Six Circuit: Which 2003 Supporting Actor Got Dumped In The ‘Mystic River’?

Welcome to the thirty-second entry in our Six Circuit series.

This week brings us back to the year 2003, where “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” dominated. The final film of the fantasy trilogy swept all of its eleven categories. One of the few areas the film did not win was the acting races. In particular, our topic this week takes us to the 2003 Supporting Actor race. Tim Robbins, who had previously been nominated for directing “Dead Man Walking,” won his first Oscar for “Mystic River.” What was the competition like? Let’s first take a look at the 2003 Supporting Actor nominees before wondering who came in sixth place.

THE NOMINEES WERE:

  • Alec Baldwin — “The Cooler” {“Shelly Kaplow”}
  • Benicio Del Toro — “21 Grams” {“Jack Jordan”}
  • Djimon Hounsou — “In America” {“Mateo”}
  • Tim Robbins — “Mystic River” {“Dave Boyle”} (WINNER)
  • Ken Watanabe — “The Last Samurai” {“Katsumoto”}

OVERALL SUMMARY

Of the five nominees, Robbins took a commanding lead early on. The actor won at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards and Critics Choice Awards before winning at the Oscars. His role as Dave Boyle, a Boston father still reeling from being molested as a child, had the gravitas and showy dramatics that often do well in this category. Additionally, he was the only nominee from a Best Picture nominee this year. This helps with visibility, as a greater number of voters will likely have seen his performance.

Robbins was so far ahead, it becomes difficult to figure out who came in second place. Likely Alec Baldwin and Ken Watanabe duked it out for second place. Both men were nominated at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards and Critics Choice Awards. The edge likely goes to Watanabe, who starred in the biggest commercial hit of the nominees (“The Last Samurai” grossed $111 million domestic). Still, one must not discount Baldwin’s pockets of passion. Though “The Cooler” was a smaller film, Baldwin earned wins from the National Board of Review and New York Film Critics Online groups.

From there, Benicio Del Toro comes in fourth for “21 Grams,” where he plays a former convict and addict who turns to religion. The lone previous winner in the group, Del Toro showed up at both the SAG Awards and Critics Choice Awards. The real wild card in the race was first time nominee Djimon Hounsou. Prior to Oscar nominations, Hounsou’s most prominent precursor was an Independent Spirit Award nomination. His film, “In America,” experienced a last minute surge with the Oscars. It earned three nominations — Best Actress, Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay. Had the film not caught on at the last minute, who would have taken Hounsou’s place in the category?

THE SIX SPOT CONTENDERS ARE:

  • Sean Astin – “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”
    • Precursors – Online Film Critics Society
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Picture (WINNER), Director (WINNER), Adapted Screenplay (WINNER), Art Direction (WINNER), Costume Design (WINNER), Film Editing (WINNER), Makeup (WINNER), Original Score (WINNER), Original Song (WINNER), Sound Mixing (WINNER), Visual Effects (WINNER)
  • Paul Bettany – “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”
    • Precursors – BAFTA Awards, Critics Choice Awards 
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Director, Art Direction, Cinematography (WINNER), Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup, Sound Editing (WINNER), Sound Mixing, Visual Effects
  • Chris Cooper – “Seabiscuit”
    • Precursors – SAG Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Sound Mixing
  • Albert Finney – “Big Fish”
    • Precursors – Golden Globes, BAFTA Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Original Score
  • Eugene Levy – “A Mighty Wind”
    • Precursors – New York Film Critics Circle (WINNER)
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Original Song
  • William H. Macy – “Seabiscuit”
    • Precursors – Golden Globes
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Sound Mixing
  • Ian McKellen – “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”
    • Precursors – BAFTA Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Picture (WINNER), Director (WINNER), Adapted Screenplay (WINNER), Art Direction (WINNER), Costume Design (WINNER), Film Editing (WINNER), Makeup (WINNER), Original Score (WINNER), Original Song (WINNER), Sound Mixing (WINNER), Visual Effects (WINNER)
  • Bill Nighy – “Love Actually”
    • Precursors – BAFTA Awards (WINNER), Los Angeles Film Critics Association (WINNER)
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Peter Sarsgaard – “Shattered Glass”
    • Precursors – Golden Globes, National Society of Film Critics (WINNER), Online Film Critics Society (WINNER), Independent Spirits
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Andy Serkis – “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”
    • Precursors – Online Film Critics Society
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Picture (WINNER), Director (WINNER), Adapted Screenplay (WINNER), Art Direction (WINNER), Costume Design (WINNER), Film Editing (WINNER), Makeup (WINNER), Original Score (WINNER), Original Song (WINNER), Sound Mixing (WINNER), Visual Effects (WINNER)

