Over the last ten years, there have been a number of surprising nominations in the Best Supporting Actor category at the Oscars. They have ranged from a critical favorite (William Hurt for “A History of Violence,” who had wins from the Los Angeles and New York Film Critics), a fringe contender in a Best Picture frontrunner (Mark Wahlberg for “The Departed,” with a Golden Globe nomination and wins from the National Society of Film Critics as well as the Boston Film Critics), a beloved veteran with a major industry precursor (Alan Alda for “The Aviator,” with a BAFTA nomination), to extreme and incredible surprises (Max von Sydow for “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and Michael Shannon for “Revolutionary Road,” both of which had assorted nominations and runner-up mentions from a variety of national critics organizations). What is noteworthy about this group is that three of the five (Alda, Wahlberg, and von Sydow) were in films that were distributed by Warner Bros. In fact, over the last ten years, with 14 total nominations and 4 wins, Warner Bros. has by far the strongest track record of any studio in this category. Additionally, they have received at least one nomination in the Supporting Actor category every year since the 2003 season.
Some could argue that this is nothing more than a recent trend, but if one goes all the way back to the creation of the two supporting categories in 1936 (the 9th Annual Academy Awards), it becomes apparent that Warner Bros. has always dominated the male category. In 77 years of Oscars being rewarded to supporting actors, there have been a total of 385 nominations. Warner Bros., with 58 total nominations and 15 wins, again, has the best track record of all the studios. Paramount, with 49 nominations and 8 wins, is in second place (it should be noted that one of the most surprising nominations in recent years, Michael Shannon’s, was for a Paramount release). Columbia, with 48 nominations, but only 5 wins, follows. 20th Century Fox has 42 nominations and 10 wins while Universal trails behind with 20 nominations that resulted in 2 wins.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, in 77 years Warner Bros. has not received a Supporting Actor nomination 31 times. Again, they have the best track record as Paramount has been benched 37 times, 20th Century Fox 46 times, and Universal 59 times.
You may have noticed that I have not included a number of studios. While Warner Bros., Paramount, Columbia, Fox, and Universal have been playing the Oscar game since the very beginning, there have been multiple studios that have come and gone throughout the Academy’s history.
While once one of the Big Five Studios as well as a dominant force in this and many other categories, RKO Pictures’ last Supporting Actor nomination was Mickey Rooney for “The Bold and the Brave” in 1956. They shut down distribution the following year.
United Artists also used to dominate this category for many decades, but their last nomination was Tim Roth for “Rob Roy” back in 1995. Another one of the Big Five, MGM’s last nomination here happened to be Marlon Brando’s last anywhere, for “A Dry White Season” in 1989. While 20th Century Fox has gone almost as long without a nomination in this category, they’ve at least had a Best Picture nominee in the last 25 years (7 to be exact, with one of them winning). Orion Pictures had a strong run here throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, garnering 9 total nominations and 2 wins, but the company has been defunct since 1999.
Miramax was another powerhouse beginning in the late ’80s, earning 10 total Supporting Actor nominations and 3 wins until Harvey and Bob Weinstein left in September 2005. Afterward, they earned 2 additional nominations, with one of them translating into a win (Javier Bardem for “No Country For Old Men”), but the company was sold in 2010, with their last distribution credit being the Jennifer Aniston comedy “The Switch” the same year. Harvey Weinstein of course went on to create The Weinstein Company, where he has had great success winning two Best Supporting Actor Oscars (both for Christoph Waltz) and even getting three nominees in last year – the first time since 1995, when Universal got nominations for James Cromwell (“Babe”), Ed Harris (“Apollo 13”), and Brad Pitt (“12 Monkeys”).
After 77 years, it is Warner Bros., above all, that has persevered in this category and continues to do so to this day. As noted earlier, they have had the most success over the last ten years: 14 total nominations and 4 wins. Other major players in this category from the last ten years include The Weinstein Company with 6 total nominations and 2 wins, Focus Features with 5 total nominations and 1 win, and Paramount with 4 total nominations and 1 win (though their once subsidiary, Paramount Vantage – which was absorbed back into its parent company in June 2008 – did receive one nomination on its own: Hal Holbrook in “Into the Wild” for the 2007 season). There’s also Fox Searchlight and Lionsgate, which each have 3 total nominations and 1 win.
Since the Oscar game and Hollywood itself have dramatically changed since 1936, it would be misguided to think that Universal, Columbia, or 20th Century Fox are no longer capable of being competitive. These studios now have speciality subsidiaries in Focus Features, Sony Pictures Classics, and Fox Searchlight, respectively, that almost exclusively handle any films with Oscar potential. All three have been very successful in this modern Oscar age.
