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For Your Consideration: 10 Underdog Actors

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire October 13, 2010 at 4:59AM

Last week, this column decided to take a two part break from the dominant Oscar-related dish to profile 10 deserving "underdog actresses" from this year's batch of films. Avoiding performances that have been routinely making prediction lists, the group included some that have definite (but long) shots at awards traction, like "I Am Love"'s Tilda Swinton and "Animal Kingdom"'s Jacki Weaver, to a few that sadly have no chance whatsoever, like "Let Me In"'s Chloe Moretz or "Everyone Else"'s Brigit Minichmayr. This second part works in a similar vein, except this time it takes a look at the boys club.
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Last week, this column decided to take a two part break from the dominant Oscar-related dish to profile 10 deserving "underdog actresses" from this year's batch of films. Avoiding performances that have been routinely making prediction lists, the group included some that have definite (but long) shots at awards traction, like "I Am Love"'s Tilda Swinton and "Animal Kingdom"'s Jacki Weaver, to a few that sadly have no chance whatsoever, like "Let Me In"'s Chloe Moretz or "Everyone Else"'s Brigit Minichmayr. This second part works in a similar vein, except this time it takes a look at the boys club.

While there's definitely a few good men locked into both male acting categories this year, from James Franco and Colin Firth in lead to Geoffrey Rush and Mark Ruffalo in supporting (check out an updated weekly prediction chart here), there's most certainly wiggle room. It's the same wiggle room that brought performances from tiny films like "Half Nelson" (Ryan Gosling), "The Messenger" (Woody Harrelson), and "The Visitor" (Richard Jenkins) into the mix in recent years, all of whom few would have predicted in mid-October. So perhaps one or two of the following guys will end up in the running.

Commentators should once again keep in mind that the list purposely does not include work that is looking like a good bet for a nomination, even if it's from an indie film, and that it only includes films currently scheduled to be released during the 2010 eligibility period (like Craig Roberts in "Submarine" or Bruce Greenwood in "Meek's Cutoff," for example). With that said, here are ten underdog actors for your consideration:

Jim Broadbent and Peter Wight in "Another Year" (best supporting actors)
Lesley Manville is rightfully getting a huge amount of attention for her astonishing work as Mary in Mike Leigh's "Another Year," but let's hope folks realize it wasn't a one-person show. Like Manville, Jim Broadbent and Peter Wight are Mike Leigh veterans, starring in multiple films for the director over the years, and the collaborations just seem to keep getting better. Broadbent's sweet and subtle work as Tom, half of the stable couple at the film's center, and Wight's equally heart-breaking and hilarious turn as Tom's overweight alcoholic of an old friend, are both the makings of classic Mike Leigh performances. No male has ever managed a nomination for a Leigh film, from "Naked"'s David Thewlis to "Happy-Go-Lucky"'s Eddie Marsan to Broadbent himself for "Topsy-Turvy." Here's to "Another" chance for the Academy to make things right.

Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor in "The Ghost Writer" (best supporting actor and best actor)
While their co-star Olivia Williams was profiled last week, "The Ghost Writer" men Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor equally deserve notice for their work in Roman Polanski's thriller. Shamefully off most awards radar at this point, "Writer" offers a twisty script and masterful direction that is only magnified by its ensemble cast. McGregor carries the film with his detailed, effortless work as a ghost writer who uncovers some high-end secrets while working on the memoirs of an ex-British prime minster, while Brosnan gets a showier (and much smaller) role as that ex-British PM that is certainly the most powerful performance of his career (sorry, "Mrs. Doubtfire" fans).

Kieran Culkin in "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" (best supporting actor)
One of the least likely of these to gain any actual traction (financially disappointing hipster action-comedies don't exactly have a great Oscar track record), Kieran Culkin's work as the titular character's gay best friend Wallace was the best thing about "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World." Culkin - who has been acting since he was seven (his first role opposite brother Macaulay in 1990's "Home Alone") - has steadily been proving himself over the past two decades (most notably with 2002's "Igby Goes Down"), and his performance in "Pilgrim" continues it. His character is one of the most interesting and least offensive gay characters ever seen in a mainstream film, and it's largely because of the way Culkin handles the role: With remarkable charm, wit, and sensitivity.

