What better way to celebrate the Sweet Sixteen in our Six Spot series then by looking at a slew of performances by men well above the celebrated milestone. The 2008 supporting actor race sticks out for a number of reasons. Most famously, Heath Ledger prevailed for his performance in “The Dark Knight” as the Joker. The award was given posthumously to his family; however, that was not the only interesting element about this race. Before we look at who was snubbed, let’s look at who was nominated.
THE NOMINEES WERE:
- Josh Brolin – “Milk”
- Robert Downey Jr. – “Tropic Thunder”
- Philip Seymour Hoffman – “Doubt”
- Heath Ledger – “The Dark Knight” – WINNER
- Michael Shannon – “Revolutionary Road”
The Academy’s relationship with superhero movies has been rocky, to say the least. In 2008, “The Dark Knight” came closest to the Best Picture race, with “Black Panther” finally broke down this barrier this past year. Heath Ledger’s role as the Joker, however, had the strongest (and longest) narrative for his posthumous win. Ledger unfortunately passed away before the film opened. Many stories tied his death in with the intense preparation for the role, which Ledger went “method” for. Audiences, critics and voters were wowed by his singular performance, making him the front runner and eventual winner in the category.
The second place role in this race most likely went to Josh Brolin in “Milk,” the critics favorite. He also is the only nominee to appear in a Best Picture nominee. Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Doubt”) was likely the next “most safe” nominee. His film received four acting nominations and an Adapted Screenplay nomination. Additionally, Hoffman was one of the main standouts of the film, with Amy Adams being the most vulnerable of the four nominees. Today, Robert Downey Jr. might have a harder time getting nominated for his hilariously un-PC role in “Tropic Thunder.” However, the actor had two huge hits (“Tropic Thunder” and “Iron Man”) and Hollywood wanted to welcome him back. Fifth place was unquestionably Michael Shannon for “Revolutionary Road,” who shocked with his nomination. Both Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio were snubbed for the late breaking film and Shannon was relatively unknown. Who did he replace?
THE SIX SPOT CONTENDERS ARE:
- Tom Cruise – “Tropic Thunder”
- Precursors – Golden Globes Nominee
- Oscar nominations – Best Supporting Actor (Robert Downey Jr.)
- Ralph Fiennes – “The Duchess”
- Precursors – Golden Globes Nominee
- Oscar nominations – Best Art Direction, Costume Design (WINNER)
- James Franco – “Milk”
- Precursors – Critics Choice Awards Nominee, Independent Spirit Awards (WINNER),
- Oscar nominations – Best Picture, Director (Gus Van Sant), Actor (Sean Penn) (WINNER), Supporting Actor (Josh Brolin), Original Screenplay (WINNER), Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Score
- Eddie Marsan – “Happy Go Lucky”
- Precursors – National Society of Film Critics (WINNER), Online Film Critics Society Nominee,
- Oscar nominations – Best Original Screenplay
- Dev Patel – “Slumdog Millionaire”
- Precursors – SAG Awards Nominee
- Oscar nominations – Best Picture (WINNER), Director (Danny Boyle) (WINNER), Adapted Screenplay (WINNER), Cinematography (WINNER), Film Editing (WINNER), Original Score (WINNER), Original Song (WINNER), Original Song (Nominee), Sound (WINNER), Sound Editing
BEST PICTURE POSSIBILITIES
Josh Brolin wasn’t the only “Milk” supporting actor to gain awards traction this year. James Franco seemed like a viable nominee for his role as Scott Smith, Harvey Milk’s boyfriend. This would’ve been Franco’s first nomination, and it would signal a new phase in his career post-“Spider-Man.” Franco won the Independent Spirit Awards prize and was nominated at the Critics Choice Awards. Still, Brolin had a longer history in the industry and was perceived as more overdue for the nomination. Additionally, the Supporting Actor category seems to value villainous turns, and Brolin plays Dan White, Harvey Milk’s co-worker and killer.
Meanwhile, on the category fraud front, many didn’t know where to place Dev Patel. Patel was the star of “Slumdog Millionaire,” the Best Picture winner. This automatically puts him in the acting conversation. He plays the lead role as Jamal, a slumdog who goes on a “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” type show. However, two other actors played Jamal at younger stages of his life. Thus, Fox Searchlight tried to push him in the less competitive Supporting Actor category. The main group to latch onto this campaign was SAG, which also nominated Kate Winslet in Supporting for “The Reader.” The Oscars were on high alert for category fraud this year, putting Winslet in lead for “The Reader.” Did Patel miss out on the nomination because of perceived category fraud, or was he in sixth place all this time?
GOLDEN GLOBE SUPRISES
The Golden Globes sometimes go off the beaten path in terms of their nominations. Many times, people accuse this group of “star-f**king” (going after big stars for ratings). In 2008, the Golden Globes dropped Brolin and Shannon from the lineup and rewarded two different, polar opposite performances. On one hand, they nominated Ralph Fiennes for “The Duchess.” On paper, his role as the jealous Duke seems like perfect Oscar fodder. Unfortunately, the film fell flat in its September release and only gained traction in the Costume Design category. This nomination was the biggest get for Fiennes.
Tom Cruise took the last slot for his glorified cameo in “Tropic Thunder.” We said earlier that Downey Jr.’s role (as an actor in blackface) would be hard to nominate today. Cruise would face an even steeper uphill battle. His character, Les Grossman, acts as an exaggerated version of a Harvey Weinstein-esque studio head. Cruise put on a fatsuit and completely changed his appearance for the role. It was great fun and he often stole the movie. Still, Downey Jr. was always going to be the main Oscar play. Cruise’s nomination here merely illustrates how much support there was for “Tropic Thunder” in this awards season.
Michael Shannon was the closest to having an indie contender blind side audiences in this category. Unfortunately, “Revolutionary Road” was a movie sold on the promise of Kate and Leo’s return to the screen. If any true indie player were to breakthrough, Eddie Marsan would’ve been it. He plays a gruff driving teacher in Mike Leigh’s “Happy Go-Lucky.” Sally Hawkins was likely in 6th place for her lead role as Poppy, the strong, optimistic force at the center of the film. While Mike Leigh got nominated for Best Original Screenplay, the film got zero acting nominations. If Hawkins wasn’t going to get in, it was unlikely that Marsan would surprise in the lineup. Still, his win at the National Board of Review shows that he has his supporters.