Sideways: Merie W. Wallace
January 07, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

Best Supporting Actor 2005: Oscar’s likely contenders

If you want to be in the Oscar race, it helps to bring a prize or two to the table, and former sitcom star Thomas Haden Church, as the emotionally arrested fading actor who serves as Paul Giamatti’s id in Sideways, has already collected so many — critics’ groups in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston have honored him, as has the National Board of Review — that he should have no concerns about making the final five, except, possibly, the need for a bigger mantel. When looking for a nomination, it also helps to know what part you’re right for: When Closer was on stage in London, the dynamic Clive Owen played the part that Jude Law took in the movie; his willingness to switch roles and play Larry, the doctor who develops an appetite for vengeance, won him the New York Critics Circle award; an Oscar would taste even sweeter.

What else works? Well, a good résumé helps, and so does a role in a movie that’s going to get recognized in a lot of different categories, so we expect to see three-time nominee Morgan Freeman make it four with his weathered turn as Clint Eastwood’s old pal in Million Dollar Baby. And finally, it’s always useful if your career is blazing hot, which is why voters, having written down the name Jamie Foxx once under Best Actor for Ray, might find it very easy to do so again for his low-key, tightly focused performance as Tom Cruise’s cabbie hostage in Collateral (though what, exactly, makes this anything but a lead performance is a question that only the movie gods and Tom Cruise’s publicist know the answer to).

That leaves one slot, but for whom? Alt-weekly critics have shown I Heart Huckabees‘ Mark Wahlberg a lot of love, but we suspect the DVD isn’t exactly dazzling the Academy’s older voters. The Aviator‘s Alan Alda and Kinsey‘s John Lithgow both offer memorably sharp (and memorably unsympathetic) performances in well-regarded movies, but awards buzz has been quiet. Kill Bill — Vol. 2‘s David Carradine has to be considered a serious contender, given his Golden Globe nomination, but if voters didn’t go for Vol. 1, we’re not sure Vol. 2 will turn them around. Phil Davis brought immense warmth and tenderness to his role as an abortionist’s husband in Vera Drake, but nobody knows his name. And Finding Neverland‘s impressive 12-year-old Freddie Highmore wouldn’t be the first kid to make it to the Oscars, but support for the movie would need to be very strong to carry him along. Which leaves an actor who should have been included in this category last year for his great work in Shattered Glass: Peter Sarsgaard. His performance as Garden State‘s stoned gravedigger was the comic highlight of that movie, but it’s his sleepy-eyed, seductive bisexual researcher in Kinsey that merits recognition, and this time, he just might get it.

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