Thursday, March 04, 2010

Nazis! I hate those guys!

I finally got around to watching Quentin Tarantino's exuberant wartime romp Inglourious Basterds last week, and was of course tremendously impressed by the chilling performance of Austrian actor Christoph Waltz as the SS Colonel Hans Landa. I should think he ought to be an odds-on favourite to scoop an Oscar this Sunday.

However.... you have to wonder why on earth he's been nominated as Best Supporting Actor. He's clearly the single most important role in the movie, he appears in all but one of the key scenes, and he probably has three times as many lines as anyone else. If this isn't the 'leading role' in the film, then what the hell is? Brad Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raine?? He's only in a handful of scenes, all of them rather brief: he doesn't have nearly as much screen time as Waltz; it's really little more than a cameo role.

I wonder, is this a ploy by the producers to try to improve his chances of winning? (And what exactly are the rules regarding which award category a performance should be eligible for? Are there any??) I would have thought Waltz would be a shoo-in for either award.

It looks to me more as if there's some kind of unwritten but inviolable convention that a bad guy can't be a 'leading role' - particularly not a Nazi. I mean, Ralph Fiennes' Amon Goth was a substantial role, a leading role, arguably as important to the movie as Liam Neeson's Oskar Schindler; but he could only be considered for the Best Supporting Actor award (and the Academy's voters didn't dare to give it to him - because he was a Nazi!). And a few years ago we had Javier Bardem getting Best Supporting Actor nominations and awards for Anton Chirgurrh in No Country For Old Men, despite the fact that the film had a triple-strand narrative structure with a separate lead character in each, and Bardem's was probably the most substantial - and certainly the most compellingly memorable - of those three roles.

The only obvious exception to this 'rule' that springs to mind is Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of The Lambs - which bizarrely made it into the Best Actor category, despite being a relatively minor role with only about 10 or 12 minutes of screen time in total. Well, there's always an exception that proves the rule, I guess. That was a rather unusual case, in that Jodie Foster was carrying the film and there was no male lead. And it was Anthony Hopkins!! I think it was the eminence of the actor rather than the prominence of the role that determined this should be regarded as a 'lead performance' - regardless of the unsavouriness of the character portrayed.

Now, in some cases, these bizarre categorizations might have a tactical motive: studios these days usually want to avoid 'splitting the vote' by having more than one performer from their movie in a single category (although it used to happen quite a lot in the past, particularly in the Best Supporting awards - Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, and James Caan were all nominated for The Godfather; I wonder if the rules have changed on this, or if it's just a matter of studio policy). Hence, poor old Ralph Fiennes was shunted aside to try to give Liam Neeson (a more appealing character, but a less impressive performance) a clear run at the Best Actor Oscar. Similarly, Jake Gyllenhaal had to stand aside for Heath Ledger, despite their roles in Brokeback Mountain clearly being joint leads.

That doesn't seem to apply to most of the best 'supporting' villains, though. There was no other role that was a likely Best Actor contender in either No Country For Old Men or Inglourious Basterds. I really think the Academy has a bit of a hang-up about 'honouring' undesirable characters.

And if Christoph Waltz misses out on his award because of that, it will be a travesty.


JES said...

You might be interested in this recent item at the Huffington Post site: "Most undeserving Oscar wins."

I really need to spend some time in Froogville. Have been saving up commentary on e.g. your Avatar and great-movie-opening posts until I can do more than a drive-by shooting, so to speak. You know I can't stand silence, hearing problem or not.

Froog said...

Well, I hate to impose too much on your time, JES; I know you have a 'day job'. I look forward to the promised comments.

I have been planning a 'When Oscar got it really WRONG' post for this month's Film List.

The British Cowboy said...

Given that Gladiator got more Oscars than Spartacus, do we need to give any credibility to anything they say?

Froog said...

Well, on occasion they do get it spectacularly right. And the list of nominees usually identifies some real quality, even if the winner is a bit of a middle-of-the-road dud. And then, of course, there's the frequent ploy of giving 'Best Director' as a consolation prize to the film they didn't have the balls to name as 'Best Picture'.