Monday, August 26, 2013

Category fraud, and my 1988 Supporting Actor ballot...

Let me lead you...

So, with the 1988 Fisti ballots for the acting categories now posted, I’m finally getting around to asking a question I’ve been wanting to ask here for quite some time:

How do you classify a Supporting turn versus a Lead turn?

This is a question that is ripe for debate and one that everyone seems to have differing opinions on, and I’ve found that even with myself the rules are never set in stone and I’m bound to fudge, break or completely disregard them for the sake of my personal awards and my feelings towards a specific performance and or a film in general.  Lots of cinephiles have serious beef with the Academy for constantly blurring the lines of Lead and Supporting by splitting true co-leads in order to secure Oscar nominations and wins. 
I'm in every frame and my name is in the title and yet I'm still seen as SUPPORTING?!?!?
Seriously, how many people actually believe that Jake Gyllenhall was supporting in ‘Brokeback Mountain’?  How many really think that ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’ was actually about Jesse James?  How many people think that Jamie Foxx being in every single scene of ‘Collateral’ somehow made him a supporting player?

Other areas I understand as gray areas.  These mostly have to do with Philip Seymour Hoffman, but whatever.

And then you have those times when seemingly supporting or small roles have gone on to get serious traction in Leading categories, at times even winning the Oscar.

Was Anthony Hopkins really the Lead in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ or just too powerful a presence to ignore?  Was there really a Lead at all in ‘The Hours’?  Wasn’t Jennifer Lawrence just a supporting girlfriend in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’?

So, I question you…how do you define these categories?  What rules do you bend or break or keep fast to in order to make your personal awards feel authentic?
Want another Oscar?  Lie about your category!
It’s hard for me to put a finger on these, although I bitch and moan about category placement all the time.  I mean, look at last year’s Supporting Actor ballot.  Christoph Waltz was in no way, shape or form the Supporting player in ‘Django Unchained’.  Despite not bearing his name, the film was easily ABOUT HIM.  While I understand that Phoenix was a powerful presence in ‘The Master’, Hoffman WAS that master, and the film was truly about their relationship with one another and how they were both molded by the events in the film. 

Go back to 2010.  ‘The Fighter’ should probably have been called ‘The Fighters’, since as much as Wahlberg’s character was the projected lead, Bale opened and closed the film and stole all of the attention away.  Ruffalo was so a LEAD in his film.  How in the world was he supporting when he had ample screentime, had his own scenes WITH EVERYONE IN THE FILM and had the largest arc in the story?  And, I’m sorry, but ‘The King’s Speech’ had two CLEAR Leads, and Rush was one of them.

For me, these are all serious examples of AMPAS fudging the lines between Lead and Supporting in order to secure certain actors Oscar nominations.  It, in a way, betrays the whole idea of the category.  Why have a Supporting Actor category if you are only going to nominate five more Lead actors?  Just extend the number of nominees to ten.

For me there are a few factors to consider.  First, who is the focal-point of the film?  But also, what is the impact that the specific character or performance has on the film.  I think that Anthony Hopkins is a great example of this because he may only have about 20 minutes of screen time in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and yet I don’t bat an eyelash at his category placement.  I personally nominate in him Lead as well.  He dominates the film and captures your attention and remains with you the whole time.  This is an area where I find it easy to nominate someone like Rachel Weisz in Supporting for ‘The Brothers Bloom’ despite having a LOT of screen time.  She is not the focus of the film but serves as a cypher and despite having a great arc, she is easily a plot piece. 

I also have a problem with defining Leads in pure ensemble films.  For me, there is no Lead in ‘The Hours’, and there is no Lead in a film like ‘L.A. Confidential’, where everyone shares equal (almost) screen time and everyone has a powerful arc.
Do I look at guilty as I feel?
But even I have gone against my better judgment to secure nominations for performances I love in years when one category is weaker than another.  Just look at what I did to Helen Mirren in 1990.  She is obviously the Lead of ‘The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover’ and yet I place her in Supporting so that I can nominate her because I love her performance so much.  CATEGORY FRAUD!  OMG!  STONE ME!  Guess what; I do it again in 1980 (haven’t posted them yet, but get ready for a Winger win).

I’m not infallible!  Don’t judge me!

