|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.
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?
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.
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?