CRITICAL CHOICES

Every year, the critical community rallies behind a couple performances with hopes they may earn Oscar nominations. Alec Baldwin made good on critical buzz this year, likely because it was his first career nomination. Unfortunately, the same passion did not help Peter Sarsgaard. His performance as a “New Republic” editor in “Shattered Glass” won him awards from the National Society of Film Critics and Online Film Critics Society. Roles in “Dead Man Walking” and “Boys Don’t Cry” gave Sarsgaard fans, but this was poised to be his break-out. His Golden Globe nomination gave many critics hope for an Oscar nomination. Unfortunately, the film wound up with zero nominations. Despite a long and consistent career, Sarsgaard still has not been nominated for an Oscar.

For comedy fans, Eugene Levy became the major performance to push. His work in Christopher Guest’s “A Mighty Wind” was heralded as a new peak for the revered comedian. His win from the New York Film Critics Circle kick started a fervor for “A Mighty Wind.” Though Levy ultimately wound up snubbed by the Oscars, love for his performance in the film manifested in an Original Song nomination. Levy attended the Oscar with co-star Catherine O’Hara to perform “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow,” the film’s nominated song. If enough voters could get his song nominated, perhaps they were close to getting him an acting nomination.

BEST PICTURE COATTAILS

When Oscar loves a movie, they shower it with love. This often means supporting players can ride the coattails to surprise nominations. No film has done better than “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” in terms of wins. Yet, the Best Picture winner did not receive a single acting nomination. The first in the trilogy earned a Supporting Actor nomination for Ian McKellen as Gandalf. McKellen contended at the BAFTA, but received no other major precursors. He likely did not make it back due to internal competition. The Online Film Critics Society turned their attention to both Sean Astin and Andy Serkis, rather than McKellen. With such a sprawling cast, voters all likely picked different favorite performances. All of the ensemble wins show that people liked the cast. However, choosing a favorite supporting performance proved difficult.

“The Lord of the Rings” wasn’t the only Best Picture contender to split votes between actors. “Seabiscuit” saw two supporting men splitting their precursor support. As fast-talking announcer “Tick Tock” McLaughlin, William H. Macy was certainly the loudest contender from the film. Macy earned a Golden Globe nomination, while the SAG Awards went a different direction. They awarded Chris Cooper with a nomination for his work as Tom Smith, a talented horse trainer living life as a drifter. A SAG nomination carries more weight than Golden Globe when it comes to predicting. Still, Macy likely siphoned votes away from Cooper.

Finally, “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” was another Oscar favorite that earned zero acting nominations. The film won two prizes out of ten, the second most wins of the ceremony (tied with “Mystic River”). As Dr Stephen Maturin, the surgeon on the ship, Paul Bettany was seen as a Supporting Actor contender. He earned nominations at the BAFTA and Critics Choice Awards. Voters may have been familiar with Bettany from his role in “A Beautiful Mind,” a then-recent Best Picture winner. With his star on the rise, it would have made sense to nominate him here. Yet, voters saw the film as a technical achievement more than a feat of acting.

BAFTA PICKS

BAFTA went completely off-book. Often, one turns to BAFTA to see what the British contingent of Oscar voters will choose. This year, only eventual winner Tim Robbins matched with BAFTA’s crop of Supporting Actors. We previously mentioned Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany. Both of those actors and Robbins lost to “Love Actually” scene-stealer Bill Nighy. The ensemble romantic comedy casts Nighy as an addict/former rock star who gets a late career Christmas hit. Many cited Nighy as the funniest member of the cast. He also won this prize from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (also citing “AKA,” “I Capture the Castle” and “Lawless Heart”). This year could have served as a great opportunity to honor Nighy’s big year and long career. Unfortunately, “Love Actually” had very little luck with the Academy, receiving zero nominations.

The final BAFTA slot went to five-time Oscar nominee Albert Finney. His role as a dying patriarch in “Big Fish” was thought by many to be a big Oscar player. His Golden Globe nomination suggests that he may have come close. Though director Tim Burton had seen his films do somewhat well previously, “Big Fish” opened too late to make a real dent or stand out. The only Oscar nomination for the film came in the Original Score category. Had it showed up in a few more tech categories or in screenplay, Finney likely would have reaped a nomination.

THE SIX SPOT FOR 2003 BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR WAS:

PAUL BETTANY “MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WIND”

Who do you think came in 6th place in the 2003 Best Supporting Actor race? Share with us in the comments below.

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