With less than a week to go, the stage is set for the Oscars — and this year's show offers us a few good men competing for Best Supporting Actor. From a veteran star who has never gotten his due to another finally breaking through in the U.S., from a hunk overcoming his leading-man looks to a former leading man earning his first nomination in his ninth decade of life, the race is shaping up to be a special one.
Beloved by fans, co-workers and critics alike, the nicest guy in Hollywood has somehow gone more than a decade since Oscar last paid him any attention for acting in and writing "Good Will Hunting." Now he's back in Clint Eastwood's semi-biopic about Nelson Mandela as Francois Pienaar, a rugby player who helps him unite a post-Apartheid South Africa. Damon bulked up for the role and delivered his lines with an accent that rendered him almost unrecognizable. How do you like them apples?
The guy has portrayed dim-witted bartender Woody Boyd on "Cheers," ass-kicking maniac Mickey Knox in "Natural Born Killers" and a one-handed bowler in "Kingpin" — how is it that he hasn't won more awards by now? Shifting gears dramatically once again, Harrelson is a soldier tasked with the job of breaking bad news to the next of kin — and mentoring Ben Foster as the younger soldier seeks to do more. Coupled with his standout work in the genre flick "Zombieland," even if Harrelson doesn't win he has reminded us once again that few can match his versatility.
The man has made nearly 200 film and television appearances, in everything from "The Sound of Music" to "The Man Who Would Be King" to "Twelve Monkeys" and, most significantly, "Must Love Dogs." Yet it wasn't until his 56th year in showbiz that the guy finally got a break, earning Oscar's attention with a powerful portrayal of late-in-life Leo Tolstoy. Does the 80-year-old actor have what it takes to hold off all those young whippersnappers on Oscar night? If not, let's just hope he doesn't have to wait until the year 2066 for his next nomination.
Another veteran actor who has never truly gotten his due, Tucci has been memorable in everything from "Road to Perdition" to "The Devil Wears Prada" to "Big Night" (which he also directed). Now, he finds himself in the unenviable situation of giving an amazing performance in one of the most disappointing films of the year. Cast as a despicable child murderer, Tucci is unrecognizable in Peter Jackson's "Bones," giving a performance that should have made him this generation's Hannibal Lecter. The odd thing is that out of the five nominees, he is the most dependable career "supporting actor" — but probably the least likely to win on Oscar night.
Unquestionably the favorite to take home the naked gold guy on Oscar night, Waltz is a 53-year-old Austrian acting veteran who was convinced he'd never break through in the States — and then he met Quentin Tarantino. After weeks of being an awards-season juggernaut, his brutally endearing performance as "Jew Hunter" Hans Landa has clearly won over voters. Now all we can do is hope that when his name gets called, he stands up and exclaims his trademark line: "That's a bingo!"
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