As of Monday, Oscar ballots have been sent out, online voting (for the first time ever) is underway, and the endgame of the 2012 awards season approaches. And thanks to the cottage industry of awards predictions and precursors, the narrative is already in place. If you've been talked up as an Oscar contender for the last several months, if you've already been anointed by critics groups or the Golden Globes, then you're seriously in the race. If not, then you should probably make other plans for that Sunday in February.
The Academy is not great at thinking outside the box; there's a sense that a vote for a curveball candidate is a vote wasted. But we wish that wasn't the case, as there's plenty of films and performances that deserve a second look but may not have the money or momentum behind them to get noticed. And so, over the next few days, we're going to highlight some of them, starting today with the supporting performances. If you're an Academy voter, we'd urge you not to overlook the names below, and if not, and you haven't seen the films, it's just one reason to check them out. Let us know who'd be on your own ballots in the comments section below. And follow all our 2012 For Your Consideration pieces here.
Bruce Willis and/or Edward Norton – "Moonrise Kingdom"
Probably because of the deadpan, understated nature of most of the performances, no actor has ever been nominated for appearing in a Wes Anderson film. No Bill Murray in "Rushmore," no Gene Hackman in "The Royal Tenenbaums," no Willem Dafoe in "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," no Adrien Brody in "The Darjeeling Limited." For the first time, it looks like Anderson has a chance of cracking the Best Picture field with "Moonrise Kingdom," but despite the film's pitch-perfect cast, including both Anderson veterans and newcomers, it doesn't look likely that any actors will follow. Which is a shame, because we think that two of those first-time visitors to Wes World, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton, are particularly deserving. Between this and "Looper," Willis had a good year, but his lonely, lovelorn sheriff in "Moonrise Kingdom," who finds a new lease on life as a surrogate father to the orphaned Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), is one of the best, warmest and most atypical performances he's ever given. Meanwhile, Norton, who's had a quiet couple of years ("Leaves of Grass," "Stone," "Pride And Glory" — all disappearing without much of a trace) featured as Scout Master Randy Ward, another lonely soul who, while a touch priggish and uptight, cares more than anything about his charges and finds himself at the risk of being relieved of his command. Again, it's a very different kind of performance from the actor, but easily his most memorable in years. If rumors are correct, Norton will be back for Anderson's "Grand Budapest Hotel" next year, and we hope that Willis finds his way into the director's rep company soon as well.
Brit Marling – "Sound of My Voice"
We have to say, we weren't quite sold last year on "Another Earth," or on the idea that its co-writer/star Brit Marling was the next great force in American cinema, as some predicted after her double bill of offbeat sci-fi movies debuted at Sundance in January 2011. Not that she wasn't good in the film — she was — but it didn't quite seem to suggest the greatness we'd been promised. But we were eating crow by the time that we caught up with the other part of that dual salvo, the Zal Batmanglij-directed "Sound of My Voice" earlier this year. In the taut, firmly original little sci-fi picture (which the actress co-wrote), Marling plays Maggie, a mysterious young woman confined to a California basement (seemingly to protect her weakened immune system from diseases), who has something close to a cult springing up around her. Maggie claims to have traveled back in time from the year 2054 to help prepare a select band for the terrible future that comes, and much of the film hinges on whether she's telling the truth, or on whether she, as leads Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) suspect, is delusional or deliberately lying. And aside from her excellent script, Marling is absolutely terrific in the role, expertly picking up the charisma and the force of personality that inspires strangers to follow her blindly, while keeping the reality of Maggie's world smartly ambiguous. The film made virtually no box office impact, so the chances of it being on Academy voters' radars are absolutely zero (though Marling was nominated for a Spirit Award). But if we had our way, it's certainly a performance that would be on our ballot.
