Somehow, this year's Best Supporting Actor race has managed to be the dullest one in history. This is a category that has featured four straight years of winners who dominated every single precursor with little to no resistance: Javier Bardem for "No Country for Old Men," Heath Ledger for "The Dark Knight," Christoph Waltz for "Inglourious Basterds" and Christian Bale for "The Fighter." And yet this year beats all the rest.
It was supposed to be different - this was a year that saw multiple stellar performances recognized early by multiple critics. Oscar front-runner Christopher Plummer received acclaim for his performance as a gay, cancer-stricken father in "Beginners," while industry veteran Albert Brooks was lauded for his work as a gangster in "Drive." Additionally, different voting bodies recognized Patton Oswalt for "Young Adult" and Armie Hammer in "J. Edgar." It looked like a year when both veterans and younger performers alike would be rewarded.
When the nominations were announced, only Jonah Hill for "Moneyball" remained among the youngsters. Joining him were Plummer, "My Week with Marilyn" star Kenneth Branagh, Max Von Sydow from "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" and Nick Nolte from "Warrior." Plummer, Von Sydow and Nolte are all over 70 years old. Branagh is 50. The average age of all nominees is 62.
Certainly the nominees don't have to be young to be interesting, but it does make the category less diverse. All of the nominees are white as well. Of course, diversity isn't required - but then again, it's always appreciated, especially when the performances aren't great. And the performances this year simply aren't great.
To wit: While Brooks was playing against type and wonderfully menacing in "Drive," Nolte is merely rekindling an old spark of talent in "Warrior." It's the difference between an ambitious performance and a reliable one, and that's the constant struggle with Best Supporting Actor in particular. It tends to reward the comfortable over the tenacious.
Best Supporting Actor isn't likely to change in structure for some time - it is, like all others, a category that rewards what's available. Hopefully, more films will soon give supporting actors a chance to do the same powerful work as the front-runners each year. That way, the race can become more than just a footnote at the big show.
This is the opinion of Kevin O'Keeffe, a sophomore screenwriting major from Austin, Texas. Please send comments to email@example.com.