There's one category that really hasn't become any clearer after today: Supporting Actor. For the first time in recent memory, it's made up of performers who all already have Oscars, in the shape of Tommy Lee Jones ("The Fugitive"), Christoph Waltz ("Inglourious Basterds"), Robert De Niro ("The Godfather Part II" and "Raging Bull"), Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote") and Alan Arkin ("Little Miss Sunshine"), and none of them have a clear path to victory. Waltz only won -- and for another Tarantino movie, in a not dissimilar role -- three years ago. Arkin's in a similar place, with his "Little Miss Sunshine" performance in 2007, and besides, he's not even the best supporting actor in "Argo," let alone in this bunch. Hoffman's amazing, but the Academy have already shown a certain reluctance to vote for "The Master," even if he made the cut. De Niro's performance is certainly his best in a long time (and his first nomination since "Cape Fear"), but it hardly stands with "Raging Bull," and that he missed out with the SAG and elsewhere suggests that it's not a home run. Tommy Lee Jones might have the fewest negatives, but with Daniel Day-Lewis a likely front-runner for Best Actor, will voters want to spread the love around? It's going to be a fascinating category, and we could conceivably see any of the five taking the prize.
Last year's crop was not the most interesting in Oscar history; a mostly nostalgic, sentimental selection, where the edgiest of the picks was "Moneyball," a mainstream crowd-pleaser starring Brad Pitt. And yet this year, an equal number of brickbats seem to be out for the Academy, accusing it of making the same 'ol boring picks. Now, maybe it's a result of the Oscar prognostication industry that means all of these films have been talked to death by the time January rolls around. But guys -- these are not safe picks. It's not like they've nominated "The Turin Horse" or anything, but you still have a micro-budget post-Katrina magic realist indie starring no one they've ever heard of, a violent slavesploitation Western, a 3D meditation on religion, the least Spielbergian film Steven Spielberg has ever made, a near-three-hour spy procedural, and a Michael Goddamn Haneke film. (And for those claiming "Amour" is Haneke's "safest" film, that's like saying that "The Island" is Michael Bay's least explode-y film -- it's still an incredibly tough, bruising watch, more so than anything else in recent Oscar memory). Even the dramedy "Silver Linings Playbook" has David O. Russell's rough-edged feel to it, and the starry musical "Les Miserables" took the risk of having the cast sing live on set. "Argo" is this year's equivalent of "Moneyball," and it's probably the most conventional film on this year's line-up. There are plenty of things wrong with the Academy and their tastes, but in a year where they nominated Michael Haneke (twice!), Benh Zeitlin, Emmanuelle Riva, and three actors from "The Master," you've got to give them a little credit.
Also being lost in all the awards madness today: this is a pretty good line up of films. Last year, there was only one nominated film that I really felt I could take to my heart; this year, I don't have a serious problem with any of them being nominated. This is, of course, entirely subjective -- there are people out there who seriously dislike "Les Miserables" (quite a lot, in fact), "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Zero Dark Thirty" and even the more uniting films like "Lincoln" and "Argo," but such is the nature of the consensus-killing internet age. At the end of the day, though, we'd argue that there's nothing as egregious as "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," "The Blind Side," "The Reader," "Crash" or "Ray," for instance. Of course there are films I, and you, would rather have seen in that final line-up, but when you turn off the my-favorite-is-the-best-and-yours-is-the-worst blinkers, there's stuff to love in every one of these films, be it the performances of Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence in "Les Miserables" and "Silver Linings Playbook" to the glorious visuals of "Life of Pi" and soaring soundtrack of "Beasts of the Southern Wild." And when you think about the Oscar nominees for 1999, a year deemed by many to be one of the finest in cinema history, and yet one in which the Best Picture nominees included "The Cider House Rules" and "The Green Mile," you see how wrong they could have got things. Awards are silly, and they'd still be silly if they exactly reflected your taste, so why not take a moment to enjoy what we've got here?
The Oscars will be handed out on February 24th.