Christoph Waltz’s lip-licking good show as the smartest Basterd in the Gestapo has so thoroughly run the table with guilds’, critics’, and humanitarian awards that it’s left the remainder of the category’s contenders cowering in his shadow. It’s so dark back there, in fact, it’s hard to even know who else is vying for one of the other four slots, widely accepted to be superfluous at this point given that no one has amassed a sweep this powerful since Martin Landau’s Bela Lugosi in 1994. (Even that invincible perfect storm that was Heath Ledger’s Joker managed to miss a few key trial heats; both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics opted to sidestep posthumous laurels.) Waltz’s biggest miss to date: losing the National Board of Review citation to Woody Harrelson’s tough, empathetic, emotionally wounded war vet in The Messenger. (The Board was blind to Landau too, instead opting for Gary Sinese’s tough, empathetic, physically wounded war vet in Forrest Gump.)
Naturally, Harrelson is the only other legitimate sure thing among plausible nominees. And I use the word “plausible” unadvisedly, since the lack of perspective Waltz’s precursor rampage has wrought means no one else has been given a forum to make a proper case. Not even any of Waltz’s own co-stars. In a just world, Michael Fassbender’s knockout display of just-barely concealed tension in Basterds would’ve been enough to at least put his name into the mix. And if being thick-necked, talking in a funny accent, and making absolutely no impression whatsoever are apparently enough to make Matt Damon’s boring Invictus rugby star a legitimate candidate, should we not also be talking about the unilaterally terrible Eli Roth’s chances? No? Well, then let’s go ahead and scratch off Puffy Pecs Springbok off the list too. (And cross off Mike Myers’s preposterous cameo too, since his ham-on-wry counterpart in An Education, Alfred Molina, was snubbed by both SAG and the Globes.)
Stanley Tucci’s two high-profile performances should have equaled one easy nomination, but the accomplishment diminishes significantly when the double-bill is split. Which is the lesser of the two evils: his willingness to be Streeprolled in the inoffensively boring Julie & Julia or his fondness for Telly Monster vocal inflections in the flamboyantly awful The Lovely Bones? Both exceeded box office expectations, so we’re going to place our bets on Oscar voters opting for bad overacting in lieu of decent underacting. That maxim probably also launches Christopher Plummer’s bellowing, arguably leading performance in The Last Station into the final five, even though an actor whose work in The Insider couldn’t even score a nomination against Michael Clarke Duncan is clearly hated by the Academy.
Which leaves us with one all but unfillable slot. Because the rest of the Oscars this year seem bent on honoring the simple pleasures of establishmentarian tastes, Christian McKay’s work in what seems to us an anti-Orson Welles beatdown sounds like a perfect fit to us.
Will Be Nominated: Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Christian McKay (Me and Orson Welles), Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones), and Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)