Javier Bardem, Heath Ledger, Christoph Waltz. Though the template for winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar these days seems to require leaving a body count inversely proportional to the average age of a typical Best Actress winner, this year’s slate of contenders indicates voters are ready to see the men behind the monsters. The prime case in point: Andrew Garfield’s turn as The Social Network’s spurned and spat-upon baby entrepreneur Eduardo Saverin, which has glided past Justin Timberlake’s showier antics as Napster-teer Sean Parker and Armie Hammer’s equally compelling double dip as the Winklevii twins to emerge as the sole boy from his film’s well-tanked fraternity to contend here—especially on the strength of his Golden Globe nod. Okay, he does pull a sick, Joker-worthy stunt on a chicken, but off screen. Otherwise, David Fincher devotes most of Garfield’s screen time to chopping onions under his big, brown puppy-dog eyes. (Never mind reports that the man he represents on screen is reportedly nearly as misrepresented as Mark Zuckerberg, in the precise opposite direction.)
Still, Garfield is on the bubble, unlike Christian Bale’s evidently tapeworm-assisted approach to character development as The Fighter’s sinewy has-been Dicky Eklund, Geoffrey Rush’s sad-sack working-class dumpery as a failed actor-cum-unlicensed speech therapist in The King’s Speech, and Mark Ruffalo, as the aging hunk granola douchebag who just can’t help but fuck it all up in The Kids Are All Right (finally landing Ruffalo the cred nomination that will, once again, elude Conviction’s Sam Rockwell this year). All three have been SAG-approved, though Ruffalo missed the Globe nomination thanks to the HFPA’s calculated attempt to test out what Rob Corddry’s Dr. Blake Downs might call “the healing power of showbiz kudos” on prospective patient Michael Douglas, despite Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps earning reviews that would make Ken Lay turn over in his grave.
The fourth man to land on both SAG and HFPA’s shortlists: Jeremy Renner. Yes, he bucks the softening trend this year by playing a criminal hardened both inside and out, but if Colin Firth can clear a solid path for himself to a Best Actor win simply based on the argument that Jeff Bridges’s win last year screwed him out of an Oscar for A Single Man, then Renner’s fiery, superior performance in last year’s The Hurt Locker ought to be enough to launch him to at least a nomination here, pushing him past the scruffier likes of John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) and Matt Damon (True Grit).