Oscar Spitballing: Best Supporting Actor 2009

There’s virtually no debate about who’s going to take the Best Supporting Actor prize home on Sunday night’s Academy Award show, but it’s expected to be a major audience hook regardless. It’s where the blockbusters are, you see, and it’ll be Hollywood’s final tribute to an actor that we lost far too soon. Can anyone manage to defy everyone’s expectations to get up on stage and deliver a very awkward speech before fending off crazed Batman fanboys who are already pissed that The Dark Knight isn’t up for Best Picture? Let’s take a look.

Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
A great actor in a role that permeated and owned his movie as well as audiences everywhere, a prior nominee who is now dead and therefore no one has to worry about the fact that he didn’t even want to win an Oscar while he was alive. It’s the perfect time to recognize him, as it’ll be the last chance we have to do so (although given what we know of him, Ledger himself might just wish this career-boon be given to someone still around to benefit from it). His Joker is an unstoppable force, and he is such a major part of the film that a case could be made that he belongs in the Best Actor category, much like the first posthumous Oscar-winner, Peter Finch of Network. True, it’s possible his portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime might not have been such a phenomenon if he were still around to talk about it, but it’s exploded barriers as to what can be done with a comic-book movie and for that, he deserves all the accolades he can get.

Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
The bleak suburban relationship drama was an early Oscar favorite, as were Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet thanks to the Golden Globes, but the Academy surprised people by giving the only acting recognition to the surly malcontent character who hijacked the film for his two scenes, piercing through the carefully crafted facades of everyone around him and driving the point of this beautifully crafted story home. Thankfully, the nomination should raise his profile, and hopefully get more people to go see his Sundance film The Missing Person when it ever comes out. Shannon in a drunken modern-day noir is good stuff.

Josh Brolin, Milk
If anyone could possibly score an upset, it will be Brolin. He should have been nominated last year for No Country for Old Men, and this is an extremely Oscary movie. But he’s not playing the inspiring historical figure that triumphs over adversity and sends an important message before dying tragically and becoming a martyr – he’s playing the jerk what killed that guy. However, Brolin will definitely be back here again at some point in the future. He’s in demand and always good.

Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
A startling recognition of comedy for the notoriously humorless Academy, but Downey had such a great year (and he ‘came back’ a few months before Mickey Rourke did) that it can’t be denied. He certainly deserves the accolades for playing a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude, the extremely ballsy choice of going into blackface and the fact that he always does fantastic, layered and extremely naturalistic work no matter what he does, and yet hasn’t even been nominated since Chaplin in 1993. It speaks of a hipper-than-expected group of voters that would nominate Downey for his brutal skewering of the naked pursuit of these awards, and completely trashing the importance of the awards themselves, for that matter. But the bottom line is that he’s not winning an Oscar for a movie that features that much Jack Black flatulence.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Hoffman is a fantastic actor who always turns in great work, and his put-upon, progressive-minded priest struggling against a determined nun convinced that he is a monster is the kind of understated and ambiguous performance that certainly exemplifies that. But he’s won the Best Actor award very recently, and Doubt is not a strong enough film to beat out the popular sentiment.

Who Will Win: Heath Ledger
Who Should Win: Heath Ledger

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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