So what does all of this mean for this year? We already have a number of strong contenders from a variety of studios. Daniel Brühl (Universal), Michael Fassbender (Fox Searchlight), and Jared Leto (Focus Features) appear to be currently ahead of the pack. Tom Hanks (Disney) and Matthew McConaughey (Roadside Attractions) are also vying for spots, while we all wait to see what “American Hustle” will bring. Harvey Weinstein, of course, is never one to be doubted. But what about Warner Bros.? As of now, they do not appear to have a clear priority, but I believe that history proves that they should not be underestimated. Let’s look at their contenders.
The Case for George Clooney (“Gravity”):
With a 96% on Metacritic, a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, and an ecstatic response from its festival screenings, it is undeniable that “Gravity” will end up as one of the year’s best reviewed and most beloved films. In an article posted on The Hollywood Reporter a couple days ago, the film is currently tracking at a $35-$40 million opening weekend. Many expect the film to earn double-digit nominations, and Sandra Bullock is very much in the hunt for her second Oscar, so why is no one talking about George Clooney? While the film very much appears to be the Cuarón/Bullock show, Clooney is one of the most popular figures in the industry as well as one of the Academy’s favorite people. In just eight years he has received an unprecedented 8 nominations in 6 different categories, winning twice. Between “Gravity,” “August: Osage County,” and “Monuments Men,” he is in contention for up to 6 nominations this year. It would not be unreasonable to think that the Academy would like to recognize Clooney’s efforts in some way. In fact, this would not be the first time that Clooney has had a ubiquitous year that resulted in a number of nominations. If “Gravity” ends up being the juggernaut that most are expecting, wouldn’t Academy members pencil in Clooney’s name on their ballots?
The Case for Harrison Ford (“42”):
“42” may not be a critical darling, but with $95 million at the box office, it’s surely a crowd-pleasing hit. As Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey, Harrison Ford has a lot of things in his favor. He plays a real person (check), he gets to chew the scenery (check), and he gets to be a hero, or at least admirable, by integrating Jackie Robinson into his team and changing the course of history (check). In many ways, the role sounds like Academy catnip, and sometimes it’s the role that the Academy notices rather than the performance. Yet that isn’t to say that Ford has not received his fair share of praise for his work; the veteran actor garnered a number of strong reviews back in the Spring. Next month he’ll be awarded the Hollywood Career Award from the Hollywood Film Awards. While this prize doesn’t usually translate into an Oscar nomination (Richard Gere won last year when he was in contention for “Arbitrage”), it was the first important award that Glenn Close won when she was working the circuit for “Albert Nobbs” in 2011. There’s also been a lot of talk of Ford’s chances at a SAG nomination; they love veterans, but would Ford be another James Garner in “The Notebook,” or a Nick Nolte in “Warrior”?
The Case for Jake Gyllenhaal (“Prisoners”):
While “Prisoners” hasn’t seemed to live up to its festival reputation, Jake Gyllenhaal has continued to receive perhaps his best reviews since “Brokeback Mountain,” for which he received a nomination in this category. Arguably a co-lead, he is nonetheless being pushed in Supporting, and that certainly hasn’t hurt anyone in the past (just ask Ethan Hawke, Casey Affleck, or even Gyllenhaal himself). Like Ford, he too is receiving a Hollywood Film Award next month, but for Supporting Actor. Past winners of this award include eventual Oscar nominee Robert De Niro as well as winners Christoper Plummer and Christoph Waltz, yet they also include Sam Rockwell (“Conviction”), John Travolta (“Hairspray”), and Ben Affleck (“Hollywoodland”). Regardless, between the Hollywood Film Award and his recent appearance on “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” it is clear that Gyllenhaal’s team is campaigning him. Does he have enough heat to last the season?
Obviously, statistics don’t mean everything. Last year’s Supporting Actor category was the first time any acting lineup was made up entirely of previous winners. I spent most of that season pulling my hair out in search of a newbie for nothing! At the same time, obsessing over stats is one of my favorite things about following the Oscars. While I’m not going to force myself to predict one of Clooney, Ford, or Gyllenhaal, I am going to keep my eyes and ears open to see who Warner Bros. decides to make their main priority.
What about you? Which of the three do you think has the best shot? Or are you not predicting any of them? Let us know in the comments!
