand Marvel style plans for the series. J.J. Abrams, who successfully reinvigorated the Star Trek flicks, is behind the camera. The beloved trio of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Princess (now General) Leia (Carrie Fisher) would return along with Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO. A new generation of heroes and villains would emerge. The three year wait is finally over and the question is ready to be answered: does Force have the force to bring Star Wars back in the good graces of those who cherish it? The answer is mostly an unqualified and resounding yes.

Episode VII informs us that Luke Skywalker has vanished and the evil First Order (spawned from Darth Vader’s galactic empire) has restored its dominance despite a resistance led by Leia. The Resistance is desperately attempting to obtain a map containing Luke’s whereabouts that is built into BB-8, a droid that is pretty adorable in a manner in which Jar Jar Binks sure wasn’t. One of the leaders of the movement is pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), whose character doesn’t have much impact in these proceedings but likely will in future installments. He teams with Storm Trooper gone good Finn (John Boyega) on the mission to find Skywalker. And that BB-8 droid leads them to Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young girl who has a connection with The Force. Their union soon brings them to Han, Chewie, and the now relic called the Millennium Falcon to fight First Order Commander Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).

As we’d expect, there are some revelations about who some of the characters actually are. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling them here. J.J. Abrams is keenly aware of our nostalgia goggles and he presents a vision that hearkens back to the original in both plot and tone. This is a plus. J.J. and his cowriters Lawrence Kasdan (who penned Empire and Jedi) and Michael Arndt are clearly cognizant of the expectation to start anew while rewarding what we adore about episodes IV-VI. There is much plot to roll out, but Awakens does so at a usually brisk pace throwing in the epic battles that look more like we wish for in any entry since 1983.

The John Williams score and special effects are, of course, top notch. Of the returnees, Mr. Ford is given the most material and provides Solo wisecracks and some emotion. Fisher acquits herself decently even though Leia is primarily relegated to the sidelines. As for Luke, the filmmakers have been careful to reveal nothing and neither will I. When it comes to the newcomers, we sense that Rey, Finn, and Poe will establish the new trio for the next few years. Here it is Rey that jumps out and much of that is due to a fine performance from Miss Ridley. Boyega’s Finn has his moments along with occasionally clunky dialogue. Driver is quite effective as Ren and we have a new villain whose motivations create an intriguing dynamic in this universe.

I would rank The Force Awakens as the third best pic in the series, after the first two (slightly above Jedi). Abrams and company accomplish something Lucas ultimately could not with episodes I-III. We care more about the actions transpiring here than with anything from 1999-2005. This is a franchise awakened in a way we have not seen in over 30 years. For those who might have had a bad feeling about this, fear not.

***1/2 (out of four)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Box Office Prediction

It is not only the most anticipated film of the year but probably of the 21st century. This is not hyperbole. 38 years after George Lucas changed the movie industry forever with Star Wars, the baton has been passed to J.J. Abrams with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, out December 18. We’ve seen over a decade pass since the unevenly received second trilogy that ran from 1999-2005. This marked the end of Mr. Lucas’s involvement in the franchise and the end of 20th Century Fox producing the entries (no iconic Fox music before “In a galaxy far, far away” may take a little getting used to).

Instead we have Disney taking over the most beloved franchise in silver screen history and we’ve repeatedly seen their brilliance at marketing blockbusters (think Marvel Cinematic Universe). The Force Awakens has been omnipresent for months and it’s ramped up to the point where every other commercial seems to be connected somehow to it. The official trailers and TV spots have been events. It’s sold $100 million dollars at press time in pre-sale tickets, which was previously an unimaginable haul. With all the exposure, the studio has done a truly remarkable job in keeping plot details under wraps.

We know this: original trilogy stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher return in the iconic roles of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. A new generation makes up the supporting cast that includes John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, and Domhnall Gleeson. Oh and there’s Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO.

For those of us old enough to remember the breathless anticipation afforded to 1999’s Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, it’s probably the only thing that compares in the past couple of decades. There are many hotly anticipated blockbusters but Star Wars is simply on a different planet.

So now the nine figure question: how much will The Force Awakens earn its opening weekend? How much is it capable of making? Will its debut set the all time record? Fascinating queries indeed, these are.

We begin with this: the current record holder came out just this summer when Jurassic World earned $208.8 million, which edged out previous champ The Avengers at $207 million. I’m sure Disney would love to get that record back that the dinosaurs took away in June. These are the only two pictures that have made over $200M out of the gate. Both were released in summer, as are seven of the all time top ten domestic premieres.

None came out in December and this is not an inconsequential point. In fact, the current highest December debut belongs to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It made $84 million and that’s good for just the 57th largest opening ever. Truth be told, even massive blockbusters that open in December usually open smaller than they might in the summer. 2009’s Avatar began with $77 million before becoming the biggest stateside grosser ever. The reason is simple: Christmas time releases tend to play well over multiple weekends while similar summer titles make the bulk of their coin immediately.

Let’s dispatch with the glaringly obvious: The Force Awakens will obliterate the December record. At worst, it should double The Hobbit’s initial earnings. Frankly, guessing what Star Wars is capable of is a dicey proposition, but the low end of estimates is around $170-$175 million. If it managed that, it would sincerely be a fine start.

Yet there is a suspicion that Jurassic’s six month long record could be headed for extinction. The combo of Disney hype and a true love across all ages for the series has contributed to an Event Experience we rarely witness. What’s the highest it could go? Honestly, I don’t know. The figure of $300 million has been mentioned. That seems a bit crazy, but you just never know. There’s part of me that believes $275-$280 million might just be reachable and another that feels it could fall short of the record with around $185-$205 million.

What’s a box office predicting blogger to do? Split the difference. With this wide range of possibilities, I’ll project that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will achieve the best American opening ever and by a rather considerable margin. I’ll be one among many speculating over the next ten days before its debut, but my two cents is in, my friends. Let’s see what happens!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opening weekend prediction: $234.7 million

For my Sisters prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/12/10/sisters-box-office-prediction/

For my Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/12/10/alvin-and-the-chipmunks-the-road-chip-box-office-prediction/