But seriously, this seems like the perfect time to ask this question and throw all my nonsensical ideas and viewpoints on paper because my ballot for Supporting Actor for 1988 literally consists of four performances that anyone could make a case for actually being LEAD.  I consider them all grey areas, and yet one of them is his film’s title character (Keaton), Oscar nominated one of them in the Lead category that year (von Sydow) and two of them were actually on my Lead ballot for a long time before I demoted them (Kline and Noiret).

Does all this make me a hypocrite, or is this just one more thing I overthink to the extreme?

Oh, and what do you think of my ballots?  What do yours look like?


  1. Great post! I love the grey area of supporting categories. For instance, I actually think Casey Affleck, Jake Gyllenhaal, Christian Bale, and Mark Ruffalo are supporting, but I have no problem with them being recognized as leads. (Yeah, the Affleck one is tough to argue, but I still think Pitt is slightly more a lead.) I don't see Geoffrey Rush as a co-lead though...interesting.

    I wouldn't call you a hypocrite. It's a tough distinction. For instance, I consider Naomi Watts' performance in Eastern Promises a supporting role. Category fraud? I don't think so, but I'm not entirely convinced of that.

    I had von Sydow in my lead contenders, but I agree on Keaton, Kline (Yay!) and Noiret.

    1. I'm kind of surprised that you consider Affleck and Gyllenhaal supporting, but I can understand the grey area with regards to Bale and Rush...sort of :-P

      And I agree with you on Watts, she is supporting in Eastern Promises for sure!

      I'm curious what you think of my other acting ballots!

    2. Oops! Missed them. Love your winners, and that our supporting ones are the same. Kind of surprised that Hackman and McDormand made the cut, but they'd be on my longlists. I really need to see Story of Women!

    3. I absolutely LOVED Hackman in Mississippi Burning. It is such a strong, centered and natural progression of character.

  2. This is always an interesting topic as there can be such a thin line between lead and supporting. Sometimes it boils down to whether you are the main character of that particular gender in the film. For example, that's why I'm ok with Jennifer Lawrence in lead for SLP.

    In terms of some of the performances you mentioned, my opinions are:

    - Christoph Waltz is lead in Django Unchained
    - Geoffrey Rush is supporting in The King's Speech(Colin Firth was the clear lead character to me)
    - Casey Affleck was definitely the lead but something about the grand myth and legend of Jesse James makes me accept him as supporting. It's strange I know.
    - Mark Ruffalo in The Kids are All Right was supporting to me. He really felt like a side character.
    - Christian Bale was supporting in The Fighter.
    - PSH and Joaquin were co-leads in The Master.

    1. I do agree with you that the grey areas linger. I mean, I can't really argue anyone placing someone like Lawrence lead (although I have her in supporting) or Bale supporting (although I have him in Lead)...and then some times I scratch my head. Like, how is Rush supporting when PSH is a co-lead to Phoenix? To me, that's kind of like saying that Robin Williams is supporting in Dead Poets Society, right?

      LOL, but really...this is one of those debates that could go any which way and there really are no true answers. It all boils down to what each individual wants to do with a particular performance at any given time.

  3. It's a debate that will continue to rage on. Like you said, there are really no true answers. I generally lean toward gender specific, hence I see Lawrence as a lead in SLP. In cases like The King's Speech and The Master I call Firth and Phoenix the leads and Rush and PSH supporting. My logic is that in The King's Speech it was truly all about Firth and everything Rush did, as magnificently as he did it was in support of Firth. In The Master, true PSH was the titular character, but Phoenix was the protagonist. PSH was the antagonist which, by definition, makes him a supporting player.

    We could have this debate every year and never get anywhere. Just look at this past awards season. Lupita Nyong'o was as much a lead in 12 Years a Slave as Lawrence was in SLP. The movie becomes as much about her character as it does about Solomon Northrup. Much of the emotion stirred up by the movie is due to what happens to her character. Finally, there is no other female character with nearly as much screen time. Yet, she won for Supporting. Sigh.

    1. While I don't think that screen time is an ultimate factor (I consider Hopkins Lead in SotL despite 20 minutes of screen time), I do think that it should be considered, which is why I wouldn't consider Lupita Lead. She has like 15 minutes of screen time, and while her sub plot has a huge emotional wallop, it always felt like a sub plot.

      Hannibal may only be 'physically' in the film for 20 minutes, but the film is, in MANY ways, always about him.