The “Best Supporting” Oscar nominees usually live up to their award”s title they support the movie, holding it up with brilliant performances that often encapsulate the emotional core of the film. Imagine how listless “Goodfellas” would have been without Joe Pesci”s bratty, furious Tommy. Or “The Usual Suspects” without Kevin Spacey”s questionable narrator. Or “My Cousin Vinny” without Marisa Tomei. Okay, so the Academy has made some interesting (some say questionable) choices in these category over the years. It is always a wealth of talent and nearly impossible to predict. (The 1994 award went to Martin Landau for “Ed Wood” instead of Samuel L. Jackson for “Pulp Fiction!” Had the world gone mad?)

Paul Wong
Willem Dafoe frightens as eerie Count Orlock in Elias Merhige”s “”Shadow of the Vampire.””<br><br>Courtesy of Lions Gate Films

This years Best Supporting Actor”s race is especially volatile in that there are no newcomers (usually favored by the Academy) to give the award to. Even the youngest of the group, 26-year-old Joaquin Phoenix, has been making movies for 15 years. While the young star was certainly the most enjoyable part of last summer”s popcorn feast “Gladiator,” he is the least likely to take home the gold this year. “Gladiator” belonged to Russell Crowe, and the Aussie”s on and off screen antics have all but overshadowed his terribly vexed co-star. Phoenix”s quirky persona and penchant for choosing differing, interesting roles will probably land him in this category again soon.

The Academy has bestowed six nominations on Albert Finney and not a single win. In “Erin Brockovich,” his Ed Masry was both gruff and loveable, but the skilled actor may have helped his toothy costar a little too much. With Julia Roberts all but a shoe-in for Best Actress, the Academy may be wary of giving the film (which was really nothing more than “A Civil Action” with cleavage) too much credit.

The very talented Jeff Bridges is nominated for his careful characterization of a lovable liberal president with a constitution of steel in “The Contender,” a film many critics hated and few people actually saw. Bridges, who has been shamefully overlooked previously for such eclectic work as “The Big Lebowski” and “The Fisher King,” will probably be defeated by the same ease with which he fits into his roles. He is not a flashy actor, but a competent character actor that makes each of his characters believably human.

Fittingly, then, is that one of the front-runner nominee”s is not human at all. Willem Dafoe”s Count Orlock helps “Shadow of the Vampire” walk the line between comic-horror and tragic-horror.

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