By Shane McNeil
Robert Downey Jr. gets ready for the star-studded event.
Before I submit my final Oscar predictions [dropping this Friday, get ready, readers! -ed.], here is a detailed and, many of you will argue, maniacal treatise on why no one should be shocked when Robert Downey Jr. strolls down the aisle on the 22nd to collect the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
I know what you’re saying, and I admit that I have no reason to be so staunch in my beliefs on this. Ledger has won just about everything there is to win in the category this year and there’s seemingly no sentiment to suggest that Ledger is suffering as part of the Dark Knight backlash. I’ll own up to not especially loving The Dark Knight, but point to the fact that that has very little influence on the points I make below.
So, now… Why Downey? or, more importantly, why not Heath? Let’s start with the obvious. There’s only ever been one posthumous Oscar.
Peter Finch "mad as hell" in Network.
That went to Peter Finch for leading Network. A film now widely considered one of the 100 greatest ever made. A film that was nominated in most major categories, beloved by the actors and one of timely resonance, taking on the idle stance of a nation that had so much to be angry about. It was a lead performance and, to boot, he perished just two months before the Academy Awards ceremony. He was a respected actor (already having been nominated for Sunday Bloody Sunday) but won a statue based largely on the strength of that timeless performance and beat out some of cinema’s other classic characters in Rocky Balboa (Stallone in Rocky) and Travis Bickle (DeNiro’s Taxi Driver), in addition to his Network co-star William Holden to claim the award.
The Academy has had the opportunity to crown a young martyr before — twice, in fact. James Dean was denied Best Actor trophies for both Giant and East of Eden posthumously, and you have to assume that in Hollywood lore — while he is highly respected — Heath Ledger will never be looked at as a James Dean. Yes, he has more of a name and more respect than some (Massimo Troisi comes to mind) but not nearly the esteem of others (Spencer Tracy).
Are we finally sick of this sick character?
Then there’s the big white elephant in the room. He OD’d. He didn’t die in an accident, he didn’t have cancer, he took a whole whack of pills. This is tragic and I’m not making light of it. It’s claimed many before their time (River Phoenix), but what will that look like in the eyes of voters when he’s up against someone, in Downey, who stared that demon in the face and has now harnessed his supreme talent to come back to the top. If you think Tropic Thunder isn’t Oscar fodder, you’re probably right. However, much like Mickey Rourke, the Academy loves it, loves it, when actors go from the bottom to the top, and between Thunder and Iron Man, that’s where Downey now sits.
But wait, this is about the best performance, not who the Academy likes best, isn’t it? It’s not. Just ask Eddie Murphy. Your persona is as important as, if not moreso than, what you put on screen, and Downey’s triumphant turnaround and likeable personality will seem like a far greater reward to Hollywood and the actors that vote on this award than the still photo of Ledger and the kind thanks of his family more than a year after his unfortunate death.
Another point I want to make is the nature of the Supporting Actor category. Sometimes, it’s locked from the day the nominations are announced. Javier Bardem, Benicio Del Toro, and Chris Cooper recently took the award from wire to wire without much, if any, competition. However, it’s also the place that upsets happen, and respected talents get their due.
So fresh and so clean, clean.
Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, and Robin Williams all did excellent work to earn their Oscars, but their previous work and nominations had to have factored in. Upsets, while a factor in every Oscar category, seem rampant in Supporting Actor. Jim Broadbent, Michael Caine, and James Coburn were all unexpected, but came down in the same category.
Final point — I swear. Supporting is where comedy and comedians can shine. Apart from staggering comedic feats, the lead category is for drama and even a nomination is often a lot to ask for a comedian. Supporting, however, is a place for the funny guys to get their due. Alan Arkin, Cuba Gooding Jr. — even reaching all the way back to Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda, Supporting is where great comedy can be rewarded. And make no mistake — “the dude playing the dude disguised as another dude” is just that: great comedy.
There you have it. That’s my reasoning. I’m not sure enough of myself to put $100 down on it, but I’d certainly risk being wrong in an Oscar pool over it. Take it as you will. However, should the (virtually) unthinkable happen, consider yourself warned.