For reference, here is a list of studios and distributors with strong contenders this year, along with their last nomination and win:
Last nomination and win: Christopher Plummer, “Beginners” (2011)
This year’s contenders: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Last nomination and win: Alan Arkin, “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006)
This year’s contenders: Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”; James Gandolfini, “Enough Said”
Last nomination: Jonah Hill, “Moneyball” (2011)
Last win: Chris Cooper, “Adaptation” (2002)
This year’s contenders: Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”; Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”; Jeremy Renner, “American Hustle”
Last nomination: Nick Nolte, “Warrior” (2011)
Last win: James Coburn, “Affliction” (1998)
This year’s contenders: Philip Seymour Hoffman, “A Most Wanted Man”
Last nomination and win: Christian Bale, “The Fighter” (2010)
This year’s contenders: Josh Brolin, “Labor Day”; Jonah Hill “The Wolf of Wall Street” [if released this year]
Last nomination: John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone” (2010)
Last win: N/A
This year’s contenders: Matthew McConaughey, “Mud”
20th Century Fox:
Last nomination: Michael Lerner, “Barton Fink” (1991)
Last win: Don Ameche, “Cocoon” (1985)
This year’s contenders: Javier Bardem, “The Counselor”; Geoffrey Rush, “The Book Thief”
Last nomination: Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Charlie Wilson’s War” (2007)
Last win: Christopher Walken, “The Deer Hunter” (1978)
This year’s contenders: Daniel Brühl, “Rush”
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures:
Last nomination and win: N/A
This year’s contenders: Tom Hanks, “Saving Mr. Banks”
Last nomination: Alan Arkin, “Argo” (2012)
Last win: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight” (2008)
This year’s contenders: George Clooney, “Gravity”; Harrison Ford, “42”; Jake Gyllenhaal, “Prisoners”
The Weinstein Company:
Last nominations: Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”; Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”; Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained” (2012)
Last win: Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained” (2012)
This year’s contenders: Steve Coogan, “Philomena”; David Oyelowo, “The Butler”
Warner Bros.’ Best Supporting Actor Nominees and Winners (winners bolded):
1937: Joseph Schildkraut, “The Life of Emile Zola”
1938: John Garfield, “Four Daughters”
1939: Brian Aherne, “Juarez”
1940: James Stephenson, “The Letter”
1941: Walter Brennan, “Sergeant York”; Sydney Greenstreet, “The Maltese Falcon”
1942: Walter Huston, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”
1943: Claude Rains, “Casablanca”
1944: Claude Rains, “Mr. Skeffington”
1945: John Dall, “The Corn is Green”
1948: Walter Huston, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”; Charles Bickford, “Johnny Belinda”
1951: Karl Malden, “A Streetcar Named Desire”; Gig Young, “Come Fill the Cup”
1955: Jack Lemmon, “Mister Roberts”; Sal Mineo, “Rebel Without a Cause”
1957: Red Buttons, “Sayonara”
1959: Robert Vaughn, “The Young Philadelphians”
1962: Victor Buono, “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”
1964: Stanley Holloway, “My Fair Lady”
1965: Frank Finlay, “Othello”
1966: George Segal, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
1967: George Kennedy, “Cool Hand Luke” [as Warner Bros.-Seven Arts]; Gene Hackman, “Bonnie and Clyde” [as Warner Bros.-Seven Arts]; Michael J. Pollard, “Bonnie and Clyde” [as Warner Bros.-Seven Arts] 1968: —
1973: Jason Miller, “The Exorcist”
1974: Fred Astaire, “The Towering Inferno” [co-production between Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox] 1975: Chris Sarandon, “Dog Day Afternoon”
1976: Jason Robards, “All the President’s Men”
1980: Michael O’Keefe, “The Great Santini” [Orion Pictures Through Warner Bros.]
1981: John Gielgud, “Arthur” [Orion Pictures Through Warner Bros.]; Ian Holm, “Chariots of Fire” [Warner Bros. and The Ladd Company]
1982: John Lithgow, “The World According to Garp”
1983: Sam Shepard, “The Right Stuff”
1984: Haing S. Ngor, “The Killing Fields”; Ralph Richardson, “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes”
1988: River Phoenix, “Running on Empty”
1989: Dan Ackroyd, “Driving Miss Daisy”
1990: Joe Pesci, “Goodfellas”
1991: Tommy Lee Jones, “JFK”
1992: Gene Hackman, “Unforgiven”
1993: Tommy Lee Jones, “The Fugitive”
1999: Michael Clarke Duncan, “The Green Mile”
2001: Ethan Hawke, “Training Day”
2003: Tim Robbins, “Mystic River”; Ken Watanabe, “The Last Samurai”
2004: Morgan Freeman, “Million Dollar Baby”; Alan Alda, “The Aviator” [Warner Bros. and Miramax] 2005: George Clooney, “Syriana”
2006: Djimon Housnou, “Blood Diamond”; Mark Wahlberg, “The Departed”
2007: Casey Affleck, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”; Tom Wilkinson, “Michael Clayton”
2008: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”
2009: Matt Damon, “Invictus”
2010: Jeremy Renner, “The Town”
2011: Max von Sydow, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”
2012: Alan Arkin, “Argo”