Best Supporting Actor, 2002
(Click on the linked film titles for reviews of the corresponding films.)


Nominee
Chris Cooper
Adaptation


3:1
Pluses

The Golden Globe, the Los Angeles Film Critics award, the National Board of Review award: Cooper has been no stranger to high-profile awards over the past couple of months. Even more in his favor, he has for years been contributing flawless character work to major Hollywood product (American Beauty, as the troubled Col. Fitts) and intelligent indies (Lone Star, as the laconic lead). As with Jim Broadbent, Marcia Gay Harden, and Benicio Del Toro in recent years, the Academy likes to reward consistently reliable character actors in showcase roles.
Minuses

Cooper doesn't have any minuses so much as he lacks the particular pluses of his co-nominees: he isn't a hero in the industry like Paul Newman, he hasn't been around as long as Christopher Walken, and he hasn't been as conspicuously passed over as Ed Harris. Winning critics awards is easier than winning Oscars for an actor like him, and Broadbent and Harden at least had easier rows to hoe than he does. Many are calling him a lock, but I am hesitant. SAG loss is a chink in his armor.
Ed Harris
The Hours


5:2
Harris has been a front-runner all three times he has been nominated—for 1995's Apollo 13, for 1998's The Truman Show, and, as a lead, for 2000's Pollock, in which he directed Harden to her Oscar. It is insane that he was never nominated before this recent run, and no less justifiable that he remains Oscarless. Also, as everyone from George Sanders to Jack Nicholson to Kim Basinger has proved in Oscar history, being the standout male in a female ensemble (or vice versa) is not a bad way to get noticed, especially in a high-profile film that voters want to reward. And speaking of past history, if you want to win an Oscar, playing a tortured artist with unrequited romantic longings, a mad scene, and a fatal disease is not a terrible thing to do.
Lost to different competitors at SAG and at the Globes, and he didn't win any critics awards, all a potential reflection on the divided responses to this particularl performance (or, perhaps, to its relative brevity). Prickly persona does not entail the kind of widespread communal fondness that might be necessary for a body-of-work victory.
Paul Newman
Road to Perdition


6:1
With an integrity quotient that's off the charts and a career that plenty of people still hold up as an ideal—a constant emphasis on directors and scripts over paychecks and commerce, and yet he remains a public favorite—Newman stands alone in any group of actors. Recent stage work in Our Town, for which he declined to attend the Golden Globes, furthered the perception of an aging talent still stretching his gifts without fighting his age. In a category with no clear front-runner, old favorites like Newman always pose a powerful threat.
With all of that said, Newman's performance was small and very quiet, and he missed the SAG ballot (in addition to winning no prizes from critics' groups). The film, too, has been a low-flyer during awards season, so a win for Newman would still be a major surprise.
John C. Reilly
Chicago


10:1
Furnished his trademark Everyman persona to key supporting roles in three Best Picture nominees, plus The Good Girl, which certainly qualifies as a banner year. Chicago was his least characteristic role, and when the show stops for Reilly, he manages to seize his moment and slide right back into the background, just as the part demands.
Sliding into the background is not the perfect way to win an Oscar; Reilly's entire career is like a manual for how to warrant a cult following and a steady career among filmmakers with little money. Recent cases of actors contributing a portfolio of high-profile turns in a calendar year—Miranda Richardson in '92, Emma Thompson in '93, Julianne Moore in '99, Joaquin Phoenix in '00—haven't resulted in any trophies. (Kevin Spacey in '95 was an exception, but Amos Hart is hardly the kind of definitive role that Keyser Sozë was.)
Christopher Walken
Catch Me If You Can


7:2
Wins from the Screen Actors Guild, the BAFTAs, and the National Society of Film Critics have kept Walken on a real roll in the last few weeks and months—he's quietly swiped the role of award magnet away from Chris Cooper, and he might well have won the Globe had he been nominated. Catch Me If You Can was a crowd-pleaser, and virtually all of the reviews cited Walken as a scene-stealer. He's certainly paid his dues within the industry, and has gotten nothing to show for it since winning for his first nomination as the quickly cracking soldier in The Deer Hunter in 1978. That prior trophy may stand in Walken's way, with Cooper and Reilly unanointed by Oscar, and Harris even more gallingly so. Like other DreamWorks releases in 2002, Catch Me If You Can connected better with audiences than with awards groups.

WHO WILL WIN: Ed Harris, The Hours
In what for me is the night's tightest race, I am giving Harris the edge, strictly because The Hours has more recent momentum than any other movie in this race except for Chicago, and I think Reilly's part is too small and flat to make the grade. Cooper and Walken, whom I hear broadcasted everywhere else as the frontrunners, are both liable to reach the podium, but Ed Harris has to win eventually, and this seems as good a time as any.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Christopher Walken, Catch Me If You Can
Easily my favorite of these five performances, Walken achieved a fine balance that his film seemed to be aiming for with less success all across the board: a lightness of touch matched with a real depth of feeling. As graceful in sad dinner conversations as in an impromptu living-room dance, Walken set the standard that his movie strained to catch up to.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: Where is Dennis Quaid? A career-reinventing role with a big emotional payoff in a challenging movie, after a year that featured reams of good personal press and a hit movie aimed squarely at the family audience. Tell me what part of this recipe didn't compute with voters. (And, for that matter, tell me why Dennis Haysbert got left out of all the Far from Heaven buzz that surrounded Moore, Quaid, and even Patricia Clarkson.) Also, if John C. Reilly had a great year, Brian Cox had a magnficient one: scary and hilarious in Adaptation, sad but reassuring in 25th Hour, a commanding offscreen narrator for The Trials of Henry Kissinger, genuinely unsettling even within the smoke and mirrors of The Ring. Losing out for one good turn in L.I.E. was bad enough in 2001; failing to score for a constellation of sharp work in 2002 is even worse.



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