Matthew Macfadyen – "Anna Karenina"
Too divisive to get Academy traction in anything except craft categories, "Anna Karenina" is positively stuffed with performances that could have made it to this feature: Domhnall Gleeson as the lovelorn Levin, Alicia Vikander as the pure, lovely Kitty, Jude Law giving one of his very best turns as Anna's cuckolded husband. But for us, the pick of the bunch is a somewhat unlikely one, Matthew Macfadyen, as Anna's brother Oblonsky. Reuniting with his "Pride & Prejudice" director Joe Wright in an entirely different kind of role, Macfadyen is something of a revelation; buried underneath a walrus moustache, he's a boisterous, vibrant man of enormous appetites, and Macfadyen positively relishes the chance to seize a man with so much carpe diem (particularly when put in contrast with the brooding, repressed Mr. Darcy). Oblonsky's kind of a shit, unapologetically and repeatedly cheating on his doting wife (Kelly Macdonald), but Macfadyen's so endearing in the role that you can't help but like him. Which helps when it comes to the end; his final appearance, after his sister's suicide, is heartbreaking, a beautifully simple and silent bit of acting from the performer, showing a man who has always been so broad and vivacious suddenly subdued and broken. The complete lack of awards buzz for Macfadyen has killed whatever slim chance might have originally existed, but he's certainly worth a second look.
Emily Blunt – "Looper"
However smart and moving it is, Rian Johnson's "Looper" always faced an uphill struggle for awards recognition, although fortunately it's looking increasingly likely to pick up an Original Screenplay nomination. But given that the best performance of the film doesn't appear until midway through the picture, one suspects that its chances of picking up a nomination are pretty much nil. Which is a shame, because in a year where she delivered four strong performances (also including "Your Sister's Sister," "Salmon Fishing In the Yemen," "The Five-Year Engagement"), "Looper" was Emily Blunt's finest hour, and in a film full of pleasures small and large, the actress might have been the best thing about it. Entirely absent from the first half of the film, the British actress turns up as Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) stumbles across the farm on which the film's last act is almost entirely set. Her character, Sara, cares for her young son Cid (Pierce Gagnon), and Blunt (with pitch-perfect American accent) is great at showing the fierce love for her child that leaves her entirely willing to blow Joe's head off as it comes to it. But it's also a far more complex character than that, and Blunt deftly shows the other sides of Sara — the remains of the irresponsible party girl she once was, the sexually frustrated young woman out in the boondocks, the parent without a rulebook to a child who scares the living shit out of her. It's a great part, and a great peformance from an actress who's increasingly demonstrating that she's capable of anything.
Ezra Miller – "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
One of the year's most pleasant surprises turned out to be "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," an on-the-surface unpromising-looking coming-of-age tale that proved to be honest, authentic and emotionally charged in all the right ways. And in a cast full of further surprises (strong turns from Emma Watson and Nina Dobrev, a revelatory leading role for the heretofore-unregarded, by us at least, Logan Lerman), perhaps the best came from Ezra Miller. The cheek-bones-tastic Miller first made an impression in 2008's "Afterschool," and hammered home his talent as the infuriating, sociopathic title character in Lynne Ramsay's "We Need To Talk About Kevin." But both were fairly brooding, tough roles, and Miller took a total about-face to play Patrick, the openly gay outcast (and step-brother of Watson's Sam), who takes Charlie (Lerman) under his wing at high school. Virtually the anti-Kevin, Patrick might be an attention-seeker, but he does so as the class clown, and does it to conceal his secret heartbreak — his jockish boyfriend Brad isn't out, and eventually humiliates him, rather than lose face with his friends. Miller's both incredibly winning at the more upbeat side of the character (it's a version of the gay best friend archetype we actually recognize from real life, rather than from other movies), but sells the broken-heartedness, the step-sibling bond with Watson, and the general sense of being on the wrong side of the cool kids beautifully. It's the sweetest and most empathetic he's ever been, and seems to point the way to all kinds of possibilities for Miller in future. And can we have a Slut & The Falcon spinoff, please?
Your ideas? Sound off below. Follow all our 2012 For Your Consideration pieces here.