Sunday, March 05, 2006

No More Supporting Players

I like George Clooney. He is better and more talented and better-looking than me but has a sense of humor about it. But my heart sank a little when he won -- just because I have kind of a purist approach to the Best Supporting Actor Oscars. The Best Supporting Actor award was created -- several years after the Academy Awards started -- to recognize the work of professional supporting players and character actors, the people who did not play lead roles. Look at the early winners of the award, and they're mostly hard-working character-actor types: Walter Brennan, Donald Crisp, Thomas Mitchell, Barry Fitzgerald, Charles Coburn. And it's the same with the women -- the award recognized the work of people like Hattie McDaniel, Alice Brady and Jane Darwell, who neither got nor aspired to get leading roles.

Hollywood has changed over the years, and the stable of resident character players has more or less dispersed -- many of them work more consistently in television -- so as time went on, the supporting awards became just as much, if not more, for lead actors who take second or third-billed roles. Oddly enough, this has happened much more in the male category than in the female category; by the '80s, the supporting actor awards were going to slumming leads like Jack Nicholson and Sean Connery, but on the distaff side there were still opportunities for the Olympia Dukakisis and Dianne Wiests. But recently we've had four straight years of the supporting actress award being won by actresses who are basically stars (Jennifer Connelly, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, Cate Blanchett), which is not what the award was supposed to be for.

So George Clooney I like, but he's not the kind of actor the award was created for. The award was for the hero's sidekick, not the hero.

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