Oscars 2011: Best Supporting Actor and Actress

In years such as this one, we’re reminded that “supporting actor” and “supporting actress” are mere distinguishing titles, because quite often we find that the supporting actors overshadow the leads or have a stronger voice in the film. A couple heavy contenders in these categories fit that bill, but rather than complain about not having “leading” status, at least here they have a better shot at winning.

For these categories, I’ve not only given you my prediction this year, but something I like that Entertainment Weekly does, which is give you the percent chance to win or the percent of votes for each nominee.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

  • (60%) Melissa Leo – “The Fighter”
  • (8%) Amy Adams – “The Fighter”
  • (20%) Helena Bonham-Carter – “The King’s Speech”
  • (2%) Jacki Weaver – ”Animal Kingdom”
  • (10%) Hailee Steinfeld – “True Grit”

Prediction: Melissa Leo for “The Fighter”

Another strong mix this year, but much like how Mo’Nique ran away with the Oscar for playing a power-exerting yet fragile mother, Melissa Leo looks poised to do the same. Her character stands out far more than the others in this pack with maybe the exception of Hailee Steinfeld’s performance as Mattie Ross.

The Academy has shown a lot of love to supporting actors playing unlikable characters with considerable depth the last few years: Mo’Nique (“Precious”), Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”), Heath Ledger (“The Dark Knight”) and Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men”). Even Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) was a home wrecker character type and Tilda Swinton (“Michael Clayton”) worked for the man. Leo fits that bill.

Helena Bonham Carter’s only accolades have come at the BAFTAs. Her performance has the regal feel that a would-be queen ought to have, but in some of the more emotional scenes like toward the end, I found her work less than inspiring.

But I give HBC the second greatest percentage chance here because she’s in “The King’s Speech,” which over the last month has been lapping up love from all the guilds, guilds that comprise the Academy for the most part. So even though she didn’t beat Leo for the Screen Actors Guild Award, you can bet she was close on that list.

Some of my fellow critics feel that Leo and co-star Amy Adams could split some of the votes because the Academy will be interested in honoring the fine ensemble work of “The Fighter,” but not be unanimous in its decision. I think that’s rubbish, because Leo was clearly the better of the two (though Adams surprised me). If that were to happen, that could open up the door for someone like the young Hailee Steinfeld.

Count me among those that think she should be in the Leading Actress category, but that’s a technicality once again: she would have not shot at that award. Here, she has slightly better odds, but Leo is a humble veteran who has been nominated before, so I stick with my decision pretty soundly. Steinfeld, however, commanded her screen time with humor and maturity yet that touch of innocence. An excellent performance, but while the Academy loves to nominate minors, none of them have ever seriously considered awarding the statuette to one, even if Steinfeld makes one of the more compelling cases.

As for Jacki Weaver — enjoy the party. The Australian crime drama “Animal Kingdom” received great reviews, but most Academy members will probably not have even seen it when they turn in their ballots.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

  • (65%) Christian Bale – “The Fighter”
  • (20%) Geoffrey Rush – “The King’s Speech”
  • (5%) Jeremy Renner – “The Town”
  • (5%) Mark Ruffalo – “The Kids Are All Right”
  • (5%) John Hawkes – “Winter’s Bone”

Prediction: Christian Bale for “The Fighter”

The last few years, this category has had a runaway winner and that looks to be Christian Bale for playing troubled former boxing star Dickie Ecklund. Bale has made a name on transforming himself physically for roles and this time he’ll be rewarded for it. When I alluded to supporting roles that have equal status to the leading ones, I was talking mostly about this one. Mark Wahlberg and Bale feel like equal characters, even though Mickey is the one getting in the ring. Dickie, troubled and hurting himself and those around him, still has that likable dimension that wins Oscars.

Geoffrey Rush does represent a legitimate threat just by being in “The King’s Speech.” In other years, this year’s Screen Actors Guild Award winner would be the absolute favorite, but Bale’s performance remains the more dynamic and interesting. Rush’s speech therapist Lionel Logue is a comical and lovable character who we identify with instantly. Rush is a four-time Oscar nominee who won in 1996 for “Shine,” a brilliant turn there no doubt.

These two alone make it virtually impossible for Renner, Hawkes or Ruffalo to possibly contend. All strong in their roles for different reasons, but ultimately not memorable enough to go down in Oscar history. If I had to give an edge to any of them it would be between Renner and Hawkes as both play characters with a darker edge. Regardless of how silently their involvement in this ceremony goes, you can bet that they’ll find their way back to the Kodak soon.

I’m still bothered that Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) is not among the nominees. I could see him taking Ruffalo’s place, but Ruffalo is the more seasoned actor of course. Garfield swept up my sympathy as the Facebook co-creator who got screwed due to his ancient business techniques and naive attitude, even though he’s not an idiot.

Ruffalo is the only nominee playing a normal character of sorts. He plays the sperm donor whose offspring manage to track him down and complicate his heaven-like slacker lifestyle. It’s a standard archetype, but Ruffalo does it as well as anybody.


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