Last week, this column took the first in a two-part break from Oscar-related dish to profile 10 deserving underdog actresses from this year’s batch of films.
The group included some who have definite shots like Emmanuelle Riva (“Amour”) to more than a few that sadly have pretty much no Oscar chance whatsoever, like Melanie Lynskey (“Hello I Must Be Going”) and Ann Dowd (“Compliance”). This second part works in a similar vein, except this time it takes a look at the boys’ club.
There’s definitely a few good men locked into both male acting categories this year, including powerhouses like Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington and Joaquin Phoenix in the lead category, and Robert DeNiro, Tommy Lee Jones and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in supporting (check out an updated weekly prediction charts here). But there’s still a little bit of wiggle room, perhaps the same sort that brought performances from tiny films like “Winter’s Bone” (John Hawkes, who is looking strong for a nom this year for “The Sessions”) and “The Messenger” (Woody Harrelson) into the mix. So perhaps one or two of the following will indeed end up in the running.
Commenters should once again keep in mind that the list purposely does not include work that looks like a good bet for a nomination (such as the aforementioned Hawkes) and that it only includes films currently scheduled for release during the 2012 eligibility period (leaving out James Franco’s work . With that said, here are 10 underdog actors for your consideration.
Jack Black, Bernie
Comedy rarely fares well with the Academy (though they made a major exception to that rule with Melissa McCarthy, who just so happened to be one of our “underdogs” a year ago), but if there’s one comedic performance to consider this year, it’s arguably Jack Black’s subtle, beautifully weird work in Richard Linklater’s “Bernie.” Black plays the titular character, an assistant mortician who becomes the only friend of the wealthy, recently widowed woman (played Shirley MacLaine, who also deserves some consideration in the supporting actress category) and then, well, murders her. Loosely based on a true story, the film became a sleeper hit this summer and Millennium is deservedly putting up a campaign for Black. In the end, though, it’s likely Black’s best bet its a Golden Globe nomination in the musical/comedy category, where he landed once before for another Linklater film, “The School of Rock.”
Richard Gere, Arbitrage
Richard Gere has never managed an Oscar nom, despite a few arguable close calls (“Chicago,” “An Officer and a Gentleman”). And while an extremely competitve lead actor category makes that unlikely to change this time around, Gere has never been better than he is in Nicholas Jarecki’s “Arbitrage.” A surprise box office hit this past month, the timely film gives Gere a role made for him in Robert Miller, a venture capitalist nicknamed “The Oracle” who gets into some serious trouble. Despite the Madoffian qualities of the character, Gere pulls off making audiences somehow root for Miller even though he clearly deserves what’s coming. It might not be Daniel Day-Lewis playing Abraham Lincoln, but it’s an admirable feat and a standout performance from a veteran actor who has been steadily working for nearly 40 years.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, End of Watch
David Ayer’s surprise critical and box office hit “End of Watch” offers some of the year’s best chemistry in the work of Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as two Los Angeles cops who have to bend the rules to do their job. While that synopsis sounds far from original, both Gyllenhaal and Peña bring considerable emotional depth, humor and charm to types of characters that are often left as cardboard. Gyllenhaal as been nominated once before, but Peña has yet to be recognizied after steadily building a career as a character actor in films like “Million Dollar Baby,” “Crash” (which, as we know, took out Gyllenhaal’s “Brokeback Mountain” at the Oscars) and “World Trade Center.” “Watch” director Ayers wrote the script for “Training Day,” which brought both Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke Oscar nominations. It’s a long shot, but hopefully it can do the same for these two.
Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Quvenzhané Wallis is very likely to nab a best actress nomination for her role as Hushpuppy in Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” but the film was by no means a one-girl-show. Dwight Henry’s performance as Hushpuppy’s deteriorating father is a riveting — and, at times, terrifying — achievement that definitely deserves Oscar consideration. And Henry wasn’t even looking for the job. He owned a New Orleans bakery across the street from Studio 13, where the film was being developed. He was encouraged to try out for the part, but the filmmakers couldn’t find him to tell him he got it because he was busy opening a new bakery. He initially declined the role so he could focus on his business, but the filmmakers wanted him so bad they worked around his schedule. An Oscar nomination would clearly be a lovely end to that unique story, though an Independent Spirit nod is the much more likely outcome.
Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Films geared toward teenagers are pretty much Oscar poison, but Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his own novel, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” is not just for teenagers. It’s a remarkably sincere film that could easily be appreciated by folks of any age, particularly due to the performances of Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller. Though the film’s ensemble cast is exceptional across the board (particularly Emma Watson, proving she’s not just Hermione), Miller steals every second of screen time he has as the hilarious, seemingly self-assured Patrick (a performance that starkly contrasts his equally admirable work as a psychotic teenager killer in last year’s “We Need To Talk About Kevin”), while Lerman anchors the entire film with his heartfelt work as the Charlie, the eponymous wallflower. But even if neither end up receiving any awards heat for their work, “Perks” has at least made clear both actors have healthy careers ahead of them.
Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum, Magic Mike
Matthew McConaughey could have been listed here for a wide variety of performances in films released this year, which has clearly been a remarkable one for the actor. From “Killer Joe” and “Bernie” to “The Paperboy” and “Magic Mike” (not to mention the as-yet-unreleased “Mud,” which premiered in Cannes), McConaughey surged back into critics’ good graces after a decade of mostly mediocre work in rom coms like “Failure To Launch” and “The Wedding Planner.” His best bet to cap the year off with an Oscar nomination is definitely the unexpectedly excellent summer hit “Magic Mike.” The Steven Soderbergh-directed film has him playing Dallas, the proprietor of a male strip club, and features McConaughey giving some of the most hilarious, electrifying monologues in recent movie history. At one point it seemed like a good bet for an Oscar nod, but the supporting actor category has got very crowded recently with the more typically Oscar-friendly likes of Robert DeNiro, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones. It would be a huge shame if they push out McConaughey’s work in “Mike,” and they should also give consideration to Mike himself, Channing Tatum. Not only does Tatum give us some incredible dance numbers, but for the first time (in my opinion, at least) proves he can truly act with an earnest, incredibly charming performance as a stripper who wants to better himself. In a less-crowded year it seems Tatum could have managed a John Travolta-in-“Saturday Night Fever” kind of nomination, but that seems unlikely given his competition. So hopefully at least McConaughey gives “Mike” a little bit of Oscar magic.
Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
We mentioned Trintignant’s “Amour” co-star Emmanuelle Riva in last week’s column as one of the best performances of the year and surely deserving of an Oscar nod. But we also mentioned nominations for foreign-language performances are few and far between, so the chances of both Riva and Trintignant making the cut for Michael Haneke’s French-language Palme D’Or winner is fairly unlikely (especially with Marion Cotillard also in contention for a French-language performance). But hopefully that’s not the case, as 81-year old French legend Trintignant’s role as a retired music teacher who takes care of his wife after she suffers a stroke is — like his co-star’s — a performance for the ages. It would also be a great way to celebrate a career that spans seven decades, from Éric Rohmer’s “My Night at Maud’s” to Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Conformist” to Krzysztof Kieślowski’s “Red.”
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