Michael Fassbender in "Fish Tank" (best supporting actor)
Like "The Ghost Writer," Andrea Arnold's gem "Fish Tank" gets the full-service treatment here with Michael Fassbender following last week's mention of Katie Jarvis and Kierston Wareing. Surely and sadly to go unnoticed come Oscar time, "Fish Tank" - which follows a troubled teen (Jarvis) as her boozy mother (Wareing) gets a new boyfriend (Fassbender) - came out very early this year and already drew some awards buzz in its native UK last awards season (it was released earlier there). Fassbender's work certainly aided in the acclaim. Without spoiling anything, the actor pulled off an almost disturbingly sexy performance, and continued to show quite the range after his entirely different work in "Hunger" and "Inglourious Basterds." Fassbender is sure to get recognized in big ways sooner or later, but it's a shame if it won't happen for "Fish Tank."

Michael Fassbender in "Fish Tank." Image courtesy of IFC Films.

Ryan Gosling in "Blue Valentine" (best actor)
Last week Gosling's "Valentine" co-star Michelle Williams was specifically not mentioned because it seemed she was a strong enough contender not to warrant "underdog" status. In retrospect, perhaps that wasn't a fair assumption. In light of the MPAA's recent and ridiculous decision to slap "Valentine" with an "NC-17" (no "NC-17" rated film has garnered an Oscar nomination for acting, though back when it was "X," 1969's "Midnight Cowboy" did just fine), and considering its questionably late release date (December 31st... not exactly a date that allots time for buzz-building), perhaps "Valentine" is a greater underdog than was once thought. Told through flashbacks, the film looks at the slow destruction of Gosling and Williams’ characters' marriage. It features intense and hypnotic work from both actors, with their often brutally naturalistic work suspected to have actually contributed to the MPAA's decision (they make one scene in particular seem a little too real). Hopefully the Academy will take notice, because Gosling (and Williams... this is more or less dual advocacy) deliver career-best work here - and that's saying something.

John Hawkes in "Winter's Bone" (best supporting actor)
"Winter's Bone" breakout lead Jennifer Lawrence seems like a reasonable bet in the lead actress category at this point. But Lawrence has a few co-stars that might need a bit of a boost. Last week, Dale Dickey was mentioned in the "underdog actress" column, and this time around there's John Hawkes. Like Dickey, Hawkes has a name that's unlikely to ring a bell but a face most are likely to recognize, from character work in films like "The Perfect Storm" and "Me and You and Everyone We Know" to roles on TV shows like "Deadwood," "Lost," and "Eastbound and Down." In this year's little-indie-that-could, Hawkes got a surprise opportunity to show his chops on a different level. Playing Teardrop, the unstable, meth-addicted uncle of Lawrence's lead character, he owned every demanding moment of screentime he had.

Jonah Hill in "Cyrus" (best supporting actor)
Comedy is not easy. Getting award recognition for it is even harder, especially when it involves a whole lot of improvisation and some mild suggestions of incest. But Jonah Hill pulled both off perfectly as the creepy, hysterical center of Mark and Jay Duplass' "Cyrus." Playing the titular character - a mentally unbalanced 21-year-old with a bizarrely tight bond with his mother (Marisa Tomei) - Hill takes the audience on a squirm-filled ride of comic horror. It might not garner Hill any sort of official recognition, but it did make it clear he's a comic actor to be reckoned with.

Édgar Ramírez in "Carlos" (best actor)
Being released this weekend (in both its 5 1/2 hour original form and a cut down version), Oliver Assayas' epic miniseries "Carlos"- a portrait of the renowned international terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal - is unlikely to even be eligible for Academy consideration due to the fact that it screened on television a week before its theatrical release. But if it were to be eligible, a clear contender for its most valuable asset is "Carlos" himself, Édgar Ramírez, who commands a massive chunk of screen time with extraordinary confidence and energy. Hopefully critics groups with less archaic rule systems will be able to supply some compensation prizes.

For Your Consideration is a weekly column by indieWIRE's Associate Editor and awards guru, Peter Knegt. Follow him on Twitter and check out his weekly Oscar prediction chart

Previous editions of this column:
For Your Consideration: 10 Underdog Actresses
For Your Consideration: Save For "Love" Snub, Foreign Language Submissions Uncontroversial
For Your Consideration: Post-Toronto Oscar Predictions
For Your Consideration: Updating Oscar Contenders In The Eye of The Storm
For Your Consideration: 10 Things The Fall Fests Should Say About Awards Season
For Your Consideration: Assessing Oscar In The Calm Before The Storm

This article is related to: Features, Academy Awards, Another Year